HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc545-6
10. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

What are the latest figures for recruitment to the armed forces from Britain's ethnic minorities. [55887]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson)

Between 1 April 1998 and 31 August 1998, the latest date for which figures are available, 147 armed forces recruits came from the ethnic minorities, representing 1.7 per cent. of the total intake. The latest figures for MOD civilians show that, between 1 April 1997 and 31 March 1998, 117 recruits identified themselves as being of ethnic minority background, representing 1.4 per cent. of the total intake.

Dr. Iddon

My constituency has an unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent., higher than the Bolton, the north-west or the national average. We also have a large Asian community, but I have yet to meet a member of that community who has joined the armed forces. Has my hon. Friend conducted any detailed and serious research to find out why members of the Asian community are not joining the armed forces? Is the reason cultural, a fear of discrimination, or what?

Mr. Henderson

My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of armed forces recruitment in areas where there is high unemployment among black and Asian people. Both black and Asian people have the opportunity of a first-choice career in the armed forces. A number of studies have been carried out to establish why both black and Asian people are reluctant to join the forces, and those studies are continuing. We have tried to make changes where possible, and to convey to members of the black and Asian communities that they can have a good career and a good education. We have also given them a guarantee that all possible action will be taken to outlaw discrimination and racism.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Is the Minister aware that the only substantial adult organisation that attracts a large number of people from ethnic minorities into uniform is the Territorial Army? In many territorial units, recruitment from ethnic minorities amounts to 15 or 20 per cent. Indeed, there is an officer from an ethnic minority in the 5th Battalion of my local regiment, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. May I suggest to the Minister that, if he wishes the Army as a whole to be closer to the community, hitting its part-time community element in the way that the Government plan will ruin his best intentions?

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Territorial Army makes a valuable contribution in attracting both black and Asian people into the armed forces at all ranks. It is a factor that I have taken into account in the review and an important factor in the footprint. I think that, when the decision is announced to the House in due course, the hon. Gentleman will find that it has been a main determining factor.

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