The new clauses seek to raise the age of recruitment to the armed forces to 18, and to ensure that recruits under 18 serve the same period of time as those who enlisted at the age of 18. We remain clear that junior entry offers a range of benefits to the individual, the armed forces and society, providing a highly valuable vocational training opportunity for those wishing to follow a career in the armed forces.
We take our duty of care to entrants aged under 18 extremely seriously. Close attention has been given to this subject in recent years, especially after the tragic deaths at Deepcut. We have robust, effective and independently verified safeguards in place to ensure that under-18s are cared for properly. The provision of education and training for 16-year-old school leavers provides a route into the armed forces that complies with Government policy on education while also providing a significant foundation for emotional, physical and educational development throughout an individual’s career.
There is no compulsory recruitment into the armed forces. Our recruiting policy is absolutely clear: no one under the age of 18 can join the armed forces without formal parental consent, which is checked twice during the application process. Additionally, parents and guardians are positively encouraged to engage with the recruiting staff during the process. Service personnel under the age of 18 are not deployed on hostile operations outside the UK, or indeed on operations where they may be exposed to hostilities.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North West is concerned that people who join the armed forces before their 18th birthday serve longer than those who join after their 18th birthday. However, this is not a matter of length of service, but a matter of discharge. The rules on statutory discharge as of right—DAOR—allow all new recruits, regardless of age, to discharge within their first three to six months of service if they decide that the armed forces is not a career for them. Additionally, service personnel have a statutory right to claim discharge up to their 18th birthday, subject to a maximum three-month cooling-off period. These rights are made clear to all on enlistment.
Ultimately, service personnel under the age of 18 have a statutory right to leave the armed forces up until their 18th birthday and without the liability to serve in the reserve, as an adult would. However, the benefits of an armed forces career, including for under-18s, are very clear. The armed forces remain one of the UK’s largest apprenticeship providers, equipping young people with valuable transferrable skills for life. Irrespective of age, all recruits who need it receive education in the key skills of literacy and numeracy; and, also irrespective of age, over 80% of all recruits enrol in an apprenticeship programme, equipping them with the skills that they need to succeed and which they will continue to build on throughout their careers, serving them well when they leave.
The armed forces offer apprenticeships across a broad range of specialisations, including the engineering disciplines, digital and communication technologies, construction, catering, human resources and administration. Ofsted regularly inspects our initial training establishment, and we are very proud of the standards that we achieve. Indeed, over the last 10 years, Ofsted has documented significant improvements in, among other things, support with English and maths, under-18s and care leavers, injury reduction, retention rates, communication with parents and staff selection, training and development.
Despite that record, we guard against complacency and recognise that there is always more that we can do. One example is the new inspection framework that we have agreed with Ofsted to align more closely with the unique challenges of initial military training.