Army in the glasshouse over racial bias

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The Independent Online
The Ministry of Defence yesterday received a final warning to show real commitment to racial equality or face legal action.

The Commission for Racial Equality said that not enough progress had been made in overcoming blatant racial discrimination in the Army since the MoD signed an agreement in March last year.

Yesterday the commission said it was not satisfied with progress and gave the Army another year to put matters right. If the Army does not do so the CRE will issue a non-discrimination notice requiring the MoD to take specific actions or be taken to court.

The CRE cited the report from the Office of Public Management, released last week, which gave more disturbing evidence of the "pervasive, long- running and deeply entrenched problem of racism within the armed services". The commission was particularly concerned that the MoD had that report for six months - from last September - before it was released and that it should have been implementing the plan which it had agreed with the CRE during that time. "We all know there are few black soldiers in the Army. What we want to know is what they are doing about it," said Chris Myant, a CRE spokesman.

About 1 per cent of the armed forces comes from ethnic minorities compared with about 6 per cent of the workforce as a whole. The Army has slightly more non-white soldiers than the Navy has sailors. But the small number of non-white service men and women is compounded by instances of blatant racial harassment and abuse. The Office of Public Management report found that some senior officers still condoned these practices.

The action plan agreed last March stipulates two types of activity. The first is monitoring to establish how many non-white people there are in the forces and their career patterns. The second requires the MoD to come up with workable ways of solving the problem.

When the MoD agreed to implement the plan the CRE said it would withhold a non-discrimination notice for a year and would then abandon it altogether if the Army achieved adequate progress. It has not done so, the CRE said, "primarily in the areas which give a measure of the level of commitment and willingness to change attitudes and practice".

A year on, the commissioners yesterday deferred a decision on the use of a non-discrimination notice for a further year with a six-month progress review in September.

The action plan was launched last year after a study found the Household Cavalry was particularly short of non-white soldiers, although the problem runs throughout the Army.

Yesterday's report said the Commander of the Household Cavalry had issued a directive and a new recruitment leaflet which, it said, "provide the necessary foundation for equal opportunities in the Household Cavalry." The report also noted progress in encouraging non-white candidates to apply to become officers; the introduction of good systems for collecting ethnic-origin information on applicants to join the forces and numerous written instructions and orders.

However, the commissioners reminded the Army that monitoring is only a first step.

A chastened MoD responded yesterday saying: "We are pleased to note that the CRE have recognised the progress that we have made in several areas of race relations and ethnic monitoring.

"We are however disappointed that the CRE has not seen fit to lift the possibility of a non-discrimination notice and we are considering carefully all the comments they have made."