My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Lingfield for bringing this debate to the House. At a time when, more than ever, young people need positive activities in their lives, the cadet forces provide opportunities for them. As he said, research on the social impact of cadet forces, most recently from the universities of Northampton and Southampton, clearly records that they deliver a number of positive outcomes for the young people concerned. First, there is belief in their abilities. Young people nowadays do not always believe that they are able. There is improved motivation, leading to improved school attendance, behaviour and attitudes. There is a reduced likelihood of becoming a NEET—not in education, employment or training. Involvement in cadet forces can lead to greater academic achievement, which in turn can contribute to increased social mobility. Importantly, it builds character in our young people and gives them self-confidence in so many ways, including teaching them to be good team workers. As normal cadet force involvement can last for up to five years, those interventions have proved much more likely to be effective than some other, very short-term interventions.
However, there is still resistance from schools, particularly state schools, to participation. Interest remains high but financial constraints, in particular—the lack of available funding from the Cadet Expansion Programme and the cost of establishing such units—can mean that schools, although interested, do not proceed. Quite rightly, the Cadet Expansion Programme is targeted at schools in the most deprived areas but that means that others miss out.
I come from a military county—Wiltshire. Even so, sadly, we have only one state school with a Combined Cadet Force. It was originally partnered with a private school in the area but has now successfully become independent through CEP funding. However, we must not forget that a lack of school opportunity is often provided by community cadet forces. In Wiltshire, these have been very successful. We have three Sea Cadet units, even though we are a landlocked county, 15 Air Force training corps and 23 Army cadet detachments. I look forward to seeing many of those young cadets in Salisbury on National Armed Forces Day at the end of this month.
I have talked to many cadets over the years. They speak positively about the experience of being part of the military cadet force and their opportunities for personal development and skills acquisition. Importantly, they also talk about the opportunities for excitement and having fun. We should also remember that they often say, “It looks very good on my university CV”. Some, but by no means all, of these young people will contemplate a career in the military, but all of them recognise the wider benefits.
However, the Government could do more. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, more funding for CCF programmes now that Libor funding has ended could go some way to addressing the Army’s concerns that it is dominated by people who went to private schools. The Government could do more to encourage independent schools to partner state schools in establishing their own CCFs. Interestingly, the Sea Cadets are partnered with the National Citizen Service; is there scope to use NCS funding more creatively to support sustained, long-term cadet expansion? The DfE is a relatively new supporter of the Cadet Expansion Programme. Can that support be continued and encouraged? Can some DfE funding be ring-fenced to match MoD funding? It is also important that those schools which remove their support for CCFs at some point, due to a culture change, understand from the DfE and the MoD that their funding may have to be withdrawn to protect MoD investment in other schools.
Finally, the Combined Cadet Force has demonstrated great success stories over many years, providing role models for young people and instilling good behaviour, values and standards. The emphasis is on creating good citizens, not recruiting people for our Armed Forces. Evidence shows that schools and communities benefit from CCFs. Arguably, it is pupils from the state sector, particularly those who have grown up in disadvantaged circumstances, who have most to gain from the Cadet Expansion Programme. The Combined Cadet Force can act as a force for good.