HC Deb 15 July 2002 vol 389 cc14-5
10. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

What measures he will take to eliminate racism in the armed forces. [66967]

11. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What measures his Department is taking to increase the number of members of the armed forces from ethnic minorities. [66968]

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

The armed forces are committed to diversity in general and recruiting from ethnic minority communities in particular. All three services have established ethnic minority recruiting teams or diversity action teams and located them in areas of high ethnic minority population. The services undertake numerous initiatives aimed at encouraging ethnic minority personnel to join the armed forces. They have put in place a wide range of measures to promote equality and eliminate racism. Through strong leadership, education and training at all levels there is a determination to root out any form of unacceptable behaviour. While much has been achieved, it is recognised that there is still more to do.

Kevin Brennan

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Three years ago to the day, the son of a constituent of mine was sentenced to 112 days' detention for being absent without leave from the Royal Welch Fusiliers, having been subjected to a catalogue of racist abuse in his platoon, including physical assault. This young man had been awarded an engraved tankard for being the finest of his group of recruits in the armed forces. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that institutionalised racism will not and is not being tolerated in today's armed forces?

Mr. Ingram

I do not know about the specific instance of which my hon. Friend speaks, but I can say that there is an absolute commitment to zero tolerance of racism in the armed forces. Indeed, since 1998, more than 4,000 senior officers and equal opportunities advisers have been trained in equal opportunities by the tri-service equal opportunities training centre at Shrivenham. Equal opportunities training is also undertaken widely across all three services. We clearly have to ensure proper education throughout all ranks of the armed forces. As I said, the best assurance that I can give him is that zero tolerance is the watchword.

Simon Hughes

Ministers will be aware that although the Army has recently done very well in increasing the numbers of people it recruits from ethnic minorities, the Navy and the Air Force are still on only about 1 per cent., and officer levels in respect of those with ethnic minority backgrounds are still just over 1 per cent. What is being done to ensure that the Navy and the Air Force move quickly to achieve their targets and to ensure that officers — as well as people in the lower ranks on lower pay and with less influence—represent all communities in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Ingram

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general point, and more has to be done. The more commitment that right hon. and hon. Members bring to that through highlighting the issue and trying to encourage more people from the ethnic communities into the armed forces, the better served we will all be. That said, I point out to him that some 14 events have taken place in his constituency. We have particularly targeted not only his constituency, but London in its entirety, because of the large concentration of ethnic communities in the city and surrounding areas. I hope that we can play out to the RAF and the Navy the lessons that have been learned from the success of the Army, which has exceeded its targets. A lot of commitment is put into the matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can engage in the work that is done in his constituency, where we have been particularly active. I shall make sure that he is invited to some of those events.

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