Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Judd: This is not the appropriate time, having given notice of the concerns which exist, to take up the time of the Committee by a long debate. However, I hope that these exchanges are not taken just as kind platitudes. We mean it on this side. We enjoy dealing with the noble Earl because we find he is a rational and thinking Minister who is open to argument. In a democracy that is tremendously important.

I have taken careful note of the wording the Minister has used this afternoon. He has talked about the need to proceed with great caution. I would not dissent from that because, as I said earlier this afternoon, when we are dealing with the armed services, where so much responsibility falls upon the leaders of the armed services themselves, we have to take seriously how they perceive their task and what will help them to discharge the responsibilities which we give them. That is something which must be given immense importance in our deliberations, but that does not mean that things cannot move forward. I hope that I am not misunderstanding the noble Earl. I have the distinct impression that his mind is not closed and that there may be possibilities, although perhaps not immediately,

18 Jun 1996 : Column CWH34

of moving this argument forward even with the present Government in which I do not expect that absolutely everybody would be quite as open as the noble Earl.

Seizing on the indications that we are in a rational discussion, at this stage I shall stand down with the statement that we may well pursue this point at Report.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Racial Discrimination]:

5.45 p.m.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 18, leave out lines 8 to 23 and insert--
(""(9) A complaint to which subsection (8) applies may be presented to an industrial tribunal under section 54(1).
(9A) Notwithstanding subsection (9) of this section, a complaint to which subsection (8) applies may be made to an officer under the service redress procedure applicable to the complainant.".").

The noble Lord said: The commitment of the Armed Forces to becoming equal opportunity employers, which the representatives of MoD explained to the Select Committee on this Bill in the other place, is clearly to be welcomed. The fact that the forces themselves and the MoD have been engaged in discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality to find ways of achieving greater equality of opportunities is very encouraging. The booklet issued by the Army itself is a model of its kind. The introduction by a fine soldier, the Adjutant General, General Sir Michael Rose, states:

    "The reality of conflict requires high levels of teamwork in which individual soldiers can rely absolutely on their comrades and their leaders. There can, therefore, be no place in the Army for harassment, bullying and discrimination which will affect morale, and break down the trust and cohesion of the group.

    "It is the duty of every soldier to ensure that the Army is kept free of such behaviour which would affect unit cohesion and efficiency. Army policy is clear: all soldiers must be treated equally on the basis of their ability to perform their duty.

    "I look to each one of you to uphold this policy and to ensure that we retain our acknowledged reputation as a highly professional Army".

That is a splendid expression of both the purpose and its means to fulfilment. The seriousness of the commitment is further illustrated by the way in which the conclusion of the booklet guides personnel to the Commission for Racial Equality and to the Equal Opportunities Commission for further advice. All this nonetheless must realistically be seen in the context of the formal investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality of the Household Cavalry, with its threat of a formal non-discrimination notice, as well as the increasing number of media reports of abuse and harassment experienced by black members of the forces. Indeed, recent research sponsored, to its credit, by the Ministry of Defence itself, and conducted by Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Crawford, a defence fellow, surveyed a stratified sample of 1,600 serving Army personnel. The results demonstrated that more than half of ethnic minority respondents had stated that they had been victims of racial abuse while serving in the Army.

18 Jun 1996 : Column CWH35

Clause 23 of the Bill proposes an amendment to the Race Relations Act 1976 to introduce a two-stage process for complaints of racial discrimination by serving personnel. Service personnel will be able for the first time to present racial discrimination complaints to an industrial tribunal, but as we have already debated, they will be able to do so only if they have first used the service's internal procedure for redress of grievances.

The Government's proposals in the Bill as a whole demonstrate, I believe, a wish to achieve consistency. Indeed, the noble Earl has referred to that. But surely, rather than taking away rights under the Sex Discrimination Act as the Bill proposes, the right course would be to harmonise the Race Relations Act with the procedures at present in force under the Sex Discrimination Act. As I asked in the debate on Clause 21, where is the evidence that led to the removal of rights on alleged sexual discrimination?

The Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill in the other place noted that the proportion of recruits to the Armed Forces from ethnic minorities had in fact declined between 1987-88 and 1993-94. In the determination of the Ministry of Defence and the three services, a determination which I am sure is not synthetic, is it not worth considering whether an acceptance of means of redress, which apply generally in the United Kingdom, might not enhance the reputation of the Armed Forces as fair and open and encourage people from all sections of the population to consider the forces as a career? In any case, such measures may ultimately be unavoidable if the Armed Forces are to ensure the staffing levels necessary for their effective operation.

By contrast, continuing to treat the Armed Forces as an exception to procedures in society as a whole for complaints of discrimination are likely to reinforce concerns about the existence and cultural acceptance of discrimination within the Armed Forces. I have already argued on Clause 21 that I favour strongly the availability of an internal procedure, but protecting a compulsory internal procedure could, I fear, hinder those within the forces themselves who want to defeat complacency about such discrimination, because it would limit the exposure of such discrimination to public scrutiny.

It is important to keep firmly in mind the objectives of the Race Relations Act 1976. The Act was to provide an effective remedy for individuals encountering discrimination. The accumulated evidence of how the internal redress system is operated is challenging. It has not provided the effective--and again I emphasise the word effective--remedy which had been intended 20 years ago; and of course I am speaking of the Armed Forces.

I refer to the research by Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford. His work indicates that, of the 103 service personnel who reported that they had been victims of racial discrimination, only 14 sought redress through official channels. Colonel Crawford comments:

    "This shows quite simply that the Army's grievance procedure is not working".

18 Jun 1996 : Column CWH36

I should like to quote a little further from his survey. On page 34 of the report, he tells us that he posed: "Question 9. 'Having been a victim of racial discrimination, why did you not seek official redress?'

    "The answers to this question show why the Army's grievance procedure is not working. Respondents could identify more than one reason if appropriate, and therefore absolute numbers do not match the 89 individuals who said they had taken no action. Forty individuals ... said that they did not complain because they believed such a step might adversely affect their careers. Twenty seven ... thought they would not be taken seriously; 23 ... feared increased discrimination; while 20 ... did not complain because the person to whom they would have to make representations"--

and this takes up the point the noble Earl made earlier,

    "was the same person who was discriminating against them. Only 12 ... said they did not know what to do about the discrimination they suffered. It is clear, therefore, that the majority of ethnic minority Servicemen who suffered racial discrimination knew that something could be done about it, but most chose to take no action because they feared the consequences. The perceived level of racial intolerance is such that keeping quiet is seen as the best way of coping."

So said Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford. He then went on to Question 12:

    "What action was taken by the authorities?",

This indeed is more encouraging, although he points out that it was "Answered only by the 14 individuals who had sought redress".

    "Reassuringly, 8 individuals ... reported that either a formal or informal investigation had resulted from their complaints."

However, he adds,

    "It is still worrying, though, to note that 4 respondents ... said that no action had been taken, and one did not know if action had been taken or not."

We must remember that if, for whatever reason, a serviceman or woman does not make a complaint through the internal procedure within the time limit specified, he or she will lose the right to complain to an industrial tribunal. To the extent that service personnel continue to hold beliefs and fears as revealed in Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford's survey, to that same extent, by foregoing the internal procedure, they will lose their right to complain to an industrial tribunal.

I do not doubt the good intentions, but the proposed policy is sadly flawed. I beg the noble Earl, as the firm, sensible and compassionate man that he is, to take the point and accept our amendment which would bring the forces into line with everybody else by granting their personnel the right of direct access to the tribunal, as well as access to the internal procedure. This, we believe, will be in the interests of the effective future of the forces themselves and enable them proudly to reflect the multi-cultural society they are there to defend. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page