HL Deb 24 June 1971 vol 320 cc983-6

3 p.m.


ds, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the fact that Army Cadet Force units are to be disbanded in borstal institutions, similar action will be taken in approved schools.]


Lords; the circumstances are quite different. In a number of boys' approved schools cadet force units have had an established place for many years, and have enabled the boys to share in youth activities available to others of their age in the community.


My Lords. while thanking the Minister for his far from satisfactory Answer, may I ask him whether it is not an entirely illogical decision that this form of military training should be abandoned in borstal institutions and maintained in institutions which cater for young offenders generally in a younger age group? May I also ask him whether he is aware that, so far as I know, the only serious incident that has resulted from the use of firearms in institutions for young offenders occurred in an approved school where the inmates raided the armoury, obtained weapons and murdered one of the masters?


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not find this a satisfactory Answer. I thought it was a very satisfactory Answer. There are very considerable differences, I would suggest, between approved schools and borstals. Schoolboys at approved schools are not convicted offenders; they are only one section of all children in care, and it would be wrong to discriminate against them when their fellows may be in foster homes or in children's homes and in similar institutions in the community. Secondly, of course, boys in care move in and out of approved schools, unlike borstals, and take part in outside activities—even going home for time—and there are many other reasons why they differ. Another reason, for example, is that very rarely does a borstal boy go into the Armed Forces, whereas recruitment from approved school boys is quite a normal affair.

On the question of security, I think the noble Baroness must have been referring to a case in 1948, since when very different security precautions are taken. The rifles are stored in a locked armoury, without their bolts, and no ammunition is held on the premises.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that approved schools are now to become community homes, under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969; and, in those circumstances, would it not be better if special cadet forces as such were disbanded and the boys in community homes under the new Act simply took part in the range of activities that exist in the communities where the homes were situated?


My Lords, in our opinion the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps, if I may bring them in too, are doing a splendid job for these young people. Their training goes very wide of purely military training and we very much value the contribution they have to make.


My Lords, it was certainly not my intention in the supplementary question to comment on the value of the training given. The point I was trying to make to the noble Lord was that approved schools are no longer to be segregated institutions; they are to be part of the range of facilities provided in the community for children in care or children in trouble. This is really my question. Is the policy of the noble Lord's Department to continue to segregate these boys in special groups of cadet forces, or to allow them to take part in cadet force work or any other type of youth activity with other members of the community among whom they will in future be residing?


My Lords, I am very sorry that I misunderstood the noble Baroness's point. Certainly it would be very much to be welcomed if they took part in the community army cadet forces and other such activities.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord take one step further and say that participation in community corps of this kind should be subsituted for any training which is centred solely on the approved school? Would he not agree that, although, as he says, there are many children in approved schools—and there will be many more when they become community homes—who are not found guilty of offences in the court, there are also children there who have been so found guilty? Furthermore, could the noble Lord give an assurance that no live ammunition is contained anywhere in approved schools?


Yes, my Lords; I can give that assurance categorically. Of course, in particular cases of particular boys, it is in the discretion of the managers of the school not to allow them to take part in military activities.


My Lords, in view of the fact that a boy when recruited into the Services will receive training in the use of firearms as part of his overall training, why is it necessary to train in the use of firearms those who are not going to be recruited to the Services?


My Lords, it is part of the Army Cadet Force's and Air Training Corp's syllabus of training that they are trained in the use of firearms; it is part of the background of these voluntary bodies.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether attendance at these training units is compulsory for any class of boy?


No, my Lords, it is entirely voluntary.


My Lords, is it not an honourable duty, much to be respected, that any young person should be taught to take care of the interests and indeed the safety of his country?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. It is of course the background to both these corps that they give a training in citizenship and for protection of Queen and country.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, whether or not his answers may have sounded unsatisfactory to various noble Baronesses opposite, they will be received with great satisfaction by those who know of the work of the Army Cadet Force perhaps rather better than the noble Baronesses concerned? Is my noble friend also aware that the Force benefits considerably by those who come from approved schools and who have received pre-Service training?


My Lords, I am grateful for those words of support from my noble friend, although I think the noble Baroness opposite does know what this Force does. I think that she is objecting on grounds of principle.