One year on from the publication of the Deepcut Review I am reporting on the progress that has been made in the provision of care for our young recruits and trainees.
We remain indebted to the work undertaken by Nicholas Blake QC for his independent, objective and comprehensive analysis of all relevant matters bearing on the four deaths at Deepcut. This added impetus to the extensive programme of work that was already under way to deliver improvements in the provision of care of our young recruits and trainees. Many of the actions arising from the Review are either complete or near completion and we have made significant progress. In their “Better Training” report, published on 6 March and which I welcomed in my written statement on 6 March 2007, Official Report, column 123-124WS, the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) comments on the changes we have made to improve the training environment and our progress in detail.
The Deepcut Review made specific recommendations with regards to our care of recruits and trainees under 18 years of age and the environment in which they are trained. We have implemented the Supervisory Care Directive across the training organisations to reduce the risks to trainees. Our policy regarding the management, care and welfare of Service personnel under the age of 18 has been revised and reissued. Arrangements are in place to ensure that our under-18s are properly identified, monitored and supported throughout their training, and when necessary during their free time too. We have also improved our procedures to prevent under-18s from inadvertently deploying to hostile theatres of operations.
The Deepcut Review required us to look at ways to reduce the numbers of soldiers joining their units while under the age of 18. From September 2008, all the Army's Junior Entry Phase 1 training will be conducted at either the Army Foundation College Harrogate over 42 weeks, or over a period of 20 weeks at the Army Training Regiment Winchester, from where trainees go on to complete longer Phase 2 training courses.
We continue to look at ways of ensuring the physical and mental suitability of recruits to the Armed Forces and all three Services now have pre-joining fitness tests that must be passed before entry. The Army obtains medical information from GPs to corroborate a candidate's response in the British Army Health Questionnaire and to answer further questions, thus reducing reliance on self-declaration. A copy of the trainee's NHS records is also obtained at the start of Phase 1 training to improve primary health care, and, if necessary, to substantiate the previous information on physical or psychological vulnerabilities. This practice is to be evaluated later in the year with a view to application across the three Services.
The Deepcut Review recommended that the Army should encourage maximum involvement in the selection process by the parent, or other responsible adult, of the applicant under 18. We have made great efforts to keep families and partners informed as recruits pass through training. We engage with families if a young recruit has a problem but in general our contact with families goes far beyond keeping them informed of problems, as they receive letters and phone calls about progress and information about forthcoming events. The ALI has acknowledged that our approach to recruits' families has improved significantly (Better Training Report, page 17).
The Deepcut Review recommended that recruits who joined the Army as minors and who have reached a settled decision that they are unhappy with pursuing a military career before they reach the end of their Phase 2 training, but after their 18th birthday, should be able to discharge as of right. We have no plans to change our policy that allows all new recruits who have completed 28 days service, regardless of their age, to Discharge as of Right (DAOR) within the first six months of service. However, those under the age of 18 years three months who have passed their statutory period for DAOR and who are clearly unhappy in their service may be considered for discharge from the Armed Forces providing their unhappiness has been registered with their Commanding Officer before reaching the age of 18.
To address recommendations made on the training and selection of instructors, we have introduced the Defence Train the Trainer course, which was mandated for all new instructors from April 2006. On 2 April 2007 a purpose built Army Recruiting and Training Division Staff Leadership School will open at Pirbright. The Armed Forces have tightened up their procedures for checking the personal records of Service personnel before employing them as instructors, to ensure that only suitable personnel of the right quality are posted to training establishments. While current legislation does not allow for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks to be carried out on personnel working with recruits and trainees under the age of 18 because they are in full time employment, we are working as a matter of urgency with the DfES and Home Office on changes to legislation that will allow greater flexibility in carrying out CRB checks on employees in the future. These changes are likely to come into effect this summer.
We have introduced a new policy on Remedial Training to address the recommendations in the Deepcut Review on the use of informal punishments. The new policy defines what is legitimate in order to assist trainees to achieve required standards and to ensure that both instructors and trainees distinguish this from bullying or harassment, which is always unacceptable. It also reinforces the difference between training and punishment. Punishment may only be awarded as a result of a formal disciplinary process. Unofficial punishments are always unacceptable. The Defence Instructor Handbook includes the behavioural standard expected of an instructor and it makes it clear that any unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated. Any allegations of wrong-doing are thoroughly investigated and where proven, appropriate action is taken against the perpetrators that may, ultimately, result in dismissal from the Service.
We have made real progress in managing the risk of self-harm and suicide. Training is being implemented, at all levels, on the identification and management of both operational and workplace stress. The Supervisory Care Directive issued in March 2006 sets out the responsibilities of Commanding Officers in respect of managing risks to recruits, including the maintenance of an at risk register. The term at risk is interpreted widely and intelligently to include any recruits experiencing problems that affect their performance during training and which may put them at risk of failing their course. This approach has transformed the way in which support is targeted and the ALI cited this as our single most important development (Better Training Report, page 17).
We said in our response to the Deepcut Review that we intended to extend and deepen inspection arrangements across the military justice system using the opportunity afforded by the creation of a combined inspectorate for the criminal justice system. Although a combined inspectorate will now not be created under the Police and Justice Act, we intend to continue to progress our plans with the five separate justice inspectorates, and are working closely with other Government Departments to achieve this.
As a result of the Deepcut Review we have produced a simple leaflet on what to do on encountering any form of bullying, who to turn to for help, sources of advice, definitions of the terms bullying and harassment and an overview of how complaints are made, responded to, investigated and dealt with. The Army has completed their trial of a system called Bullytext where trainees who may not wish to report incidents to the chain of command can text messages to an Authorised Officer. The trial was undertaken in three large training establishments but received limited use by trainees so it was not possible to undertake a detailed assessment of its merit. However, feedback from trainees has indicated that the existence of such a scheme acts as a reassurance mechanism that is considered beneficial to them. Other more localised schemes using a text messaging service are therefore now being explored to complement the well-used Confidential Support Line.
We have revised and reissued our procedures for making and dealing with complaints of bullying and harassment. The revised procedures apply to both Service and civilian personnel and set out how to make a complaint, how to respond if the subject of a complaint, and how complaints are investigated and decided upon. We have provided clearer guidance on how the complaints procedures work, with more information on how to get help and advice, and on how complaints are logged and recorded. Further improvements will be made to the complaints process under the Armed Forces Act 2006, including the introduction of Service Complaint Panels, which include an external, independent member for the consideration of complaints which make allegations of harassment and bullying. We will appoint a Service Complaints Commissioner who will be able to receive complaints directly from Service personnel, or from a third party, and refer them to the chain of command for action. Whilst many complaints can be resolved satisfactorily by the chain of command at the lowest possible level, the Service Complaints Commissioner will offer Service personnel and others an alternative means of raising a grievance if they do not feel comfortable, for whatever reason, in reporting it to the relevant commanding officer. These changes are planned to come into effect in 2008, ahead of full implementation of Armed Forces Act 2006. The recruitment process for the position of Service Complaints Commissioner will begin shortly.
The Deepcut Review made recommendations about armed guarding and unsupervised access to weapons. The policy for routine armed guarding at training establishments has been updated and we are well into a programme of transferring routine armed guarding at all Phase 2 establishments to the Military Provost Guard Service rather than trainees. Phase 2 trainees may be tasked to carry out armed guarding but only under strict guidelines which ensure that they are appropriately qualified, supervised and receive proper rest periods following their armed guarding duties. No trainee awaiting discharge from the Services is used and no Phase 1 trainees carry out armed guarding duties in any establishment.
There are tighter and better enforced controls over access to firearms, and the risks associated with the use of firearms in our training establishments are managed more carefully. While Phase 1 trainees are no longer required to carry out armed guarding duties, we continue to prepare them adequately for the duties that will be expected of them once they join their units.
The Deepcut Review made recommendations regarding our support to bereaved families. We recognise the families' needs and we offer them considerable support. But each family's needs are different and we acknowledge that we do not always meet their expectations. We go to great lengths to pass all relevant information to the families; this includes redacted copies of the Board of Inquiry. Families are routinely offered briefings on the Board of Inquiry to help them understand its content and conclusions. Equally our support through the services of a Visiting Officer remains available for as long as the family needs it. We continue working with the Department for Constitutional Affairs to improve support to families based on their experience of the inquest system. Arrangements are in place to ensure that inquests are held as quickly as possible; and bodies which are repatriated to the UK may now be transferred to the Coroner's district of the final resting place to alleviate family members from having to travel long distances to the inquest.
The Government Response to the Deepcut Review accepted that there may be circumstances in which family attendance at a particular Board of Inquiry would be acceptable where it would not impede the proceedings of the Board. We are developing a more open and inclusive approach to the family in relation to the conduct of the Inquiry and there is now discretion for Presidents to allow family attendance at Boards of Inquiry.
Achieving real and lasting change in the Armed Forces will require sustained effort. We have introduced a successful programme of internal review and evaluation that is conducted by the Directorate of Individual Training Capability, whose role is to evaluate the implementation of policies relating to the Individual Training environment, enabling the identification of issues and for the sharing of good practice. In addition, our training organisations will remain open to external scrutiny, through the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skill organisation in April 2007. I would like to pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard across the Services to bring about the necessary changes to improve the way in which we look after and train our young men and women.
We will not forget the four young soldiers—Sean Benton, Cheryl James, Geoff Gray and James Collinson —who died at Deepcut but we are confident that we have done and continue to do all that we can to prevent such tragedies from happening again.