Armed Forces: Diversity

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 23rd February 2015.

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Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green 2:30 pm, 23rd February 2015

What steps he is taking to promote diversity in the armed forces.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

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.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green

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?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

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.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

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?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

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 with 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.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee

Following on from the comment made by my right hon. Friend 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.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

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.