Deepcut Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 29th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 4:15 pm, 29th March 2006

My Lords, I am grateful for the tone taken by the noble Lords opposite in commenting on the Blake review. I stress that there is a complete commitment from the top of the Ministry of Defence and throughout the organisation to learn the lessons from the Blake review. It is right that we take the time to reflect fully on the recommendations of this detailed and comprehensive review to ensure that the implementation is done properly. Therefore, it is not appropriate for me to give commitments in this House today to implement the recommendations, but I give a commitment that I and my ministerial team will look at and review the Blake recommendations with speed. I shall answer directly noble Lords' questions on the timescale for reporting back. Consistent with making sure that when we report back we are able to do so in a way that focuses on implementation, we will report back quickly—within months.

With regard to the context in which the Blake review has taken place, it is important for us to note that a considerable amount has already been done by the Ministry of Defence and, particularly, by the British Army throughout the past seven years. Indeed, things were already being done prior to 1995. None the less, Blake shows that despite the significant improvements that have been made, which the report recognised, they have not gone far enough. More needs to be done. To give a specific example of what has been done already, I can say that considerable investment has gone into living accommodation. If people were to visit Deepcut today they would find, compared with five years ago, a significant improvement in the facilities. However, going forward from here, it is right to focus on the pace at which implementation takes place. I make a commitment to the House to report back to it regularly on the pace of that implementation. It is vital for us to show that we are properly putting people before equipment, that we have the right balance within our defence budget and that, consistent with the tempo and challenge of operations that we undertake within the defence budget, we put people first. There are clearly no better examples of people who should be put first than the youngest members of the Armed Forces, the trainees coming into them.

It is important for me to give that context to our response. We are working on the specifics of matters such as medical record disclosure—which was one of Blake's recommendations—and improvements in vetting procedures. We need to look in detail at how we can implement them properly. I know that in relation to vetting procedures we would like to go further with Criminal Records Bureau checks, but are unable to do so under the current legislation in respect of people already in full-time employment, rather than those applying for employment. We are having discussions with the Home Office about what can be done to develop legislation to enable us to go further.

We are restructuring our training programme, which the noble Lord asked for. We must recognise the challenge that the Army faces in phase 2 training. Deepcut is a phase 2 training establishment where soldiers, having been through their basic training, go through their trade training, which can take several years to complete. It is a challenge for us to ensure that during that process their motivation is maintained for a considerable period. One of our innovations is to take people from the training establishment and have them spend short periods with the field army to maintain their motivation and recycle that trade training.

Levels of appropriate supervision depend on the activities undertaken and the particular factors at each training establishment. Training establishments carry out different functions. Noble Lords have mentioned that Blake describes the excellent facilities provided at Bassingbourn and Harrogate. These clearly are good models which we know are working, so we have achieved improvements but have further to go.

We accept that levels of supervision have been unacceptable in the past, and are making the improvements that need to be implemented now. We use the commanding officers' risk assessment guidelines to determine the appropriate levels, as well as to ensure that the focus on the training of instructors is improved. I would be happy to provide further reports to the House as we make progress. We expect to be able to report on all the recommendations made by Blake to the House in months, but it is important, as noble Lords have requested, that that is maintained subsequently with regular updates.