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4.19 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) has made a decent, well-argued and, I am sure, well-intentioned speech. The House may well miss him after the general election. Notwithstanding the good intentions--which, incidentally, pave the road to hell--he is entirely wrong.

This is muddled political correctness. The hon. Gentleman said that training for the Army is dangerous. The first thing that one must understand is that, in the armed forces, one is being trained to go to war, and whatever else it may be, war is extremely unpleasant and dangerous.

Sierra Leone and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda were mentioned. I am not sure whether the two little boys in Burma were mentioned. British young soldiers, sailors and air crew have absolutely nothing to do with those conflicts. For a start, there is no conscription. All 16 and 17-year-olds--and indeed all other service personnel--are volunteers.

The 16 and 17-year-olds whom I remember were keen and determined. They desperately wanted to be soldiers. When we went to Northern Ireland, we could not let them go out on the streets. They had to remain behind, guarding the barracks. They hated it. They desperately wanted to get out there and do something useful. There are severe limitations on what they can do, and that is right. They are not put on the streets in Northern Ireland and they will not be deployed on United Nations tours.

17 May 2000 : Column 348

The hon. Gentleman said that some young people in the forces have been killed, but people are killed in road accidents, too. As he admitted, they are not put in danger if it can be avoided. [Interruption.] There are approximately 6,500 16 and 17-year-olds being trained in the forces, with the vast majority in the Army. They are engaged in training and education. One might regard it as a military college of further education. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who is wittering away over there, might care to go to the Army foundation college in Harrogate, where young men and women are doing foundation courses--studying for national vocational qualifications and the like--and deriving benefit for the future. They give enormous value to the armed forces. Such people serve longer and have a longer return of service, as it is called, so there is a better return on the large investment that is put into training. Much of it is complex, technical training, which many of us would find pretty difficult. The country needs a return on its investment, and that is what it gets from keen young volunteers.

The Army is now shifting the balance of recruitment from adults to juniors, because of the enormous competition for recruits for jobs created by a buoyant economy. There are tremendous demands for people to go into tertiary or further education, and that is competing for young people from 16 to 18. When they reach 18, they are often already in tertiary or further education and are lost to the Army.

What is the purpose of the Bill? The hon. Gentleman said that it was to set a good example. I have seen the photographs of boy soldiers in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. It is disgusting. We will not set a good example to Sierra Leone by not recruiting 16 and 17-year-olds. We will do it by sending out first-class troops to establish some order and help the people there. [Interruption.] I am sorry that I cannot allow the hon. Member for Slough to intervene.

What is the purpose of the armed forces? This is the root of the whole issue. The purpose of the armed forces is to defend the realm--to defend all of us in the House. The hon. Gentleman dismissed overstretch and under- recruitment, but solving those problems is terribly important. We cannot send troops to Sierra Leone or anywhere else if we do not have them. Let the armed forces defend the realm.

We are not breaking the 1989 UN convention on the child, or indeed the protocol that is being introduced this year, which still allows the recruitment of volunteers of 16 and 17. We must ask whether we want excellent, well-recruited armed forces or whether we do not. That is the question.

The armed forces feel much undermined by the politically correct stand of the Government. Labour Members will deny that, but it is true. The authority of military discipline is being undermined. A small point: allowing people to be openly homosexual in the armed forces is undermining military discipline, however much people deny it. The hon. Gentleman referred to special protection for 16 and 17-year-olds. I have not checked the record, but I bet that he voted to remove the special protection for them as regards homosexuality. Homosexual sexual intercourse, whatever else it might do, certainly might harm the people involved. The Bill would prevent them from joining up and doing something useful and honourable. That shows strange priorities.

17 May 2000 : Column 349

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):--

The House divided: Ayes 110, Noes 69.

Division No. 199
[4.25 pm


Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Ashton, Joe
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Barnes, Harry
Bennett, Andrew F
Best, Harold
Brand, Dr Peter
Butler, Mrs Christine
Cann, Jamie
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Colman, Tony
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Donohoe, Brian H
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Gunnell, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hinchliffe, David
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Kelly, Ms Ruth
Khabra, Piara S
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Lepper, David
Linton, Martin
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Maxton, John
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Mitchell, Austin
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Mountford, Kali
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pike, Peter L
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Quinn, Lawrie
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Rooney, Terry
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Vis, Dr Rudi
White, Brian
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Wood, Mike
Worthington, Tony
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Ms Julia Drown and
Mr. Marsha Singh.


Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bercow, John
Boswell, Tim
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Julian
Burnett, John
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Chope, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Dalyell, Tam
Day, Stephen
Drew, David
Duncan Smith, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Harris, Dr Evan
Hayes, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hepburn, Stephen
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hunter, Andrew
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkwood, Archy
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Livsey, Richard
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, Patrick
Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Öpik, Lembit
Plaskitt, James
Randall, John
Robathan, Andrew
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Shaw, Jonathan
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Squire, Ms Rachel
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Tyler, Paul
Walter, Robert
Ward, Ms Claire
Wells, Bowen
Winterton, Nicholas

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. David Maclean and
Mr. Edward Leigh.

Question accordingly agreed to.

17 May 2000 : Column 350

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Paul Stinchcombe, Mr. Marsha Singh, Mr. Paul Flynn, Mr. Kerry Pollard, Mr. Michael Jabez Foster, Mr. Fraser Kemp, Ms Oona King, Ms Julie Morgan, Dr. Lynne Jones, Valerie Davey, Ms Julia Drown and Dr. Brian Iddon.

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