Skip to main content

Cadet Forces

Volume 810: debated on Monday 1 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take to allow cadet forces to resume face-to-face activities.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my charitable interest as chairman of the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation, a post I took over from the noble Lord, Lord West.

My Lords, the cadet forces are following the overarching UK Government and, where applicable, devolved Administration rules and guidance on Covid matters. Throughout the pandemic, cadet headquarters have accelerated virtual training programmes, through innovative IT solutions. There will be a cautious but progressive return to face-to-face cadet activity. Based on previous experience and the development of Covid-safe practices, the cadet forces are well placed to return to normal activity as soon as conditions permit.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her helpful—indeed, hopeful—reply. Does she agree that there seems to be no reason why cadets should not parade as soon as possible, now that schools are back? Does she also agree that cadet activities, whether Army, sea, Royal Air Force or CCF, are not just a welcome recreation for young people, but for many, especially in areas of deprivation, a route away from trouble and the youth justice system, and a pathway towards vocational skills and possibly employment?

I thank my noble friend for his support of and interest in the cadet forces. Taking his latter point first, I entirely agree that the proven benefit to young people of being in the cadet forces is demonstrable; it has an extremely beneficial effect on them in the development of their personal skills and as they prepare for life in the future. As to return, we shall require to be informed by the relevant guidance and rules at the time. There is certainly an appetite to resume face-to-face activity.

My Lords, I am most familiar with the Army Cadet Force, because I am a former member and I benefited much from that in my teenage years. The guidance and instruction I received stayed with me. However, it is extremely difficult for cadet forces to function properly without face-to-face activity. Will the Minister assure the House today that the ACF and other cadets—and, indeed, other voluntary youth organisations, which are an intricate part of society—will be given every assistance when some normality returns? Where does she see the ACF and other cadets on her list and what is the indicative timetable? Please will the Minister help us with that information?

The noble Lord will understand that I cannot give a specific timetable, but I can reassure him that there is certainly a desire throughout the United Kingdom, where the cadet forces are such an important presence for our youth in the four nations, to let them resume their activities as soon as guidance and rules permit.

My Lords, like many, I started my uniformed career as a cadet, in my case an Air Force cadet at Kimbolton School Combined Cadet Force. I have no doubt that the discipline it gave me helped me in my modest academic achievements. One of the great success stories in recent years has been the cadet expansion programme, with 500 new cadet forces created by 2016. Will my noble friend update the House on how the target of reaching 60,000 cadets by 2024 is progressing?

I reassure my noble friend that the expansion scheme has been a great success, exceeding time limits for achievement. Obviously, the pandemic has had an impact, not least on our school recruitment, because we have missed the September 2020 date, for example. But there is a strong partnership between the MoD and our cadet units in schools and we are mindful of that. That is partly governed by the Department for Education as well. I thank my noble friend for raising the issue. It is an important programme and we are confident of it making positive progress.

My Lords, the cadet forces constitute one of the finest youth organisations in the land, but they are crucially dependent on the adult volunteers who organise them and run their activities. These people have come under increasing pressure in recent years, because of growing regulatory and other burdens, and have found their roles becoming less rewarding. Can the Minister assure the House that, in the wake of Covid, the Ministry of Defence will place sufficient emphasis on recruiting and retaining these adult volunteers, without whom the cadet forces simply would not exist?

The noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right. We are very mindful of the significance of the role played by our cadet force adult volunteers, to whom I pay tribute for their extraordinary achievements during the pandemic. Undeterred, they have continued to encourage and engage with the cadet forces and are deserving of our highest admiration. We recognise that within the MoD and will support them in every way that we can.

My Lords, I wish everyone a happy St David’s Day and put on record my interests as president of the Army Cadet Force Association in Wales. Army cadets play an active role in the community through the citizenship training that they receive. They do this thanks to the contribution of our cadet force adult volunteers, who inspire these young people, but these volunteers need to be supported, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has just said. Last year, the Army Cadet Force Association made grants totalling £200,000 to volunteers who faced financial hardship because of Covid. So I ask the noble Baroness what specifically the MoD is going to do to help these men and women whose voluntary work makes such a great contribution to the physical, mental, social and economic health of Great Britain.

I reassure the noble Lord that we shall support them in every way that we can. As he is probably aware, there is a youth and cadets team within the Reserve Forces and cadets division of the MoD, which engages with the DCMS and the National Youth Agency in England. We are doing everything that we can to consult, collaborate, co-operate and support.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the cadet health check team, where we have seen tremendous commitment, creativity and sheer hard work from staff and cadets, in creating inspirational online activities in lockdown. As has already been mentioned, the cadets are particularly important for disadvantaged young people, who learn skills, self-respect, leadership and other qualities through active engagement with others. The Minister’s previous answers suggest that she might not be able to say, but what more particularly do school cadets need to do to convince people that they can resume their life-changing work?

As the noble Baroness understands, the environment of a school is within the jurisdiction of, initially, the head teacher of the school and, secondarily, the Department for Education and its counterparts within the devolved nations. There is a recognition of the valuable work that cadets do and a universal desire to support their return to face-to-face activity.

Is it not the case that the Government’s excellent objective to increase cadet forces in state schools could be greatly assisted by drawing on the long experience of independent schools? Are the Government actively promoting collaboration between the two sectors of education in this vital area?

I say to my noble friend that we are always anxious to learn. He is quite correct that one of the welcome developments of the expansion programme has been to extend and increase cadets’ presence in the state school sector. I think he will also acknowledge that there are commonalities of interest. Regardless of which sector of education the cadets are in, there is a desire to share experiences and mutual learning.

My Lords, last year, the Government published a review of the Reserve Forces and cadets’ associations, which recommended that the council of the RFCAs and the 13 RFCA bodies should be merged into a single executive non-departmental public body. Can the Minister provide an update on this?

The noble Lord is aware that the MoD committed to implement the recommendations of the report. It has established a programme team to take forward the review’s recommendations, which we are doing in conjunction with the RFCAs. The report has many positive suggestions, which points to a very healthy future for the reserves and cadets.

My Lords, as a former Army cadet, I ask the Minister whether she agrees that it is so important to get young people to take plenty of exercise, from both a health and morale point of view. In addition, does she agree that the well-established and efficient way of controlling cadets would minimise or prevent the spread of Covid among them?

My noble friend is absolutely right: the experience of cadets and the activities in which they engage are conducive to good physical and mental health. We ensure that their activities are Covid-compliant. When face-to-face activities resume, we shall follow whatever the prevailing rules and guidance are.

My Lords, in the West Midlands, we have four Army Cadet Force detachments, three RAF Air Cadet detachments and, even in landlocked Birmingham, 23 Sea Cadet detachments with over 1,000 cadets. They are an important force in the local community. I urge the Minister also to engage with local universities in the summer resumption of face-to-face contact, to ensure not only that the work continues but that new recruits are found.

The noble Baroness makes a very interesting suggestion, which I will certainly reflect on. Given that the age range for cadets goes up to 18, our principal engagement is with schools, but I will look into this further.