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UK Armed Forces: Wales’s Contribution

Part of Special Educational Needs: Isle of Wight – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 4:59 pm, 25th February 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Fay Jones on setting out her case excellently and on securing this important and timely debate. I intend to speak for only a few moments; I will make a few brief points about Wales’s contribution to the UK armed forces. Wales has been an important recruitment ground for soldiers for the British Army and for other branches of the armed forces over many generations and centuries. Long may that continue.

My first point relates to the recruitment of soldiers from Wales. Ben Lake is present, but I want to address the long-running campaign that some Plaid Cymru politicians have run over the years to try to stop the armed forces from visiting schools in Wales for careers purposes and other events. It is a good thing that members of the armed forces visit schools and have a presence there, so they can demonstrate what excellent role models they are for young people and what interesting and rewarding career paths the armed forces can offer Welsh pupils.

I want Wales to continue to be an important recruitment ground into the UK armed forces. I have concerns, which constituents have raised with me in recent years, about the changes to the structure of recruitment in Wales, and about the move to the Capita contract. I was a Minister when those changes were happening. Concerns were raised internally in Government about the consequences of moving to the Capita contract. I hope that the Minister can provide us with more upbeat information to dispel some of my concerns and gloom about recruitment in Wales. I hope that moving to the Capita contract has not resulted in a decline in recruitment to the armed forces from Wales.

The kinds of issues that constituents have raised with me relate to applications taking a long time; the website not working; and wasted visits to Swansea—a long journey there and back from Pembrokeshire—for meaningless recruitment discussions. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say to show that there have been improvements in the way that the recruitment experience works.

My second point also relates to recruitment, in a way. The armed forces play an important role in social mobility across the United Kingdom, but particularly in Wales. As I have said before in the House, no other institution in our national life comes close to what the British Army does in terms of taking young people from some of the most challenging communities and most difficult backgrounds, giving them excellent training and a career path and moulding them as leaders. The armed forces provide an incredibly transformational thing for young people from challenging and often disadvantaged backgrounds.

I am concerned, however, that when I see senior officers from our armed forces interviewed in the media, and when they come here to brief us as Members of Parliament, I never hear a Welsh accent among them. I meet soldiers from the other ranks with Welsh accents, as when the three Welsh regiments came to the House the other day, and when I visit other regiments I hear Geordie and Liverpudlian accents, but when I meet the senior officers, I do not hear those regional or other national accents. Much emphasis is being placed on demonstrating to people that they can go from the factory floor or the shop floor to the boardroom in other businesses and organisations. We want to demonstrate to people being recruited into the armed forces that there are not twin tracks—that they will not be labelled as “other ranks” and get stuck, while a separate officer track takes people to senior leadership positions.