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Sea Cadets

Volume 459: debated on Wednesday 18 April 2007

Some colleagues have asked why on earth the Member for Rhondda is introducing a debate about sea cadets, as the Rhondda is landlocked and I have no personal experience of the sea cadets, nor any naval connections other than the fact that my maternal grandfather was a naval architect and that my great-grand uncle designed and built the Indomitable, which helped Britain in its endeavours in the first world war. He was described by Admiral Jackie Fisher as Britain’s greatest ever naval architect.

Rhondda, however, has a sea cadet unit, although it is difficult to ensure that the sea cadets can do everything that they would like to be able to do. The debate is unusual as there have been few debates about the sea cadets over the years, and my reason for securing it is that the sea cadets organisation is one of the most valuable, but least valued, in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1910 as the Naval Youth Brigades, formally recognised by the Admiralty in 1919 as the Navy League Sea Cadet Corps and given a formal charter in 1947. The Navy League transformed itself into the Sea Cadet Association in 1976 and the girls’ groups which existed alongside the Sea Cadet Association were amalgamated into the sea cadets in 1992.

The Marine Society and Sea Cadets is the umbrella organisation that runs the 400 sea cadet units across the United Kingdom, which also run themselves semi-autonomously. Four national training centres provide support for the individual units around the country. It is an important point, to which I will return later, that the Marine Society and Sea Cadets is run as a charity rather differently from the other organisations that are run in association with the Ministry of Defence.

In 2005, the last year for which I have been able to find precise figures, the sea cadet corps numbered nearly 13,000 cadets, with 4,400 adult volunteers staffing the units throughout the UK. For completeness, I point out that the sea cadets are for 12 to 18 year-olds, but they also have a junior section for cadets from the age of 10. Everyone wears a uniform of some kind once they have done their initial training, which is free.

The value of the sea cadets is immense, especially in some of the poorest communities in the UK, such as the one that I represent. They provide a series of skills for young people, based on a maritime or nautical theme, including leadership, teamwork, personal discipline, individual respect, care for others and citizenship: all the things that we would want every young person to grow up with.

The core values of the sea cadets are clear. They state as their founding premise that they are there

“to encourage valuable personal attributes and high standards of conduct using a nautical theme based on the customs of the Royal Navy.”

The organisation is designed to promote personal development, social inclusion and citizenship among the country’s young people, whatever their background, race, creed or colour.

The movement tries to introduce young people to an organised, disciplined and stimulating environment where they can learn new skills, interact and collaborate with their peers, and where confidence and self-esteem can flourish while, most importantly, they have a huge amount of fun. I know that the last point is true because I visited the Rhondda sea cadets last week at TS Minerva in Llwynypia. It was a delight to meet the commanding officer, Jeremy Williams, the other eight members of staff, members of the very committed lay board, chaired by Bob Evans, and many of the kids, who were boiling over with enthusiasm about their experience of being in the sea cadets, despite some of them being away on holiday.

As one staff member put it, delightfully, the whole point is that the sea cadets start

“kids off on the right course in life—and luckily most of them don’t get seasick.”

The sadness of the Rhondda sea cadets, though, is that the amount of direct cash that they get from the national Marine Society and Sea Cadets, and therefore from the MOD, is the grand sum of £200 a year. The insurance costs that they will soon have to pay come to £1,500, a figure that has grown dramatically because of some of the work in which they are engaged. The insurance costs for youth work, and particularly for adventure youth work, are very high. They do not have to be met by the other cadet associations but they do by the sea cadets.

Fascinatingly, 33 per cent. of the youngsters involved in the Rhondda sea cadets are in foster homes or care homes. The work of the sea cadets in the Rhondda is essential to every element of what the Government would like to achieve in youth work in the valley. The Rhondda sea cadets are very proud, and I know that they would not like me to let this moment pass without pointing out that they have come in the top fifth of all unit brigades for the past 15 years. They have done extraordinarily well in a series of competitions; in particular, the band, which I have seen on many occasions, has been successful, winning best novice band, best original composition, best solo drummer and best solo bugler in recent years. I know that a lot of people in the Rhondda take particular pride in the work of the sea cadets, and I know that the cadets themselves and those who work with them take pride in their work.

It is not just the sea cadets in my constituency who have a particular set of needs. The Marine Society and Sea Cadets has looked around the country and is trying to investigate the state of the buildings in which many sea cadet units are based. It is certainly true at TS Minerva that, while they make the best they can of the building, it is pretty dilapidated, tired, does not heat well and is not very well electrically wired. There are a lot of issues to be addressed urgently, and that is true of many other units.

The Marine Society and Sea Cadets has examined its south-west region, which has 81 units and covers Wales and the south-west of England, and seen that a large number of units are in urgent need of between £75,000 and £150,000 for major refurbishment. Seventeen units have serious accommodation problems and may have to close in the near future if they cannot be addressed, and four believe that they may have to close in the next 12 months. As one staff member put it to me in Llwynypia, the trouble is that, if the building is shoddy, the youngsters will not be interested in going along to it because they cannot take pride in it. Equally importantly, if the sea cadet unit spends all its time fundraising and shaking tins on the high street, it will not have time to do the core business of the sea cadets—allowing youngsters to acquire the qualifications and skills that they should be trying to achieve.

There is an important point to be made about training. The MOD’s annual report last year stated:

“The Cadets attract some 130,000 youngsters across the UK from all walks of life. This number is steadily growing, but a shortage of adult volunteers has required serious examination of how much more growth can be sustained. We are therefore looking at how the Cadet Forces will operate in the long term. This will include the parameters that we think should govern their operations, and ensuring we retain and attract the right calibre of adult volunteer that will enable the Cadet movement to prosper.”

There are 4,400 adult volunteers working in the sea cadets, but one of the difficulties for the sea cadets that the Army and Air Force do not have is that all the training that those volunteers go through has to be paid for by the volunteers themselves. There is a hefty disincentive for many people actively to engage as adult volunteers in the sea cadets, as that can cost a significant sum. As well as the energy and commitment that we expect from those people, it is difficult to expect them also to pay for their own training. The young adult volunteer in the Rhondda, who should gain promotion to petty officer in the near future, is anxious about doing so because she knows that she will have to pay a fairly hefty sum for her training to qualify for that position.

On top of that, under statute, employers do not have to provide any time off for people engaged in the sea cadets as adult volunteers. That is another area in which the sea cadets lose out to their Army and Air Force compatriots. The MOD regularly says that it does not give so much money to the sea cadets because they are a charity and so able to raise money in other ways. I obtained a precise breakdown of national lottery money that has gone to them, not least because my local sea cadets complained that they are regularly told by various awarding bodies that they fall between two stools and therefore lose out on many grants. According to the national lottery figures, 353 sea cadet units have received £4,894,137 since 1996. Frankly, that is a drop in the ocean of their needs, which is why it is important to put the sea cadets on more of a par with the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps.

The MOD’s defence statistics for 2003 show that approximately 132,800 people between the ages of 12 and 22 are involved in the cadet forces. According to the statistics for 1999, which, as far as I can see, is the last time that the MOD provided the breakdown for the different cadet forces, there were 19,900 naval cadets, 65,700 army cadets and 42,700 air cadets. That suggests that 15 per cent. of the cadet forces are in the sea cadets. They certainly do not receive 15 per cent. of the money, however. Between 2003 and 2006, the budget of the Air Training Corps increased from £19.9 million to £26.4 million; the Army Cadet Force now gets £51.5 million. The figure that I have for the sea cadets is £8.4 million, although I suspect that the Minister will give a figure of £9 million. That is not the figure that the sea cadets have given me, however. Despite having 15 per cent. of the cadets, they are getting only 11 per cent. of the funding.

It is therefore important that we put all the organisations on a similar footing, not least because numbers have fallen in the sea cadets while rising in the other cadet forces. I suspect that that is because of the lack of money for facilities and accommodation, which is provided directly by the MOD for the Army and the Air Force, but not for the sea cadets. There is also a lack of funding for training and a lack of opportunity to do things, as the sea cadets have to spend so much of their time fundraising. It is turning into a vicious circle and it is vital that we act now if we are to ensure that the sea cadets will survive as a strong and healthy force.

I have some demands. I am not the only person who is making them: 2,500 people have called for more funding for the cadet services on the No. 10 Downing street petitions website. I know that Ministers are anxious about that website. The MOD should at least pay or organise the insurance for the whole sea cadets nationally, because that would make a significant difference in the Rhondda and throughout the country. It is time that we had a major review of all the buildings and facilities that are provided for the sea cadets and of the training costs for sea cadet units and their staff. Otherwise, there is a danger that there will be a direct disincentive to be a qualified volunteer staff member in the sea cadets. The Ministry should consider whether it would be possible to require employers to provide time off for sea cadet volunteering activities.

I want to end with some comments from youngsters whom I met last week, who were among the liveliest and most forthright that I have met in the Rhondda. It was hard to stop Cadet Declan Molloy talking, but one of his briefer remarks was, “Sea cadets as a whole need more funding.” Cadet Laura Morgan wanted better heating, and, to use a technical term, “better heads”. That is a particular issue at Llwynypia. Able Cadet Ben Russell said, “Sea cadets need to improve because we need to be able to compete with the Army and Air Cadets on funding.” Cadet George Kingsley said, “If we had more funds we could go away on more trips and get more qualifications.” That is a vital point. At the moment, they spend so much time fundraising that they cannot take part in the core activities of the sea cadets. Finally, Ronan Molloy, the youngest of the cadets, said, “The juniors should be able to go on more training weekends, instead of just going out on one training expedition every six months.”

I hope that the Minister will be able to meet all my demands, and I look forward to his reply.

It is a great pleasure to be here today under your chairmanship, Lady Winterton. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on securing this important debate. I know that he has already raised it in the House, that he has been an active supporter of the cadets in general—not just the sea cadets—and that he is very keen to obtain the improvements he has been talking about. I am afraid that I shall not be able to satisfy all the demands on which he wants a response, but I shall set out the history and the current state of affairs, and explain why the funding organisation for the sea cadets is in its current position. The debate is an important opportunity and I hope to cover several matters in the time available.

My hon. Friend may be aware of a previous debate on cadets obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). As I said then, the cadet forces, with a membership of 130,000, are supported by adult volunteers, and are one of the biggest youth groups in the country. They make a huge contribution to local communities and our nation’s youth. Government youth policies are to develop strategies that encourage the personal development of all young people, with a particular focus on those who are at risk of social exclusion. That development of individual young people is central to the ethos of the cadet force, with its altruistic ideals.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda said, cadets learn many skills that are readily transferable to the workplace, college or school—or, of course, to the armed forces, if members go on to join those. Cadets are also offered opportunities to gain vocational qualifications. The activities complement the school curriculum and give many young people opportunities to gain recognised qualifications.

Perhaps I may repeat what I said in January’s debate about the structure and funding route of our cadet forces. That is a particularly important point raised by my hon. Friend today. The Sea Cadet Corps, the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps are all community-based programmes, which, between them, account for 88,000 cadets and 24,000 adult volunteers, spread over 3,000 locations across the United Kingdom. Between them, they attract 89 per cent. of the funding provided by the Ministry of Defence to support cadets. In many small towns, they are the most visible defence presence. Plenty of opportunities exist for young people to join their cadet force, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Any boy or girl in the area who wants to become a cadet can join any of the single service cadet forces. The fourth cadet force, of course, is the Combined Cadet Force, which, with 42,000 cadets and 2,000 adult volunteers, is a school-based programme that attracts 11 per cent. of the funding. There are 253 CCF contingents based in schools, of which 52 are in state schools.

Unlike the Army and Royal Air Force cadet organisations, the Sea Cadet Corps is not directly managed by the Ministry of Defence. Each Sea Cadet unit is an independent charity under the direct management of a unit management committee. By act of affiliation with the Marine Society and Sea Cadets, affiliated units form and become the Sea Cadet Corps. The corps is owned and managed by the Marine Society and Sea Cadets, which is a charitable body legally separate from the MOD, responsible for its own procedures, processes and unit level finance.

The Marine Society and Sea Cadets is part funded by a grant in aid from the MOD, outlined in a memorandum of understanding, with the remainder of the funding coming from fundraising and charitable donations, as my hon. Friend mentioned. The memorandum of understanding has been reviewed recently and was agreed on 5 March.

The terms of the agreement between the MOD and the Marine Society and Sea Cadets make it clear that these moneys are for general administration, not costs associated with the maintenance of premises and individual units. Expenditure of this funding is limited to the charitable objectives of the Marine Society and Sea Cadets and in the main provides for a fully staffed Marine Society and Sea Cadet Corps headquarters; a national training and organisational infrastructure for the corps; expenses and allowances to the cadet force adult volunteers; and training travel costs of cadets, in a similar way to that provided for the Army and Air Cadets.

Housing each sea cadet unit, including maintenance, rent, utilities and insurance, remains the direct responsibility of the separate cadet volunteer management committees. Individual units may apply to the Marine Society and Sea Cadets for limited cash grants towards the cost of building improvements from additional funds raised by the charity.

In the financial year 2006-07, the MOD provided the Marine Society and Sea Cadets with a grant of just over £8 million, plus an additional £1 million to be spent on equipment, boats, IT infrastructure and support maintenance and £5 million was spent by the Marine Society and Sea Cadets to support the corps infrastructure, the national headquarters and national training programmes. The balance of £3 million funded Sea Cadet Corps uniformed adult allowances, the travel costs of adult volunteers and cadets undergoing training, and the expenses of Marine Society and Sea Cadet area staff who manage and supervise the cadet units at regional level.

In addition to that direct funding, the MOD, through the Defence Equipment and Support organisation, also provides afloat training equipment such as power boats, sail training craft and dinghies, and funds some of the associated maintenance. Overall, Marine Society and Sea Cadets units have over 300 powered training craft and over 1,000 sail training craft provided by the MOD. We also recognise that individual units contribute significantly to the costs of maintaining their units. Of course, that work is much appreciated.

The Sea Cadet Corps has always been an independent organisation, without the direct military links that the Army and Air Cadets have to their parent services. That is why the funding arrangements are different. Nevertheless, the Sea Cadet Corps is entitled to the same benefits as the other services’ cadets, and the way that it is funded is very effective.

Although individual units do not enjoy direct support, the Marine Society and Sea Cadets provides cadets with a wide variety of training choices and opportunities derived from MOD funding. In overall terms, the amount that the MOD spends per cadet on Sea Cadets is not very different from that spent on Royal Air Force cadets.

As my hon. Friend said, the Sea Cadet Corps has one of the longest histories of any youth organisation in the country. Today, it has almost 400 units nationwide that regularly welcome more than 15,000 cadets, supported by approximately 8,000 adult volunteers.

I know that my hon. Friend referred to some of the history of the Sea Cadet Corps, but I would like to refer to a little more of that history, for the record.

Before my hon. Friend the Minister discusses the history of the sea cadets, I would like to ask him if he will undertake to examine the issue of insurance? Insurance is one of the big bills that many units now have to face, and it does not apply in the same way for the other organisations, because they are incorporated in a different way. I wonder whether the MOD could find a way of meeting that insurance cost, either directly or by some other means.

I shall come back to the issue of buildings in a minute, if my hon. Friend does not mind.

As I was saying, the origins of the sea cadets date back to the Crimean war, when sailors returning home formed the Naval Lads Brigades to help orphans in the back streets in seaports. The success of the Naval Lads Brigades led to the formation of the Navy League, a national organisation dedicated to supporting the Royal Navy. In 1942, the then Admiralty took up sponsorship of the Sea Cadet Corps as a training vehicle to produce recruits directly for the Royal Navy. The Admiral Commanding Reserves took over the training role and His Majesty King George VI became Admiral of the Corps. The Admiralty now paid for uniforms, equipment, travel and training, while the Navy League funded sport and unit headquarters.

At the time, Sea Cadet Corps officers were appointed to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. When the Volunteer Reserve was abolished in 1958, the active members––those with a liability to serve in the Royal Navy––were incorporated within the Royal Naval Reserve. Sea Cadet Corps officers were given the honorific title (Sea Cadet Corps) Royal Naval Reserve and the corps was afforded the status of a “service cadet force”. This remains the position today.

Sea Cadet Corps officers continue to be appointed—not commissioned—within the corps by the Commodore Sea Cadets and are only honorary members of the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marine Reserve. The Army Cadet Force and Air Training Corps officers are commissioned in their respective reserve forces and are subject to reserve forces call-up liabilities and conditions of service.

Although the cadet forces are not recruiting organisations, some 22 per cent. of recruits to the Royal Navy come from a uniformed youth background. The latest figures for 2006 show that of that 22 per cent., half came from a sea cadet background with the remainder coming from the Army and Air Force cadets. Figures also show that recruits from a uniformed youth background do well in training, have a lower failure rate and tend to remain longer in their chosen service.

As I said in the Adjournment debate on 25 January, cadet forces represent a success story that we intend to carry forward. In September, the reserve forces and cadets real estate will be surveyed as part of Project Alexander. The Royal Navy has provided additional resources to the Marine Society and Sea Cadets to ensure that all the sea cadet estate is comparably surveyed. That will provide a level playing field to properly understand the ongoing maintenance costs of the cadet forces and provide a basis for future policy and funding decisions.

In closing, I reiterate my appreciation and gratitude for the commitment of the dedicated adult volunteers who so ably run the cadet force units, giving freely of their time for the benefit of young people. Their contribution makes a huge difference. I know that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will acknowledge the tremendous contribution that the sea cadets and the other cadet forces continue to make to young people, their communities, and to society itself. I continue to encourage all Members of the House to support their local units, whatever uniform they wear.

Sitting suspended until 2.30 pm.