Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Ingram: I take that point, but one of the key issues was the demand for a public inquiry. The Defence Committee said that it would wait for the Blake review, but did not consider that a public inquiry was justified, given the known circumstances. I have given more than once the reasons why I do not support a public inquiry. Mr. Blake's review weighs all the legal considerations and all the aspects, and comes to the same conclusion.

Mr. Blake says that the Army and Ministers have to make a judgment about whether more information would lay the issue to rest. My judgment is that a public inquiry would prolong the matter, and would not lead to a different conclusion. That is Mr. Blake's conclusion, and I am more than satisfied that he has looked at all the available evidence. We cannot allow individual families to have a veto. They have been
29 Mar 2006 : Column 863
spoken to and have expressed their views, but they may never be satisfied with the decision. Their point of view will differ from the judgment that a Minister will reach.

I recognise the role that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has played in this matter. Mr. Blake's report is highly critical of the media's sensational exploitation of the events. Stories have been run that have had no substance, with no subsequent apology for the fact that they were wrong. None the less, I accept Mr. Blake's recognition that the pressure that the media exerts forces further ventilation and examination.

I wanted this report to be completed earlier, and Mr. Blake lists the many external factors that made that impossible. In the intervening period of 15 months, substantial changes in the training environment have been introduced or are now planned. The training regime has not stood still, and it will change measurably for the better in the months and years ahead.

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing me and other Members who represent the families of the young men and women who died to have sight of the report.

When I met the Grays at their home last week, they were keen for a public inquiry, but one of their main concerns was that in their desire to reopen their son's inquest they did not have full access to the facts. Will my right hon. Friend, who has personally pledged to liaise with our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, make sure that all necessary evidence is disclosed to the family of Geoff Gray and the other candidates? Has he completely ruled out a public inquiry into the way that Deepcut was run? I support the recommendation for an ombudsman. Does the Ministry of Defence have a timetable for looking into that issue?

Mr. Ingram: The key issue is the recommendation relating to the Surrey police. I cannot instruct the Surrey police to do what has been recommended but, as I have indicated, I strongly support the view taken by Mr. Blake and we shall do all we can to ensure that it is imparted both to those who make the decisions at ministerial level and, most important, to the Surrey police. Of course, where there is confidential information, as may be the view of the Surrey police because of the nature of the witness statements they have taken, some matters may have to be deleted for legal reasons. Things have to be looked at in the round, but if there were access to that information it would help families who seek a reopening of the inquest into the deaths of their sons, in two cases, and their daughter, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. James. If that attempt was successful, which is not for me to determine—there would have to be judicial review or some other mechanism—the coroner would have to comply. If the inquests were reopened, there would be an opportunity to raise all those matters, because there is no restriction on where such an inquest could go. That would deal with my hon. Friend's point about the need for a public inquiry to explore what happened at the time of death. A coroner's inquest can do just that, so we are encouraging families to take that route, and they may now have better argumentation for doing so.
29 Mar 2006 : Column 864

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I thank the Minister for an early look at the report this morning. Although I acknowledge that Nicholas Blake stops short of asking for a public inquiry, he says that the one constituency that might have an interest in a public inquiry would be the Army itself. That comes on top of the words of the coroner at the Collinson inquest, Michael Burgess, who said that

If the only way to restore that confidence is to hold a public inquiry, and it is in the interests of the MOD to do so, will the Minister think again about a public inquiry?

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman has had a benefit that other Members have not: he has read the report, albeit in a restricted time—but he has misunderstood what Mr. Blake said. He does not "stop short" of calling for a public inquiry; he says that it is not necessary. He goes beyond that point.

The hon. Gentleman should take time to understand the report—read it, analyse it and absorb the weight of its analysis. That is what I will do. I shall consider my response, but I have nothing to add to what I said earlier about having clarity in respect of a public inquiry. A judgment had to be made by Mr. Blake, and he has made it. A judgment had to be made by the Select Committee, which made it. A judgment had to be made by me and I made it. The Army took a similar point of view, which it expressed to me. It is not a question of a cover-up, but that there is a weight of argument in favour of not proceeding down that road. We know what went wrong and there may still be things that need to be addressed, but let us do so to ensure, I hope, that we can stop the recurrence of such tragic incidents in the future.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for the opportunity to see the report this morning, as did other MPs, on behalf of Sean's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Benton. The report was comprehensive in terms of the evidence it reviewed, but it was a review and not an inquiry. May I bring to my right hon. Friend's attention paragraph 2.71? It states:

Paragraph 2.73 states:

which has been suggested—

Although Mr. Blake comes to the view that no inquiry is required, he notes that it is up to the Secretary of State to make that decision if "public confidence" demands it. I believe it does. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

Mr. Ingram: Again, I thank my hon. Friend for acknowledging that he has been given access to the report, but I suggest that he consider a longer time scale rather than alighting on one part of it and deciding that it leads to a certain conclusion. There is other argumentation in the report and the conclusion is that such a course was not necessary. Mr. Blake is a
29 Mar 2006 : Column 865
considerable and eminent human rights lawyer, who has weighed up all the information—from his perspective, not that of the Army—and come to that conclusion.

My hon. Friend referred to suggestions that there was collusion or a cover-up, but there is no evidence of that. People may have such perceptions or feelings, but they have no proof. The report involved more than turning over pages of evidence. There was thorough examination of all the documentation. There were talks with witnesses who commented on the conduct of individuals and on the running of the training establishments as well as pointing out ongoing issues. Let us not diminish the review. It is a considerable report. Would more come from a public inquiry? I judge that it would not, and everyone else who has looked at the arguments in the round has come to the same conclusion.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): As the constituency Member for Deepcut, I thank the Minister and Nicholas Blake. I, too, extend my sympathy to the families, who have borne their suffering with such dignity. Does the Minister agree that since the period covered by the report, the Army in general and the leadership at Deepcut in particular have taken significant steps to improve training? Will he tell us the steps being taken to ensure that we train and retain experienced NCOs who can both prepare our young men and women for the rigours of the battlefield and extend to them a proper duty of care?

Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. Our plans to lift quality are well under way—it is a question of getting the infrastructure in place. We plan to establish a leadership course, designed specifically to ensure that those entering the instruction regime and environment realise that it is an important part of their career development, which has not been the case hitherto. We are setting up another scheme for the Army, "Train the trainers", which will roll out for the Air Force and the Royal Navy. Without question, we are homing in on that important ingredient. Those who carry out instruction duties are key to everything we do in delivering people capability and capacity for our armed forces. During the period of the review—from 1985 to the present day—just under 100,000 trainees have gone through that training environment at Deepcut alone. That is a mark of success, not failure, but there were weaknesses in the system and we are addressing them.

The hon. Gentleman asked how we can ensure that there is continuous improvement at Deepcut and elsewhere. The adult learning inspectorate is a fully independent organisation, which can make both unannounced and announced visits to the establishment, and it says that Deepcut has been transformed for the better. Mr. Blake's report includes a good quotation from a young trainee, who says that now people are mollycoddled, and cannot move without someone talking to them to try to find out what is in their mind and what they are up to. A balance needs to be struck, however, because we are trying to create independent people whom we ask to take on a unique task on behalf of our country. It is difficult for our military people to strike that balance,
29 Mar 2006 : Column 866
but they have achieved great success in the past and continue to be successful, as the hon. Gentleman is aware from his knowledge of Deepcut.

Next Section IndexHome Page