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 will come on to that—I was going to address that in the second part of my contribution.

There has been change in terms of the duty of care of individuals. Ofsted, for example, now inspects places such as the Army Foundation College, and the practices that the Army has in place to ensure that there is a duty of care around those young people set an example that many other institutions could follow. In terms of the opportunity it gives people, I would not want, by banning under-18s, to stop many young people getting the positive move forward in their lives and the opportunities that the Army gives them.

There are two issues on which I do agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow North West, relating to early service leavers. That is not just an issue for under-18s, but for those who join post 18. To be fair to the armed forces, they have done quite a lot on ensuring that early service leavers have support. That is an issue that I raised when I was in the Ministry of Defence, because some of those individuals end up in the social services network, homeless and so on.

The question is about when people leave, if they are under 18 and decide that the armed forces, or the Army in particular, are not for them. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, but I think there is a package around those who have left care and joined the armed forces. Anything that can be done to improve their experience is the right thing to do.

I am not against new clause 2, but we need to look at what happens in practice. There are quite good reasons why people have to sign on for a certain period of time, because of the commitment. From my experience, however, there is a mechanism to enable most people who do not want to stay in the Army and other armed forces to leave. I do not think it is such an onerous straitjacket as has it been described by some individuals.

I understand where the hon. Member for Glasgow North West is coming from, and I accept that there is a difference of opinion, but overall, my experience is that service in the armed forces gives great opportunities to many young people who would not get them if we did not recruit under-18s. The important thing to say is that many people who join at that age go on to have very good and fulfilling careers in the armed forces, and they also gain life skills and technical skills that they use when they leave the Army and move into civilian life. That is why I do not support the new clauses.