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Boys' Battalion (Service Engagements)

Volume 498: debated on Tuesday 1 April 1952

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether recruits to the boys' battalion of the Army will have the option of taking their discharge at 18 years of age.

No, Sir. The engagement is freely entered upon and must have the consent of the parents or legal guardian. Since the period spent before attaining the age of 18 is devoted to giving the boy a specialised training for his future Army career, I cannot agree to give these boys the option of taking their discharge at the very moment when their training is completed.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that it is right to allow a boy of 15 years to sign on for up to 11 years with the Colours and Reserves, or 15 years with the Colours? Does the right hon. Gentleman not remember that an alteration was made in the Royal Navy a few years ago when boys were given the option at the age of 18, I think, to enter into a short-term engagement?

None of these boys can sign on for 15 years. This system has been continuing for some considerable time, including the last six years under the late Government, and I do not think that when we spend a lot of money on their training we can afford to let them go so early.

Is the Minister aware that in an official document it states that a boy of school-leaving age may join a battalion by enlisting in the Regular Army, and the conditions are that he signs on for eight years with the Colours and four with the Reserves, which means 12 years with the Colours from the age of 18? That, in effect, means up to 15 years' service.

Would the right hon. Gentleman not apply the new proposal of giving everyone the right to a discharge after three-yearly intervals to these boys? Would not that meet the difficulty?

We have considered that, but the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that if one of these boys has had a technical education and is well qualified, many civilian firms may come along and make alternative offers to him so that all that time would be wasted. I think when we have these special concessions we have a right to claim longer service.