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Volume 496: debated on Monday 13 July 2009

3. What assessment he has made of the outcomes to date of trials of the mentoring scheme for vulnerable service personnel during basic training. (285623)

A pilot mentoring scheme is in place at Catterick garrison to provide light-touch mentoring to early service leavers judged to be vulnerable; it is designed to help them to transition to and cope with civilian life. In addition to the normal support given when leaving the service, the pilot scheme provided additional telephone support, guidance and encouragement for six months, post-service termination. Early indications are that a number of leavers have found that helpful.

On the subject of training, the Public Accounts Committee was told last week that 48 per cent. of soldiers and Royal Marines receive only a five-day pre-deployment training for Afghanistan, rather than the full training with their units. Is it right to send soldiers into Afghanistan with so little training?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that everything is done to ensure that our service personnel receive adequate training both before they leave theatre and when they are in theatre. The safety and security of our servicemen is our highest priority.

The mentoring service must also be available for the young men who do not make it through their initial training. Earlier this year, Professor Nav Kapur published his study of more than 230,000 young people who left the service over a 10-year period, and discovered that those most vulnerable, particularly to suicide, were those who had not finished their initial training or had served only for a very short period. Can we be assured that within initial training and within the mentoring service there will be a focus on advising young men, especially, of the need to seek help, advice and support should they suffer any mental health problems?

Certainly through our recruitment and training procedures we seek to ensure that all the appropriate advice, support and training are available. The pilot scheme is targeting service personnel who leave early and who are deemed to be vulnerable, and the initial indications are that it is proving successful. We need to get the end of the pilot scheme and see how it could be rolled forward.