|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement given in another place. Just as importantly, I most sincerely add my condolences to the families of those young soldiers who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. I speak with some personal experience in these matters in that I commanded a training company of just such young recruits 50 years agoin those what I suppose might be described as rather less enlightened days as far as managing young soldiers is concerned. But even then, had I had one such loss of life among my recruits, let alone four in seven years, I would have been horrified and felt that it was in some way a direct reflection on me and on my officers' supervision and awareness of what was going on.
However, this most thorough, detailed and even copious report, on which I congratulate Mr Nicholas Blake and which was dealt with only in outline in the Statement, largely allays our worst fears that these young people lost their lives by means other than their own hand, or that any bullying, abuse and harassment had directly contributed to their state of mind. I believe that all noble Lords will feel that that is a matter of great relief in a society in which oppressive leadershipnot abuse, but oppressive leadershipby NCOs over trainees is sometimes considered to be, and may indeed have to be, part and parcel of "making
29 Mar 2006 : Column 792
men"I use that in its wider senseout of young recruits from uncertain and often unhelpful backgrounds.
As the Minister said, however, there are things that could be, need to be, and one hopes now are being done better. I refer to standards of accommodation, what the Army is pleased to call "the ablutions"; welfare for the recruit; more intelligent, sympathetic and better supervision of young recruits away from home for the first time; better qualified and trained instructors; and better redress of grievanceswhich I suggest should be made direct to the commanding officer. When I was the commanding officer of a battalion I always insistedand it took a bit of doing because some of the sergeant-majors did not always like itthat grievances came direct to the commanding officer. I think that that is very important. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, said, we need establishmentswhich of course is a budgetary matterthat are large enough to allow more supervision particularly by officers. That might have made all the difference.
All of those matters are part and parcel of good leadership and man-management and necessary for the infusion of a high morale in which discipline is as much caught by example as imposed from outside. I am sure that those tragic happenings at Deepcut will have been a salutary reminder that if you want high morale and a sense of well-being, as opposed to the opposite, in those below you, there can be no complacency about the standards of leadership and the encouragement and example that they bring.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, for the points that he has made. With his deep experience, he knows exactly the challenges that we face. He has pointed out most clearly that behaviour involving bullying or harassment is completely unacceptable. It has been unacceptable within the British Army; it will continue to be unacceptable in the British Army. He was extremely clear and helpful.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that although the report contains constructive suggestions which I hope will be pursued vigorously by the Government, I believe that it made a serious error of judgmentso does everyone else to whom I have spokenin failing to support a public inquiry? In my view, a judicial public inquiry is crucial: first, because it is the only real way to find out what actually happened; and, secondly, because I believe that the families are entitled to it after suffering so much. My noble friend has said: "Let us move on". I can assure him as secretary of the All-Party Group on Army Deaths and as someone in close touch with the families that there is no chance of moving on while there is no judicial public inquiry. The families are, understandably, so upset, so determined, so anxious, so dedicated and so frustrated that this will never go away until we get a judicial public inquiry.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I completely understand the points that my noble friend has so clearly expressed
29 Mar 2006 : Column 793
and recognise the real concern that exists, not least among the families concerned but more generally about this matter. However, as the report concluded, on the basis of the current evidence, a public inquiry is not necessary. We share that view and, given the extensive investigations that have already taken place, see no public or service interest in pursuing a public inquiry. We believe that the important thing now is to move on in the sense of making sure that we properly implement the learning that comes out of the review as fully as possible to provide the best welfare that we can for our young trainees as quickly as possible.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I add my condolences to those that have already been expressed. To hear the Statement and the debate cannot make any of us feel very good. I pick up the issue to which the Minister has just referred: a public inquiry. I entirely understand that Mr Blake has concluded that that would not be helpful in this particular set of tragic incidents. However, I think that there is a need for some public reflection on the recruitment of under-18s into the armed services and some public reflection on the fact that we are likely to recruit a disproportionate number of young people with very few life choices open to them. That in itself is a kind of coercion. I am not suggesting it is real coercion, but it is a kind of coercion to hold out to people the possibility of entering a career that is fundamentally an adult choice when they do not have many life choices open to them due to the factors highlighted in Mr Blake's report and in the Statement.
I suggest to the Minister that there is an urgent need to reflect publicly and openly on whether we as a society feel comfortable with the recruitment of under-18s into the armed services. If we do feel comfortable about it, we need to consider with passion as well as prudence how we protect particularly those who may have had very few life choices and who have therefore found themselves in a situation the demands of which they may not have fully understood.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for making those points. I am particularly grateful for his point about the need for reflection. We absolutely agree, which is why we believe in taking the time to reflect fully on the recommendations made by Blake, properly thinking through the conclusions following that reflection, which will be in the form of a public discussion, and ensuring that implementation following that reflection is full and thorough.
I should also stress that in considering, as we should, the concerns that have been expressed about the welfare of young people and the points made about life choices, we should not forget the tremendous job done by the services, and by the British Army in particular, in the 12 weeks from joining the Army to the completion of phase 1 basic training, and the transformation in these young people. Anyone who has experienced a passing-out parade will see the miracle that can happen. Thousands of young people
29 Mar 2006 : Column 794
who pass safely through the hands of the Army go on to make a tremendous contribution to ustheir country. It can make a positive change to their livesa real change for the better. We should not lose sight of that in our proper concern for the lessons that need to be learnt when things go wrong, as they clearly have in these cases.
Lord Biffen: My Lords, I accept at once the Minister's advice that we should have a measured debate about the Blake review, but may I echo deferentially the points that were made so powerfully by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall? Whatever institutional changes will be proposed and whatever institutional arrangements, which have been very unsatisfactory in the past, are made, if, as the Minister said, there was a culture of bullying and harassmenta disturbing cataloguethat must have been known to the officer class, which has the responsibility. Unless and until that can be remedied, so much else is bound to be subject to some anxiety, because that is the heart of the great difficulty. There now needs to be a very serious reconsideration of the relationship between officers and their men.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, it is important to stress that what we have seen of the conclusions of the Blake review does not indicate that harassment and bullying have been widespread in the way the noble Lord describes, but there have been cases of harassment and bullying, which have been described. We need to reinforce the efforts that we have been making and will continue to make to root this out of the British Armed Forces. As the noble and gallant Lord has said, this has never been acceptable in the British Armed Forces. It is not acceptable today. Clearly we have to work much harder to ensure that it is rooted out.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|