Brown wants more school cadet forces

PRIVATE firms should help state schools pay to set up their own military cadet forces, Gordon Brown said yesterday.

Continuing to extend his reach across the full range of government business, the Chancellor called for state schools across the UK to establish branches of the Combined Cadet Force, which gives pupils a chance to learn from the disciplines and training of the armed forces.

Mr Brown made his suggestion in a wider speech on security and community relations, part of what many view as an attempt to broaden his appeal in a stage-managed process that will see him replace Tony Blair as Prime Minister as early as next year.

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At present, most of the 42,000 cadets in forces based in schools are in private-sector education, something the Chancellor wants to change.

"To involve young people more in celebrating the contribution of our armed forces, I would like to pilot an expansion of our cadet forces, especially in state schools," Mr Brown said in a speech in London.

The Chancellor has asked Sir Ian Russell, the former head of ScottishPower, to lead a working group looking at how to involve private benefactors and companies to help fund new cadet forces in state schools, particularly those in deprived areas. The government would match funds from the private sector, Mr Brown said. Sir Ian's group will encourage "pilot" schools to create their own forces.

Mr Brown's proposal won tacit approval from the Conservatives, whose leader, David Cameron has proposed that school-leavers should carry out "national service" of community work.

And unusually for a statement on education from a London-based minister, Mr Brown's suggestion will have equal force on both sides of the Border.

While education is devolved to Holyrood, cadet forces are part of the armed forces and their administration is a matter for ministers in London.

As such, Mr Brown's office insisted that his suggestion was as valid in Scotland as it is in England.

"There is no obstacle to this being implemented in any part of the UK," said a Treasury spokesman. It was "perfectly possible" that some of Sir Ian's pilot schemes could be established in Scottish schools, he added.

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A Scottish Executive spokeswoman also confirmed that pilot cadet forces could be established in Scottish state schools.

Mr Brown's encouragement of military disciplines among the young is part of his greater public embrace of the armed forces and security services, a clear attempt to vaunt his credentials as a national leader.

As part of his wider security agenda, Mr Brown yesterday signalled that when he becomes prime minister, MPs will be given new powers to investigate the activities of the police and security services.

Mr Brown also raised the prospect of a single government budget for security operations.

The suggestion immediately triggered speculation that he plans to create a single homeland security department, something that was first suggested by the Conservatives.

While allies of Mr Brown said that was unlikely, the Chancellor clearly signalled that parliament could get new authority to scrutinise the work of counter- terrorism officials and the way their funds are spent.

As part of his alternative agenda to "renew New Labour" in its third term in office, Mr Brown has signalled he would be willing to give parliament much greater powers over the government and its agencies.

"We will examine the case for a single security budget, assessing also how in this new world we secure the best co-ordination in delivery and accountability - including the appointment of the relevant committees and their investigative power," Mr Brown said. Tacitly accepting that recent government moves towards stricter security laws have not won total public support, Mr Brown said his priority was "building trust in a tough security regime through necessary accountability".

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While the select committees of parliament are playing an increasing role in government business, many MPs still feel their panels are under-powered and under-resourced.

Some look enviously at US Congressional committees, which have generous budgets for support staff, and the legal power to summon witnesses to testify under oath.

Treasury sources said the Chancellor did not have specific powers planned for committees, but confirmed that "stronger, tougher parliamentary scrutiny through the committee system" was a key part of his agenda.