I am pleased to see that cadets are so popular in the Chamber today.
In 2015, the Government committed £50 million to increasing the number of cadet units in state schools through the cadet expansion programme. The programme targets schools in less affluent areas and is on track to achieve its target of 500 cadet units by 2020.
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. He is right that cadet units provide life skills, employability and social mobility—things that schools do not necessarily offer themselves. I also pay tribute to the work of the cadets who participated in Remembrance Sunday up and down the country.
Last week, I was able to see Scunthorpe’s 119 Squadron, which meets outside the school day, but does fantastic work developing young people. The young people and the volunteers are a real tribute to us all. What are the Government doing to ensure that cadet groups—Army, Navy and sea—continue to play an important role in our communities?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on visiting his local cadet unit, and I encourage other hon. Members across the House to support our cadet programmes when they are in their constituencies. I mentioned the cadet expansion programme; there are 126,000 cadets supporting by 28,000 volunteers, and we are very grateful to them.
Given the findings of the recently published report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), does my hon. Friend agree that schemes such as the combined cadet force at Westcliff High School for Boys are an excellent way to boost recruitment in the armed forces? Perhaps he will also encourage other schools to adopt the programme.
I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work on understanding the challenges we face with recruitment and retention. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, as a starting point, the cadet programme is important to encourage and open up opportunities in the armed forces. Some 20% of those who sign up for the cadets go on to become members of our armed forces, and the other 80% have an affinity and an understanding for them, and a desire to support them, which is also welcome.[This section has been corrected on
The combined cadet force at Treorchy Comprehensive has been going for 10 years now, and it has done a brilliant job. Lots of young people have been given skills and opportunities they would never otherwise have had, and the same goes for the sea cadets in Llwynypia. However, one of the daftest things the MOD did last year was to sell the Pentre barracks for a paltry sum. We now really need a venue for the sea cadets and the combined cadet force to be able to work together. Would the Minister like to visit the Rhondda very soon—he may have some spare time in the near future—to look at the combined cadet force and the sea cadets?
I am not sure how useful I would be if I did have spare time in the future. There is an armed forces rationalisation programme of real estate in the UK. Some 2% of the land is owned by the Ministry of Defence and we are going through a process to rationalise that. That may include some locations that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but because of the contribution the cadets make to wider society and the armed forces, we absolutely need to work with local authorities and Members of Parliament to make sure cadets have a place to go.