Deepcut Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:04 pm on 29th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 4:04 pm, 29th March 2006

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The Blake review is a substantial document and will require detailed study, but we must not lose sight of the fact that it was necessary because of the deaths of four young recruits. These deaths were personal tragedies, and the hearts of all noble Lords will go out to their parents and families.

Like previous reports, the Blake review will have wider implications for our Armed Forces, the way they train their recruits and the MoD's duty of care. These issues are complex because they require a difficult balance. On the one hand, the Army needs individuals who will put themselves in the line of fire to protect all of us, and that inevitably requires a robust and tough training environment and a culture quite unlike that of civilian life. On the other hand, the Army has a duty of care to each individual under its command.

Mr Blake makes a number of important points. He finds that the Army did not cause the deaths of the three recruits whose cases he studied, although he identifies a number of "institutional failures" in the Army. Despite calls for a public inquiry, he believes that no useful purpose will be served by holding one. He concludes that no new reliable evidence as to how the four trainees met their deaths is likely to be available. We recognise that that will come as a disappointment to the families, but Mr Blake's decision confirms the view that we have taken all along.

The review demonstrates that mistakes were made in the MoD's duty of care for the young recruits in its charge and opportunities missed in dealing with the problems at the base. Between 1988 and 2002, seven inquiries into MoD training identified a number of the problem areas and shortfalls in provision. However, the MoD failed to act on these. The defence budget was grossly overstretched, and too often training seemed like an easy source of savings and a low priority for funding and improvements.

The review is particularly critical of the levels of supervision at Deepcut, which in some cases were as bad as 1:60. In a Westminster Hall debate on 27 April 2004, the Secretary of State announced a further 179 instructors and a supervisory ratio target of 1:38 in all phase 1 and phase 2 training establishments. Can the Minister confirm that this target of 1:38 has been met?

The review is very critical of the poor accommodation and the sanitary and washing facilities available. What improvements has the MoD made in this very important area?

We are aware that two of these recruits had medical records of self-harm prior to recruitment, unknown to the MoD. What is the MoD doing to identify vulnerable recruits on entry into the service? Is there sufficient psychological profiling of potential recruits, and will the Minister's department consider automatic availability of NHS medical records prior to a recruitment decision? What improvements have been made to the vetting procedure of instructors following the conviction of Leslie Skinner in December 2004 for indecent assault on four young recruits? Problems have been identified arising from the break between phase 1 and phase 2 training. What plans do the Government have to restructure the training programme to reduce the problems experienced by soldiers awaiting trade training?

We welcome the recognition in the Statement of the need to spread and sustain best practice in relation to young soldiers beyond Deepcut—Bassingbourn and the Army Foundation College at Harrogate were both mentioned. We welcome the recognition that it would be appropriate to amend the Armed Forces Bill to meet some of the points identified by Mr Blake, and the Government can look to the Opposition to give a fair wind to such amendments.

The Ministry of Defence and the Army are clearly embarked on a number of sensible measures to help prevent a recurrence of such failings. I hope that the Minster will continue to report regularly to this House that the better practices are in full operation, and that they have not been allowed to slide back as the memories of what did and did not happen at Deepcut slide back into the past.