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Ministerial Statements

34. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): If he will ask the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to inquire into how the House considers statements from Ministers who have attended international meetings. [200069]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): I have no plans to do so but I am open to suggestions from hon. Members about how we might improve the organisation of business in the House.

Hugh Bayley: With the Prime Minister giving such a clear priority to Africa during the UK presidencies of the G8 and the European Union next year, will my right hon. Friend ensure that hon. Members have regular opportunities throughout the year, and beyond that, to debate Africa and question Ministers from all the relevant Departments, including the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry, on a cross-cutting basis?

Mr. Hain: I am sympathetic to the idea of a cross-cutting question session on Africa. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work and to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington)—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence corrects my pronunciation of "Milngavie." My hon. Friends have done valuable work and have said that Africa should be debated more regularly in the House and that Ministers should be held to account. We want to consider a way of achieving that and cross-cutting questions is one method.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Will the Leader of the House remind the Deputy Leader of the House of the excellent procedure that is called urgent questions, whereby any hon. Member, including Government Back Benchers, can submit an urgent question to Mr. Speaker, who has the right to dispose of it one way or another? That is a good mechanism for calling Ministers to account whenever hon. Members believe that it is necessary in the context of international meetings or, indeed, anything else.

Mr. Hain: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that option is exercised regularly and Mr. Speaker makes a decision on it.
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The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—


35. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will agree with the Royal Institute of British Architects the rules for an architecture competition to make the House more accessible; and if he will make a statement. [200070]

Sir Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (LD): The Commission has no plans for an architectural competition to make the House more accessible, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the Modernisation Committee recently suggested some sort of viewing gallery to enable passing visitors to see the House while sitting. The Commission, however, does not consider it feasible in the current security climate to contemplate tours passing through the Gallery, although the proposed visitor centre will have, as one of its primary objectives, allowing visitors to see at least something of what Parliament is and does.

Mr. Allen: The House will realise, having been close to some serious incidents perpetrated by extremists, that one of the things that the extremists would hate most would be more people being able to see the proceedings of the House at first hand as a result of their actions. Will the hon. Gentleman take away again the thought that we could tap into the brains of RIBA, listen to people, have a competition and perhaps let Members of the House decide whether any format that emerged would make the House more secure and, above all, more accessible to people in a modern democracy?

Sir Archy Kirkwood: The hon. Gentleman's passion for making Parliament more accessible to the public is well known and I encourage him in that endeavour, but I cannot see in the short term any realistic possibility of the Commission being able seriously to contemplate doing some architectural trick that would not prejudice security or cost a lot of money.


The Leader of the House was asked—

Sitting Hours

36. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If he will make a statement on future sitting hours of the House. [200071]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): The Modernisation Committee is completing its inquiry on sitting hours and the House will have the opportunity to debate and come to a decision on the Committee's findings in the new year.
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Mr. Mackay: May I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that a decision is taken very soon? We have had enough debate. There are rather set opinions around the House and it would be helpful if, early in the new year, he ensured that appropriate votes took place.
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Mr. Hain: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, which is why, at the earliest opportunity in the new year, once the Modernisation Committee report is available to Members of the House for detailed consideration, we will have a debate.
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Deepcut Allegations

12.32 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement concerning the Surrey police papers listing allegations of inappropriate behaviour during Army training.

I make it clear first that the Army and the Ministry of Defence take issues of bullying, harassment and any form of mistreatment extremely seriously. We cannot compromise on the nature of our training, which must be sufficiently robust to prepare our soldiers for the considerable hazards and rigours of operations. An Army career has never been, and never will be, a soft option, but I would like to make it clear that violence and intimidation are not the means by which the Army produces the soldiers it needs. Our policy continues to bear down hard on such behaviour and, as far as is possible, to eradicate it completely from our bases and training grounds. We are succeeding at this. Such behaviour has no place whatever in society and neither is it tolerated in the Army.

I am aware that the media coverage yesterday of the Surrey police memorandum submitted to the Defence Committee on 13 October has encouraged those who have been calling for a public inquiry on the very sad events at Deepcut barracks. I would like to address those calls by setting out clearly what this document is and what actions are being taken in response to it.

During the recent investigation of the four Deepcut deaths, Surrey police obtained numerous statements involving allegations of inappropriate behaviour at the base and elsewhere. In their fifth report, published in March 2004, Surrey police alluded to evidence uncovered during their inquiries and indicated that some of those allegations may be subject to further examination in due course.

At the Army's request, in June 2004 Surrey police provided two confidential schedules containing anonymous individual allegations. The first concerned allegations centred on 1995 and the second on the period 2001–02. A memorandum containing these same schedules was submitted to the House of Commons Defence Committee for its 13 October evidence session with Surrey police and this has been made publicly available. I want strongly to refute the allegation that this is a leaked document, and I would call into question the motives of those in the media who have depicted it as such.

There are 118 entries in the two schedules, covering 173 separate allegations. Eighty of the entries are from 1995. The level of detail is sparse, much of it is hearsay, and much of the descriptive content is vague. Names have been excluded, as the material was provided in confidence to Surrey police. The nature of the allegations is wide-ranging. Some concern pay discrepancies, but the majority allege some form of physical or sexual harassment. Some of the allegations appear to relate to the same incident or pattern of behaviour. Nine of the allegations concern rape and all but three of those have been investigated or are still under investigation. Of the three not subject to investigation so far, in the police's judgment, two are unsubstantiated hearsay accounts. Investigations to date have resulted in one known conviction. Within the
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total of nine rape allegations, there is one case of multiple rape, which is currently under investigation by Surrey police.

Let me make the position on the document clear. In submitting their report, the police set out their views on the material, saying:

Surrey police have also made it clear that they will not be making any further inquiries themselves. The schedules have been examined by the Army and, as a result, Surrey police were approached in September 2004 with a view to obtaining consent for the relevant statements to be disclosed to the Royal Military Police. I am advised that Surrey police have contacted the individuals concerned and I understand that only two individuals have agreed to disclosure. The Royal Military Police will begin investigations into those two cases as soon as the relevant details have been made available by Surrey police.

I have heard others talk about how this document proves that a culture of fear and violence existed at Deepcut barracks. We must be very careful here. This document does not contain evidence. It contains some allegations that have already been investigated and other allegations that are worthy of investigation but that have not yet been tested.

Let me advise the House on how I intend to proceed. These are serious issues, and while I am satisfied that all that can be done is being done, there is a need for that to be seen to be done. I therefore accept the case for a further review by a fully independent figure and will be announcing details shortly.

I wish to make one further point, which is to pay tribute to the many instructors and staff at our military training establishments who produce high-quality, excellently trained and superbly motivated young men and women for our armed forces. We should not lose sight of that fact.

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