HC Deb 28 March 1995 vol 257 c811
3. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many officers of (a) Asian and (b) Caribbean origin above the rank of major or equivalent serve in Her Majesty's forces. [14626]

Mr. Soames

Of the 57 per cent. of service personnel who have so far responded to my Department's survey, 23 officers above the rank of major are of Asian origin and 11 are of Afro-Caribbean origin. That survey did not include the Brigade of Gurkhas.

Mr. MacShane

I am grateful for the Minister's answer, which shows, I hope, that the Army is becoming sensitive to some of the statements that it was not fully reflecting our society. Given that the soldiers and officers whom most of the British public and overseas visitors see are from the Household Division and the Brigade of Guards, will the Minister assure us that this year's trooping the colour will be the last example of white supremacy in Her Majesty's forces?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman makes, in one sense, an important point. He is right to suggest that we need to encourage ethnic minorities to join the Household Division—we are conscious of the need to do that. A special Army youth team has been established to do just that and to make contact with schools, youth organisations and other groups to encourage the young to undertake adventure training and see something of Army life and Army establishments. The team's task is to target areas of high ethnic minority populations to show children in those areas the excitement of an Army career, particularly the possibility of the honour of guarding the sovereign's life.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, particularly in relation to the Royal Air Force, the only means of recruitment will be based on the individual's ability to do the job? One cannot fly a fast jet aircraft or carry out highly technical jobs or any of the other specialist activities unless one is competent. That is the only basis on which the Royal Air Force has ever recruited. It has never cared where people come from.

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good and valid point. The armed forces are fully integrated, non-discriminatory organisations that are subject to the Race Relations Act 1976. We are keen to encourage people from wherever they come, and whatever their colour, race or creed, to join the armed forces, where they will be warmly welcomed and will find an important, challenging and worthwhile role.