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Recruitment (Ethnic Minorities)

10. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): What are the latest figures for recruitment to the armed forces from Britain's ethnic minorities. [55887]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson): Between 1 April 1998 and 31 August 1998,

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the latest date for which figures are available, 147 armed forces recruits came from the ethnic minorities, representing 1.7 per cent. of the total intake. The latest figures for MOD civilians show that, between 1 April 1997 and 31 March 1998, 117 recruits identified themselves as being of ethnic minority background, representing 1.4 per cent. of the total intake.

Dr. Iddon: My constituency has an unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent., higher than the Bolton, the north-west or the national average. We also have a large Asian community, but I have yet to meet a member of that community who has joined the armed forces. Has my hon. Friend conducted any detailed and serious research to find out why members of the Asian community are not joining the armed forces? Is the reason cultural, a fear of discrimination, or what?

Mr. Henderson: My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of armed forces recruitment in areas where there is high unemployment among black and Asian people. Both black and Asian people have the opportunity of a first-choice career in the armed forces. A number of studies have been carried out to establish why both black and Asian people are reluctant to join the forces, and those studies are continuing. We have tried to make changes where possible, and to convey to members of the black and Asian communities that they can have a good career and a good education. We have also given them a guarantee that all possible action will be taken to outlaw discrimination and racism.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Is the Minister aware that the only substantial adult organisation that attracts a large number of people from ethnic minorities into uniform is the Territorial Army? In many territorial units, recruitment from ethnic minorities amounts to 15 or 20 per cent. Indeed, there is an officer from an ethnic minority in the 5th Battalion of my local regiment, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. May I suggest to the Minister that, if he wishes the Army as a whole to be closer to the community, hitting its part-time community element in the way that the Government plan will ruin his best intentions?

Mr. Henderson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Territorial Army makes a valuable contribution in attracting both black and Asian people into the armed forces at all ranks. It is a factor that I have taken into account in the review and an important factor in the footprint. I think that, when the decision is announced to the House in due course, the hon. Gentleman will find that it has been a main determining factor.


11. Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): What steps his Department is taking to encourage humanitarian demining. [55888]

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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): Following my announcement a year ago, good progress has been made in increasing the assistance that the Ministry of Defence provides to humanitarian demining, notably through the establishment of a mine information and training centre at Minley and through the gifting of surplus military equipment to the Halo trust. To maintain the momentum, my Department recently organised a seminar to consider what more the armed forces might contribute.

Mr. Smith: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. What help is he giving to support United Nations initiatives in this sector? Does he think that there is any scope for developing new demining technologies through the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the UN's role in demining. Demining those parts of the world that have become contaminated by these weapons is a serious issue, into which the UN is putting all its efforts. To help it, a senior officer has been loaned by the MOD to the UN to provide specialist demining expertise to its humanitarian mine action programmes. We hope that that will have a major effect on what the UN can do.

My hon. Friend is also right to point to the way in which technology might be able to deal with some of the problems. DERA has already produced an effective and cheap system to destroy mines without having to use high explosives. The device is called FireAnt and it is hoped to produce it commercially in the near future. I believe that that will make a serious contribution to alleviating one of the most serious legacies of wars.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the unarmed military observers in Kosovo oversee humanitarian demining operations? If so, are contingency plans in place for their withdrawal in the event of attack? Will the implementation of such plans require a resolution of the UN?

Mr. Robertson: The verification mission that will go to Kosovo will have no role whatever in supervising or getting involved in humanitarian demining. It will, of course, face a hazard that was put in place by the Belgrade authorities in certain locations in Kosovo: they have put mines there. The verification mission will obviously take judicious care.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): Does the Secretary of State agree that the time has come when the ingenuity that has gone into making land mines can apply to their demining? Does he envisage a further special role for the expertise of the Royal Engineers?

Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman of course has substantial military experience, which brings authority to his remarks on these matters. I have taken the strong view that military expertise in this sector is unequalled and that, if it can be shared in the humanitarian sector, it will do a lot of good in dealing with a problem that mankind increasingly faces. The Royal Engineers have expertise in this sector, which we have already used, but I am ensuring through the mine information and training centre at Minley that we bring together all the components in the

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British Army to ensure that they contribute. I have found no greater enthusiasm than among the military for dealing with this, the legacy of wars.

Territorial Army

12. Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): If the final reduced Territorial Army establishment will include civilian support staff and non-regular permanent staff. [55889]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson): Following the current restructuring exercise, the Territorial Army establishment will be reduced to approximately 40,000. Civilian support staff and non-regular permanent staff will not be included in that figure and their establishments will be considered separately.

Mr. Page: I thank the Minister for that answer. It is, of course, very sad that the TA is to suffer such a savage attack. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer is back in the borrowing business and as it seems apparent that, if rumours are to be believed, TA units covering the 7th (Volunteer) Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment in Hertfordshire--at Hertford, Dunstable and Hemel Hempstead--are to be closed, affecting civilian staff as well, will the Minister approach the Chancellor and ask for a little of that borrowing to maintain a TA presence of some sort in Hertfordshire? A county of that size should have a TA presence.

Mr. Henderson: As I have already said to hon. Members today, we shall be looking at the footprint of the Territorial Army throughout the country, and will consider the hon. Gentleman's points in relation to his area. I cannot say any more than that; he will have to wait until the statement is made. However, I assure him that consideration will be given to the question of civilians and non-regular permanent staff, as I acknowledge that they do important subsidiary and support jobs for the Territorial Army.

Millennium Compliance

14. Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): If he will make a statement on the progress on the millennium readiness of computer systems relating to the defence and security of the United Kingdom and its allies. [55891]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): The Ministry of Defence has a comprehensive programme for addressing the impact on defence capability posed by the potential failure of computer systems over the millennium period and beyond. That includes both rectifying MOD systems and developing contingency plans where necessary.

Substantial progress has been made on fixing MOD systems. About 35 per cent. of those systems that require rectification have already been corrected and we expect 80 per cent. to be fixed by autumn 1999. In addition, we are working closely with our allies to raise international awareness of the issue.

Mr. Atkinson: In the light of that comprehensive reply, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that

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Britain and its NATO and Western European Union allies will not be rendered defenceless by the millennium bug, as was originally feared a couple of years ago? Can he guarantee that the millennium bug will cause no problems for defence-related information technologies? If he cannot give that guarantee, will he ensure that contingency plans are put into place, and that they are thoroughly tested in time for the millennium?

Mr. Robertson: Few Departments are more aware than the MOD of the dangers and problems that might arise with the millennium. Indeed, few countries in Europe have, so far, done as much as Britain to deal with the problems. My Department is spending £200 million addressing the problems for technology that could arise over the year 2000.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurances for which he asked, as we are taking the matter extremely seriously. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement has a specific and long-running interest in the issue and I have made sure that the problem of the year 2000 is on the agenda for every Defence Council meeting.

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