HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc12-3
12. Mrs. Mahon

What steps his Department is taking to improve levels of recruitment from the United Kingdom's ethnic minorities. [16806]

Dr. Reid

Our aim is that the armed forces should fully embrace diversity and better reflect the ethnic composition of the society they defend. I am glad that all three services are tackling the issue with considerable energy, and that a number of local initiatives are in place. Complementing those are the tri-service initiatives in Newham and Sandwell and the Army's specific ethnic minorities recruitment campaign.

Mrs. Mahon

Does my hon. Friend agree that the number of men and women from our ethnic minorities who serve in the armed forces is disappointingly low? I think that it is about 1 per cent. I welcome the Army's new recruitment initiative. What are the other two services doing?

Dr. Reid

I agree with my hon. Friend. She will know that we are determined to ensure that access to our armed forces is open to the widest possible reservoir of talent. She may be aware of our initiatives in Newham and Sandwell. She will also be aware that the Ministry of Defence is 19 months into a five-year action plan with the Commission for Racial Equality. I welcome the recent initiative of the Chief of the General Staff, who introduced a series of measures to combat racism in the Army whenever it raises its head. I am glad to announce that the Army and the Royal Air Force are today introducing a confidential support hotline for counselling and advice on such matters. It will operate outside the chain of command and has the support of the chiefs of the services and the chain of command.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

I welcome the Minister's comments. I urge him to meet the chairman of the Greenwich foundation for the Royal Naval college to discuss the options for ethnic minority recruitment. Will he also reassure us that the delay and the buck passing will come to an end and that the outstanding questions will be resolved so that that jewel in the nation's heritage is properly established and occupied in time for the millennium?

Madam Speaker

Order. That question does not have much to do with recruitment.

Mrs. Bottomley

Yes, it does.

Madam Speaker

Not in my judgment.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Is not one of the least attractive features of bullying in the armed services the fact that it is often related to racism? That provides a substantial disincentive for people from the ethnic minorities to join any of the armed services. Should not such matters be the responsibility of the chain of command? Is it not clear that if there is bullying and racism in any unit, the ultimate responsibility must rest with the commanding officer of that unit?

Dr. Reid

I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman was here when I praised the chain of command and the chiefs of staff for the proactive, dynamic and absolutely committed way in which they have approached racism and bullying in the armed forces. I have no hesitation in saying that this is not being pushed as a political imperative on the chiefs of staff; it is a measure to which they are individually and collectively committed. I congratulate them on that. It is also a matter for congratulation that they have introduced, for the purposes of counselling, an independent hotline, which will serve as another building block to combat racism in the armed forces.

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