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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 15:02 GMT
Army recruitment policy criticised
Prince Charles meets female Military Police officers in Kosovo's capital, Pristina
Women, black and Asian recruits are under-represented
The body which represents the interests of Britain's ethnic minorities has severely criticised the army's recruitment policy.

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has threatened to withdraw all co-operation with the army, while the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said not enough women are being recruited to the force.

CRE chairman Gurbux Singh told MPs on the Armed Forces Select Committee that only 1.5% of potential applicants from ethnic minorities actually joined the army.

The facts speak for themselves

Gurbux Singh

About 200,000 blacks and Asians attended Army recruiting events in the 12 months from April 1999, but just 338 joined, the Defence Select Committee heard.

Mr Singh told the committee: "The facts speak for themselves."

He said targets for increased numbers of ethnic minority recruits, agreed with ministers two years ago, were not being met and he warned that standards will have to improve "drastically".

Nepalese gurkhas might be joined by more ethnic minority recruits

"I hesitate to suggest that we pull back from agreement but we will have to consider our position over time, given their progress has been less than impressive," Mr Singh said.

Women could be the answer to recruitment shortages in the army, according to a new report.

The army is also under pressure to recruit more women.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said the quantity and quality of recruits could be improved sharply if more posts were open to women.

Defence Select Committee

Currently, there are 16,500 women serving in the armed forces, only 8% of the total, though the number of potential posts open to women has improved from 47% to 70% in the last two years.

Women in RAF
Women already serve in the RAF

But women are not allowed to drive tanks, serve in the front line infantry, on submarines or as divers.

Defence Minister Geoff Hoon has indicated his willingness to allow women to serve on the front line and has challenged opponents to come up with a good reason why they should not be allowed to do so.

Opponents believe a high number of female front line casualties would be bad for army morale and unacceptable to the public.

Combat trials

A change was signalled earlier this year when the government announced combat trials and mixed regiments for women.

A panel of experts will submit a report, A Study of Combat Effectiveness and Gender, to ministers next year.

EOC chairwoman Julie Mellor said: "Special measures such as training initiatives to equip women to work in jobs that have traditionally been done by men would help boost the number of women applying for certain jobs in the armed services.

"We believe that the armed services are missing out on many good quality potential recruits."

The army currently has two female brigadiers who, together with a female air commodore in the RAF, are the highest ranking female personnel in the armed forces. The Royal Navy has three female captains.

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