HC Deb 11 March 1997 vol 292 cc133-4
7. Sir Colin Shepherd

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the role of the services' cadet forces. [18041]

Mr. Soames

The cadet forces continue to play a sterling role in the nation's voluntary youth movement, giving young people their first experience of the armed forces and their way of life and encouraging the development of such qualities as self-reliance, self-confidence and good citizenship.

Sir Colin Shepherd

We in Hereford are proud to have active units of the Navy, Army and Air Force cadets, which are using service concepts of training and discipline to give young people experience and to develop their powers of leadership and responsibility. Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the many thousands of volunteer adults who give up their time to lead training activities?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In this respect, Hereford is no different from many other parts of the country. Cadet forces are booming and are playing a vital role in the community. I am glad to hear that they are doing so in my hon. Friend's constituency. I willingly join him in paying a warm and wholehearted tribute to the thousands of adult volunteers, including parents, who freely give of their time to enable young people to acquire the important skills that they learn in the cadet forces. The future of the cadet forces hinges entirely on our being able to attract high-quality volunteers.

Mr. Barry Jones

How will the Minister help the excellent HMS Tuscan in my constituency? Is he aware that when I recently gave awards to this superb unit at Connah's quay dock it was clear to me that the building in which it operated was in urgent need of refurbishment? It was especially in need of efficient heating. Will the Minister assist by supporting my application, and that of the unit, to the national lottery's small charities sector so that the urgent need for heating can be met?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman is a loyal champion and supporter of the armed forces. I shall gladly support his project in whatever way I can. He is a regular visitor to the Ministry of Defence and if he would like to talk to me about the matter, I shall be happy to see him.

Sir Cranley Onslow

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that members of the cadet forces will continue to be able to shoot at targets with full-bore weapons?

Mr. Soames

I am happy to give my right hon. Friend that assurance and I am grateful to him for raising the matter. It would be unthinkable for the cadets not to be taught to shoot properly and to learn the disciplines that relate to weapons and the respect that must be shown in skill-at-arms training. Cadets without weapons would constitute a pointless and meaningless operation. We shall ensure that they are properly equipped and properly taught in the vital disciplines that will do so much for them in later life.

Mr. Dalyell

If the cadet forces are, to use the Minister's word, "booming" and are increasing in numbers, what is being done about the necessary increase in the number of rifles, and particularly the security of the armouries in which rifles are kept? Do the cadet forces have the wherewithal to offer the security that, post-Dunblane, people obviously need and want?

Mr. Soames

I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the proper security of weapons. I assure him that the Ministry of Defence takes the matter extremely seriously. We are satisfied that our arrangements for the security of weapons are adequate; indeed, they are excellent and are regularly reviewed. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. More cadets are learning to shoot, and in learning that skill they will use deactivated rifles. They will use full-bore rifles only when firing on ranges.