HC Deb 14 January 2002 vol 378 cc12-3
10. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

What recent steps the armed forces have taken to promote racial equality in the services. [24471]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The armed forces have done much in recent years to promote racial equality and create an environment free from harassment and unlawful discrimination. That includes establishing confidential advice and support helplines; a network of equal opportunities advisers; equality training, focus groups and surveys; monitoring and evaluating ethnic minority recruitment, progression and retention; and a vigorous recruiting and outreach programme to encourage more people from ethnic minorities to join the armed forces.

Kevin Brennan

My right hon. Friend is aware of some pretty dreadful cases, such as that of the son of my constituent, who was racially abused and bullied in the Army. The perpetrators went unpunished while he was court-martialled for going AWOL. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that racial abuse will not be tolerated under this Government? We criticised the previous Government for not doing enough to recruit ethnic minorities to the Army, so what steps is he taking to ensure that we meet our targets to recruit ethnic minorities and, indeed, retain them in the armed forces?

Mr. Ingram

Racial harassment should not happen and we shall take every possible step to ensure that it does not happen. That is the message that should go out firmly from everyone who can bring influence to bear.

My hon. Friend asks a specific question about what we are doing. All three services have established ethnic minority recruiting teams, which have engaged in numerous initiatives to encourage more ethnic minorities to join the armed forces, and those efforts are beginning to pay off. There has been a steady year-on-year increase in the number of ethnic minority recruits and the annual percentage has more than doubled, reaching 2.9 per cent. by April 2001. In the first five months of 2001–02, 3.8 per cent. of recruits came from ethnic minorities and the Army exceeded its 5 per cent. goal for the first time. We have achieved a lot, but clearly there is much more to do.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Can the Minister tell the House what feedback the Government have had about their equal opportunities corporate approach document? Will he give me a personal commitment that he would investigate to the best of his ability if any of us brought evidence either of a racial or of a sexual discrimination case in the armed forces?

Mr. Ingram

Those issues should be properly dealt with through appropriate procedures to establish the facts of the matter, but my door would never be closed to representations from right hon. or hon. Members if they were concerned about the way in which a particular case was being dealt with. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), we must address this issue robustly and aggressively to ensure that if there is a problem, we eliminate it as quickly as possible.

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