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Army Nationality Policy

Volume 707: debated on Monday 2 February 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (John Hutton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I should like to inform the House that with effect from today the MoD will be introducing an upper limit of 15 per cent on the number of citizens of foreign1 and Commonwealth countries serving in the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC) and the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC).

In making this Statement, I should like to record my regret at the unfortunate handling of this issue in this House last week. The unauthorised leak to the media of this story went directly against our intention that this House should be the first to hear of the issue. Following the delay to the Armed Forces personnel debate, we should have reviewed the timing of this Statement. It was certainly not our intent in any way to fail to give this House the proper opportunity to learn of and consider this issue.

We have concluded that in the interests of operational effectiveness, a 15 per cent limit on foreign and Commonwealth nationals in these areas of the Army is both necessary and proportionate. The three corps are the only ones where the current proportion of foreign and Commonwealth personnel is at or approaching that level. There will be an option to apply the same limit to other parts of the Armed Forces if, at any time in the future, the percentages merit it. The purpose of the measure is to limit the number of personnel whose foreign citizenship could leave them potentially subject to legislation contrary to our own decisions; on, for example, operational deployments. We have also borne in mind the importance of ensuring that the Armed Forces continue to be identified with and representative of the UK.  These arrangements do not extend to Gurkhas who serve as a discrete formed unit to which only Nepalese nationals can apply.

The Race Relations Act provides for arrangements to legitimise measures such as this. These arrangements are made having due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and to promote racial equality of opportunity. In this case, the restriction is based on nationality and not race. The MoD and the Armed Forces remain wholeheartedly committed to removing unlawful discrimination and promoting equality.

The MoD is very proud of the historic links with Commonwealth countries, which provide high-quality recruits and have made a valuable contribution to the Armed Forces for many years. We hope they will continue to do so in the future and we will continue to recruit foreign and Commonwealth personnel to join the Armed Forces.

1. In this context “foreign” means citizens of the Republic of Ireland; the percentage of aliens (defined in Section 50(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 as persons who are neither Commonwealth citizens nor British protected persons nor citizens of the Republic of Ireland who may serve in the regular forces is stringently limited by Section 21(1) of the Army Act 1955 and Section 21(1) of the Air Force Act 1955. Similar restrictions are also contained in Section 340 of the Armed Forces Act 2006, which is not yet in force.