A senior female officer will lead the investigation into allegations of bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment against women in the submarine service, MPs have heard.
Defence minister Andrew Murrison said he was “concerned” by the reports of inappropriate behaviour, adding the allegations “are and will be taken extremely seriously”.
The Daily Mail said submariners compiled a “crush depth rape list” in which women were ranked in the order they should be raped in a catastrophic event, and that women were frequently screamed at, called c***s and hit with clipboards and pens.
Mr Murrison, responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, said: “Any activity which falls short of the highest standards of the Royal Navy is totally unacceptable and not a true reflection of what life should be.
“Sexual assault and harassment has no place in the Royal Navy and it will not be tolerated.
“The First Sea Lord has directed a formal investigation into these allegations and this commenced on October 24.
“This independent investigating team, being led by a senior female officer, will thoroughly examine the allegations and report back very soon.”
Mr Murrison said he understood one of the women who spoke to the newspaper had agreed to meet the investigating team to provide her account.
He added: “While this investigation will review specific allegations, defence will also review the culture of the submarine community and report to ministers in due course.”
Mr Murrison went on: “Anyone who is found culpable will be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their rank and their status.”
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Defence Committee, said it was “deeply concerning” to see more reports of inappropriate behaviour against women in the Royal Navy.
Mr Ellwood welcomed the new investigation but said: “This is another investigation, only three years ago the MoD (Ministry of Defence) was obliged to commission its own study, the so-called Wigston review, which admitted unacceptable levels of behaviour and sub-optimal systems for dealing with it.”
He highlighted work by his committee which exposed bullying, harassment and sexual abuse experienced by women, adding the chain of command should be removed from the complaints of a sexual nature.
Mr Ellwood added: “To be fair, the majority leave with a positive view of their time in uniform. But this is about a few personnel that bring the service into disrepute, it’s about a systematic failure of a chain of command, the MoD must now accept its role and prioritise putting this right.”
For Labour, shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard said “these claims of abuse are extremely serious and must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible must be held accountable”.
He said: “But these reports lift the lid on a culture of abuse and cover up in our Armed Forces where in far too many cases victims are unable to raise their experiences within the chain of command.”
Mr Murrison confirmed the investigation “will include an individual from outside defence, currently being selected for his or her independence and probity and integrity who will be alongside that investigation”.
Conservative chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee Caroline Nokes said: “It must not come down to one brave woman being prepared to speak out.”
She added: “There have to be processes in place where every woman and man serving in our Armed Forces has the confidence to come forward … We have to have faster justice for the women who have been victims of this sort of culture.”