New Clause 1 - Age of Recruitment

Part of Armed Forces Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 25th March 2021.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 4:15 pm, 25th March 2021

I understand that there are individuals who wish to support a ban on those under 18 joining the Army. I know that that has been campaigned on for quite a while now. Those individuals draw an analogy between what the Army does and the situation of child soldiers around the world. I do not agree with that, and I must say I do not agree with the provisions of the new clause.

It is quite clear now that individuals under 18 cannot be sent into combat, which I totally support and think is right, but we must balance that against the opportunities that recruiting 16 to 17-year-olds gives those individuals. I suggest that anyone who wants to see the positive way individuals can and do improve their lives visits the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.

Many of those individuals, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North West highlighted, come from deprived communities; many have been failed by the education system, so credit to the Army particularly for the work it does at the Foundation College, giving people a second chance, which the education system has failed to do. On my visits there, what appalled me was the fact that the education system had failed individuals, but the Army had given them a second chance with raising basic numeracy and literacy skills. Individuals who would possibly not have had an opportunity to have a fulfilled career were able to do so through the work undertaken at the Army Foundation College.

The other issue raised is the duty of care for those individuals, but we have come a long way on the duty of care for under-18s. There was a huge problem with the way under-18s were supervised and looked after, especially those who joined the armed forces who came from care, for example. Mr Justice Blake’s reforms following Deepcut had a huge amount to do with that.