Cadet forces offer young people the chance to develop character and essential skills in units based in schools and in the community. The coalition Government funded 100 extra units in schools, and this Government have committed an extra £50 million to increase the number by about 145, which will bring the total number in the United Kingdom to 500 by 2020.
Those 145 extra units will all be in state schools. One of the new school cadet forces that we have formed is in north-east England and started against a very difficult background, but it is now so successful that pupils are required to show that they have completed a full year of good attendance and good behaviour before they can join it.
As a former flight sergeant in a combined cadet force, I have benefited from the advantages provided by cadet forces in state schools that the Minister has described. Will the Minister join me on a visit to Brierley Hill Squadron’s air training corps in Brockmoor to see the excellent work that is being done with young people from a range of backgrounds?
I am most envious of my hon. Friend: I am afraid that I only made lance corporal in the CCF. His invitation is very tempting. I will be making a number of visits to CCFs—indeed, I was with the sea cadets yesterday, Trafalgar day, in Trafalgar Square —but I cannot promise an immediate visit to his constituency.
Lieutenant Commander Graham Townsend, RNR, has overseen a fivefold increase in the number of people attending Stafford and Rugeley sea cadets, and the Army and air cadets in Staffordshire are also thriving. May I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that the experience gained from those existing units is spread to the new units, which I welcome?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. There are four community units in my constituency, as well as two CCFs, and another is being formed under the new programme. One of our key criteria for the new units is that they must not clash with existing successful community units. Some of the new units that we are setting up in schools are in the community rather than the CCF programme.
I am keen for as many young people as possible from as many different backgrounds as possible to have an opportunity to join the new cadet forces in their schools. What is the Minister’s estimate of the number of young people eligible for free school meals, or from black and ethnic minority communities, who will join the new groups?
May I begin by making two declarations of interests? First, my wife is a national trustee of the Sea Cadets, as was the Minister. Secondly, I am honorary president of air cadet unit 31 at Mile End.
As the Minister knows, his presence at Trafalgar Square yesterday was very welcome and very well received. Can he assure us that the Ministry of Defence will support cadet units that are not necessarily attached to schools, but are general units consisting of local people?
I thank my dear friend opposite—I am not allowed to call him my hon. Friend—for his kind words. I was very pleased to meet his air cadets on the Terrace of the House of Commons with him last year. The answer to his question is very firmly yes. We support cadets both in communities and in schools, and the new programme will be designed to be complementary, filling in gaps rather than competing with existing community arrangements.
Given that the community cadet forces enable young people, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, to gain confidence and skills that they might not otherwise have a chance to gain, what assurances can the Minister give that the cadet expansion initiative will not disproportionately benefit school cadet forces at the expense of community cadet forces?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place as shadow Minister and thank her for the support for cadet units. I am delighted to give her the assurance she seeks. The new units will be set up in areas where there is no existing community provision. They will not be in competition with existing successful community units.