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Exclusive: Defence Secretary vows to tackle ‘woeful’ armed forces record on bullying in wake of Black Lives Matter movement

The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, vows to tackle the MoD's "woeful" record on BAME recruitment. Credit: MoD

4 min read

The Ministry of Defence must “reset” its “woeful” record on discrimination against black and minority ethnic personnel, Cabinet minister Ben Wallace has declared.

The Defence Secretary said his department had historically “not done well enough” in either recruiting or welcoming people from a black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, amid global protests at racial injustice sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The comments come in a wide-ranging interview with The House — in which Mr Wallace, a former Scots guards captain, also warned against making statue vandals “martyrs” amid a row over how to punish those who desecrate war memorials.

Figures published by the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces show that BAME personnel are more likely to complain about bullying, harassment and discrimination than their white counterparts.

While BAME staff make up just 7% of overall armed forces personnel, they account for a disproportionate 13% of those lodging complaints about discrimination.

Former soldiers have meanwhile broken cover in recent weeks to detail the discrimination they have faced in the armed forces, with  a BBC documentary revealing a string of payouts including from one veteran who was forced to play a Taliban terrorist in an army training video.

Declaring his intention to tackle the problem in an interview with The House magazine, Mr Wallace said: “This department has simply not done well enough on two areas, predominantly on BAME issues: we have not recruited enough people, and we have not made this a welcoming place for enough people. Our figures are woeful.”

The comments come amid a major review of the UK’s defence capabilities.

The Cabinet minister made clear he wanted a boost to the diversity of staff across the Armed Forces to play a key part in that process.

“The integrated review is a great opportunity for a reset or a reprioritisation of funding to make sure we put this right,” he said.

And Mr Wallace said: “From a purely selfish point of view, by not having more BAME personnel, not having more women, we are losing the opportunity to have some great talent. So it's really, really important that this is stopped, crushed, got rid of, and we have to double our efforts.”

The latest available data from the Ministry of Defence show that black, asian and minority ethnic people make up just 5.4% of its civilian workforce.

While the picture has marginally improved since 2015, BAME representation in the ministry is far below the civil service average of 12.7%. 

Just 3.2% of people in the most senior ranks of the MoD’s civilian staff are non-white, the figures show.

Mr Wallace said: “I'd love to see this department remember that the greatest asset we have is not our tanks or our aeroplanes, it's people. They are the greatest asset in defence.”


The Defence Secretary also used his interview with The House to urge caution on a planned crackdown against those who desecrate war memorials.

A string of monuments have been damaged in Whitehall in recent weeks amid protests — including the daubing of the word ‘racist’ on a statue of wartime leader Winston Churchill.

Boris Johnson this week signalled that he was “looking at new ways” to protect such monuments — and vowed that perpetrators will face “the full force of the law” amid a backbench push for harsher sentences.

But Mr Wallace warned against making people into “martyrs” — and floated the idea of ordering those who desecrate monuments to spend time with service personnel and “learn what sacrifice is really about”.

"People should respect the sacrifice people made, and I felt sick when I saw idiots on the Cenotaph spraying stuff,” the Cabinet minister said.

“I feel pretty angry that people think the problems of the world are because of statues, and actually, our history is warts and all - you have to be warts and all or you don't learn the lessons of history. 

“And so I think you don't get your message across by desecrating anything. You in fact look like an idiot.”

He added: “You should be punished for it. But also, you shouldn't be martyred because you're just an idiot. And I wouldn't give those people the credit that they're a martyr, I think they're just idiots. 

“And what really we should do, is instead of sending them to jail they should come and meet some of the men and women of the armed forces and their veterans and learn what sacrifice is really about. That might teach them a lesson or two."  

Mr Wallace said: “For what it's worth, as a former soldier, what makes us great as a country is not just statues, and it's not just medals – it’s our values. And it's valuing the living as much as the dead, if not more.“

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