Deepcut Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:21 pm on 29th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Bramall Lord Bramall Crossbench 4:21 pm, 29th March 2006

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement given in another place. Just as importantly, I most sincerely add my condolences to the families of those young soldiers who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. I speak with some personal experience in these matters in that I commanded a training company of just such young recruits 50 years ago—in those what I suppose might be described as rather less enlightened days as far as managing young soldiers is concerned. But even then, had I had one such loss of life among my recruits, let alone four in seven years, I would have been horrified and felt that it was in some way a direct reflection on me and on my officers' supervision and awareness of what was going on.

However, this most thorough, detailed and even copious report, on which I congratulate Mr Nicholas Blake and which was dealt with only in outline in the Statement, largely allays our worst fears that these young people lost their lives by means other than their own hand, or that any bullying, abuse and harassment had directly contributed to their state of mind. I believe that all noble Lords will feel that that is a matter of great relief in a society in which oppressive leadership—not abuse, but oppressive leadership—by NCOs over trainees is sometimes considered to be, and may indeed have to be, part and parcel of "making men"—I use that in its wider sense—out of young recruits from uncertain and often unhelpful backgrounds.

As the Minister said, however, there are things that could be, need to be, and one hopes now are being done better. I refer to standards of accommodation, what the Army is pleased to call "the ablutions"; welfare for the recruit; more intelligent, sympathetic and better supervision of young recruits away from home for the first time; better qualified and trained instructors; and better redress of grievances—which I suggest should be made direct to the commanding officer. When I was the commanding officer of a battalion I always insisted—and it took a bit of doing because some of the sergeant-majors did not always like it—that grievances came direct to the commanding officer. I think that that is very important. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, said, we need establishments—which of course is a budgetary matter—that are large enough to allow more supervision particularly by officers. That might have made all the difference.

All of those matters are part and parcel of good leadership and man-management and necessary for the infusion of a high morale in which discipline is as much caught by example as imposed from outside. I am sure that those tragic happenings at Deepcut will have been a salutary reminder that if you want high morale and a sense of well-being, as opposed to the opposite, in those below you, there can be no complacency about the standards of leadership and the encouragement and example that they bring.