HC Deb 21 March 1986 vol 94 cc518-61 9.37 am
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I beg to move,

That this House takes note with approval of the Government's plans to expand the United Kingdom's volunteer reserve forces; and emphasises the great value to young people of basic service training, while recognising that such training should not be funded in a way which would diminish the United Kingdom's front line capability. The idea that young people should give some service to the community in which they live is not the exclusive property of retired colonels living in the leafy suburbs of Tunbridge Wells or Cheltenham. As social anthropologists from the time of Malinowski and Durkheim have noted, this feeling is widespread in primitive and advanced societies. It is felt strongly by the Masai tribesmen of east Africa and the prosperous bourgeousie of Switzerland. It can be felt with equal fervour by young people, who look upon some form of service as an initiation right, and the elders in the community who believe instinctively that young people should have a special role in protecting and caring for the community.

I am delighted to note that that general view is shared by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who will reply to the debate. My diligent research staff have drawn my attention to a speech that the Minister made in a debate on youth problems on 7 July 1980 when he was the chairman of the National Youth Bureau. He called for a three-year young Britons scheme. He said: The scheme which I have in mind would be very much voluntary in its nature. I suggest that the first year should consist of basic military training, with limited annual training thereafter on lines operated so successfully by the Swiss. I know that the Armed Forces would not be too keen, but they have embryo facilities and the cadre of instructors.'' He went on to suggest that the second year of service should be spent on community work in mental hospitals or old people's homes and that the third year should be spent on industrial or craft training.

My proposals are a great deal less ambitious than that and also a great deal less expensive, but I hope that my hon. Friend's heart is still in the right place. As a starting point for my much more modest proposals, I took the statement made by the then Secretary of State for Defence on 14 April 1983 about the participation of the armed forces in the Government's youth training scheme. My right hon. Friend proposed to make available some 5,200 places for the young unemployed. He said:

Young people will volunteer to join one of the services on a 12-month engagement, part of which will be spent in formal training and the remainder in work experience."—[Official Report, 14 April 1983; Vol. 40, c. 946.] I welcomed that scheme, which was not surprising, as I had started the first studies for it some two years before when I was a Minister in the Department. That modest scheme was, I regret to say, greeted with howls of rage by members of the official Opposition. In particular, Joan Lestor denounced it on behalf of the working class and Alex Lyon, in a particularly poetic passage, denounced the scheme as compulsory conscription. Joan Lestor and Alex Lyon, both of whom were soon to be rejected by their constituents, might have been surprised if they had realised how vehemently their dislike of compulsory conscription was shared by almost all the senior officers of the armed forces.

Almost without exception, senior officers wish to maintain our Army as a highly professional body recruited on a wholly voluntary basis, and the Ministry of Defence is reluctant to spend money on anything that does not directly enhance the capability of the front line troops. Conscript natonal service men would be regarded as an encumbrance rather than an asset. This view of the chiefs of staff, which was held three years ago, is still their view today.

Now that the armed forces youth training scheme has been in operation for nearly three years, the time has come to review its operation and to see how it can be altered and improved, particularly as the Ministry of Defence now has to decide whether to extend the armed forces YTS to two years to keep in step with the rest of the YTS programme.

I note that the Royal Air Force seems happy with the existing arrangements. Over the past three years, it has offered 1,606 places to young people and has had 916 successful applicants. It is clear that the young people concerned are getting a valuable training, and, as I understand it, the RAF feels that the scheme has been of benefit to it. Therefore, I see no reason to alter the RAF scheme as it stands.

In the same three years, the Royal Navy has offered a mere 1,130 places to young people and has taken on 335 trainees. Clearly it gets a lot less out of the scheme than does the RAF, and if the Royal Navy wishes to opt out of the project, I see no reason why it should not.

The biggest need, and the greatest scope, for change is in the Army. It was originally planned that the Army would offer nearly 4,000 YTS places a year, but it has barely filled a quarter of the original target. Therefore, I propose that the Army should scrap its original YTS and replace it with a voluntary national scheme in which some 15,000 young men or women would be offered 100 days of regular training with regular pay.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Before my hon. Friend gets on to the scheme about which we are all eager to hear, will he accept that the problem with the services youth training scheme is that the services have never understood the major benefit of recruiting people below the existing age for serving soldiers, sailors or airmen? I helped to set up the YTS scheme. Does my hon. Friend agree that not only is it cheap for the Ministry of Defence because it is paid for by the Department of Employment, but that if the services are offering an attractive career, having had a young man within their ranks for 12 months, it should be hoped that he could then become a more permanent part of the force? Is it not this failure to see this point that has been at the root of the extraordinarily poor figures in the three services?

Sir Philip Goodhart

I accept a great deal of what my hon. Friend, who did so much to set up the scheme, has said, although I note that the old Army young leaders scheme used to be of great value both to young people and to the Army.

My scheme would have considerable attractions to employers. Many employers wish to employ young people with specific skills, but the commonsense message that I get from employers' organisations nationally and locally is that they are, above all, anxious to employ young people with a sense of initiative, of purpose and of discipline. The fact that a young person voluntarily undertakes to spend an intensive period of training should do a lot to enhance his attractiveness in the eyes of a great many employers.

Secondly, such a scheme of 100 days intensive training would be attractive to many men and women who are not particularly attracted by the present Army YTS. Large numbers of recruits are still coming forward both for the Regular Army and for the Territorial Army, and it is clear that many young people relish the challenge, particularly the short sharp challenge that the initial contact with the armed forces inevitably provides. The scheme would also have decided financial attractions to those taking part in it. The 100 days pay for a private, class four, band one comes to no less than £1,340. If one were to set aside £340 of pay for food and accommodation charges while serving, the young person might expect to be £1,000 better off at the end of 100 days.

Many hon. Members will have received letters from young people who are about to embark on a university career. Despite the fact that our grant system for undergraduates is the most generous in the industrial world, many young people going to university are faced with financial pressures. Some of them might find life at university considerably easier if they could start with nearly £1,000 in their pockets, having done a period of military training.

When choosing people who might join the scheme, priority should be given to those young people who have served in the cadet forces or other voluntary organisations at school and also to those who indicate a readiness to do some future service in the Territorial Army.

Three questions then arise. First, would the scheme be excessively expensive? Secondly, would it be an undue strain on the resources of the Army? Thirdly, would it be of any military value? The answer to the first question is, yes, it would be expensive, but not excessively expensive. The Manpower Services Commission is currently spending about £1,100 million on training schemes involving some 400,000 young people. Within that global figure I note that the estimated gross cost of mode B1 youth training scheme place is £3,800 for one year. When we move to two years of mode B1 training, the cost will of course increase. If the cost of training a recruit in the Army was £38 a day, which is a realisic estimate, a place in my suggested scheme would cost no more than a mode B1 place for one year.

Then there is the question whether the scheme would be an undue strain on the Army. Five years ago, or even three years ago, one could have said with some confidence that the Army could have coped within its existing resources. At that time the amount of money that we were spending on defence was growing quite sharply in real terms, and there was considerable elasticity in the Army's excellent training establishments.

I note that in 1981 the Army took in 25,956 recruits. In 1981–82 the figure fell to 12,405. In 1983–84 it bounced back again to nearly 20,000. That degree of variation showed that there was still a considerable amount of flexibility in the Army's primary training system. Since then, however, there has been a double squeeze. In real terms, the amount of money that we are planning to spend on defence is beginning to fall and a review of the Army's training facilities has eliminated a lot of the spare capacity that used to exist. There is talk once again of overstretch in the Army.

I do not want the Army to have to find from its existing resources the extra men and money that would be needed to cope with this scheme. Those with considerable expertise in training tell me that between 500 and 600 extra permanent staff would be needed to cope with this scheme and that the extra gross cost could be between £50 million and £60 million. That is a lot of money, but it is not such a lot when one considers that the budget of the Manpower Services Commission has gone up by £2 billion in the last seven years. I believe that the Army's manpower ceiling should be adjusted to take account of this extra commitment and that the money should come from our rapidly growing youth training budget rather than from our shrinking defence budget.

On the question whether the scheme would be of any military value, I think that it could benefit the Army, both directly and indirectly. One of the direct benefits would be, as I have just suggested, a small extra increase in the regular strength of the Army. Indirectly, I think that it is of help to the Army to be perceived to be making a contribution to the solution of a real national problem. As the number of men and women in the Army contracts, there is always the slight risk that the Army will lose contact with the community as a whole. As many hon. Members in the House can testify, the Army wins friends by having a large number of young people passing through its ranks.

Then there is the question whether 100 days' training is worth anything militarily. To that my reply would be that, if it is not, the NATO Alliance is in real trouble. As I have said, I hope that a considerable proportion of the young men and women who enter the scheme will go on to join the Territorial Army. This Government have sensibly recognised that the Territorial Army needs to be strengthened. I also note that at the moment less than a quarter of the officers and men serving in the Territorial Alloy have had any service with the regular forces.

I note that in an emergency both the British and the American armies rely heavily upon reserves to fill gaps in their order of battle. A large part of our military planning is based on the assumption that very large numbers of American reserves would cross the Atlantic to take part in a land battle in western Europe. The largest element in the American reserve is the army national guard, which is almost 500,000 strong. I note that before a national guardsman is counted as being properly trained he has to do 12 weeks, which will probably be extended to 14 weeks, basic regular training with the regular American army. Indeed, the Americans believe that three months' primary training with the regular forces is essential for their reserve forces. I believe that 100 days' primary training would have an important and beneficial effect upon our own reserve forces.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will my hon. Friend make it clear that the first American reserves to be deployed to Europe at a time of emergency or war would be their air reserves, that the air national guard squadrons come across for regular training, in some cases on an annual basis, and that with no trouble at all they are deployed to Europe across the Atlantic in supersonic aeroplanes? That dimension has to be made clear also.

Sir Philip Goodhart

The pilots involved in the ground crew need considerably more than the 100 days' training that I am proposing.

I note that in the Army debate on 30 January 1986 the Minister for the Armed Forces said: The critical importance of the reserves is shown by the fact that, in a period of tension and after full mobilisation, the size of the Army as a whole would increase by some 175,000 through the addition of the reserves, and the size of the Army in Germany would almost treble. From that it can be seen that the Army would be in no position to discharge its wartime commitments without our reserve forces. Moreover, the reserves are strikingly cost-effective. The TA, for example, generates over 30 per cent. of the Army's order of battle for only some 5 per cent. of its budget. Those of us who have attended Army debates over the last 20 years, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), could, I am sure, almost recite that paragraph by heart. For almost 20 years, virtually without change, it has appeared in the speech of the Minister of whatever party who has had the privilege of opening the Army debate. This year I was glad to see that the Minister for the Armed Forces was able to go on to say: The expansion of the Territorial Army is making steady progress towards our target of 86,000. The strength of the TA was only some 59,000 when we came into office in 1979. It is over 76,000 now, having increased by some 4,000 in the past year."—[Official Report, 30 January 1986; Vol. 90. c. 1121–22.] Even with that expansion, I note that our reserve forces are significantly smaller than those of some of our NATO allies. The French army reserve is 305,000, the German 750,000, the Italian 550,000, and the Greek 350,000. Even the Belgians, with 160,000, have an army reserve almost as large as ours. In almost every case, the reservists will have had at least 12 months' regular experience. The only exception is the Belgians, whose reservists will have had a minimum of eight months' regular service.

To sum up, the present Army services youth training scheme has been only a qualified success. With nearly three years' experience under our belt, it needs modification. I believe that it should be replaced, at some small additional cost, with a scheme that gives 100 days of regular training to 15,000 young men and women every year. I believe that this scheme would be attractive to employers. I believe that it would offer a challenge and provide a pleasing financial reward to many young people. It could do much to strengthen the reserve forces which have such an important role to play if we are faced with a war or an emergency.

Of course, I do not expect my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement to say this morning that he is wholly won over by my argument—which he himself advanced only a few years ago—and that the money is ready and waiting in the kitty and that my proposed scheme will be introduced on Wednesday week. however, I hope that he will remember his earlier enthusiasm and will recall his own wise and robust speech delivered a mere six years ago. I hope that he will look seriously at the proposal. I hope that he will remember that many members of the public think that a little bit of military training would be good for many of our young people.

Meanwhile, I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State whether he has anything more to say about another proposal for strengthening the reserve forces which I put forward in the Army debate on 30 January and which he may recall as I think he was sitting on the Front Bench at the time. In that debate, I pointed out that there was one way in which we could enormously enhance our helicopter capacity at very small extra cost to the defence budget"—[Official Report, 30 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 1155] It has been estimated that there are some 550 civilian helcopters and that about 350 of them are civilian versions of military helicopters. Many civilian helicopters are operated by pilots who were trained in the armed forces. Many of the larger civilian helicopters, such as the converted Sea Kings and the Super Pumas, are now working in the North sea oilfields.

For many years, the Admiralty has had a scheme for taking over a number of British merchant ships in an emergency, and public funds used to be spent to modify those ships so that they could swiftly adapt to their wartime role. In much the same way, I believe that 250 of our civilian helicopters could become part of a territorial army of the air. Some modification of the earmarked helicopters might be needed. Extra wireless sets and identification equipment would have to be set side. Some extra training would have to be given to the pilots and the ground crews, and special arrangements would have to be worked out with the operating companies and their clients.

Of course, it would be unrealistic to think that civilian helicopters could be pitchforked straight into a major battle, but the existence of this territorial army of the air, which would be almost as large as the Army's existing helicopter fleet, would mean that every service helicopter now stationed in this country could be given an overseas role. The creation of this territorial army of the air would be the most cost-effective way of filling some of the gaps in our military helicopter capacity.

Since I made that suggestion on 30 January, there have been letters to The Times in support of this proposal from Field-Marshal Lord Carver, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, and Mr. Michael Rankin, the director of the British Maritime League, who pointed out, sadly, that the old Admiralty scheme for equipment for merchant ships had fallen into abeyance. I note that the proposal for mobilising civilian helicopters was raised also during the recent North Atlantic Assembly meeting in Brussels by that distinguished Dutch General, General de Jager, who is chairman of the NATO military committee and who pointed out that the Dutch had a mobilisation scheme for civilian earth-moving equipment. It seems that the Dutch have an up-to-date register of bulldozers and that their drivers would be required to report in the first hours of an emergency, which might perhaps be more effective than sticking one's finger in the dyke.

The proposals which I put forward in the Army debate on 30 January were not entirely new, because I had put them forward some four years ago in the Ministry of Defence. I suspect that the Ministry of Defence is aware of the existence of these civilian helicopters and is aware of their potential value in an emergency. I very much fear, however, that it has not yet even reached the point of talking seriously to the main helicopter contractors about the precise way in which civilian helicopters could be mobilised. Do we have service wireless sets ready to put into the helicopters? Do we have suitable "identification friend or foe" equipment to put on those helicopters? Have we had any talks about mobilisation plans with the civilian helicopter pilots who have served in the regular forces?

I am glad that the Government have plans for a helicopter squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, but so much more could be done with just a little more planning. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State can give us some positive information about progress in the Ministry's thinking on the territorial army of the air. I hope also that it will not take the Ministry another four years to come up with a sensible scheme for giving a short period of military training to some of the young people who would like to undertake it and who could give valuable service to their country.

10.8 am

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

We are all grateful to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) for giving us an opportunity to debate this topic. At root is the role of the Ministry of Defence in the community and its broader role in the affairs of the nation. One of the consequences of the decision to go for wholly professional armed services—which, on balance, has been proved to be correct—has been to make the Ministry of Defence constrict itself and to have a tendency to cocoon itself in a wholly military atmosphere. That was always one of the things people feared when we went for a wholly professional force.

One of the strengths of the previous system, in which people were compelled to serve in one of the four services, which included the Royal Marines, was that a wide range of people were involved in military affairs. That meant that the armed services were not cocooned and that there was a much wider spread of knowledge and involvement in and commitment to the armed services.

Memories fade. The second world war is long gone and many people have never served in the armed services. That being the case, we have to make an effort to ensure that the Ministry of Defence does not see its role in a narrow way. The Ministry of Defence, together with its civilian employees, is a major economic force in the national economy. Apart from the Department of Health and Social Security it is our largest single employer. It was right for the Government in 1983 to see that the military and civilian employment aspects of the Ministry of Defence made a contribution to youth training. A number of people in the Chamber today were deeply sceptical about whether the armed forces youth training scheme would be successful.

Those of us who have served in the Ministry of Defence are well aware of the deep-seated hostility to any involvement by the volunteer held by most of the senior military figures. This scheme had the smack of being reluctantly forced on the chiefs of staff by Ministers, but the chiefs of staff went along with it, confident that it would never work. The figures of uptake are deplorable. The armed forces youth training scheme was launched in August 1983 with the intention of providing 5,000 places a year. Up to the end of last year only 1,500 youngsters had accepted places. That is an indictment of the way the scheme has been run and not of the people who could have been encouraged to go into it.

It is important to focus on the other part of the scheme, the Ministry's civil employment training scheme. That was expected to provide about 2,000 places a year, but only something like 650 received training. One cannot go to any of the military establishments without realising the depth of the training commitment to the professional service man. That training is of a high calibre. Many of the people in civilian youth training schemes are green with envy when they see the training facilities provided by the Ministry of Defence. It has the capacity and the skilled instructors and standards that would undoubtedly benefit our youth training effort.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is whether the armed services and the civilian employers in the Ministry of Defence will in April participate fully in a two-year youth training scheme. The Minister nods his head so I assume they will. That is good. One of the criticisms of the extension of the youth training scheme is that the Government have not yet given sufficient commitment to funding the extra training capacity that is fundamental for such a scheme. There is no point in taking people into these schemes for two years unless there is an extra input of resources to ensure that the scheme has a much stronger training element than hitherto. The inadequate effort we put into skill training is a scandal. Only yesterday, the head of the Manpower Services Commission made a scathing speech about the shortage of skills in the nation.

Whatever view one holds about politics or about the Budget, it must be of paramount importance to increase the skills of our youth. We must be ready to seize the opportunities of a new technological era. Few Government Departments are better able to set an example by increasing training for today's youth than the Ministry of Defence. It is fundamental that the chiefs of staff are told straight that they have to co-operate in this scheme and give a great deal more commitment to it than they have done hitherto.

I hope that as a result of this debate the Minister will go away strengthened for his part in the bureaucratic struggle.

The hon. Member for Beckenham said that the service which has contributed most and got the most out of the scheme is the Royal Air Force. My affection for the Royal Navy is well known and the Royal Marines is second to it. Anyone who works in the Ministry of Defence knows that the most open-minded of the services is the Royal Air Force. Perhaps that is because it is the youngster of our services and also because many of its senior officers have had a wider training and come from a more varied background. It is much easier to incorporate new ideas into the RAF than it is to incorporate them into the Army, the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Royal Navy should opt out of the scheme. I vehemently oppose such a thing. The Royal Navy and the Royal Marines should play a full part in the scheme and above all the Army should have a role. What is to be done? I do not know what a realistic target figure should be, but we should not fix a target figure and then fail to fulfil it. This time let us have fixed target figures that will be fulfilled. The next question we must ask is why has this scheme failed—apart from the reasons of bureaucratic inertia and professional hostility. One of the reasons is that the standards for acceptance to the scheme are far too high and much too restrictive.

I have a suggestion of the utmost importance. In the United States the head-start programme has special help and positive action programmes for black and ethnic minorities. That programme has been given a powerful push because the Department of Defence at the Pentagon made a major contribution to the programme right from the start. It deliberately took on a great number of people who were not even fluent in languages and who had problem backgrounds. It was thought that because of the nature of the armed services the people going into the training schemes would be living in a much more disciplined framework than exists in any of the normal youth training schemes. The scheme was therefore especially suitable for people from disadvantaged backgrounds who would be the hardest to train.

Our scheme is wholly voluntary and that is right, but the standards for acceptance ought not to be pitched so high, and the armed services should take into the scheme volunteers who have the least educational qualifications and some of the most difficult backgrounds. People who have been through the courts and who have been on probation and things like that should be taken on. There is a peculiarly strong sense of responsibility in the armed services, and that will mean that the scheme may cost a bit more. It may also mean that the ratio of trainers to trainees may have to be somewhat high. It is time that the Ministry of Defence was asked to take on some of the obligations that the nation requires of it, and the Ministry is in an advantageous position to try to deal with some of our most disadvantaged kids.

Mr. Wiggin

I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman says. At the time the scheme was introduced the armed services made the valid point that the entry standards for young people for YTS should not be different from those for the ordinary service man. The problem of age comes into this. I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy has traditionally had serving boys, and if the services are prepared to take on 16-year-old boys as Regular soldiers, airmen and sailors, life would be a great deal easier. That point has caused a lot of difficulty about entry. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish the Ministry of Defence to take on the role of an educationist.

Dr. Owen

I am afraid that I do think so. The cost should not be borne by the armed services' budget but by the Manpower Services Commission's budget. It is not reasonable to ask that the cost should be borne by the armed services' budget which, heaven only knows, will be deeply stretched over the next few years. With a 7 per cent. reduction in real terms we cannot ask the armed services to bear the cost of a social responsibility. But the armed services are particularly well equipped to take on the obligation of the social responsibility and some of the stresses and strains of that, and should do so.

Now that the scheme will last for two years, it is easier to justify people of a lower educational attainment being taken on and being part of a head-start programme. It is much easier to justify taking on some kids with a truancy rate and a record of drug addiction or petty crime. Those are the very people who often are not accepted on the civilian youth training schemes because they are seen as being a disruptive force, as indeed they are. It is perfectly understandable that a factory or small employer would find that difficult. People in the probation service arid elsewhere cannot place such kids. The armed services could meet that need and we should ask them to do so.

The programme should last for three years, and during that time the kids would catch up and the head-start scheme would succeed. Educational attainments would be improved and many would then apply to stay on in the armed services as professionals. At that juncture they should meet all the educational and other requirements for full-time professional service. The value of such a scheme has already been proven by its success in the United States and we could have such a scheme in Britain.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

There is one problem in what the right hon. Gentleman has been saying. We are, and I hope that he is as well, thinking of a voluntary scheme. In my experience of drug addiction and the sort of people about whom he is talking, the voluntary nature of the scheme would have to be somewhat forcibly put, in order to get those people to enter into any scheme involving discipline and the armed forces.

Dr. Owen

Yes, there is no doubt that a kid who is on drugs will not volunteer to enter such a scheme. However, once they have gone through the withdrawal period and they are off drugs, they are often only too well aware how vulnerable they would be if they went back into their community to an atmosphere of urban decay and decline and a culture of drug-taking. I am advised that people believe that some children who have come off drugs, who have been on probation or have had some problems in the courts would volunteer because they are keen that they should be given a second chance, or even, one could argue, a first chance. Such people get depressed after endless applications for youth training schemes and constant refusal. It is then that they go back into crime or on to drugs. I believe that that is the experience of schoolmasters too. They feel that some of those people are attracted to the challenge of the armed services. They are often physically fit people who like the idea of some of the outdoor activities that would go with such a scheme. The young sailors' scheme has been referred to. Many people who are attracted initially into such schemes would not necessarily have high educational attainment and they often have high rates of truancy.

Somebody must make a start. We cannot let such kids go on with no chance. The needs are not being met by the existing system and it is much easier for the Government to do something. It is not wholly a matter for the Ministry of Defence. The Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of the Environment have a role to play. But private employers will not do much. It is extraordinarily difficult to ask them to take into youth training schemes kids with a bad record who will be bad risks and difficult to handle. It is my strong belief that the Ministry of Defence should he giving such a lead.

I have already made it clear that the money for such a scheme should not be taken from the Ministry of Defence budget. It must be funded by all of us. But let me deal with the cultural atmosphere. France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland do not have fully professional armed services. They have a system of volunteers. They do not do that purely and simply because it is cheaper. There is a philosophical point here. They want the armed services to be part of the life of the nation.

I am not arguing that we should go back on the earlier decision. We should keep the professional armed forces for as long as we humanly possibly can. The self-restraint and control that the Army in particular, and the Marines, have demonstrated in Northern Ireland has shown the immense value of professional armed forces. The provocation, tension and strain of service in Northern Ireland would have been very difficult for a conscript service.

As our services become ever more sophisticated the need for ever more highly skilled people grows. A petty officer in the Navy these days is a highly skilled technician. The Navy is very different from what it was even 20 years ago. Therefore, I am not arguing against a professional armed force, although I am putting up a warning. I am not altogether sure how long Britain will be able to fund a fully professional armed service to the extent that we have been doing. I say bluntly that if people start saying that we must make slashing cuts in the British Army of the Rhine, I for one would be perfectly prepared to consider the continental system.

I am committed to a professional armed service as long as it is possible to maintain and sustain it. If our national economic difficulties go on and our national economic decline continues and we cannot fund the necessary level of armed services, we shall have to reconsider the matter. That is a separate point. It is part of the philosophy that underlies the resistance inside the Ministry of Defence to this scheme. The Ministry does not think that it has a social obligation. It thinks that it is all right to be cocooned in a wholly professional atmosphere, and it is wrong. If it is not forced in this small way to widen its horizons and to take on a social obligation—at no extra cost to the defence budget but at considerabl extra cost in terms of effort and energy—we shall all regret it.

I wish the Minister all strength to his elbow. Frankly, he will not be able to carry out such a scheme unless it is made abundantly clear on the Floor of the House of Commons, on as much of a cross-party basis as is humanly possible, that the scheme is, in origin, right. It has been badly conducted and poorly carried out and it has not had the necessary commitment.

The Secretary of State must bring the chiefs into a room and give them their marching orders. The Ministry of Defence is one of the best Ministries in Whitehall. When the Secretary of State says that something should be done, it is done. People must be told that the scheme will be given priority. The one thing that the Secretary of State must get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a commitment that the scheme will be funded by the MSC funds and not the Ministry of Defence. I hope that that message will go loud and clear to the Secretary of State and the Chancellor and that the Government will act quickly.

10.28 pm
Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

I support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). The House not only congratulates him on it but is thankful to him for giving us this opportunity to have this important debate.

I strongly support the idea of voluntary military service. It is good for the youth of our nation and it is for the nation in that it enhances our defence capability. In addition, it enhances our social fabric, particularly the talents and occupations of our young people.

But, as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has already said, the armed forces have consistently poured cold water on such ideas on the ground of cost. The budget should be shared not only by the MSC vote, but, if necessary, by the Departments of Health and Social Security and the Home Office. Those Department have something to gain by having young people in the armed forces.

The second reason why the armed forces tend to pour cold water on the scheme is that they object to the mix with the regular forces. I am currently serving as a Territorial soldier in a regular infantry brigade—the 1st Infantry Brigade at Tidworth. I have seen that the integration of part-time and regular soldiers can work extremely well. There is a role to play.

I believe that defence is essentially capability times will. That is important, because if the capability or will is zero, the equation is nil. It is interesting to note that there is strong reason to suspect that Mr. Costa Mendez advised President Galtieri that the British did not have the will to defend the Falklands, primarily because we showed a lack of will by withdrawing forces from the east of Suez and the Mediterranean only a few years before.

This form of youth service and voluntary national service will enhance not only our capability but our will. The primary role of the armed forces is the defence of our national interest in times of war and peace and that implies two basic capabilities. First, we must exert a presence to deter aggression and to monitor or act in a surveillance role. Secondly, the most obvious role is to exert a decisive hitting power.

Modern sophisticated armed forces are extremely expensive. Integrated weapons systems and the highly trained and highly skilled manpower needed to operate them are very expensive, and the expense is growing fast. I believe that an issue which will haunt not only this Government but every Government for decades to come will be how we can continue to afford the enormous escalating bill for defence. I think that voluntary national service could have a tremendous impact on that bill.

The hitting power capability is highly sophisticated and therefore highly expensive. It is an ideal role for regular forces who often prove their excellence. The presence role is much less highly technical and involves little more than basic training. None the less, it is very important and involves a great deal of manpower. It concerns me greatly that exercise Brave Defender showed that we are woefully lacking in the presence role in the defence of the country if it comes to a war. For the total defence of this nation to be truly effective, we need much more manpower, particularly in what I call the presence, surveillance and deterrence role. I think that that is ideally fitted for the Territorial Army, the reserve forces and the home defence force.

It is interesting that at a time of need for manpower, which exercise Brave Defender must have written large in the eyes of Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, we have high youth unemployment. What a marvellous coincidence. I agree strongly with the right hon. Member for Devonport in that I think that the armed forces have a part to play in the social role of the Government. That must be taken on board by my hon. Friend the Minister.

I agreed to speak for less than five minutes, so I shall say no more. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. I shall not repeat what he has said, because I agree with it, but I should like to thank him for his motion and say that I strongly support it. The idea of applying the youth training scheme to voluntary national service is excellent, and it is in the national interest. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take serious note of his proposal.

10.34 am
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I join other hon. Gentlemen in welcoming the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), with whom I have worked closely on other matters unconnected with today's debate. We have had an interesting and excellent debate so far.

I hope that the House will bear with me while I try to analyse some of the background as to how we got to our present position. We have to put the debate in the context of a growing interest among the public and in the House in schemes of national and community service.

The scheme that has been presented this morning does not stand on its own. Many other organisations and personalities have put forward schemes on parallel lines, if not of the same strength or in the same way. The whole area of community or national service for young people is an idea which had been persistently, if intermittently, attractive to politicians of all parties. It has also found widespread support among the public, including supporters of all parties. That is not surprising, certainly at a time of high unemployment and of a shortage of skilled people.

The idea that young people should apply themselves to the benefit of others and do useful work while acquiring the habit of diligence and the attitude of service, has a compelling simplicity, especially when so many young people are cooling their heels on the dole and many of the general public suspect that they are acquiring an outlook which will serve them and society ill in later life.

In 1980 and 1981 an organisation called Youth Call emerged as a movement for compulsory community-national service. An associated poll by The Observer at that time found a majority of the public in support of a national community service. Later, in 1984, there was a further wave of interest. Opinion polls were conducted and given extensive coverage in national newspapers. The surprisingly high figure of 80 per cent. favoured either voluntary or compulsory community national service. An associated study was carried out by David Marsland which claimed to identify hundreds of thousands of jobs which could usefully be done by participants in a national community service scheme. It is clear that the notion of this form of scheme and service by young people strikes a chord with the general public: and it is right that it should receive the most serious consideration by the House.

I want to spend some time on the principles which should guide that consideration. This morning's debate has already shown that there are some serious ambivalences in what is intended among many people who might have a general concern and think that some form of national or community service is a good idea.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the armed services would have a very important role to play in the theme he is developing?

Mr. Sheerman

Indeed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my theme because this is a debate which we should take seriously, and I want to underline and analyse some of the background. I think that that is how we should deal with a serious debate, which I think the hon. Member for Beckenham intended.

We must not only acknowledge but state with the utmost vehemence that there are hundreds of thousands of young people who are currently without work and without hope. There can be little doubt that their talents are wasting, their skills, if they have them, are withering, and their attitudes to life and work are deteriorating. There are 500,000 people under 25 who have been unemployed for over six months. A third of a million are unemployed and have never had a job since leaving school. Meanwhile, there are jobs to be done to the benefit of the community in social services, the health service and in caring of all kinds.

There is work to be done in the environment beautifying our cities and repairing and building the national stock of housing, railways, roads and canals, just to name a few. We must not assume that the unemployed are idle in their enforced leisure, but we know enough about the number who desperately want to work and do something creative to know that satisfying, constructive work is badly needed.

Secondly, in these days of refusal by the Government to acknowledge the need to support and properly fund the many badly needed services, we must proclaim the fundamental importance of introducing all young people to the values of caring for others, respect for the environment and commitment to public service. Not only are such values sadly lacking among many of the alienated youth in the inner cities, but they are lacking, perhaps more so, among the young ex-public school fogies whose lives are sheltered from the realities of life for those without the benefit of a silver spoon, and in whom the absence of caring attitudes is, for that reason, more reprehensible.

Thirdly, we must note the importance to employers of having young employees who have had an opportunity to develop their personal qualities, can work easily with others and have self-reliance and a capacity for initiative and leadership, to which a period in service to the community could undoubtedly contribute. Self-esteem, a sense of responsibility and overall maturity are of value not just for the individual but for the employer and society as a whole.

Mr. Jim Spicer

The hon. Gentleman is developing his theme extremely well, but I wonder when he will address himself to the main point of the debate. He has avoided any discussion about national service and the terms of the debate.

Mr. Sheerman

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. However, I should like to proceed with my analysis and then I shall come back to that point.

All those arguments point strongly in the direction of national service for youth, but there are some dangers. Once I have looked at some of the dangers, I shall come back to the terms of the motion. The first danger is the spectre of compulsion. Schemes that proclaim their voluntary character often become, in practice or through the dictates of implementing them equitably, overlaid with compulsion, as one of the prime movers of Youth Call, Jane Prior, found to her distress. We have begun to witness that in the youth training scheme.

I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) develop his argument, which revealed the difference between what was intended for a national service scheme in the armed forces and what it might develop into. Would it be a scheme, as is intended by the hon. Member for Beckenham, which would eventually supply a military need and be an asset to the armed forces, or would it be a scheme for the most alienated, deprived and unqualified of our young people, to give them a short, sharp shock? The ambivalence of that came out clearly in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I also had a feeling that an element of compulsion to go on to those schemes was an underlying theme of the right hon. Gentleman's general argument.

The first danger is the spectre of compulsion. Secondly, there is the danger that those schemes can become confined to young people who are unemployed and disadvantaged, as the right hon. Member for Devonport said. Hence, they often entrench the very things that one is trying to get rid of. They entrench social division and resentment because they are for a particular sort of young person—not for all youth, but for a particular sort of problem youth. That is a very real danger.

Many people see clearly the advantages of national service of one sort or another for other people's unemployed children, while, of course, their own will be far too busy doing important things such as taking A-levels and preparing for university, or even going on to a commission in the Army, Navy or Air Force.

Thirdly, there is the problem of how young people's cooperation and commitment is managed—the essence of the service ideal. How can it be retained in the long term, in the face of any element or threat of compulsion? Fourthly, there is the practical problem of payment. If it is too low, compulsion becomes necessary to enforce participation, and the schemes run the risk of the stigma of cheap labour. If the payment is too high, the cost may bear comparison with alternatives that have more value for young people and society as a whole. Then there is the problem of job substitution. There is little net additional virtue in a scheme that displaces as many good works as it accomplishes.

Finally, there is militarism, and the point at which a concern to encourage caring dissipates into a desire to promote self-discipline. That is to be promoted by the curious paradox of attempting to induce it by an overdose of discipline imposed externally through a military regime. One acute observer described Youth Cell in 1981 as an unholy alliance of cranks and aging militarists". I do not think that most people who have contributed to the debate can be classified under either of those heads, but the ideals of community service deserve better champions than that.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The hon. Gentleman said that he is against compulsion. Does he mean only complusion for military service, or would he be against compulsion for a scheme that combined service to the community and military service?

Mr. Sheerman

I should be fundamentally against compulsion for any such scheme, as my colleagues and I have been fundamentally against any compulsion to enter youth training schemes or community programmes.

At the end of the day, any proposal for a form of national service must face the fundamental issue provided so effectively by another organisation, called Youth Choice, which grew up to oppose the ill-thought-out proposals of Youth Call. What is it that young people want and need? Instead of treating young people as a problem to be eliminated, we need to recognise them as a potential to be enlisted. In recent surveys, while 80 per cent. of all respondents favoured national community service of some sort, 82 per cent. of those aged 15 to 24 preferred a proper job or a college place to any sort of community service. The most pressing problem for those young people and our society as a whole is how to train those young people and how to enlist them as full, contributing and valued members of our society. There is room in the programmes for all young people's education, training and preparation for life for an element of community or national service, but it must be part of a comprehensive scheme for helping young people to achieve the transition to the financial, occupational and personal independence to which they are entitled. That is the anlaysis that lies behind the motion that we are debating.

The Labour party believes in having a fully professional army. It believes that it should be a voluntary army, not an enlisted or enforced army. We do not believe that there should be compulsory national service. We also believe, with other hon. Members who have spoken today, that there is an enormous capacity and capability for the armed services to train people. As others have said this morning, the tragedy of our nation is that there are about 4 million unemployed people. We also have a shortage of skilled people, which is affecting industries from the high-tech industries to an industry that the Minister and I know well—the textile industry.

We are having the debate in the context of hon. Members calling for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to take an active role in skills training for young people. In that context, the proposals will take money from other organisations doing similar jobs. Conservative Members seem to think, as the right hon. Member for Devonport said, that such a scheme would be funded not by the defence budget, but by that of the Manpower Services Commission. That is rather odd. There is mass youth unemployment, but when all the figures are boiled down, the MSC spends less than £1.2 billion on those 400,000 young people. Moreover, it is ironic that although we are changing from a one-year to a two-year scheme, the budget will be. practically the same.

Conservative Members have already said that we cannot get skills training on the cheap. We know that from our experience in the services. People cannot be trained to be competent, to have confidence in themselves and to make a real contribution to the services on the cheap. Training is expensive. The quality of training, the machinery, technology and the skills of the instructors at military establishments in Devonport, Portsmouth and elsewhere leave one full of envy by comparison with our youth training scheme, the community programme, skillcentres, or even our colleges of further education. The services take skills training very seriously.

If we believe in training our people, whether through the armed services, the MSC or through our education system, we must pay for it. The proposals in the motion come ill at a time when the Government have closed the skillcentre network. Interestingly enough, many of the instructors at skillcentres were trained in the armed forces, and in many ways the techniques used resemble those found in the armed services. Nevertheless, one third of our skillcentres have been closed, and many of them in the areas of high unemployment.

Most of the industrial training boards have been closed. Apparently we do not need planning in most of our industrial sectors. The levy system that ensured that employers carried out training has been swept away, and as a result there is now total dependence on voluntarism in training. Our employers pay only 0.15 per cent. of turnover towards training, compared with 2 or 3 per cent. in our competitor countries of Germany, Japan and America. Although a massive youth training scheme has been introduced, there has been a collapse in our apprenticeship system.

What on earth are we doing discussing this motion? Of course the Labour party believes in skills training. It would be very much in favour of using spare capacity in the armed services to train young people to a high level of competence, and of using all available resources. It is a disgrace to our nation if young people and adults are unemployed and without skills at a time when there is a capacity to train them in skillcentres or in the armed services. I go around the country and have seen for myself that the record of the past seven years is one of closures. Indeed, prime training capacity has been lost in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Devonport—

Dr. Owen

I do not quite understand whether the hon. Gentleman is in favour of expanding the armed forces' youth training scheme to two years and of finding the money to continue it. We all want to know the answer to that question.

Mr. Sheerman

I did not interrupt the right hon. Gentleman when he made his speech and I let him make it in his own way. However, I shall come to that point shortly.

The Labour party opposed the introduction of a youth training scheme in the services because it did not believe that a link with a military element in the programme—

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Sheerman

I shall not give way as I wish to finish my point.

We opposed the introduction of a youth training scheme in the armed services and we still oppose its introduction. Indeed, the take-up has been very small and represents a failure. Hon. Members have said that the small take-up is due to mischievous chiefs of staff not being in favour of the scheme. They say that Chiefs of Staff never wanted it, and have prevented it. But I do not believe that. I believe that young people were not attracted to the idea. There is some truth in the argument that the army did not go into the scheme very enthusiastically, but if that was so, the Government should have said that the programme was something that the Government wanted and should be delivered.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that in the unlikely event of a Labour Government the armed forces youth training scheme would be stopped?

Mr. Sheerman

That would be a very serious consideration. After the next general election, the Labour Government will consider the skills needed and the potential for delivering them. The Labour party has nothing against using the capability of the armed services for training young people. I come back again to the speech by the Minister in 1980. The first year involved basic military training. The Labour party would certainly be against that as a component. The next part was community work, and the third part was industrial and craft training. I do not think that the Labour party would find anything wrong with the latter two parts of the scheme. A Labour Government would find nothing wrong with using the armed services capability for training, but they would not want military training. The difference between the two types of training should be stressed.

The right hon. Member for Devonport started by talking about the parallel with the head-start programme, and the desire to use the fine skills that exist in the armed services to train people. He talked about a scandalous lack of investment in skill training, and I absolutely agree with that. However, once one starts talking about using the armed services for training, two arguments quickly emerge. For example, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) wants 15,000 people to be trained for 100 days with the possibility of them being interested in becoming recruited as professionals into the services. The hon. Gentleman believes in that argument, and I accept that it has a respectable pedigree. But I must say that I do not agree with it. However, it is disturbing that the right hon. Member for Devonport should begin with that sort of argument, but end up identifying the role of the armed services as being targeted on the low achiever, those with drug problems, and those suffering from the dreadful deprivation of our inner cities.

The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) put his finger on the flaw in the argument. It is common sense—the take-up of the youth training scheme in the armed services bears this out—that there would be minimal take-up of two or three-year schemes for underprivileged youngsters unless they were made compulsory. The Social Democrats have taken a great interest in this. Indeed, they take a great interest in anything which the opinion polls say might win them some votes. The danger of the alliance's attitude is that implicit in its arguments is that it would make the scheme compulsory for underprivileged youngsters.

Dr. Owen

I specifically excluded that suggestion. It is a typical slur from the hon. Gentleman. I made it clear that that was neither our wish or our intention. Indeed, it would be completely against my philosophy and of that of the Social Democratic party. The hon. Gentleman has widened the debate into discussing a national volunteer community service, although I thought it was confined to the armed services, but he still does not accept that the present services scheme is training people. I gather that he would not wish that scheme to continue, but similar schemes have been used in many countries to give youngsters a head start. Some police forces have taken on low achievers to try to encourage black people to join the force. The idea is to give people a special start. The hon. Gentleman, with his Socialist philosophy, should be in favour of such a scheme.

Mr. Sheerman

My Socialist philosophy, which the right hon. Gentleman so recently shared, leads me to believe that we should have special programmes for underprivileged youngsters, but the Labour party does not believe that they should come within the ambit of the armed services and it does not believe that they should be made compulsory. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to suggest that I am casting a slur on his speech or his reputation, if that was necessary, by saying that the logic of his argument leads to compulsion. He did not say that he agreed with compulsion, but the logic of his argument leads to that conclusion. If there was no compulsion, youngsters would not take up the scheme.

When one gets behind the right hon. Gentleman's soft words and tones, one finds the more militaristic wing of the argument. I do not wish to be too hard on the hon. Member for Beckenham, but he used the language not of the short, sharp shock, which proved so disastrous for our young offenders, but of the short, sharp challenge. The right hon. Member for Devonport and Conservative Members have something in common. They believe that short, sharp shocks for delinquent youngsters, for youngsters with problems and for low achievers is the way to sort them out. Anyone who read the fascinating analysis of the right hon. Gentleman's political ideas that was written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will have seen the interesting link between his ideas and those of the Tory party on short, sharp challenges.

Mr. Wilkinson

The hon. Gentleman's speech is neither short nor sharp.

Mr. Sheerman

Indeed. The interventions threw me a little off the main thrust of my speech, but I shall end now.

The Labour party wants a professional Army. It does not want a national service that brings in 15,000 people for 100 days and pays them double the YTS training allowance. The Labour party believes that we must expand all our resources to train our people to their fullest potential. Youngsters are crying out for such training. The Labour party admires the competence of our professional armed services and believes that they could play a major role in a unified and co-ordinated attempt to bring British youngsters to the level of skills and competence that has been achieved by our industrial competitors. However, we do not want such training to have a military element. Some hon. Members may say that the Opposition want to have their cake and eat it, but we believe that that is a sensible alternative.

11.5 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)

It may be convenient to the House if I intervene now. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) on the wording of his motion, which I commend to the House. I am grateful for his kind comments about our reserve forces, and I praise his research skills in revealing my past.

The Government have given the reserve forces the high priority that they deserve. We have set about the expansion of the reserves for all three services, and we have reason to be proud of what we have achieved. I shall explain how far we have got, and what we plan for the future.

We are making good progress with the planned expansion of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Marines Reserve. Thanks to an excellent response to our recruiting advertising, the Royal Naval Reserve's strength is close to the target we set ourselves, and the Royal Marines Reserve is well on target to reach its expanded ceiling of 1,580 during the next few years.

The Territorial Army had done just as well. I am pleased to say that it is now more than 77,000 strong, an increase of about 18,000 since 1979. The current annual increase is in excess of the 3,000 a year required to meet expansion targets. The second phase of our plans includes the formation of six new infantry battalions, two more Royal Engineers airfield damage repair squadrons and a new Army Air Corps squadron. That shows the scale of what we are achieving.

We have enjoyed similar success with the Home Service force. About 92 per cent. of its strength turned out for exercise Brave Defender last September and, despite its recent formation, it proved to be fully capable of discharging its central task of guarding key points. Since the beginning of last year, 42 of the eventual 47 companies have begun to form, and recruitment has reached 69 per cent. of an establishment of nearly 5,000.

The Royal Air Force Reserve forces have also made strides. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force especially has been undergoing a major expansion since 1979 from a strength of a mere 250 towards about 1,300—a fivefold increase which illustrates the importance that we attach to the reserves. That expansion has led to the assumption of some new roles for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, including ground defence, air defence gunnery, movements and aeromedical evacuation.

The Royal Naval Auxiliary service has a slightly different status as an unpaid civilian volunteer service. It has a vital wartime role in support of the Navy at key United Kingdom ports and anchorages. Its tasks now include the manning and running of about a third of the vessels that would be needed in those areas, and this splendid force will be increasing in numbers from the present 2,800 to 3,000. Recruiting for this is well under way.

Of course, this pattern of expansion throughout our reserve forces would be of little value if we had not at the same time produced the equipment that they need. The scale of this varies greatly according to their roles. Some reservists are intended to release individual Regular service men in time of crisis for tasks which only they can undertake; in other cases, reservists will form up in complete units alongside regular units. Last year, for example, we announced several trials into the employment of Royal Auxiliary Air Force and RAF volunteer reserve personnel—70 strong—in several further roles, including a 2,000—strong auxiliary support force similar to the Army's Home Service force, a trial of two university air squadrons of RAF volunteer reserve instructors which, if successful, would release qualified flying instructors to the front line, the formation of a further RAFVR intelligence flight at Strike Command to provide intelligence support at headquarters and front-line units, and a two-year trial into the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of recruiting RAF volunteer reservists to serve as aircrew in regular RAF squadrons, in aircraft such as Nimrod, MR and VC1Os. Other possible uses of reservists, in ground and aircrew roles, are under consideration for the future.

The take-up and use of civilian helicopters was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, and he has taken up the issue in single-service debates. The cost of arming civilian helicopters would be extremely high. In the current financial climate, the installation, support and crew training involved with weapon systems alone would be prohibitively expensive. However, it is clear that larger civilian helicopters could undertake a number of important tasks. We are studying this possibility in the wide-ranging examination of the future role of support helicopters, about which I gave details to the House during the RAF debate on 26 February.

Against this background of expansion we are investing in new equipment for the reserves. For example, by the middle of 1986 all 11 RNR sea-training centres will be equipped with the new River class of fleet minesweeper, one of which, HMS Spey, was launched by my wife. New fast patrol boats should be in service by the autumn.

But it is not enough even to provide men and equipment. Thorough training is also essential if our reserves are to be fitted to meet the responsibilities that are placed on them. We shall maintain our campaign to educate employers and persuade them of the importance of offering employees every assistance in the continued participation in reserve force activities. The new independent national committee for employer liaison under the chairmanship of Mr. Tommy McPherson, is intended to reinforce this process. Employers' wholehearted support is vital to our plans

All in all, I believe that the Government can be proud of this record. As I have indicated, we have a wide range of improvements under way, and I can assure the House that under this Government the reserves will be no less of a priority in the future.

I would like also to take this opportunity to mention the current manning situation in the armed forces. Although there are continuing shortfalls in trained strengths for officers of some 1,000, or 2.7 per cent., service men and women's numbers are very satisfactory, being only 900, or 0.3 per cent., down on trained requirement. However, these overall figures do obscure larger shortfalls in particular areas, especially specialists, where competition for available manpower is traditionally fierce in the labour market, and the attractions of alternative employment outside the forces that much greater. Shortages also in part reflect the overriding control of ceilings on total manpower, covering both trained numbers and those under training. I am happy to say that recruitment overall to the Regular forces remains generally satisfactory. Most recruiting targets are being met. Voluntary outflow has not reached a critical level although it is causing concern, especially for Army officers.

My hon. Friend has at some length questioned the value of the armed services youth training scheme. This is, of course, part of the overall and wider youth training scheme which was introduced by the Government in 1983 because far too many young people were entering the labour market without skills or qualifications. We offered a year's broad-based training and planned work experience to 16 and some 17-year-olds and, three years later, the statistics of success speak for themselves. Since 1983, more than a million youngsters have joined YTS; two thirds of them go into work, further education or further training afterwards.

YTS has indeed been successful but the Government recognised that it could be made better. It was apparent that many youngsters on YTS and their employees wanted more occupationally relevant training, building on the foundation that we had already established. We recognised also that we should aim to offer all YTS entrants the chance to gain a recognised vocational qualification or credit towards one. So from next month we shall be investing £1 billion a year of public money, offering two years' training to 16-year-old school leavers and one year for 17-year-old leavers. Two year YTS will be an integral and permanent part of vocational education and training provision offering opportunities for qualifications which employers respect and young people value.

Comprehensive provision is, therefore, already available to meet the training needs of 16 and 17-years-old, including those youngsters who are interested in taking part in the armed services. Our scheme has been in place since August 1983 and runs parellel to the civilian YTS. Since the start of the scheme the ASYTS has attracted 9,000 applications for some 6,000 places. Of those applying 2,700 have been accepted and over 2,200 trainees have already attended courses. I am particularly pleased that 860 youngsters have subsequently converted to regular service engagements. Not surprisingly, having acquired a taste for service life, trainees want the benefit of service pay and work. Although I am disappointed that it has not been possible to fill all the places available on the scheme, I am nonetheless satisfied that the ASYTS has made a useful contribution in the important area of offering young people training and worthwhile work experience. Many of those who have entered the scheme have done well and some have reached impressive standards. A wide range of trades and skills are taught, including driving, secretarial, cooking and electronics. Excellent opportunities are also offered for pariticipation in sports and other activities. Trainees should find that their prospects of finding a job after completing the scheme will be enhanced considerably by the high quality of training that they receive in the services.

Of course, ASYTS trainees are required to train and work alongside regular counterparts on existing courses, whose own standards are high. No doubt our requirements for high standards of entry have an effect on the entry level. However, if we were to lower minimum standards the weaker trainees would have difficulty in keeping up with the training and work experience, and that would be unfair to the individuals concerned. I listened with care to the arguments advanced by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) about the high entry standard that we demand. I shall consider what he said about a possible lowering of the standard to accommodate the wider scheme that he has in mind.

I illustrate my point by saying that in this financial year we are offering 2,209 places, and so far there have been 2,407 applicants, of which 852 have been accepted and 810 have attended courses. Although we have not filled all the places available, there has been a healthy rise in the level of recruitment in the latter part of 1985. All of the months from August-November set new strength records for the scheme, producing an average strength of 700 for those months. Hon Members will be aware of our plans to extend the current one-year scheme to a two-year scheme in line, as far as possible, with the civilian YTS. I am happy to give the right hon. Member for Devonport that assurance. The two-year YTS aims, to give all trainees the opportunity to seek improved courses that result in recognised qualifications. We hope that it will prove possible for trainees to be on courses by April 1987 which ofer the opportunity of attaining a qualification or credit towards one. In the transitional period some courses will not offer the prospect of a qualification at their end, whilst we explore ways of complying with these new arrangements. Nonetheless, such courses will continue to offer valuable training and work experience.

I believe that the ASYTS is providing, and will continue to provide, an excellent opportunity for young people to gain training and work experience, and we wish that there were greater demand for it. However, it is not, and was never intended to be, any kind of an answer to the relatively minimal and very specialised recruitment and manning difficulties that exist in the armed forces, the basis of which are being properly investigated and which we shall do our utmost to remedy. I wish to put on record that within the Ministry of Defence we have an excellent civilian YTS scheme and about 680 youngsters are on it at present. The scheme is split almost equally between the United Kingdom and Germany.

However, I regret to have to say that, laudable though the objective is, basic training on that sort of scale for so short a period would be questionable both for the individual and in defence policy terms. The modern Army is professional and highly trained. However, I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Devonport about the dangers of a professional force and the MOD being somewhat cocooned from the community at large, and we must take his observations and comments on board and consider them, I accept what he said about the possible dangers. Training is specialised, in depth and inevitably expensive. Given the finite resources available, it is essential to achieve an adequate return on our investment in training in the form of many years of service by the individual soldier.

As the House is aware, it is our policy for the Army to maximise its deterrent force by shifting resources and manpower from support functions to the frontline operational units. Part of this policy of trimming the tail and sharpening the teeth has been to ensure that the training organisation is maintained at the most economic level to meet its task. Consequently there is now little, if any, spare capacity in our training organisation. We simply, therefore, do not have the headroom on anything like the scale envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham to train 15,000 additional junior soldiers.

Inevitably, there is also a cost aspect to that. On 1985–86 capitation rates, 15,000 recruits on strength for 100 days would cost some £40 million in pay and personal costs alone. I have to say to my hon. Friend that I see little prospect of such funding being made available from the defence budget or by the Manpower Services Commission. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Devonport and other hon. Members who have spoken in that they did not suggest that the funding for the wider scheme that they advocate should come from our increasingly tight Ministry of Defence budget, but from wider Government resources.

It would also be fair to say that the young man or woman would get little benefit from only three months in the Army. It is too short a period to appreciate the practical and stimulating side of Army life, and to do more, than merely "square bashing". There would be no opportunity properly to learn any of the specialists skills that together make up the panoply of the modern Army. For the purposes of youth training in skills which are valuable in the civil life of this country, I believe we must continue to look to the armed services youth training scheme which, as I mentioned earlier, offers sound training and is now to be extended over two years and allied to a trade qualification.

In the specific case of candidates wanting Army experience between school and university, which I think my hon. Friend mentioned as an example of those who might be attracted by his scheme, I should explain that we recognise the value of short-term attachments for potential officers, and make provision for it, in a number of ways. For the candidate of clear officer potential there is the opportunity to do a short course at the royal military academy, Sandhurst followed by up to 18 months' experience on a unit attachment with a short service limited commission—about 50 a year are taken in on that basis—prior to going up to university. I should emphasise that the SSLC is for top quality candidates who will be ambassadors for the Army in their university careers. Many of them take up regular commissions or join the Territorial Army later. Another opportunity, this time for those whose officer potential is less clear-cut, is provided candidates, mostly school leavers, considering entering the competition for a regular commission. To enhance their leadership qualities and provide a foretaste of Army life they can be sent to one of the training depots of the divisions or corps of the Army. Again, this "O" type engagement, as it is called, is relatively limited in numbers, there are only 270 at present, and geared to officer candidates. Clearly, they are not an appropriate vehicle for an expansion of the numbers of ordinary school leavers sought by my hon. Friend. But they illustrate the importance we attach to attracting the best young people into the armed forces, and to giving them the right opportunity to succeed.

When asked yesterday at Question Time by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who has pursued this theme, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said: I know my hon. Friend's views on this but it would mean an enormous change in the whole of our defence policy which is founded on professional Armed Services, and which has served the country well. Although I know that he would like to give many young people an opportunity of belonging to something like the Armed Services I do not think I can promise him anything on this so far as I can see in the future. We prefer to rely on the Armed Services youth training scheme to give some people the opportunity ."—[Official Report, 20 March 1986; Vol 94, c. 410.] That sums up the Government's view, and while I am conscious of an increasing interest on all sides of the House in the sort of scheme that my hon. Friend has in mind, I can hold out no hope of a change in our policy in the foreseeable future. Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the wording of his motion, which I commend to the House.

11.23 am
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

We have been fortunate to have this motion introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who has immense experience in this area and has consistently produced imaginative schemes for the improvement of our armed forces, particularly for the Army. We have also been fortunate to have the considered response of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.

I would not wish the debate to be too narrow. It was good that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) alluded to the overall strategic context within which we must consider the issues before us. The fact is that defence expenditure is to decrease in real terms during the years ahead. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is formulating a minor review to see whether all our commitments and programmes can be carried out within the budgetary allocations that are anticipated. In my judgment, there will be a real danger that we shall not be able to carry out all our commitments or to see to fruition all the equipment programmes which our armed services would desire. In other words, something has to give.

Many Conservative Members have always insisted that a cost-effective option for the Government in those circumstances is to make increased use of the volunteer reserves and the auxiliaries who are paid only when they train or are used. My hon. Friend outlined the significant enhancements which have already taken place in our reserve forces in all three services. We are all delighted that they have occurred, and it is a credit to the Government. We see further potential along those lines.

Thirty years ago the 1956 White Paper announced the end of conscription. In that year there were 770,000 men and women under arms in the British armed forces. Today the figure is less than half of that as the number has fallen to 327,000. One key and crucial responsibility is to carry out the vital NATO commitment, the Brussels treaty commitment of the British Army of the Rhine, which involves 55,000 men plus a tactical air force on the continent of Europe in peacetime, with all volunteer forces. That major continental commitment is essentially a manpower intensive commitment, and in time of emergency or war we plan greatly to increase the strength of BAOR and, indeed, to more than double it. This can be done only by weakening the British home base, so it is more important than ever that we should have strong reserves to augment the front line in Germany and to beef up the defence of the home base.

Our reserve forces are woefully inadequate and constitute some 290,000 men and women—0.5 per cent. of the population. They include the Ulster Defence Regiment as well as all the other reserve formations. Our reserve forces are clearly inadequate compared with those of our neighbours. All the main continental neutrals have reserve forces far larger than ours—for example, the Swedes, the Swiss, the Yugoslays, and, indeed, even, the Austrians. Every Warsaw pact country has many more reserves that we have, except for Hungary, and every NATO country has far larger reserve forces than ours, except for the Netherlands, Portugal and Canada. As a percentage of our population, our reserves are only 0.5 per cent., whereas in NATO as a whole the percentage is 1.7 per cent., in Warsaw pact countries it is 1.9 per cent., in the United States it is 1 per cent. and in the Soviet Union it is 2 per cent. That is bad enough, but what makes the matter worse is that, because our armed forces are all regular and, therefore, expensive to maintain, the size of our armed forces as a whole as a percentage of the population is far lower than that of most comparable countries.

For ourselves, 0.59 per cent. of the population is in the armed forces as a whole. In NATO the figure is 1.35 per cent., in the Warsaw pact 1.65 per cent., in the United States 0.9 per cent. and in the USSR 1.9 per cent. As the defence budget will decline in real terms and as for political reasons I see little likelihood of a change in our basic strategic commitments, we must look at manpower policies and enhance our reserves.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Does my hon. Friend agree that he should also consider the important role of the reservist in line with the serious haemorrhage of experienced and highly trained regular Army officers who are deciding to leave the forces?

Mr. Wilkinson

My hon. Friend is right. That is a problem not only in the Army but in the Royal Air Force, which is the service I know better. To their credit, the Government are seeking to enhance the training available to the regular reserves and to give them a week's training after three years, and this is an improvement. The problem to which my hon. Friend alludes is serious.

In Europe as a whole, as I pointed out in the debate on the Royal Air Force on 26 February, when I urged that we should get away from the taboo of discussing national service, we are the only major country without conscription. The others that do not have conscription are Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, Liechstenstein and Andorra. They are all fine countries in their way, but, with the sole exception of Luxembourg, they are neutral and they are all, significantly, small countries.

In the world as a whole, 61 per cent. of the states have national service. Perhaps the most interesting exception tends to be Commonwealth countries, perhaps because they follow the British model. In the NATO order of battle, one third of the front line troops would be conscripts. In the Warsaw pact order of battle, two thirds of the front line troops would be conscripts. Therefore, at a time of high unemployment—in 1984, 25 per cent. of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were unemployed—we should carefully reconsider the potential merits of national service. Perhaps those who did not go on to higher education or secure a job within a reasonable time after leaving school or those who do not attend a YTS programme or some other worthwhile training scheme should do national service.The counter argument was that put forward by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), that it would be wrong for only the disadvantaged to have to do national service. He could be right. If that is the case, and if we take the arguments implicitly put by the right hon. Member for Devonport, perhaps it should be a universal scheme, if that is the way we wish to go.

In "virgin soldier" days, in the old-style post-war national service, there were many examples of occasions when conscripts saw operational service—in Korea, Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus. They were not criticised; their performance on the whole was good. Today, fortunately, the opportunity for operational service by conscripts, if national service were reintroduced, would probably be small, but there is a chance for overseas service. They can go to Belize, Gibraltar, Cyprus, the Falklands or Germany. This would be valuable experience to them in addition to the technical training that they can receive.

I have always argued that one of the principal benefits of national service is the technical training, and that is why the admirable, in other respects, scheme that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has proposed is deficient. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, 100 days is not an adequate period in which to learn a technical skill that will assure a conscript a job in today's industry and commerce. People need longer than that. Interestingly, perhaps for demographic reasons above all, the Germans have just increased their national service from a year to 15 months, and got it through the Bundestag without too much of a problem.

For strategic reasons, we should look at this matter again. Reserves have an important part to play in increasing the contact between the regular forces and the community and in providing training opportunities for young people. We need to be able to expand our front line more than we can at present because our reserves are inadequate. If we had national service, we could more easily fulfil our central European commitment through BAOR, and we would find it easier to have trained personnel in the reserves.

The sector that I know best is the air reserves. The Royal Air Force offers opportunities for technical training better than any other service except the Navy. I can suggest three clear flying roles for the auxiliaries. One is the light support helicopter role, which has already been identified and which the Government intend to fulfil as soon as resources are available. The second is the point defence role with the Hawk, currently fulfilled by the tactical weapon unit instructors. I suggest that it should be done with dedicated aeroplanes—the new Hawk 200 single seater aircraft, for example. Thirdly, there is inshore maritime patrol. Interestingly, I have here an advertisement from Flight International which says: Due to possible expansion in UK offshore patrols on behalf of the Government, a well-established UK Company invites applications from ex coastal command, pilots, navigators radar operators. Already the benefit of service-trained aircrew for carrying out of this important inshore role has been seen by the Ministry of Defence, and auxiliary squadrons should be created for the purpose.

I applaud the decision of Her Majesty's Government to allow volunteer reservists to fly as qualified flying instructors in the university air squadrons and as aircrew on VC10s and Nimrod aircraft. Therefore, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to see whether volunteer reserve personnel could also serve as aircrew on the communications squadrons.

I whole-heartedly approve of this motion, admirably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, but the issue has to be examined somewhat more broadly. The debate is timely and worthwhile.

11.38 am
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) for giving us the useful opportunity to concentrate our attention on a way in which we might seek to match some real individual needs with some important needs of our society. The scheme that he has outlined would, of itself, be most valuable. I should like to see it as an element of a wider scheme, and I was glad that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) widened the scope of the debate to allow us to consider taking the motion in a broader sense.

The personal needs that I have just mentioned are obvious to us all. It is a tragedy of this period in our national life that there are far too many unoccupied people—both young and old. There have been economic dislocations, which are the result of the interaction of many causes. The high birth rate of the 1960s led to large numbers of school leavers coming on to the jobs market only to find that the opportunities that they wanted were not there. There have been the impacts of technological change and recession. Sadly, they have resulted in many people finding themselves out of jobs rather earlier in their working lives than they might have expected.

The problems caused by the recession, and of getting rid of inflation and overmanning have led to too many people finding that society appears to have no need for their services. It is not good enough simply to write off those people merely as the casualties of unfortunate and inevitable change. Nor, for a moment, do I suggest that the Government have done so. They have produced a succession of imaginative and valuable schemes to enable people to retrain and to assist in the process of adaptation. However, I think we all acknowledge that the scale of the problem is very great and that the useful, worthwhile remedies that the Government have offered do not adequately match the problem. We find, therefore, that many older people in our society have idle skills and unsatisfied idealism. They would like to find a role for themselves. Many people, both young and old, are left with the blighting feeling that society does not need them. They feel isolated.

It is an irony of our democratic history that, although with good intentions, our liberal state has arrogated to itself more and more power and taken upon itself more and more responsibility in all sorts of fields. This has led to an atrophying of the sense of individual, local responsibility and the sense of community. Because people feel isolated they are looking for new ways in which to find that sense of community and that sense of involvement and belonging that is a very deep human need. Sometimes they find it in delinquent fashions: in a kind of tribalism by joining gangs; sometimes they place an undue emphasis upon racial identity; sometimes they show an enthusiastic allegiance, which can be wholly innocent and positive, to football clubs.

The point that I am trying to illustrate is that people have a need to belong. Therefore, the Government have been right, as a central part of their strategy to seek to devolve responsibility back to individuals, families, businesses and, importantly, to voluntary organisations which can be a focus of loyalty and pride, which enable people to give service to the community and which strengthen their sense of belonging to the community. These personal and social needs interact with one another.

At another level, it is obvious that there is work that many of us would wish to be done but which we are unable to organise to have done by the conventional means of increased public expenditure and bureaucratic organisation. At one end of the age spectrum, help is needed for meals on wheels for the elderly. At the other end of the age spectrum, physically handicapped children need to be given help. All of us are aware of the inadequacy of the present provision of services. The only realistic prospect of improving and extending the provision of services is by means of enhancing the role of the voluntary organisations.

I have direct experience, as I am sure all hon. Members have in their constituencies, of the help that the voluntary services can give in enhancing the performance of the statutory provision of services. I have seen young people lending a hand and giving help in some of the very excellent sheltered housing accommodation that we have in Warwickshire. They give a great deal of help to old people and they derive an enormous amount of satisfaction from doing so. There is an enormous amount of work to be done for the environment by clearing derelict land and repairing and improving housing, thus making our inner cities better places in which to live and attracting back business and employment opportunities. The insulation of our housing stock is a project which remains to be carried out. Even though the price of oil has come down, it is no less rational or desirable to make that national commitment. However, we will not organise to do it at a national level other than, possibly, by looking to the voluntary services.

Hon. Members will be familiar with the community programmes in their constituencies. They may share my impression that people working on community programmes who suffered from a sense of rejection and isolation and from the traumatic experience of becoming unemployed or being unable to find a job have found, through their experience of the community programme, that they have been provided with an opportunity to belong, to serve and to develop real enthusiasm. The only shame is that the scheme remains as limited as it is.

I greatly welcome the expansion of the scheme, in successive phases, and the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget. Even so, the opportunities to enter such programmes are limited. Only young people who have been through a period in which they have been unable to find employment are eligible.

We have been unable to match those who want work, those who want to contribute, with the work that there is to be done, mainly because of the cost of running a full public sector scheme. There are other objections, too, to such an approach. I think that Conservative Members would have deep reservations about any attempt to organise the carrying out of these functions on a national scale. It is better that the way in which they are organised should be generated more spontaneously at local level.

Therefore, I support what I take to be the much broader implications of the proposals that are contained in the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham: a scheme of voluntary national service that would be nationwide. One could argue about the details, but it might consist of one-year units. I was attracted by the scheme to which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement referred in his speech. In the days before the burden of his particular responsibilities fell upon his shoulders he advocated that scheme. Even in his official capacity I hope that he remains personally committed to a scheme that would contain the three elements of community service, military service and industrial training. I agree with him that if these experiences and this training are to be effective, one year is probably necessary to make the best of them. Although these opportunities should be available to all, on a voluntary basis, they should be directed mainly to the unemployed.

As other hon. Members have mentioned, it is notable, on the military side, that we are untypical of European countries. I think I am correct in saying that it is only Eire, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom in Europe that do not have a scheme of compulsory military service for young men. Since about 1956 it has been regarded as rather way out and eccentric to advocate the restoration of conscription. I say "way out and eccentric", but I defer with great respect to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood, (Mr. Wilkinson). Nevertheless he will acknowledge that he is a pioneer in advocating such ideas again in this country.

Politicians have perhaps misjudged what might be the national response. I recall that 10 years ago I was with Lord Thorneycroft, when he was the chairman of the Conservative party, in Liverpool. We held a meeting with social workers in Liverpool. I must confess that I braced myself, lifted an eyebrow and was rather startled when he suggested to the assembled social workers that there might be some merit in introducing conscription. However, I was educated by that meeting because the social workers took the point extremely seriously. They were ready to talk about it and to understand what might be the virtues of conscription.

Lord Thorneycroft did not mean a scheme of military conscription exclusively. He had in mind a scheme of national service. He was prepared to argue—I hope that I do not misrepresent him—that it should be compulsory for all young people to undertake some kind of service. His idea did not fall on stony ground. That suggestion was made 10 years ago, before the enormous unemployment problem was experienced on a national scale. But at that time Liverpool was already experiencing the great sadness of large-scale unemployment. Anyone who has seen the beautiful cathedral in Liverpool, which was finally completed after many years of construction and which stands amid a sea of desolation, must realise acutely the importance of finding new ways of enlisting all the latent energies in that great city and giving people the opportunity to work there and contribute.

I believe that staff would be available to operate a scheme of national voluntary service. There are large numbers of professional social workers and people employed professionally in voluntary organisations. I would not advocate a compulsory scheme, but I think that we can encourage young people to assume that this scheme shall be the next phase of experience for them after leaving school. Schools and employers could do much to steer young people in that direction.

I believe that we would want such a scheme to be part of a wider training programme. We should recognise the inadequacies of the present national provision for training. Last night, the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, Mr. Nicholson, was reported as having uttered a scathing indictment of our limited training achievements compared with the Germans. He was not the first person to observe that fact. The Secretary of State for Employment has probably done more than anybody else to improve our national provision for training both in his time as chairman of the MSC before Mr. Nicholson took the post and currently. The Government are well seized of the problem and have been active and effective on this front.

There is still much to be done. A well-considered scheme of national voluntary service would give young people a systematic opportunity to gain not only technical skills and the experience and habit of work but a sense of obligation to the community. Those elements would ultimately be of value not only to them as human beings but to our economy.

I believe that the scheme should be in a formal relationship with the rest of the training system. We should give a young person a credit for undertaking a period of voluntary service. What the young person learns would be seen very much as part of the continuum of education and training stretching from, say, the age of 14 to 21.

I hope that employers' organisations will willingly and enthusiastically endorse this experience as an element of the wider programme. I believe that they will discover that the graduates of this national scheme of voluntary service will be attractive and useful recruits to their businesses.

I am grateful to the House for its tolerance in allowing me to go a little wide of the motion. I should like to come now to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. I am very attracted to his scheme. I do not feel well qualified to comment on its details, so I am happy to defer to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members with greater experience. I regret the fact that the hon. Member for Huddersfield felt obliged to commit the Labour party to opposing the continuation of the youth training scheme in the armed services. I shall not enlarge on that point because the hon. Gentleman is not in his place.

I endorse the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood about the inadequacy of our reserve forces. I believe that a country that is not prepared to provide the means of defending itself adequately at a conventional level and to maintain adequate reserves of people trained in military skills will lack to some degree national self-respect. The scheme proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham would do much to improve our defence capacity and credibility.

We should be prepared to take the steps needed to counter an invasion. Heaven forbid that invasion should ever occur, but it must be a basic responsiblity of our society and Government to do what they can to ensure that our people are prepared to defend themselves. Presumably, a national scheme of voluntary military service would place the emphasis on local defence. The young people involved would identify with their localities and respond. I should have thought that, from the point of view of the Ministry of Defence, it would be economic and practical for localities to be defended by local people. I wonder whether that is part of the scheme envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. We should prepare our population for the experinece of wartime. The Government have done much to strengthen civil defence, but it is still woefully inadequate.

If emphasis were placed on defence, as clearly it would be under such a scheme, I think that some of the fears of the Labour party would be seen to be inappropriate. The ethos of defence must surely be acceptable. There is no question of militarism or of preparing the nation to be militarily aggressive. That is certainly not contemplated. The emphasis is fairly and squarely on defence. We would also have the benefit of the practical skills learnt during military service training, although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement has rightly cautioned us against having exaggerated hopes.

In considering these issues we must contemplate the melancholy question of cost. In looking not only at the military component but at the broader scheme we can distinguish between the gross costs, which would be not inconsiderable, and the net costs. The gross costs would include the cost of personal allowances paid to the volunteers for their cost of living, the cost of professional supervision and training, and the costs of administration. equipment, meals and perhaps travel. Those costs would be offset by important savings. The net costs would be considerably reduced as a result of savings on unemployment and supplementary benefits, because participants in the scheme would be removed from the unemployment register.

I reject the option put forward by some people in considering such policies that a young person who refuses to take part in a voluntary scheme should be disqualified from receiving unemployment or supplementary benefits. If that happened, the scheme would, in effect, become compulsory. It is important for there to be no doubt about the voluntary character of the scheme. I believe also that firms would be willing to donate the services of people to train volunteers and to donate equipment. Therefore, the net costs need not be formidable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has introduced the debate at a timely moment, following my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Budget in which he greately extended tax relief on charitable donations. That is extremely relevant.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has opened up the possibility for charities to have the financial strength to make a vastly greater contribution of the kind of which they are uniquely capable. At their best, charities are economic and efficient. They are motivated to meet local needs and have local knowledge and sensitivity. They sit loosely to convention and adapt to changing circumstances. They are animated by the enthusiasm of their voluntary members rather than by directives from on high, and respond to specific needs and not to abstract theories. Charities are well suited to engage and enthuse the energies of our young people.

By their very nature, charities cannot be regimented. But there is such a wide variety of charities up and down the country that between them all I am confident that if we continue to give them the fair wind the Government have given them they will play their part. To some degree we can co-ordinate the work. Charities are willing to look for a lead from Government Departments and are willing to co-ordinate themselves under various umbrellas. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the volunteer centres are well established and in many ways give a practical lead to a large number of diverse charities.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education recently established a national advisory council for youth services. That could perhaps play an important part in the task of co-ordinating a large range of activities. The cost of failing to provide these opportunities for young people will be great, not just in terms of the immediately quantifiable costs to the social security budget, but in terms of the cost of a generation of young people less disciplined and less committed to responsibility and to work in the service of the community. Those costs would accumulate.

The severest economists among my hon. Friend will say this is a waste of money that cannot be jusified; that we have to allow the free play of market forces; and that any extra public expenditure in this field will be at the expense of profitable businesses to which we should look for new jobs. There may be intellectual truth in what they say, but there is a powerful human argument for another course of the kind that I have attempted to sketch.

I support my hon. Friend's proposal. I should like to see his scheme amplified so that it becomes part of the wider scheme that would promote skills and carry out useful work. It would be beneficial not just in the provision of an improved capacity for the defence of the realm but would benefit the social services, the environment and education. Above all, it would be valuable in promoting social cohesion, a sense of mutual responsibility and true neighbourliness.

12.3 pm

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I shall confine my remarks to dealing with the skilful exposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). He has presented us with a unique opportunity for discussing the forces. I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend, but whatever he may say I take the view that our reserve forces are insufficient to meet the needs they may be required to satisfy in an emergency. The reserve forces were shown to be insufficient in exercises Lionheart and Brave Defender.

Our reserve forces are vital not only for the defence of Europe and to NATO but for our defences at home. There is inadequate provision for home defence should any form of external aggression occur, because at that point we shall require many more troops to defend our own country. That is especially true when one considers that the Soviets have special infiltration forces. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) who said that local defences should have a local character so that they are able to recognise infiltrators in times of war. The scope of the debate allows me to extend my speech to that point.

I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who said that the forces must not only accept responsibility for training their own members but must also make a contribution, as they are doing in the Army youth training services, to general training and discipline. Civil defence ought to be confined to a separate debate. Quite wrongly, national service was turned down because, if I remember correctly, the chiefs of staff advised the then Government that they could not afford the manpower to train the recruits and at the same time fulfil their commitments to NATO and their other commitments. At that time they had many commitments all over the world. On those grounds, and I gather on no other, they said that they could not undertake that training.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood said that at one time we had about 750,000 service men. Now we have only 300,000. The Army youth training scheme has been a great success, but its expense should not be entirely borne by the services Department. The right hon. Member for Devonport spoke about that. Although it is expensive, it provides training for people, and the money ought to come from sources other than the services. The skills people obtain from this scheme are enormous, and I am happy to note that the skills from this source are to be recognised. I am not sure how that is to be done, but some sort of qualification would help the participants. It would be a good idea if they had some sort of certificate or piece of paper that they could show to their future employers. It would show that they had taken part in the scheme and had been competent and reached a certain degree of efficiency.

The Minister spoke about pre-university training at Sandhurst. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said quite clearly what his party would do if it was in power: it would cut out the service element of the YTS altogether. That is part of its policy. If we find that we are short of reservists and cannot fulfil our obligations abroad and at home, and particularly in civil defence, we should consider the desirability of some form of compulsory national service. If we do that, I suggest that we call it, not national service, but community service, and that it should have a duration of one or two years. It should include the option for the participants of either military service or some form of community service which would be of use to the nation, such as road building. It should not be confined to military service and it should not be called national service but rather community service. That would instil into our youth something that they now lack—the discipline that we obtained from the original national service.

As many of my hon. Friends have hinted, I hope that as a result of this debate we shall have some form of national or community service. We should make sure above all that our home base is safe from attack in the event of a war when almost all our forces are deployed abroad. A small proportion should remain to look after our nation. After all, the ultimate objective of an armed force is not only to atack in Europe but to protect our nation at home and to preserve our home base.

12.10 pm
Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) were right to broaden the debate because it is important to look at the scheme in the overall context of resources available for young people and to see what priority the idea that we are debating should have when competing against various other ideas, governmental, voluntary or those that are just being proposed.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that the root of this debate was the needs of the armed forces, or words to that effect. I should say that the root of the debate is the needs of young people and what we should do for them. We should then try to relate that to the needs of the community, although the two are necessarily intertwined.

Nobody can dispute the fact that the priority at the moment is those young people particularly in need, and they are, of course, the young unemployed. Other hon. Members have described graphically the seriousness of the situation.

We must look at two particularareas—the long-term youth unemployed, and the post-YTS unemployed. We have large numbers unemployed in both categories, and yet we have many needs within the community. Let me address myself to how we can correct that mismatch and use one to alleviate some of the problems of the other.

It is right that the bulk of Government resources at this time should be concentrated on training school leavers. The two-year youth training scheme will cost 1.1 billion. I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield would agree that, although he criticised the lack of spending, it is right that public money should be used to pump-prime private money. I hope that the will not say that the current lack of spending on training in British industry should be filled purely by Government money. I am sure that he will agree that British industry should pay more for training. Therefore, it is right that, when we use Government money, we should use it to stimulate private companies to spend more. That is precisely what the new two-year youth training scheme will be doing.

Young people going on the youth training scheme, having read all the advertisements, will have high expectations. They are now all expecting to be threatening Japanese industries. I have no doubt that in a few years Tracy and all the others featured in those advertisements will be building television sets and stereos and selling them to Japan rather than having them all come the other way.

I have every confidence that those high expectations will be filled by the youth training scheme. But the minority of those young persons who come off the youth training scheme—although in some pockets of high unemployment it may not be a minority—will have their hopes dashed. It is impossible for the Government to guarantee a job for every youth training scheme trainee, but we must offer them something. There must be a guarantee that they will be allowed to continue their development.

The second priority is the long-term unemployed. They are the people who have had no chance of a high-quality training scheme; people aged between 18 and 25 who left school at the height of the recession who never had the chance of a job, or people who have had a job for only a short time. They do not have any decent training and now they find themselves becoming longer and longer unemployed because employers are increasingly taking on people who have been through the youth training scheme. Therefore, that limits the vacancies available for people who have not had the benefit of that scheme.

Another problem for people in that category is that employers will look for people who have either had training or had some experience. They will therefore go for older people and that group of people will spend longer and longer unemployed and it will be harder and harder for them to get a job.

The Government have various schemes which will help, such as the community programme, the new counselling initiative and various retraining measures. It is right that such schemes should be provided and they are proving effective. But not only must we counsel for retraining, because we are always looking to fill vacancies such as the one which will soon be appearing in the west end for a director of a graphics company, but we must also look to counselling to fill other needs in the community, not necessarily within the established employment market.

To meet the needs of the post-youth training scheme unemployed and the long-term unemployed, we need greater imagination. This is where I come to the subject under discussion today. We need some form of national community service. The armed forces will have a role to play in that. We need greater imagination to mop up those young people who are not on a community programme or an existing Government or industry—structured retraining scheme in order to give them some hope for continued personal development and to stop the sheer waste of human resources in Britain.

Before we can embark on any such scheme, we need to approach the problem from the point of view of the Department of Health and Social Services. As long as young people are told that they have to be available for work we shall be extremely limited in our scope of providing community places for them. We must end the ridiculous anomaly of, for example, the 21-hour rule. It is in no way incompatible that young people should work full time on a community or armed forces scheme and at the same time be deemed available for work. The vast majority of young people want a job and the moment that they have a chance of one they will take it. Therefore, in the meantime we must allow them, rather than hang around the streets or watch videos all day, to be able to improve their position and increase their chances of getting a job.

The elements of such a scheme must be, first, that it should not he compulsory. To introduce a compulsory scheme takes away the very benefits of having a national community scheme. We want young people who are motivated to help the community, and for them and the community to get the most out of it they must not be forced to go on the scheme. The Thompson report on the youth services said: Coercing or compelling young people to take part would defeat the primary purpose and benefit of young people's involvement in the community. That is right.

Secondly, young people should have the chance to shape the project in which they get involved so that they are involved from the very start. They should be allowed to take the initiative and to respond to local needs, where those are identified, or to identify them for themselves.

There should be clear aims so that young people have a target in sight which is easily achievable. There can be nothing more frustrating than taking part in a scheme where nothing appears to have been done at the end, either for oneself or for the community. Therefore, I favour initially looking at three-month projects. There should be short projects, with which young people can get involved in a community or the armed forces or wherever, with a limited aim which is achievable and which enables people to get most out of them. That would also allow people who are unemployed for longer to take up more than one such module.

Young people must be allowed to participate in the running of the schemes. They should not be used as cheap labour for job substitution. Apart from the damage that that may do to young people, it would not do a lot of good for local economies if local building work, which could be done and paid for in the proper way, was done by young people simply because the sponsoring agency wanted to get the work done on the cheap. In exploring those community provisions, we must look at what young people get out of them.

Mr. Alan Howarth

My hon. Friend spoke about construction projects being done on the cheap and disadvantaging construction firms in the private sector, with which I agree. Does he agree that there are a number of schemes which would be of great social value, whether it be the refurbishment of village halls or other types of construction projects, where there is no realistic prospect of them being done on a commercial basis, and where it would be of benefit if they were done through the community programme or similar schemes?

Mr. Lawler

I agree with my hon. Friend. The distinction must be between work that could or would be done and work that would not be done, either because finance is not available or simply because it is a scheme for betterment that would not be considered through the normal channels. The same applies to the existing community programme.

Many sectors and agencies have a part to play in community service and we must seek to use them all. There is a great variety of work to be done and I shall broadly separate it into four categories. There is all the environmental work, whether it be village halls, improving inner city sites, or derelict areas. There is much community work to be done such as help for old people, the under-privileged and the handicapped, which is not simply confined to inner city areas but can be found in rural areas. There are many social and community needs in rural areas which could be satisfied by involvement with young people. To explore those needs and discover how they can be provided for by young people on a community service scheme, we need the co-operation of local authorities, voluntary organisations, conservation groups, charities, and social services departments.

There is a strong role for employers and education. I do not detract from the provision they make for adult and youth training, but there is undoubtedly greater scope for further training. Work experience and community provision is a good thing and provides training in a certain way but there is certainly a need for young people, particularly those who have been on the youth training scheme, to continue to develop their training. Otherwise, the training will be wasted, and we cannot allow that to happen.

Mr. Sheerman

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that job experience, community service and training are important but that the item which has not been mentioned enough in the debate is the fact that there have to be jobs at the end. If we had had a proper Budget for jobs which put money into the economy to get jobs going, young people would have had a rosier future.

Mr. Lawler

I feel that schemes such as YTS, training through a community programme and the other schemes I am elaborating on help to create jobs. There is no way that the Government create jobs. Those schemes create jobs by helping British industry to be more innovative, they get rid of the shortages of skills and encourage people to use their skills and go on to form their own businesses and become self-employed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not touch too much on self-employment. It has been with some difficulty that the Chair has interpreted the terms of the motion to allow some latitude, and I think that we are stretching it when we start to talk about self-employment.

Mr. Lawler

As I am attempting to show, there are competing schemes for resources which would otherwise be devoted to our national service scheme. I promise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall not dwell at length on self-employment.

Many human resources and a great deal of technical resources are being wasted at the moment. I should like to see all our universities, colleges, schools, and industrial training centres opened in the evenings and weekends during vacations because in them there is equipment worth millions of pounds—nearly all paid for by public money—which is lying idle. Unemployed young people should be able to make use of that equipment to improve themselves.

The Army and the police are other important elements in providing opportunities within this scheme. Some young people might wish to work in the community or retrain themselves using equipment which is already available, but many of them would benefit from participating in a scheme sponsored by the Army, the police or other emergency services.

The other sponsoring agencies which should be involved are the chambers of commerce, enterprise agencies and other self-employment schemes, many of which already exist, such as Live Wire and Instant Muscle. They do tremendous work in encouraging young people to become self-employed.

Finance is the crucial element. There is limited finance available from the Government, although they have devoted huge resources to youth training and youth matters. However, much money is being spent in this area which could be better spent. There are numerous agencies involved in providing for unemployed young people. In most cities and rural areas throughout the country one will find drop-in centres and unemployment centres which are all funded, but in a very haphazard and unco-ordinated way. We must rationalise that spending and target it so that it benefits young people more effectively.

The community programme, an excellent scheme, could be used to provide supervisors on national community service and also cover the marginal costs of the overheads of opening up a school or an ITEC centre at the weekends or in the evenings and allow them to be used by unemployed people. It could also be used to provide any extra spending which would be necessary to pay for specialist tuition. Charities, voluntary organisations and industry through, for example, existing schemes such as the Kodak conservation scheme would all provide financing and input to a national community service scheme.

I believe that young people would respond to the setting up of such a scheme because it will provide a means for those who have not been lucky enough to secure employment and those who have been on YTS and still not been able to find a job, by which they can continue with their development. Having just been taught by the youth training scheme how to climb the ladder, it will prevent them from falling off it. I hope that the Government will set up a committee to review the piecemeal and unco-ordinated provisions which apparently exist, get rid of the duplicated resource provision and introduce a co-ordinated national community scheme for unemployed young people to participate in voluntarily. It could provide scope for further training within the community and work provision, increase access to groups to existing training schemes and facilities and make more effective use of existing resources, to promote the involvement of community and environmental projects amd assist and encourage young people to become self-employed.

All that would be on an unpaid and voluntary basis. I believe that young people will come forward as long as they are allowed to retain their benefit and, by so doing, spend their time in a more constructive way than would otherwise be available to them. I hope that that will be established on a national basis without having to wait too long.

There is a great variety of training and a great deal of work to be done. We must allow each young person to find what will be of most benefit to him, because whatever is of most benefit to him will be of most benefit to the community in the long run.

I disagree with one or two points made earlier in the debate. Hon. Members said that money for an expanded national service scheme should come from the Manpower Services Commission. Recent reports have identified that 80 per cent. of people in small firms receive no training and 15 per cent. of companies are complaining that their production is being limited through skill shortages. While that is happening, the MSC must have all the resources that it now has at its disposal, to ensure that adequate training is provided for young people, and retraining is provided for adults. Although a national service scheme would have a valuable role to play, resources should not be diverted from the MSC to pay for it. There is nothing more valuable for our economy and British industry than a properly provided, resourced and staffed on-the-job training scheme such as the YTS primarily is.

In times of limited resources, we must have cost-effectiveness. There is nothing more cost-effective than a voluntary national community service scheme. Young people do not need to be drilled round a parade ground to get discipline, because they will get discipline from being involved in the community, and from contributing and achieving something. That will give them all the discipline that they need to make sure that they play their part as full citizens, as they grow into their adult years.

Therefore, we want a national community service scheme. We want means for unemployed young people to develop themselves and their potential so that they are not wasted. We want a scheme that matches up work that desperately needs to be done in the community with the human resources that are available, as well as with the technical resources. We should open up and make full use of those resources. It is a scandal that the available resources are going to waste. For probably more than half the year, equipment and resources are not used. The Government should launch a committee to look at that in a highly imaginative way and come to the House with a scheme for national community service.

12.31 pm
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) on introducing this subject, particularly as I did my national service in the 1950s, and have been a member of the Territorial Army reserve for five or six years.

There has been some interest in the Chamber this morning in the position of the Labour Front Bench. I was interested in the way in which the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) ranged widely around the topic before finally having to admit that there was no way in which his party was prepared to support any commitment on behalf of the armed services towards helping our young people. He made that clear.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman knows that that was not the point that I made. I said that we would not be committed to national service that included a military element in the use of the armed services. Using the armed services for providing skills training for our young people is a possibility under a Labour Government.

Mr. Thompson

I still disagree with the policy that the hon. Gentleman is propounding. He misses the whole point of the debate.

There has been much talk since the Budget about the right fiscal approach to reducing unemployment. However, the question is how we tackle the revolution that is taking place in work and leisure, particularly as it affects young people. Therefore, it is right that this morning we should have this debate on voluntary national service youth training and the reserve forces because it focuses on the needs of people, particularly young people. That point was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler). I wholeheartedly supported his comments along those lines.

We can relate those needs to policy decisions in areas such as defence and, indeed, social services and improving our infrastruture. I have for a long time been in favour of the concept of voluntary national service. I hope very much that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will take seriously the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and other hon. Members. The Government must take the matter seriously. They must take it on board and not just say that it has been an interesting debate, and now they can move on to something else. Serious issues are at stake.

For example, the concept of voluntary national service could be applied to a whole range of activities—the armed services that we are debating this morning, the police, the fire service, nursing, social services and so on. However, rightly, in the debate we are concentrating mainly on the opportunity in the armed services for young people and volunteers. I supported the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), when he emphasised that all three services should be involved. On that point, I may disagree slightly with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham.

I was also astonished by the remarks of the Labour spokesman, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, when he tried to say that a voluntary scheme was compulsory. I hope that it is clear from the debate that all of us have been talking about a voluntary scheme, with perhaps one or two exceptions, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who advocates a return to conscription. However, the motion is clearly about a voluntary scheme.

I shall not comment on the details of any scheme because they were set out clearly in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. However, I reinforce the support for the youth training scheme in the armed services. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will do more, with his colleagues, to promote the scheme and make it more successful.

I also wish to speak out strongly in favour of the concept of national and community service, an ideal that has been referred to in many speeches. It has been debated ever since the abolition of national service in the years between 1957 and 1960. Indeed it was John Grigg who said that the greatest mistake made by the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, now the Earl of Stockton, was just that. Many other commentators also said that. However, we cannot put the clock back.

Today, there are strains in society because of rapid change. There are changes in the structure of society, the nature of employment and, particularly, in the role of education and training. Therefore, there is a need for policies, action and ideas to promote community spirit and a sense of identity and purpose, particularly among our young people. As has been stated, some of those young people are in danger of alienation from society. I should like to emphasise that.

In my experience, in commerce, industry and education, that spirit is all too often lacking. I have spoken in education debates, and I do not wish to raise that subject today, but there is no doubt that the morale and spirit in education is not all that it should be. That is also true, of course, in industry and commerce. The situation is not helped by the increasing politicisation of our universities and schools. Again, I could speak about that at some length.

The needs of 17-year-olds are not always fully met by our schools, universities and colleges. Although I fully support the youth training scheme, young people's needs are not fully met by that either. If they were, we would not be seeing increasing drug abuse and increasing crime among the young, along with many of our other inner city problems. Politicians, educators and the churches have failed to cure that sickness in our society despite all their pamphlets. Those of us who did our national service know that the experience was not necessarily valued by all, and sometimes hampered an individual's development. But for the overwhelming majority, national service represented a unique and valuable opportunity to widen one's experience and develop one's character. I believe that there is a lesson to be learnt from that.

Many of us who did our national service were imbued with a sense that we owed a duty to the community that stood over and above our duty to develop our talents to the full. In what is generally regarded as a selfish and materialistic society there is an urgent need to swing the pendulum towards self-discipline, courtesy and loyalty. What have the armed services got to offer? I believe that their traditions and ethos admirably suit them for any task that involves helping young people with their training and development.

Perhaps the defence establishment could be persuaded to agree that it has a role to perform that goes further than the mere provision of sophisticated equipment or of skilled regular personnel for our country's defence. The services can share with some of our young people the tradition of service, comradeship and leadership that so impressed my generation of national servicemen. Officers know their men well and that, together with the way in which they treat them, provides an example that could be applied throughout society. A recent pamphlet about the Falklands war discussed the distinction to be drawn between the Argentinian officers and ours. It was clearly pointed out that our traditions of leadership were largely responsible for our superiority in that conflict. That is why I support the extension of our reserve forces and the idea of voluntary youth training with an armed services input.

I also support those of my colleagues who have spoken about civil defence. It is vital that the Government should take that subject more seriously. I see a link between what we have said about the reserve forces and youth training, and civil defence. I do not just see civil defence as preparing for a possible conflict. I regularly speak for the concept of emergency volunteers who could intervene in any other civil emergency. But the Government have not taken up such ideas anywhere near as enthusiastically as they should have done. This country could gain tremendously from pursuing that course.

The arguments for compulsory conscription are probably overwhelmed by the realities of the situation, and so that is probably not on. But there would be a spin-off from more contact between the armed services and our young people. As has been said, there must be more understanding between civilian society and our armed services. I believe that the risk of isolation is increasing. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said that as the tolerance of violence in society increased, so the tolerance of the concept of the necessity for the use of force by society decreased. I shall not start a philosophical debate on that, but there should be a better understanding of our armed services and their role. The Ministry of Defence must bear that in mind. It is not good enough for it to say that it has a marvellous force that can do everything, while forgetting about the rest of society and its attitude to the services. I cannot stress that point strongly enough.

Let us therefore use, in any practical and realistic way, the fine traditions of our regular forces. Let us use and exploit the desire for adventure and service among our young people. I do not accept the depressing view of others that volunteers will not come forward or that the youth training scheme has not worked well. If the package is sold properly, plenty of volunteers will come forward for the scheme of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, or for any other scheme. It is chicken-hearted just to say that such a scheme is not on. The problems of our country are far too serious to be dismissed like that. Let us tackle those matters by considering the needs of the people and the country first, especially the needs of our young people.

12.44 pm
Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) on bringing this subject before the House. I am delighted to see that he is properly dressed and is wearing his Parachute Regiment tie. That leads us to believe that he would "target the area" properly. That is exactly what he has done, and I intend to follow his line and concentrate on the points that he made.

Before I do so, may I comment on the contribution of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). He ducked and weaved actively and broadened the scope of the debate by talking about the role of this and that, and who could help where, but he did not accept that, at some time, everyone should acknowledge a need to serve the nation, not just to serve oneself. That concept is not foreign, even in Socialist countries. Austria, Sweden and many Socialist countries accept national service and see nothing dishonourable in serving one's country. It is a sad reflection on the present Labour party that that central theme was missing from the hon. Gentleman's speech, and it Was reinforced by his clear commitment to remove the youth training scheme already in place. It has imperfections and it could be improved, but it has given excellent training to thousands.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement mentioned the increase in our reserve forces and gave us an impressive array of figures to show, just how they had been expanded. But, against the background of Brave Defender, will the expansion of the reserve forces bridge not the gap, but the gulf that exists between resources and requirements? If it can be shown that that is not happening, when will the Government take further action to bridge that gulf? Will they bring their proposals before the house at the earliest possible opportunity?

Nothing changes much in life. The British people have always believed that national service was good for the vast majority of young people who took part in it, and that view is still supported by public opinion today. The hon. Member for Huddersfield said that 80 per cent. of people asked in a survey agreed that some form of national service was very acceptable.

However, there is the widely held opposite view—the alleged view of those in the services—that national service is bad for the armed forces. I speak with 13 years' experience of the Army. When we had national service, the vast majority of men in my battalion were doing their national service. They formed the backbone of the battalion and went into the specialist skills areas. Without them, we would not have operated as effectively as we did in Suez, Cyprus, and other parts of the world. Those who decry the role of national service are making a grave mistake and are misleading people.

The pundits will say that four months' training is not enough. Indeed, that point was echoed by my hon. Friend the Minister. But there is a misunderstanding of what we should try to achieve in those four months. We shall not try to impart skills—to turn people into lathe operators or motor mechanics. It would be a basic operation. I joined the Army when I was 16, and I remember only too well my first four months there. The first six weeks were spent in general training corps. Everyone spent six weeks in that corps and then spent 10 weeks "up the hill" receiving specialist corps training. I do not say that at the end of the four months we possessed all weapon skills, but at least we were totally different from the reserves who had joined up four months before. We had a basic sense of identity and a belief in ourselves. We had learnt about others and, in my view, we were much better members of society than when we had started out on the road into the Army. I believe that that is the road down which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham would like us to start today.

Army training was an excellent base, but it did not provide civilian skills, and that is not the proposal that is before us. I am worried about the youth training scheme, which has been described in many quarters as a failure as a result of the armed services not wishing to play their full part in it. However, that is not true of some arms and services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham would expect me to do, I shall take the Parachute Regiment as my example. In 1984, the regiment took in 80 youngsters through the YTS and 75 per cent. of them completed their year's training, with 27 of them staying on in the Regular Army. Of the others—I was present when they passed out—they went out better than when they went in. Most of them went out into good jobs because employers were looking for the qualities that had been brought out in them during their year's training.

My worry about the YTS is that in 1985 the number of young people coming forward for training in the Parachute Regiment had fallen to 35. There is something amiss and I hope that the MOD will conduct an investigation to ascertain why there was such a dramatic falling off between 1984 and 1985 at a time when youth unemployment was supposedly on the rise.

The problem of pay still exists. There is a vast differential between those who are in regular service and those who are on the short-term YTS. However, the benefits that flow from the scheme are immeasurable. First, there is the art of living. I return to what I said about the four months of training that was received by those who did national service and the training that was received during war time. Those who received that training learnt to live and work together and to grow up, and they are all better for it.

The second benefit is discipline. I know that "discipline" is often regarded as a dirty word but there is a lack of it among some of our young people. I take up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport, (Dr. Owen), who said that discipline would be a tremendous help to some of our more deprived young people. The right hon. Gentleman argued that they would benefit immensely from it, and he is right.

The third benefit is education. When I went to Aldershot to watch the passing out of those who had received training in the Parachute Regiment as YTS volunteers, the two people who impressed me most of all were those who worked in the education service. They told me that they thought that they had the most rewarding job in the services. On day one they took on board 80 youngsters with only four or five CSEs between them, and at the end of the year they were turning them out with three of four O-levels each. Education is an area that we have not considered closely enough and there are many benefits that could flow from that. Within four months I would expect to see basic education and motivation built in as a major part in a young person's training. If youngsters came out of the services after four months with the right sort of report, that, in itself would be a recommendation to many employers, who would recognise that there was a base on which to build some further skills.

Fourthly, there is no doubt that our Territorial Army, good though it is, does not have enough people within it with a service background. Four months' training in the services would provide a valuable reserve, and I would hope that many who received it would go on to see service in the reserve forces.

Time presses. I sum up with an old adage—the difficult we do at once, the impossible may take a little longer. I believe that these proposals are difficult. It seems that Government Front Bench spokesmen believe them to be impossible. I hope that they will reconsider and see whether it is not possible to achieve the impossible.

12.55 pm
Sir Philip Goodhart

With the leave of the House, I thank hon. Members who have made the debate so interesting, and I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note with approval of the Government's plans to expand the United Kingdom's volunteer reserve forces; and emphasises the great value to young people of basic service training, while recognising that such training should not be funded in a way which would diminish the United Kingdom's front line capability.