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Earl Howe: I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said about racial equality in the armed services. Let me say at the outset that race relations are taken very seriously indeed in the Armed Forces, and it has been made quite clear throughout the services that racial abuse or discrimination of any sort will not be tolerated. Complaints of racial discrimination will be investigated and, if they are substantiated, appropriate action will be taken against those found to

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be involved. I may say that separate records of complaints involving a racial element are maintained by each service.

We very much want to increase the numbers of ethnic minority personnel serving in the Armed Forces. We want to recruit the best people irrespective of ethnic origin, and we will be working hard to provide an environment that is free from racial discrimination or harassment. In accordance with the requirements of the CRE action plan, to which the noble Lord alluded, we will be introducing a number of changes to improve ethnic monitoring of applicants and entrants to the Armed Forces. We shall be producing detailed analyses by sex, source of application, regiment or corps or trade preferred and which achieved, reasons for rejections, success rates, and so on. We are taking these matters extremely seriously, and the co-operation to which the noble Lord referred between the Ministry of Defence and the Commission for Racial Equality is testament to that.

I turn now to the amendments. Although the noble Lord did not specifically say so, I take it that he was working to the grouping on the Marshalled List. At present the Race Relations Act 1976 applies to complaints of racial discrimination in the Armed Forces but it is stipulated that these should be dealt with exclusively through the services' internal complaint procedures.

It has been the case, and it will continue to be so, that the service boards treat complaints of racial discrimination as a matter of extreme seriousness. The change proposed in Clause 23 as it stands will extend rights by allowing access to industrial tribunals in cases of racial discrimination. It is also intended to ensure, in line with government policy, parity of treatment of race and sex complaints by allowing in both areas access to industrial tribunals after prior use of internal redress machinery.

The Bill makes similar provision with regard to the prior use of the internal complaints system for all other complaints eligible for consideration by industrial tribunals. We have already debated the Question that Clause 21 stand part of the Bill. There is little I can add to the remarks I made then, since these amendments would have a similar effect in relation to cases of alleged racial discrimination that the removal of Clause 21 would have had in relation to cases of sex discrimination. Suffice it to say that we do not accept the proposition that the requirement first to use the internal redress system diminishes the right to take a case to an industrial tribunal. It certainly does not.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked where the evidence was that has led to the change we are now proposing. That can be answered in two parts. First, not to have a right to refer to an industrial tribunal would seem to be a denial of natural justice in modern day terms. Secondly--and this is the point to which I referred earlier--the internal complaints machinery has special value to the services, as I have already sought to explain. We believe that that should remain in place. The value of it, of course, is that of affording the opportunity of swift solutions via the chain of command, very often to

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take the sting out of an incident and to settle it quickly once and for all. Industrial tribunals, for all their merits, will entail a wait, particularly if one imagines servicemen and women at sea who may need to wait months before a matter is resolved.

I believe that the evidence that the noble Lord calls for is a matter of common sense. I hope that the Committee will not follow him down the road of these amendments because they too readily disregard the importance and value attached to the machinery of internal grievance procedures to which I have referred.

It is true that reservations have been expressed about using the internal mechanisms because the commanding officer himself may be the subject of a complaint and that has sometimes acted as an inhibiting factor. We are proposing in Clause 20 of the Bill to amend the service discipline Acts so that complaints can be made to such officer as may be prescribed in Queen's Regulations. We will ensure that the regulations will provide for complaints against commanding officers or anyone in their chain of command to be made to a different officer. I believe that that addresses one of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

I say again that I hope the Committee will feel that these are sensible proposals which should remain in the Bill as drafted.

6 p.m.

Lord Judd: The noble Earl will forgive me if I just probe what he said. He has referred to the provisions soon to be made in Queen's Regulations about the ability to make a complaint to an officer other than a person's immediate superior officer. That could be reassuring but, obviously, we need to know more about that before we can give a verdict. Who will this person be? What will the regulations be precisely? We must know that because that is central to the argument.

The noble Earl will forgive me if I draw his attention to one other point. I am not wilting with sensitivity about this but he did, earlier on this afternoon, chide me about change for change's sake. There is a danger that he has fallen into his own trap on this, because he tells us that to remove the right, in terms of sexual discrimination, to go straight to an outside tribunal, is common sense, but it is common sense if there is a problem. The noble Earl has told us nothing about the problem which has made this change necessary. It has been operating until now and, therefore, there will be a danger that we will say that this is a change that is being introduced but the rationale is not there for anyone to see. There may be a rationale but it is important that the noble Earl lets us more into the secret.

I also make the point, which I have always thought applies in other walks of life as legislation and social attitudes advance on these issues, that if the Armed Forces are getting it right, if the internal appeal procedures are procedures in which service personnel have confidence, if they can see they are fair and just, why not have the ability, as elsewhere in society, to go straight to an outside tribunal? That would, in a sense, be the guarantee of the quality of the services internally, just as has been the case elsewhere.

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I must also make the point that the noble Lord has not really dealt adequately with the whole issue of the disincentives which I spelt out, which were evident in Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford's work, announced as it is by the Ministry of Defence, and the inhibitions that are still there about using internal procedures which will, therefore, become an obstacle to gaining access to the external procedures.

Further, I believe that if we want to fulfil our recruitment targets and to ensure that the armed services are culturally in tune with society as a whole and, therefore, clearly part of the society as a whole which they are defending, advance on this score is tremendously important. I hope the noble Earl will forgive me if I say that his arguments have not altogether--in fact, not by a long way--convinced me this evening and we shall probably want to return to this. But, in saying that, I do not want to chide the noble Earl. There is a genuine commitment in the Armed Forces, well evidenced by General Rose, well evidenced by the work the Ministry itself is doing, well evidenced by what I know to be the general demeanour of the noble Earl and others; there is a genuine desire in the Ministry of Defence to move forward, and I know that the Commission for Racial Equality does not feel that it is up against a brick wall. It feels it is working with people who want change effectively, and that is good.

I hope the noble Earl will accept that in the best traditions of democracy this is not a hostile debate. It is a debate in which we are seeking the best way forward for service personnel, for the armed services and for the United Kingdom.

Earl Howe: I appreciate the constructive spirit in which the noble Lord has approached these questions. I am sorry I have not been able to convince him. If there is one message that should go out to the general public, it is our wish to see increased recruitment from ethnic minority communities. The services themselves take these issues very seriously.

If we follow the noble Lord down the route of saying that a serviceman or woman should only have access to an industrial tribunal--and, incidentally, that is not a right that he or she now has in connection with racial complaints--we dilute the message we want to promulgate--that the services want to see racism, harassment, discrimination, stamped out. They want to see it stamped out at the earliest possible opportunity and they want to do it themselves.

If you imagine a situation at sea, you need powers to deal with these problems, and to be seen to deal with them, at the outset. One can imagine that there would be very difficult circumstances in which problems might be allowed to fester, merely because there was no disciplinary mechanism in place for it to be sorted out there and then by the commanding officer and, in some instances, for a molehill not to be made into a mountain.

To say that the Government are proposing change for change's sake is not fair at all. The inhibitions that the noble Lord referred to that are felt by some servicemen and women are themselves a barrier to military

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effectiveness. If one can destroy those inhibitions by having a system which is seen to work, then we will be one step further down the road of encouraging those from ethnic minority backgrounds to see the services as a fulfilling and interesting career.

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