Category: Armed Forces

Armed Forces: Racism and Diversity

My Lords, I encourage the ethnic minorities to join the Armed Forces. The problem is that very few are promoted above the middle ranks, which causes frustration. Furthermore, ethnic minorities make up only 2.5% of officers, which is very low. For us to improve diversity and assist the mental and ?spiritual well-being of servicemen, chaplains of all religions need to be full-time officers. Muslim and Sikh chaplains have received full officer training but are part-time reservists. They need to be regular full-time officers with adequate ranks. Can my noble friend the Minister look at this point?


In response, Baroness Goldie responded

I listened with great interest to the point raised by my noble friend. I have no specific information about the appointment of chaplains or the backgrounds from which they are appointed. I shall investigate and write further to him.

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Armed Forces Diversity Luncheon

Lord Sheikh attended and spoke at a diversity luncheon organised by Amrit Maan, the owner of Punjab Restaurant. During his speech, Lord Sheikh referred to the contributions of Muslims during the two World Wars. He made the point that the role of Muslims during the World Wars is not widely acknowledged and more should be done to rectify this.

General Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, was also a speaker. Other senior officers were in attendance, including some from the ethnic minorities.

Battle of Britain Dinner

Lord Sheikh attended the Royal Air Force Northolt Battle of Britain Dinner on 4th September 2018.

Invited by Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Stephen Hillier and the Air Force Board of the Defence Council, the dinner commemorated the Battle of Britain.

Air Force Board Dinner and Sunset Ceremony


Armed Forces, other Personnel from Indian Sub-continent in WW1

House of Lords Debate on 18th December 2013 tabled by Lord Sheikh asking Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to commemorate the role of armed forces and other personnel from the Indian sub-continent in the First World War.

My Lords, I am pleased that this important subject was called for debate today. The centenary of the First World War is almost upon us. This war saw conflict and suffering on an unprecedented scale. The four war years serve as both a reminder and a commemoration of the struggles and the sacrifice of so many people across the world. I hope that time will encourage us all to honour and appreciate the lasting impact these events have had and will continue to have for generations to come.

In March this year I spoke in a debate on the centenary of the war in your Lordships’ House. I specifically focused on the contribution of Indian forces then and I want to expand on those points today. The significant part they played is not widely acknowledged and the sacrifice made by the Indians and the suffering they endured need to be fully appreciated. I hope today’s debate will serve to inform others and help address the situation.

This matter holds a special significance to me; I trace my family heritage back to India. That is where my father originally lived before moving to Uganda in the 1920s. I feel a deep connection with the many stories documented by Indian soldiers throughout the conflict. On the outbreak of the First World War all opposition to the British Government ceased, and the feelings of Indians at large were well summed up by the Honourable Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a former president of the Indian National Congress. He assured the viceroy and the governor-general that,

“India would ensure the sacrifice of men and money in order that the British armies shall triumph”.

India raised the world’s largest volunteer army, with a total of 1.5 million people, during the First World War. Indians from all over the world, from such remote countries as Australia and Argentina, came forward to serve the Empire in its hour of need. More than 1 million of these personnel were sent overseas and 140,000 were engaged in active service on the western front. This marked the first time that Indian soldiers had ever fought on European ground.

They were originally called on to help when the British forces were suffering heavy causalities, which reinforces just how historically important their role was. The great Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in making the case for Indian assistance. On 13 August 1914, he and 50 other activists signed an important circular, which stated the decision,

“for the sake of the Motherland and the Empire to place our services unconditionally, during this crisis, at the disposal of the Authorities”.

The seven Indian expeditionary forces provided crucial support and fought directly alongside British Forces in Europe. For example, at the battle of Neuve Chapelle they provided half the attacking force. A British general described them as a magnificent body who performed the most useful and valuable service. The expeditionary forces also saw action in east Africa, Mesopotamia, Sinai, the Suez, Gallipoli and Palestine. The Royal Indian Marine also served alongside the Royal Navy in a number of functions. Some ships served as gunboats and others as coastal minesweepers. Their merchant services in transport and supply were also crucial to the war effort. More than 74,000 Indian troops were killed or declared missing in action during the First World War, a number that is testament to the level of sacrifice and loyalty shown by the Indians in supporting the Allied Forces.

Participants from the Indian subcontinent were recognised for their bravery and valour in combat during the First World War with more than 9,200 decorations, including 12 Victoria Cross medals. Sepoy Khudadad Khan was the first native-born Indian to win the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of overwhelming numbers in Belgium. He served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment. Similarly, the courage of Naik Darwan Singh Negi of the 1st Battalion of the 39th Garhwal Rifles was recognised in 1914. He was one of the very few soldiers to have the great honour of being personally presented with the Victoria Cross on the battlefield in France by King George V. A notable example of the spirit and pride of the Indian subcontinent soldiers is that of a platoon of Sikhs, who in 1914 died fighting in Belgium to the last man, who shot himself with his last cartridge rather than surrender to the enemy. The soldier believed in the concept of chardi kala, which gave him the strength to be courageous and not to surrender.

The participation of the Indian subcontinent was not confined to the battlefield alone. Doctors and students from the Indian Medical Service provided care and rehabilitation to the wounded and many Indian military hospitals were set up across the UK, perhaps the most famous of which was the Royal Pavilion Hospital in Brighton. This housed more than 600 wounded soldiers from the western front. As shocking as these facts and figures are, we must also remember the personal and social hardship that was felt by Indian citizens and families not directly involved in the conflict. Much of the essence of the war is captured in writings from the time, and India contributed in this respect, too. One of the greatest poets during those years was an Indian called Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore wrote in a letter on 18 November 1915 that the war was fought,

“for the cause of liberty”.

Speaking in 1921, upon the placing of the foundation stone of the All-India War Memorial, Lord Chelmsford, the viceroy of India, remarked that the,

“immortal story of the endurance and valour of the sons of India is a legacy which their sons and their sons’ sons will treasure above all the wealth the world can offer”.

This memorial, completed in 1931, remains a testament to the sacred memory of the Indian soldiers who fell in different parts of the world. There are indeed numerous similar memorials in existence across the world to commemorate those soldiers who gave their lives during the First World War. A site called the Chattri exists on the South Downs, at Patcham near Brighton. It is associated with 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose remains were cremated at that spot. A memorial service is held there every year. There is also a Muslim burial ground on Horsell Common in Woking, where 17 Indian soldiers were originally buried. Further burials took place after the Second World War. Renovation works are currently taking place there in preparation for next year’s anniversary. In Neuve Chapelle in France, there is a memorial that has been erected to honour the memory of the Indian soldiers who died fighting in Europe. In addition, I know that some years ago the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, led a successful campaign to erect a memorial on Constitution Hill to soldiers from India and other regions of the British Empire who served in the two world wars.

The commitment of these brave men to the war effort often emerged from a strong sense of personal duty to the Empire. Many letters written by Indian soldiers at that time reveal the honour they felt in fighting for their king. It was this loyalty and dedication that endeared many British troops to them. Indeed, alongside the military assistance they provided, there was the opportunity for social interaction between our different cultures.

I know that the Government have been proactive in developing a substantial programme of tributes and events, including last month’s announcement that a series of lectures will be held to commemorate the contribution of Commonwealth countries to the war effort. I shall be obliged if my noble friend the Minister can explain to your Lordships’ House what plans have been formulated to honour the contribution by the people of India during the First World War. I am looking forward to sharing in the commemoration and honouring their memories.

First World War: Centenary

My Lords, I pay particular tribute to the contribution of our Indian soldiers during the First World War, as the significant part they played is not widely acknowledged. This is of personal significance to me as my grandfather served in the Indian Expeditionary Force E in Palestine. India raised the world’s largest volunteer army of 1.5 million during the First World War. They provided crucial support to our expeditionary forces and fought directly alongside British troops in various battles which took place in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Indian contributions were not just confined to the Army; they also served in the Royal Indian Marines, Indian merchant services and in the Army nursing units. Indian troops were awarded more than 9,200 decorations, including 11 Victoria Crosses. The first Indian to be awarded a Victoria Cross was Sepoy Khudadad Khan, who fought in Belgium in 1914. He was in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment during that period.

More than 74,000 Indian troops were killed or declared missing in action. A memorial site called the Chattri exists on the South Downs at Patcham, which commemorates the Indian soldiers who gave their lives during the First World War. In particular, it is associated with 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose remains were cremated at that very spot, and a memorial service is held there every year.

The commitment of these brave men to the war effort often emerged from a strong sense of personal duty to the Empire. They felt honour in fighting for their King, and it was this sense of loyalty and dedication that endeared them to many of their British comrades.

I have long advocated the need for an emphasis on what we share in maintaining a stable and successful multicultural society. There can be few things more unifying than honouring the sacrifices which our British and Indian ancestors made, fighting and dying together 100 years ago. Finally, I ask that we consider acknowledging the contribution made by Indians in the First World War during the commemoration next year.

Armed Forces: Reserve Forces

My Lords, at the outset, I thank my noble friend Lord Freeman, for securing this debate and for his excellent speech. As we begin the period leading to Remembrance Sunday, the contribution of all members of our Armed Forces, past and present, is very much in our minds. Reserve Forces have fought in every recent operational theatre, alongside regular personnel. As we remember the sacrifices of the past, we need to look to the future in a spirit of sober reflection.

When we look at the future role of the Reserve Forces, we cannot do so without considering the wider defence context. The Strategic Defence and Security Review provides the backdrop for these important decisions. I welcome the fact that these reviews will now be held every five years. Before 2010, the last Strategic Defence Review was held in 1998; and the previous one in 1992. As we look towards the end of our military commitments in Afghanistan, now is an opportune time to think about the future shape of our Armed Forces. What is clear is that we will need greater flexibility in both Regular and Reserve Forces. I welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement, on 5 July, that the Government accepted the broad thrust of the review of our Reserve Forces.

To increase operational flexibility, reservists can expect an increased role, with greater integration alongside Regular Forces. That will require an increase as well as a change in the nature of the role of reservists, and it sits well alongside wider defence reforms. We need to recruit reservists with specialist skills and expertise. By redefining reservists’ role, there will need to be more predictable scales of commitment, particularly for enduring operations. This raises some potential issues. The Government, as an employer, have set a good example by demonstrating how they will encourage civil servants’ participation in future; civil servants can look forward to 10 days’ paid leave to conduct Reserve Forces training. However, as was explained to me recently, when reservists are deployed in theatre, the tour may last six months, but the time away could be more than that. With my background in business, I know that this could have serious consequences, particularly for small businesses. A balance is difficult to strike; employers can ask at an interview whether someone is a member of the Reserve Forces. I hope that the Minister will be able to update your Lordships’ House on what support is being made available to businesses as well as potential recruits.

I congratulate the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Territorial Army for its work on this. I welcome the Partnering for Talent initiative between the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions and private enterprise. This pilot started recently, identifying business benefits for employers supporting reservists. These are early days, but I would welcome the Minister’s observations on progress.

Reserve Forces have sometimes been at a disadvantage when returning from theatre. Their period in decompression can be less than for Regular Forces, and the level of support available can be harder for them to access. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrined the military covenant in law; this agenda has been picked up enthusiastically all across the country and captured the public imagination. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the military covenant, including for reservists.

I now press the importance of the contribution of people of all ethnic groups to our Armed Forces. In this regard, I raise two points. First, there is a shortfall of about 20% in the recruitment numbers from ethnic minority communities; secondly, there is the issue of retention. On the latter, it is important that the skills of the ethnic-minority personnel are fully recognised and that promotions are based on merit. I am reliably told that there is some disquiet among serving personnel and we need to look at why there is dissatisfaction. I would appreciate the Minister’s views on the two points I have raised.

I add that I encourage ethnic minorities to join the Armed Forces and have spoken on this subject many times at meetings and events. Our Armed Forces have always been strongest when drawn from the widest possible pool of manpower and talent. To conclude, this debate has rightly celebrated our Reserve Forces and their increased contribution to our continued security.

Armed Forces: Post Service Welfare

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater for securing this important debate. The state in which a number of our veterans find themselves on leaving service should fill us all with concern. These men and women demonstrate unparalleled bravery in their defence of our country. We should therefore put provisions in place that give our veterans who suffer from a physical injury or a mental health illness all the support that they require for their rehabilitation.

My contribution will focus mainly on the mental health challenges facing a number of our veterans. A recent report by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research reveals that almost 25 per cent of Iraq war veterans are suffering from mental health-related illnesses. The King’s Centre is of the view that of the 180,000 service men and women who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, 48,000 veterans may suffer from an illness of this nature. The research states that 9,000 service personnel are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. This condition can lie dormant for a long period, yet its effects are terrible for those who suffer it. I welcome the Government’s announcement to improve mental health services for veterans through the provision of 24-hour counselling, a support helpline and the introduction of 30 mental health nurses. Greater resources might be needed in areas that have a moderate-to-high percentage of veterans, as failure to do so might place a strain on local services. The coalition Government have doubled the operational service allowance, while amending the policy on rest and recuperation for service personnel deployed on operations. This, too, is welcome, as it will go towards addressing the impact of combat-related stress on our Armed Forces.

I fully support the provisions in the Armed Forces Bill that pertain to ensuring that the military covenant is honoured by government as a statutory duty. The Bill will also make it incumbent on the Secretary of State for Defence to report every year on steps that the Government are taking to support servicemen, veterans and their families. I look forward to debating the Bill when it reaches this House.

A more common mental health complaint among those who have served in the Armed Forces is depression. It has been found that those diagnosed with depression are more likely to be of lower rank or persons who are divorced or separated. One reason given for the prevalence of depression among veterans is a fear of not being able to secure a job on returning to civilian life, which in turn leads to a sense of despair. An unfortunate stigma is attached to mental health issues in our society. Regrettably, this is even worse among the Armed Forces.

It has been widely reported that many veterans who are suffering from mental health difficulties tend to hide their suffering. A number of service men and women have attributed this to the fact that they view acknowledgment of a mental health illness as a sign of weakness. In making the noble commitment to defend our nation, many of these brave men and women perhaps feel as though they are burdening their families and friends by sharing their mental trauma. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House about any plans or campaigns that the Government will embark on to address this issue. Perhaps I may add that alcohol abuse among ex-members of the Armed Forces is double that among the British civilian population.

I was particularly heartened by the pledge in the SDSR to support ex-service personnel to enter tertiary education. This will provide those who have contributed so much to our national security with greater career choices on leaving the Army. I also take the opportunity to praise the decision to award scholarships to the children of service personnel who have lost their lives in active service since 1990. It will go towards expressing our gratitude to the children whose parents have made the ultimate sacrifice when defending our country.

I pay tribute to the excellent work undertaken by Combat Stress, the veterans’ mental health charity, which provides veterans suffering from a mental health illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder with specialist care.

I praise the Big Lottery Fund for launching the Forces in Mind programme. This laudable initiative is aimed at supporting the psychological welfare of service personnel and ensuring that veterans are given all the required assistance in making the transition to civilian life.

I refer to a report produced by Dr Andrew Murrison MP, a man with strong credentials in medicine and in the Armed Forces. His report is entitled Fighting Fit, and has generated four principal recommendations. I ask the Minister to update your Lordships’ House on the implementation of the recommendations suggested in that report. I understand that Dr Murrison is undertaking a review of prosthetic limbs, as it is important that a supply of limbs for those who need them is often inadequate in quantity and quality.

Our Armed Forces have played an important role in bringing stability to many regions around the world. Our servicemen perform a unique, challenging and selfless duty in protecting the civilians and citizens of this country who are supporting the Government’s wider foreign policy objectives. The sacrifices of our Armed Forces, which are made to provide us with safety, entitle them to specialist treatment. We have a moral and civil duty to ensure that we make necessary provision so that our veterans return to civilian life in good mental health.

Finally, I take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of Defence for establishing the Armed Forces Muslim Association. General Sir David Richards is the patron of the association, and I have rendered support to the association.

Armed Forces Muslim Association Eid Gathering

Lord Sheikh attended and spoke at the Eid Gathering organised by the Armed Forces Muslim Association. The event was held at the Officer’s Mess at RAF Northolt. 

The principal guest at the event was General Sir David Richards KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen, Chief of the Defence Staff, Head of the British Armed Forces, Patron of the Armed Forces Muslim Association.

Lord Sheikh in his speech congratulated General Sir David Richards on his recent appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff and also explained the significance of Eid in other major religions. Lord Sheikh encouraged the ethnic minorities to join the Armed Forces and the police force and said that they need to get involved in every walk of life.

Lord Sheikh also acknowledged the sacrifices that Muslims and the ethnic minorities have made in the World Wars and expressed his gratitude to the Armed Forces personnel for the risks they bear. He added that we need to ensure that the Forces are properly resourced when deployed and adequately looked after once they have ceased to serve.

Armed Forces Muslim Association Families Day

Lord & Lady Sheikh attended the Armed Forces Muslim Association Families Day which was held at RAF Halton. The picture shows Lord Sheikh with Commodore Tim Hennessey RN, Group Captain Zahur Ulhaq (Chairman of Armed Forces Muslim Association), Lieutenant Colonel Mo Usman RLC, Zaheer Ahmad MBE, Imam Asim Hafiz and Corporal Mohsin Mughal (Secretary of the Association) amongst other officers.

A meeting was held at the event where Lord Sheikh made the point that the Armed Forces in the Unied Kingdom are non-political and urged the Muslims to join the Armed Forces and the police force. Lord Sheikh further said that he had been assured by the senior officers in the Armed Forces that promotion would solely be based on the merit of individuals.

At the meeting Group Captain Zahur Ulhaq put forward the idea that we should all consider erecting a memorial in the memory of Muslims who were killed during the two World Wars. Lord Sheikh spoke very much in favour of this idea and said that he would render his support in taking this forward.