HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc17-8
14. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

If he will make a statement on equal opportunities in the armed forces. [58684]

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

A new diversity policy has recently been agreed for the armed forces. The policy seeks to build on existing equal opportunities policies and practices. The aim is to create an organisational culture that values individuals from diverse backgrounds, treats all personnel fairly and with respect, and recognises the importance of their contribution to operational capability.

Fiona Mactaggart

Did my right hon. Friend see any black faces during the trooping of the colour ceremony? I am afraid that I did not, which made me anxious that it is possible that the elite regiments of the British Army are failing to recruit from all the communities that make up Great Britain. If that is the case, what action will he take to ensure that every Briton has an equal chance to be a soldier in every regiment of our armed forces?

Mr. Ingram

Unlike my hon. Friend, I did not see the trooping of the colour, but perhaps I should explain why: I was in the Falkland Islands representing Her Majesty's Government at the liberation day commemorative parade in Port Stanley, where the armed forces were given the freedom of the islands. I will try to seek a specific answer to her question and find out whether people from the ethnic communities were in the parade but not shown on television, but I think that the implication of that question is a slur on all the efforts that have been made not only by the Government, but by all armed forces representatives who seek strenuously to encourage an increase in recruitment from the ethnic communities in this country. Indeed, the targets that we have set are very challenging, and although we have not met them, the progress is very encouraging indeed.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

May I assure the Minister that there are black faces in all the regiments of the Foot Guards—or certainly most of them? I know because I have seen them. For the avoidance of doubt, will he reaffirm that the important thing about the armed forces is that they are good at defending this country, and not that somebody is ticking off the number of people with black faces or brown faces, or whatever other sort of people there might be?

Mr. Ingram

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's underlying view. I think that we should view the armed forces in a holistic way, in terms of what they are asked to do and the way in which they deliver. We ask a lot of them and they deliver to a very high extent, irrespective of their ethnic background.

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