Deepcut Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:10 pm on 29th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 4:10 pm, 29th March 2006

My Lords, I thank the Minister both for early sight of the Statement and the opportunity to have access to the report at the Ministry of Defence early this morning. Our sympathy is also with the families of these young soldiers, who died so early in their lives.

Time will not allow us to deal with each of the 34 important recommendations in the Blake review, just as the Statement talks only broadly about them. When are we going to get this full report back? We cannot wait years to hear the Ministry of Defence's response. I trust that it will be within, for example, three months.

As we have heard, the review does not recommend a further public inquiry, given that it does not believe that more evidence will emerge at this stage. It does, however, recommend disclosure of information to the families, among other measures. It is too early to know how the families, who have suffered so much, will react. However, if the recommendations of the report in this section are fully implemented, closure may be achieved. We will have to wait to see how the police and the Government react to the recommendations.

A number of important recommendations could be implemented by Ministry of Defence Ministers now. Do they intend to immediately implement them in full? The measures range widely, from the living conditions, supervisory arrangements, instructor vetting and training and investigation arrangements, through to complaints procedures. We have raised many of these issues on many occasions. It is always a question of priority for resources.

Will the Minister assure us that under-18 year-olds in training are not to be put at risk through losing out in the resource priorities battle within the defence programme? Will he immediately implement the recommendation for separate training facilities for those aged 16? Will the poor accommodation, identified as a factor, be upgraded now and not left to rot like so much of the rest of the defence estate? Will the measures to vet and train instructors be implemented now, for the protection of young people? Will the recommendations regarding the Military Police be implemented? Here, again, we have concerns about resources, just as we recently had over the police in Iraq. In particular, will the Minister undertake to implement recommendation 24—that the Royal Military Police be brought formally under Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary?

In this brief opportunity to focus on the issues raised by Deepcut, I wish to finish with two major areas. First, in recommendation 3, Blake examines whether it is right that the UK is one of the few countries which recruits child soldiers—that is, those under 18. We have had international criticism for this policy. The review says that recruiting needs are not a satisfactory justification, but goes on to say that the policy is justified given the inadequacies of education and training in the UK's civilian system. As long as the education benefits outweigh the downside of having child soldiers, the report requires a number of special safeguards: the separation of 16 year-olds; a right to resign if still under training, even if past your 18th birthday by the time you get there; and, most importantly—I ask for the Minister's comments and assurance on this—that no posting to the field army will occur before the age of 18. Do the Government intend to implement these immediately?

Finally, recommendation 26 calls for the establishment of a commissioner of military complaints—an Armed Forces ombudsman for all the Armed Forces, not just trainees. The Armed Forces Bill has a watered-down proposal for an independent element in redress procedures. The Blake review has a much more useful recommendation, which could address the growing concern among the Armed Forces that their views on their conditions are just ignored. I suggest to the Minister that this is the opportunity to take an imaginative approach. Do the Government intend to take up that proposal in the Armed Forces Bill?

If any good is to come from these terrible, tragic events at Deepcut, the Ministry of Defence needs to respond and transfer all the necessary resources to make its under-18 training regime safe, otherwise it needs to consider whether it can continue to recruit such young people into the army.