HC Deb 12 October 1976 vol 917 cc218-9
2. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the arrangements whereby boy soldiers can get their discharge prior to their eighteenth birthday.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)

Yes, Sir. As I told the House on 22nd July 1975, this matter was fully reviewed by Lord Donaldson's Committee on Boy Entrants and Young Servicemen, and the Army's terms of engagement now incorporate certain options designed to safeguard the interests of junior entrants.

Mr. Bennett

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the sympathy he has shown to one of my constituents. Will he not agree, however, that the easiest and fairest way to ensure that young soldiers are not tricked into staying in the Army would be to get them to sign a positive agreement on their eighteenth birthday committing them to stay in, rather than the present arrangement by which they have to make an approach prior to their eighteenth birthday if they wish to leave the Army?

Mr. Brown

As my hon. Friend knows, a junior soldier has the right, for six months after entry, to leave the Army at any time within that period at a fortnight's notice if he so desires. A junior entrant also has the right, on reaching his eighteenth birthday, of either confirming his original commitment to service or electing to reduce his period of service to three years, counting from his eighteenth birthday. I do not think we can go much further than this.

Mr. Litterick

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is an offence against natural justice that a minor should have a contract of service made for him which he is unable to repudiate when he reaches the age of 18? At present, that right is constrained. Will not my hon. Friend agree that it would be simpler and fairer for everyone concerned if these young soldiers were given the same rights as everyone else?

Mr. Brown

No, Sir. Enlistment in the Armed Forces does not involve entering into a contract. The engagement of members of the Armed Forces is at the discretion of the Crown. Consequently, the law relating to contracts as it affects entrants does not apply.