My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for securing today’s debate, and join noble Lords in praising the work of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. Its 13 regional associations play an important role in local communities by recruiting cadets and volunteers, building close ties with different people and organisations and promoting the Armed Forces covenant. The tailored regional approach is a great asset and their popularity is clearly seen by a volunteer membership standing at around 8,000.
We know that the Government are currently conducting a review of the RFCAs. When will it be published? We understand the MoD must reconstitute the RFCAs’ schemes of association every five years, and with a March deadline this year, surely the report must be published soon. While associations have Crown status, I understand there is confusion about their administrative classification. Could the Minister explain how they are classified by the MoD?
Associations are closely involved in building up the cadets. Labour strongly supports this work, as cadets continue to offer new horizons for young people who learn teamwork, resilience, confidence and self-esteem through their involvement. Last year, I spoke in a debate about the important cadet expansion programme. How do associations operate in relation to that? I also stressed that there has been a 2% decrease in the number of young people involved with cadets, as well as a 7.5% decrease in the number of adult volunteers. Can the Minister give an update on what the Government are doing to reverse this trend? Will the review into associations also consider best practice for safeguarding?
I am sure the whole House would like to commend the associations’ work on the Armed Forces covenant. The covenant represents the solemn and enduring commitment that we owe to members of the Armed Forces community. Regional associations help different businesses and organisations fulfil their covenant pledges and, in 2019, the total number of signings of the covenant passed 4,000. It was great to see even large multinational companies, including Facebook, signing up and demonstrating their responsibility to communities.
Labour supports the covenant and the important guarantees that underlie it. Building on the Queen’s Speech, the Government have said they will
“progress proposals to further incorporate the Covenant into law to mitigate any disadvantage faced by the armed forces community due to the unique nature of military service.”
Are they consulting on these proposals and when will they be published? Importantly, will these proposals include a provision to place greater responsibility on public authorities to ensure greater consistency in the implementation of the covenant?
On the central point of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I am unable to make a Front-Bench judgment. However, it is clear from the debate that the present system works well. The Government should require change only if they can clearly show that there is real advantage. Should they introduce a new system and performance declines, we will certainly hold them to account. Change for change’s sake is a dangerously overrated policy.