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Armed Forces: Diversity

Volume 593: debated on Monday 23 February 2015

The Ministry of Defence is committed to creating a more diverse work force, better able to represent the nation it serves and defends. That is why we are developing a comprehensive defence diversity and inclusion programme to increase the diversity of the whole work force, both military and civilian.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but will he reflect on the comments of the Chief of the General Staff who said this month that

“recruitment from the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has been improving…but it is nowhere near where it needs to be.”

What steps is the Army taking to ensure that it reflects the society that it protects?

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the Chief of the General Staff’s initiative, but as the CGS has made clear more needs to be done. For instance, a significant amount is already being done to increase the diversity of the Army, such as targeted recruitment campaigns and high-profile engagement events aimed at the Sikh and Muslim communities, including the establishment of an armed forces Muslim forum.

Order. In calling the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) on the subject of diversity, I note for the benefit of the House his past and possibly current presidency or patronship of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

That is very helpful, Mr Speaker. Thank you so much. My right hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the extraordinary gallant and distinguished service by Sikhs to this country down the generations. Does he not agree that it is high time to do away with the political correctness that infects some of this thinking and raise a Sikh regiment to serve in the country and make up a very serious gap in our armed forces?

My right hon. Friend is nothing if not a survivor, as have been his illustrious predecessors who have served in this House. With regard to his specific suggestion, he is one of a number of Members of Parliament who have made the suggestion to me recently. We have passed the proposal on to the Chief of the General Staff, who is now considering the issue, and we are awaiting the CGS’s comments. The idea might well have merit.

Following on from the comment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), will the Minister specifically consider the notion of a Sikh company within the reserves as a starting point? There seems to be much more possibility within the reserves to begin what seems like an excellent idea.

I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his additional suggestion. I said earlier that the idea might have merit, and we are considering as one specific option the possibility of a reserve company that would inherit many of the proud traditions of Sikh regiments in the British Army going back many years. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for the reserves is leading on that aspect and he, too, remains in contact with the CGS on the matter.