HC Deb 08 November 1999 vol 337 cc682-3
7. Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

If he will make a statement about his Department's measures to support recruitment through Air Training Corps. [96128]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

The principal role of the Air Training Corps is as a national youth organisation. Its aims are to foster a spirit of adventure and develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship. It is, however, a valuable source of recruits and, with that in mind, RAF recruiting teams aim to visit every ATC squadron twice a year.

Mr. Plaskitt

The Warwick and Leamington Spa squadron of the ATC, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently, does an excellent education and training job with young people as well as producing many enthusiastic recruits for our armed forces. However, for more than three years, the squadron has had to operate in temporary and shared accommodation. Will my hon. Friend look into the squadron's accommodation to see whether any assistance might be offered?

Mr. Spellar

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the interest that he has shown in the Warwick and Leamington Spa ATC. I agree that the accommodation is not ideal, although it is adequate. The lease on the building is due for renewal, which may allow a change in location, depending on the availability of suitable and affordable alternatives. I understand that there are hopes that the squadron may collocate with an Army Cadet Force unit in a new building. I shall ask my officials to liaise with my hon. Friend on developments.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

As we are discussing service recruitment, may I put it to the Minister that when I did my basic training as a national service private soldier, some of the best chaps in my platoon were former borstal boys? One of them taught me how to get out of handcuffs, one of the few technological skills that I have ever acquired. Many young men get into trouble because they have never been connected with any organisation in which they could take pride. Nor have they ever had proper leadership. Many such chaps—though not, of course, all of them—would make first-class soldiers if they were carefully picked.

Mr. Spellar

Given the hon. Gentleman's illustrious career in the City, I wonder whether those were golden handcuffs.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that positive contribution and for offering a breadth of experience that has been less apparent in some of the other remarks that we have heard on this matter. I thank him, too, for reinforcing the importance of the cadet forces. In many parts of the country they provide scope for leadership and a structured life through involvement in structured organisations. Many youngsters go on to serve in our armed forces, although that is not the sole, or even primary, purpose of the cadet forces. Those youngsters rise well through the forces, and there is an extremely good retention rate among them. The money that we are investing in the cadet forces is good for the services and for the community and the country. The hon. Gentleman's points were well made.