Select Committee on Defence Third Report


397. The Surrey Police Final Report recommended among other things further consideration of "the need for independent oversight of Army recruit training to support the Army in striking the right balance between tough training and the control of avoidable risk", in the context of "the apparent vulnerability of the Army's recruit population" in "a closed environment where the oversight of parents or guardians… is much reduced when compared with civilian circumstances".[616]

398. MoD reacted to this recommendation in a statement on 24 May 2004[617] when the Minister for the Armed Forces announced to the House his decision to appoint the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) "to conduct independent inspection and oversight of the Armed Forces' training establishments". The series of inspections which began in the autumn of 2004 would "focus on initial training across all three Services and… look specifically at care and welfare".[618] We welcome MoD's decision to introduce external oversight of the Services' training systems as a necessary measure to add assurance to the audit process conducted by the Director of Operational Capability.

399. A memorandum of understanding[619] between MoD and ALI was signed in July 2004 identifying the obligations of each party in the annual rolling programme of inspections. MoD amongst other things sought 'The introduction of independent inspection, re-inspection and oversight of Defence learning provision, including the duty of care and welfare provision, within an agreed programme, to complement the internal quality assurance and improvement procedures of the Armed Services and MoD'.

400. ALI is a government-funded body set up under the Learning and Skills Act 2000.[620] It brings the inspection of all publicly funded work-based training for people over 16 and learning for post-19s under one Inspectorate and within a Common Inspection Framework (CIF). The ALI began inspecting in April 2001 and conducts around 1,000 inspections per year of organisations as diverse as HM Prisons, Learn Direct, Further Education Colleges and Police Constable Training. The ALI works in partnership with other organisations, including the Learning and Skills Council, which provides public funding for skills training, and Ofsted, the inspectorate responsible for monitoring education in schools and childcare.[621]

401. Where the ALI does not have in-house expertise in a particular area, it contracts with one of around 600 associate inspectors, subject area experts who work part-time for the Inspectorate. On 31 May 2004 it employed 272 (full time equivalent) staff. Its budget for 2004-05 is £30.4 million.[622]

402. By March 2005 ALI should have inspected all phase 1 initial training establishments and a sample of phase 2 and phase 3 establishments. Both announced and unannounced inspections have been conducted with the possibility of follow up visits. According to its terms of reference, 'the inspections will seek to evaluate both the impact of the initial training and the arrangements for care and welfare for recruits, trainees and their families as well as the adequacy of the organisation of initial training and welfare of recruits, trainees and their families'.[623]

403. When questioned about the relevant experience of ALI inspectors, Ms Barbara Hughes, ALI Inspector, told us that:

    We have a core team of nine full-time inspectors conducting these duty of care inspections… and they cover a range of occupational areas. They are all lead inspectors, so they have been into a range of establishments, including the armed Services. Some have worked with the police as well on survey reports. In addition to that, we are training up about 20 of our part-time associate inspectors. They will be working with us on the inspections at different stages. They have both physical training background as well as a health and care background and are particularly experienced in residential care and mental health. We feel we actually have quite a good range, alongside the colleagues who will be working with us from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Social Care Inspectorate.[624]

404. The appointment of ALI to the role of independent auditor of welfare in the Armed Service's training establishments was a surprise to some commentators who considered ALI's expertise and experience to centre on auditing training systems rather than quality of care particularly for those under 18 years old. This was refuted by Mr David Sherlock, Chief Inspector of ALI, who told us that 'We deal with residential colleges, particularly for young people with disabilities and learning difficulties who are extremely vulnerable'. He went on to say 'We fully understand the range of challenges which young people, of the kind who are entering the Army, particularly face and we are familiar with many of the problems with residential contexts'.[625]

405. In addition to this body of experience the Common Inspection Framework, which sets out the principles applicable to the inspections of post-16 education training by both ALI and Ofsted, has at its heart, what is referred to as the 'learner experience'. This refers to an individual's judgment about the support and guidance they received during their training.

406. We have heard contrasting reactions within the Services to the establishment of external oversight provided by ALI. The DGT&E argued that the involvement of ALI would supplement the Defence System Approach to Training (DSAT) which determines 'what we should train, how we should train it and to whom we should deliver the training'.[626] ALI's audit would, he said, provide independent evaluation by a respected agency… provide us with the opportunity to benchmark our capabilities on a national scale and they bring with them experience across a very broad area of training and education.[627]

407. On our visits we heard rather less positive reactions from Commanding Officers. A common concern was that ALI would not have the necessary knowledge of Service culture to make adequately informed recommendations for change. At worst, we were told, such recommendations could have inadvertently adverse consequences. An example of this was given to us by Colonel David Eccles, Chief of Staff ATRA, who told us that:

    A point which has come out is that the Adult Learning Inspectorate suggested at ITC Catterick, which they had just visited, that we ought to give the recruits more space in the evenings, and they tried that and what happened? They had a few more incidents of what one might call "horse play", so a degree of supervision has to be there. It is a fine balance between giving them room to manoeuvre and supervising properly.[628]

408. It is clear that the context in which the Services operate their training regimes needs to be fully appreciated by ALI throughout the course of its audit process. The nature of Service discipline, incorporating the need to follow commands automatically in stressful and high risk circumstances, is unique and one which ALI will have to take into account when judging existing standards and making any recommendations for improvement.

409. The Minister told us that, whilst recognising this concern, he was confident that ALI would overcome these objections:

    I came in as a Minister in 2001 and I had no experience, yet I was supposed to be making decisions across all of these issues. I said earlier that it takes a long time for a Defence Minister to get up to speed and you have got to get out in the territory, you have got to understand, you have got to absorb best information and you grow in your knowledge in all of this. I think that will happen with the ALI, I do not think there is any question about that, because civilians do not have experience of military life so they must go through that process. They are bringing that type of professional, analytical brain to it which can only be judged, in their case, in the report. We have said to them that it would be useful, and we have encouraged this and asked for this, to see the aftermath of the training environment, so I understand that they are going off to Iraq at the turn of the year to have a look at what comes out of the training environment. That will give them a good rounded feel for it.[629]

410. We note the Minister's judgment that Adult Learning Inspectorate has the requisite experience and analytical skills to overcome an initial lack of familiarity with the Service training environment. Any external organisation could be criticised for lacking familiarity with the unique characteristics of initial training in the Armed Forces. With independence necessarily comes a degree of professional detachment, and we regard that as an important component of the credibility of such audits. An assessment of ALI's work, however, must await publication of its first report.

A Military Ombudsman?

411. During our inquiry we considered the merits of establishing an alternative means of exercising external and independent oversight over Army training. In particular we considered whether a UK Military Ombudsman could provide a useful means of complaint for Service personnel which would be outside the chain of command. The Independent Review of the Armed Forces Manpower Career and Remuneration Structures (the Bett Report) recommended extending the terms of reference of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to permit him to deal with complaints from Service personnel about administrative matters. The recommendation was not accepted "mainly on the grounds that the Services already have procedures for dealing with the redress of complaints".[630] MoD has hitherto rejected the case for a Military Ombudsman a stance that was confirmed by the Minister when he told the House on 24 May 2004

    I think that that is a step too far because there is a chain of command. The Armed Forces are a unique set of people—there is no doubt or question about that. They are asked to do things that no one else is asked to do. That respect of the chain of command is vital.[631]

412. When we asked General Palmer for his view he commented that, 'I think we should like to see how the ALI goes. We have, quite understandably, a plethora of people who are currently inspecting and looking at the training establishments'.[632]

413. Typically, where military ombudsmen have been established, their responsibilities include: overseeing and supervising the observance of law by the military and initiating legal procedures when individuals' rights are believed to have been violated.

414. There are three main models:

  • a military ombudsman appointed by and accountable to the parliament (Germany, Norway);
  • an ombudsman appointed by MoD and accountable to MoD and/or parliament (Canada/Australia, Israel);
  • an ombudsman which has a variety of responsibilities including the military (Sweden, Finland, Portugal). [633]

415. In the German model, the Ombudsman can be instructed to investigate specific issues as determined by the Bundestag and the Defence Committee and also to take action under his own initiative in matters which suggest 'a violation of the basic rights of a member of the Armed Forces'. All Service personnel have the right to contact the Parliamentary Commissioner directly, without going through official channels. The Ombudsman has a right at any time and without prior announcement to visit any unit headquarters installations or administrative agency as part of his investigation into a complaint.[634]

416. In the Canadian model the Ombudsman is regarded as an avenue of last resort for individual complaints available only when all internal mechanisms for complaint through the chain of command have been exhausted. The Ombudsman's jurisdiction does not apply to any complaint or matter relating a military judge, court martial or summary trial. The Ombudsman also has a responsibility to provide information to individuals on their rights to redress and on his or her instigation to investigate and report publicly on any welfare issues that affect the Services.[635]

417. In Sweden responsibility for military oversight is incorporated into the general responsibilities of the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Members of the Swedish Armed Forces may submit grievances or complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman only after exhausting the military grievance system. Conscripts whose complaints are not settled at the local level through direct appeal to the unit officers up to the commanding officer may raise the complaint with the national conscript board and if still unsatisfied, with the Parliamentary Ombudsman. For officers a complaint can be raised by the individual through the chain of command to the Supreme Commander if necessary. If still not resolved, it is referred to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

418. The Parliamentary Ombudsman is appointed by the Swedish Parliament. He can visit units of the Armed Forces at any time to investigate complaints or just to talk to conscripts, officers and civilian employees. Lately, on average, only about ten cases per year have reached the Parliamentary Ombudsman.[636] In Denmark, an advisory system has been established to provide assistance and advice to soldiers and officers who feel that they have been subjected to discrimination or have been accused of discrimination. The system consists of advisers outside the chain of command. They perform this advisory function alongside their normal assignments. When exercising their advisory function, they report to a Chief Advisor who sits in the Army's Personnel Command. The advisers provide pastoral guidance or, if necessary, assistance in formulating a complaint through the chain of command. The system does not constitute an external/independent complaint process in itself.

419. The UK police force, also an organisation based on discipline with a strong ethos, has since 2002 been monitored by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).[637] The IPCC, which reports to Parliament, provides a channel for complaint about the police both for serving officers and members of the public It is not part of any Government department and its decisions cannot be overruled other than by a court of law. The IPCC has its own teams who are able to investigate incidents of alleged police misconduct even when no complaint has been made. Senior police officers were initially resistant to an external body monitoring its work and investigating complaints about its work. Concerns included the effect it would have on operational effectiveness and additional bureaucratic burden and worries that "busy bodies" with no understanding of the challenges faced by the police would reach inappropriate decisions when judging complaints. We have seen no independent assessment of whether these fears have been borne out by experience but we have been told by senior police officers that, in contrast to the concerns expressed above, the IPCC has had a beneficial effect on police working practice and made it more transparent.

420. Although we recognise that the chain of command is central to the culture and ethos of the Services, we do not believe that a Military Ombudsman or an external complaints mechanism would constitute an obstacle for the chain of command. We criticised earlier in this report the effectiveness of Empowered Officers and other existing complaints procedures. We noted how Service personnel have recourse outside the chain of command for allegations of sexual and racial discrimination.

421. As we noted earlier in this report, society is changing. One aspect of that change is the increased expectation among the general population that public bodies will be subject to some form of independent scrutiny of their actions. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was established to provide that independent scrutiny for the police. The IPCC was established at a time when public confidence in law enforcement was low. There were concerns that the IPCC would lead to the politicisation of the police force or would be such an intolerable additional burden that police effectiveness would be reduced. In the event, both the public and the police have benefited from the existence of the IPCC.

422. We have sought to identify a model for the Armed Forces that would provide similar benefits of independent scrutiny as the IPCC does for the police without undermining the operational effectiveness of the Services, the maintenance of which this report acknowledges to be of fundamental importance. We set out below some of the characteristics such a body should have, but we have not proposed to describe its precise structure and organisation.

423. We therefore recommend that an independent military complaints commission be established. It would have the authority and capability to make recommendations which would be binding on the Armed Forces. It would also have a research capacity that would enable it examine trends that it had identified.

424. It would be for the commission itself to decide whether to undertake an investigation, but we would expect it to take into account the seriousness of the allegation. The commission should have the authority to consider past cases. In deciding whether to pursue a past case, the commission might consider any investigations or inquiries that had already been conducted as is the case for the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland which has retrospective powers.

425. The primary goal of the commission would be to resolve complaints made to it. If the commission decided to pursue a complaint, it would have the right of access to all documentation, and to Service personnel, in order to enable it to establish whether the correct procedures had been followed and whether there were matters that required criminal investigation. We do not envisage that, for matters unrelated to duty of care, the commission would replace existing grievance mechanisms.

426. The commission should be required to make an annual report to Parliament.

427. We recommend that the commission be established in such a way as to assure both complainants and the public of its independence from the Armed Forces. We believe that the commission would help MoD identify lessons that need to be learned. We also believe that a truly independent scrutiny mechanism would contribute to bolstering public confidence in the Services.

616   Surrey Police Final Report, paras 1.32, 4.17. Back

617   HC Deb, 24 May 2004, cols 1305-7. Back

618   Surrey Police Final Report Back

619   Ev 404 Back

620   Replaced the Training Standards Council on 1 April 2001. Back

621 Back

622   HC Deb, 15 June 2004, col 971W. Back

623 Back

624   Q 541 Back

625   Q 543 Back

626   Q 28 Back

627   Ibid Back

628   Q 1363 Back

629   Q 1395 Back

630   Ev 368 Back

631   HC Deb, 24 May 2004, col 1311. Back

632   Q 36 Back

633   Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. Back

634 Back

635 Back

636   Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman: Back

637 Back

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