My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, for initiating this timely debate, and I commend him for his excellent speech. I was unable to join the cadet force in Northern Ireland, as the grammar school that I attended did not offer it; nor did many schools in Northern Ireland.
The Cadet Expansion Programme is a Downing Street initiative to expose more schools across the whole of the UK to the benefits of the cadet experience. It is being implemented jointly by the Department for Education and the Ministry of Defence—but not in Northern Ireland, as the Northern Ireland Executive do not address MoD business. The aim was to create a total of 500 CCFs across the UK, increasing from an original total of 249. Northern Ireland joined the programme belatedly, with our school cadet expansion officer—employed by RFCA NI—delivering the programme direct to schools much as we deliver other MoD business where it involves regional authorities or stakeholders; that is, bottom up as Stormont does not do wider defence matters, even when it is sitting.
In the three years that the programme has been running in Northern Ireland, as opposed to the five years it has been running nationally, we have increased from five CCFs to 11, with potentially a further three in the pipeline. Apart from Northern Ireland having the highest percentage increase of any UK region, albeit from a low start, the delivery team remains confident that the appetite in Northern Ireland continues to grow and the region stands ready to deliver more schools, should vacancies arise. Most significantly, the new CCFs in Northern Ireland include cross-community schools and schools in less privileged areas that are facing more societal challenges than the more established CCF schools in Ulster.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to highlight another extremely successful programme developed by RFCA NI—namely, its Pathway Adventure Activities courses. They deliver youth development experiences based on those used in the cadet movement and are to be found across all of Northern Ireland. In the past year to April, they were delivered to some 80,000 young people. This scheme is delivered in tandem with a wide range of community and church groups, other youth charities, the Prince’s Trust, local authorities and schools. It is now the largest single youth outreach programme, the governance of which involves the head of Children in NI. It is making an immeasurable contribution to local community and youth welfare throughout Northern Ireland. Truly, one must say that this initiative and the Cadet Expansion Programme in Northern Ireland have both been tremendous successes. Let us hope that the comments made in the debate today will aid further progress.