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Mr. Ingram: First, may I correct the hon. Gentleman, who should choose his language very carefully in dealing with this issue? He has been dealing with it for some time and he should not refer to the deaths as four suicides
Mr. Ingram: If I did, I, too, should choose my words carefully. The situation is that one of the deaths was declared a suicide, two resulted in open verdicts and one has still to be determined[Interruption.] I am glad that Opposition Members agree, because these are the facts. The coroner's inquesta due process of lawwill be an open process with no limitations, and it can call for anything that it wants. It is also important to bear it in mind that it will be conducted under the full auspices of human rights legislation. Of course, it will then have to be considered in any further review.
Any further review will also have to consider the fact that there are ongoing inquiries. We do not want to prejudice a process that may result in police inquiries or in criminal charges. We have to walk a line in order to get this absolutely right, because when people are accused, they are innocent until proven guilty. Let us not
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run away with ourselves. We are supposed to be a House of higher thinking, placing great weight on the balance of the argument. That is what we are seekingcertainly what I am seekingto do in dealing with this particular issue. I think that I have addressed the main thrust of what was said by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that the public are becoming increasingly bewildered by the defensive posture of Ministers towards what appears to be a pattern of bad behaviour, negligence, crime and possibly manslaughter and murder at Deepcut? It is probably too late now to find out how one my constituents, Private Gray, died, not least because the Army was itself negligent in conducting the initial inquiry. Surely it is now time not for another review, but for a public inquiry.
Mr. Ingram: I accept that there is a level of public concern about it, but let me say that, when a death occurs on an Army barracks, it is not a matter for the Army to conduct its own inquiry, but a matter for the police. The police have primacy in all of this. [Interruption.] I am trying to answer the questions put to me and am happy to respond to further questions later. The police and the Army have recognised failings in the way that the earlier procedures were carried out. We cannot undo that. In one sense, I do not have responsibility, because I was not there at the time.
I am trying to work through the process of recognising that we have high-quality training through our Army, Air Force and Navy establishments; otherwise, we would not have the best fighting force in the world. Between 1995 and 2002, 12,000 recruits have been through Deepcut. It is not a broken machine and it is not really as some people like to describe it. There are certainly some aspects that require proper examination; much of it has already been undertaken and more needs to be done.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): As the Minister knows, Deepcut is in my constituency. Will he join me in paying tribute to the senior officers of Surrey police and to the senior officers at Deepcut in recent times who have had to deal with the poisoned chalice of this terrible and tragic history, which did not occur when they were the commanding officers? Will he acknowledge that the Army at Deepcut has the support of the local community and that the current commanding officer, Brigadier Clive Elderton, who is about to move on to other duties, has done a superb job in trying to deal with this problem?
In his initial statement, the Minister touched on the irresponsibility of certain aspects of the media coverage of the incident. Does he agree that it has been made immeasurably more difficult for the current senior military officersand, indeed, the policeto work in an atmosphere where correspondents hang about local pubs trying to pick up any gossip about Deepcut in
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order to report it in the most sensational manner? That does no service to the families who suffered from this tragic loss and it certainly does not do the local community, the police and the Army any service.
Mr. Ingram: That was a helpful contribution. I did pay tribute to the staff and I echo that sentiment again. I also paid tribute to the work of the Surrey police in compiling and analysing the issues and taking them forward. I fully recognise the strong support within the community for the Deepcut barracks and I readily understand why that is. Deepcut is a place of excellence. Having said that, there are some unsatisfactory elements in what has happened in the past. We have to bottom it out and find the reasons for it. We are now in receipt of some of that information and we are working our way progressively through the background to it. We should all bear in mind what the Surrey police said about the evidenceI know that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) accepts itand about how many of the allegations should be treated with caution.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the families are asking for a public judicial inquiry, and nothing short of that will satisfy them, because they believe that, in respect of the deaths and other circumstances, the Army has failed in its duty of care. They want to know what happened to their loved ones and what treatment was suffered by those who served at the barracks. They believe that that will come out only if there is a public judicial inquiry.
My right hon. Friend made an important announcement in his statement when he said that he was going to appoint an independent figure to review these matters. However, what is at least as important as the independence of the person appointed is the powers that he will have. Is he only to examine documents or will he have the power to summon witnesses and take evidence? Will the families have a right to appear before him to provide their evidence? Will the review be limited to Deepcut, given that there are continuing worries about deaths in Catterick and the treatment of soldiers there? My right hon. Friend has not covered all those points, but they are fundamental if people are to accept the good faith of the Ministry of Defence. I realise that it may be a bad thing to say from the Government side of the House, but if we are to accept the MOD's good faith in establishing this new inquiry, it must not be seen to be another cover-up and another cloud. We would be prepared to accept some delay while the criminal proceedings are finished in order to have a proper, fair, impartial, judicial public inquiry.
Let me make it clear to my hon. Friend that there is no intention of a cover-up and nothing I have done to date could lead anyone to that conclusion. Every document has been published and all the material advice that has come to me as a Minister about all the training establishmentsnot just those of the Armyhas been made public. Three reports have been published as a result and I hope that he has had the chance to read them. I know that he takes a close interest in these matters. If he reads, or has read, the third report, he will note the very considerable progress made in attending to some of the key issues that were referred to in the first report. There is a trend within the inquiries
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carried out among the recruits at these establishments, demonstrating a significant change in attitudes towards possible bullying and harassment.
Progress has been made, but I have to say that we cannot be perfect. No institution in the world is perfect. We will have bullying, we will have harassment and we will have unsavoury incidents. We have had them in the past and no doubt will in future. What we have to do, and what we are seeking to do, is to create a zero tolerance attitude towards those problems. We have tried to secure a culture in all the training establishments that encourages such openness. If anyone has been subjected to any wrongdoing, they should refer it appropriately. I make that plea time and again.
My hon. Friend asked about the status of what I have announced today. My preferred optionlet me be clear about itwas to await the House of Commons Defence Committee inquiry, because it has been an authoritative, detailed and methodical examination. We do not know what the conclusions will be, but it seemed to me that waiting for it to finish and then dealing with its conclusions would be the best option. All of what happened yesterday, especially in the way that it was presented as a leaked report, has changed that. The hon. Member for Aldershot was right to say that it was about whipping up interest in a programme due to be broadcast later in the week, which I believe is disreputable behaviour by some parts of the media. Fortunately, not all the media behave so disgracefully. I am examining the best way forward, including the powers of the review, and I shall, of course, take into account the views expressed by my hon. Friend.
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