Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-106)


11 JULY 2006

  Q100  Mr Havard: No. It is part of a police inquiry as well, as I understand it.

  Des Browne: In my view we ought to restrict all of our comments in relation to that particular case. There is a police inquiry going on, there are people who are potentially subject to criminal charges but there is also a grieving family—

  Q101  Mr Havard: Yes.

  Des Browne: —who have lost a valued and loved member of their family and we need to be careful the conclusions we come to. Can I say to you that there is no place for bullying or brutalisation in the Armed Forces or in the Army, and we have made in my view significant progress in a comparatively short period of time to deal with these issues and certainly during my term of office I will be ensuring that the progress we have made is reinforced and put into application in the Armed Forces. It is no part of our responsibility to those people who come to serve in our Armed Forces to train them in a way which crosses the boundary between robust training and brutalisation, it is no part of our job to do that, and I do not know of anybody in the Army command structure who thinks it is. In relation to the specific programmes we have instituted recently, which is what I think you were asking for, to ensure that ambition is translated into practice, I will defer to the Brigadier.

  Brigadier Andrews: Briefly, the key to this of course is in training, really good, purposeful and challenging training, particularly for non-commissioned officers and for instructors. In the light of all that we have learnt in recent years, a great deal of effort has gone into that, particularly in the Army, my own service. We have concentrated enormously on preparing instructors in particular for not only that they should be effective military instructors but that they understand profoundly well their duty of care to the people who are placed in their charge and whom they have to turn into soldiers. Of course we see the evidence of the quality of their work on operations as we speak.

  Des Browne: I think the complementary element to that of course is the issue we were addressing earlier, which is the complaints procedure which is robust and which has the confidence of serving soldiers, particularly those who may be in a potentially vulnerable position. They have the confidence to complain, that the investigations are rigorous and thorough and that they are responded to appropriately. That is why I am pleased that the recommendations of the Blake Report have been so fully embraced by the Department and substantially reflected in the Armed Forces Bill.

  Q102  Mr Havard: You have made the very connection I would have made and that is why I asked the question about where is the commissioner. One final question: there was a promise of a review. The Director of Army Personnel Strategy was appointed to conduct a review of the lessons learned from allegations of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq. All I would really like to ask is where has that got to and when are we likely to see something come from that review?

  Des Browne: The Brigadier has indicated to me he knows the answer to that.

  Brigadier Andrews: That review continues—I cannot comment of course on these cases and there is still particularly one case arising from very serious allegations made in Iraq which has yet to come to trial—and that review will not be complete until that Court Martial case has been completed.

  Mr Havard: I just hope that the press have done their own review of their own behaviour during that process as well. Thank you very much.

  Q103  Mr Jones: One point in terms of the commissioner: can I say, Secretary of State, do not let the Army, the Brigadier and his friends, water down the proposals for a commissioner, because if we actually lose the opportunity now of having an independent commissioner, I think something will be lost. Could you let the Committee know when these details are being put together because it is getting very close to the wire in terms of the Armed Forces Bill going through Parliament if we are going to have delay. What I would not want to happen is for it to fall off the end of the list and somehow we have to pick it up again in the next session because I think that will leave a lot of people very let down.

  Des Browne: We have responded to the Blake Report on 13 June and I will ensure that Mr Jones and other members of the Committee, if they have not had access to that response, have access to it to comprehensively answer this question.[7]

  Q104  Mr Hancock: You said earlier, Secretary of State, that there was a robust complaints procedure but the Blake Report and this Committee's Report on Duty of Care came to the conclusion that was not there, and the essence of them was that the only way you would have a procedure which would actually clearly recognise that you were doing something was to put in place an Armed Forces commissioner. You did not answer the question about when you would expect this person to be in position and in post. It is one thing having the conditions of service for this person being written, but I think the Armed Forces are entitled to know when this person and his staff will be in place so that robust complaints procedure you talked about, Secretary of State, will actually be in place. Nobody should say at the present time there is a robust complaints procedure, because both Blake and this Committee reported quite comprehensively that that did not exist.

  Des Browne: I think, Mr Hancock, that everything I have said to the Committee in relation to this assumes there is a knowledge about the nature of the Armed Forces Bill and the provisions in the Armed Forces Bill. If I have been wrong in doing that, then maybe I should have been more explicit. Clearly the changes we felt were necessary to the complaints procedure as a result of Nicholas Blake's recommendations involve primary legislation. Some of them, in fact all of them, are reflected in the Bill. The timescale for the implementation of them is dependent on the conclusion of the parliamentary procedure and then we will implement them once we have an Act of Parliament in the way in which Acts of Parliament are implemented through the proper process. So that is the answer. Until then, we have to re-double our efforts to ensure that we instil the level of confidence in the environment we have. Part of the difficulty we have in addressing these issues is that the discipline processes, the complaints processes, of the Armed Forces and in particular the Army are structured in an Act of Parliament and we have to amend the Act of Parliament.

  Q105  Mr Hancock: So if that Bill completes its process by the autumn, you would expect to have the commissioner in place by the end of the year?

  Des Browne: I cannot answer that question now. It seems to me that is potentially a hostage to fortune but I will endeavour to answer that question in written form giving the Committee the best estimate of how quickly the independent reviewer, the independent element of this process, can be in place after the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. [8]

  Q106  Chairman: Thank you. Secretary of State, it would be wrong to end on a note of complaints against the Armed Forces, because when we visited the Armed Forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq we were all outstandingly impressed by the sort of work that they did, the sort of people that they were, and I think we felt a great deal of pride that they were there representing the United Kingdom in such an effective and brilliant way. I think you are a very lucky man to be in charge of those people out there.

  Des Browne: Thank you very much indeed, Chairman. I will ensure that your sentiments on behalf of the Committee are reported back to those who should hear them rather than me, and that is the people whom we deploy on the ground. Can I just say part of the reason why as a priority this basket of issues which broadly goes towards reputation is so important to me is that I do not want a comparatively small number of issues to detract from the significant and deserved reputation that our Armed Forces have internationally.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Thank you also for facilitating our visits to those places in such an effective way because they were very good visits. Gentlemen, thank you very much for giving evidence this morning, it has been extremely helpful and in many cases very interesting.

7   Note: See Ev 22 Back

8   Note: See Ev 22 Back

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