|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Mayhew: My Lords, I begin by echoing the tribute paid by the Minister to our Armed Forces. The fact that on these occasions we always refer to the achievements of our forces does not mean that we are not sincere. We are particularly struck by the international reputation of the British forces, which grows every year that goes by. We look forward to the Minister's replies to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, about drink and drugs and particularly about the ethnic make-up of our forces.
Last year I received the strong impression that the Government were making a serious effort to increase the proportion of servicemen from the ethnic minorities, yet it seems that it has not worked. Can the Minister give us a clue as to the reasons and the action which the Government are taking to overcome the problem?
I was particularly glad to hear from the Minister that the Government were giving careful thought to the implications of the recent court case to which both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred. We recall that three servicemen and one servicewoman challenged the legality of their discharge by the Ministry of Defence for being homosexual. The court upheld the ministry's view on the legality of the action, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said, Lord Justice Simon Brown accompanied the judgment with a withering
There was a contrast in the promising statement made by the noble Lord about the employment of women in the services. Women are apparently now welcome in all three services. They fly planes and drive military transport and there is practically no branch of Army, Navy or Air Force life where they are not welcome.
There is a contrast between the ministry's attitude to women and the ministry's attitude to homosexuals. At Question Time last month I asked whether the Minister was aware of the huge area of service life where sexual orientation was irrelevant. He agreed with me to the extent of saying, "Yes, we agree that sexual orientation is irrelevant. We invite women to do this, that and the other in all three services". I find it illogical and it needs explanation. The Minister said that the justification for the ministry's position is the special conditions which accompany service life. Those who have had experience of it will be slow to brush that argument aside. I am not saying that it is not a problem; on the contrary, it can be.
During the war for some months I shared living and sleeping space with 20 fellow rankers in a small loft above a French cowshed. Homosexual friendships in the group would not have helped at all. Some of us would, no doubt, have been tolerant; some would have been annoyed; some probably would have been repelled. Either way, we would have been divided and less efficient militarily. In my view, it is a great mistake to brush aside the problem, which is the main cause of the Government's policy.
The same problem exists in the Navy. Does opposition to sex discrimination mean admitting men who are openly homosexual to the crowded mess decks of the junior ratings? It is a practical question. The politically correct answer is yes: their orientation should be ignored; they should be admitted to the mess decks and discharged only if misconduct is proved against them. This is the point in my personal viewI speak with some experience as a former Navy Ministerwhere political correctness parts company with common sense. Sexual misconduct is bad in the services, and it occurs. Our aim should be to diminish it and not in the course of opposing sex discrimination to increase it.
However, none of that justifies the blanket ban on all homosexuals in all branches of all three services. That can no longer be justified. That is why I was delighted to hear the Minister say that he was taking to heart and considering the consequences of the famous court case which has just been concluded. Before the Act is renewed next year, we look to the Government to put
Lord Henley: My Lords, in the main, I am grateful for the general welcome that both noble Lords gave to the order. I am sure they always would because these are necessary orders which we pass every year to maintain the discipline of our Armed Forces. Both noble Lords raised a number of points, and I hope that in the time available I can deal with most of them.
I start by saying that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for what he said about the Bett report and its value. I am also grateful that he recognised that it will take time and is not something we should rush into. We are dealing with pay and conditions and other matters relating to service life which will take the Armed Forces well into the next century. It is important to ensure that we develop the right package which will enable us to recruit the best people for the Armed Forces at a time when, because of demographic changes, it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient people of the appropriate quality.
The noble Lord went on to ask about our policy in relation to the employment of women in the Armed Forces. He asked us to take a positive and, I believe his word was, "upbeat" attitude. That is exactly what we have done in the past. I can give the noble Lord an assurance that the service chiefs are completely behind the policy of employing women. As I made quite clear, very few roles are now excluded to them. It is important that we should make use of half the population in this respect, particularly, as I pointed out a moment ago, given that demographic changes make recruiting generally that much harder.
As the noble Lord quite rightly pointed out, there are physical limitations in regard to what women can and cannot do. A lot of service life is particularly physical; and there are other limitations, particularly in relation to the Navy, where on submarines and some particularly small ships it becomes rather difficult to arrange accommodation. It is also right to point out that the Army believesthis applies to the other services, but particularly to the Armythat, where it is likely to affect combat effectiveness, it would not be right that women should serve. That means the front line units: the infantry, the Royal Armoured Corps, and on occasion the engineers.
The noble Lord then moved on to the question of drinking, drugs and steroids. He was right to underline their importance. Drunkenness is an offence under the service discipline Acts. I can assure the noble Lord that all three services offer a rehabilitation system for abuses of alcohol; but I am afraid that, as always, persistent abusers would have to be administratively discharged. When one is dealing with the very high-tech equipment that the Armed Forces have to make use of nowadays, it would not be right that those who were persistently drunk were retained in the Armed Forces.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, does the Minister have any statistics that might be helpful as to incidence, especially in relation to those who have been discharged? He may not have the answer, but perhaps he will write to me.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I should be happier to write to the noble Lord. I do not have any statistics with me at the moment about levels of alcohol abuse. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord and, if the noble Lord finds it convenient, place a copy of the letter in the Library.
The noble Lord went on to underline problems in relation to drugs, and also steroids. It is sensible to remind the House that the Army introduced a compulsory drug testing programme in January of this year. Its prime objective was to reduce the increase in recent years of drug-related offences within the service.
Introducing a compulsory drug testing programme is a fairly draconian measure. However, taking into account the importance and the threat of drug related problems, it was very important so to do. Since then, nearly 5,500 personnel of all ranks have been tested. Of those whose results are available, only 29 tested positive. Fifteen refused to give specimens. The commanding officers of the soldiers concerned are now taking appropriate action. Refusers have been, or will be, administratively discharged, as is the policy for the compulsory drug testing programme. Only soldiers of the rank of lance corporal or below who have tested positive may be retainedbut again, only in exceptional circumstances. We certainly want to examine the individual very, very carefully.
Drug testing policy permits testing for steroids. But they are not perceived to be the major threat that what are termed mainstream drugs present. At present, it is more important, we believe, to use the compulsory drug testing programme to deter soldiers from the misuse of psychoactive drugs. Testing for anabolic steroids could be included in the current contract with the laboratory of the Government Chemist, but it would be at additional expense, or at the exclusion of another drug. Because they are not illegal in themselves, I do not believe it is necessary at the moment to take the matter any further. Were it in the future thought to be a problem, the matter could be looked at.
I now turn to the pleas that both noble Lords made about ethnic minority recruiting. It is obviously regrettable that the ethnic minorities are under-represented among both applicants and entrants to the Armed Forces. Ethnic monitoring of applicants and entrants has been undertaken over the past seven years. The latest resultsthe provisional figures for 1993-94showed that the ethnic minorities represented some 1.5 per cent. of applicants and 1 per cent. of entrants. We accept that those figures are disappointing, but we recognise that it will take many years of sustained effort before they substantially improve. The communities from which many such people come do not have an Army tradition. To create that feeling takes time. It is important for the Armed Forces to represent the broad spectrum of the community.
I assure noble Lords that all three services are committed to a range of measures to increase ethnic minority recruitment. These include increased use of black recruiters; better representation of ethnic minority service personnel in recruiting literature; special training for recruiters; production of brochures in ethnic minority languages to target parents; development of contacts with the ethnic minority communities; and advertising in the ethnic minority press and on local radio. We will do everything that we can in this field; but I am sure that the noble Lord would not expect an overnight increase of the kind that we wish to see. I assure the noble Lord that we take this matter very seriously.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page