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Armed Forces: Household Division

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to increase the number of soldiers from ethnic minorities in the Household Division.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Rifleman Edward Vakabua, Corporal Christopher Read and Lance Corporal Ryan Francis, who were killed on operations in Iraq this past weekend.

The Army’s Diversity Thread programme seeks to increase the number of ethnic-minority soldiers recruited into all parts of the Army by engaging with key influencers and the target audience. This involves raising awareness of the Army and its place in society and building interest in the Army, its careers, values and standards, all with the intention of potentially securing a commitment to join or simply to support the ideals of the service.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum and the Ethnic Diversity Council. I speak at meetings and seminars encouraging the ethnic minorities to join the police and Armed Forces. My Question was prompted by the fact that, when I attended the Trooping the Colour ceremony, out of some 1,400 officers and soldiers I saw no more than 10 persons from the ethnic minorities. There is something not quite right here. Will the Minister assure your Lordships' House that everything is done to combat racism in any form—I emphasise “any”—in the Household Division, and that if there is a perception of racism, adequate awareness of the Army and its values are raised through enhanced public relations?

My Lords, I very much agree with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. It is very important that we continue all the efforts in the tri-services, not only in the Army, to increase the number of ethnic-minority young men and women who want to be part of our armed services.

Recruitment to our armed services from our ethnic- minority communities has increased year on year for each of the past seven years. However, we start, as the noble Lord indicated, from a very low base. For instance, in 1998-99 only 1.7 per cent of enlisted service people were from an ethnic minority. In 2006-07 that has gone up to 3.9 per cent. Our target for 2013 is 8 per cent, the percentage of the population from ethnic minorities as measured in the 2001 census. We will continue all the recruitment initiatives and training going on in the Army and other services to get to that target.

My Lords, we on these Benches add our condolences to the families and friends of servicepeople who have lost their lives recently in Iraq in the service of their country. The Minister will be aware of the National Audit Office figures on recruitment and retention for November 2006, which, as she said, showed an increase in recruitment from the ethnic minorities; but there are also some worrying factors. First, while we have increased the number recruited to some ranks from 1 per cent to some 6.2 per cent in 2006, it has levelled off significantly in the past few years. Secondly, and more importantly, while there has been improved recruitment of ethnic minorities at other ranks, the figures for officers are far lower—only a third of those for other ranks. Will the Minister comment on that and tell the House what the Government intend to do about it?

My Lords, we intend to increase our efforts to recruit both into the other ranks and the officer ranks. The highest-ranking ethnic-minority soldier in the Army is a warrant officer class 1, as the noble Lord will know. The highest-ranking ethnic-minority direct-entry officer is a brigadier. We know that it is a problem and we are on to it. What are we doing about recruiting? We are getting to young people directly by going into schools and youth clubs. We are sponsoring sports events and kit, and doing direct marketing of that kind. We are also trying to get to the people who influence young people, such as their parents, youth leaders and religious leaders.

My Lords, did not the most successful period of recruitment to the armed services and the Household Cavalry in particular follow an investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality which found extensive racial discrimination in the armed services? Since that time, following implementation of the five-year action plan and its monitoring by the CRE, interest has levelled off. Is it not time that another action plan with independent monitoring was put in place to ensure that we hit the targets set for the armed services and the Household Division?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. The CRE has had a long relationship with the Army and the MoD, looking at the problems, starting 10 years ago, of bullying, perceptions of racist behaviour and so on. It recognised that it had to improve the situation in the armed services. The CRE has worked closely with the Army and the other services. The noble Lord has said in the past:

“The Armed Forces have recognised that equality and diversity are positive strengths for an organisation and their work in this area is setting standards that other sections of society should follow”.

I understand that they still have a relationship with the CRE but that it is not as formal as in the past. I therefore take on board what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, the Minister may not be aware that I spoke recently in Birmingham to some 300 people from ethnic minorities and all religions, mostly Sikhs, about joining the military. It appeared quite clearly to me that there was some holding back because it is felt that this Government, with a little help from the previous Government, have cut the military beyond the quick and that it is no longer a prime service. Ministers need to get around a bit more. Is the Minister aware that I have not heard many Members from the other place trying to persuade ethnic minorities in their constituencies to join the military or the police forces? I am a little suspicious of the Government’s intentions in this area. Not nearly enough force and push is being put into recruitment.

My Lords, I hear the noble Viscount’s concerns and will convey them to the department, but half a million pounds of last year’s recruitment budget has gone directly to recruiting ethnic-minority members. In particular, we are working with the Sikh community in Southall. Sikh Gurdwara staff are working very closely with the Wembley recruiting office. That is a small example of where we are talking directly to communities that traditionally have not looked to the services.