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UK Armed Forces: Wales’s Contribution

Part of Special Educational Needs: Isle of Wight – in Westminster Hall at 5:07 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth 5:07 pm, 25th February 2020

It is always a pleasure to speak in a debate on the armed forces in Wales. I congratulate Fay Jones on securing the debate. I am sure that she will make an important contribution on these issues, particularly given the presence of the armed forces in her constituency, which I have had the pleasure of visiting.

It is partly through my experience of working with our Welsh regiments in the Army, and with the Royal Navy and the Air Force, locally in the constituency and more broadly, that I have learned to respect and be inspired by their work. I have also seen first hand some of the challenging training that they undergo, particularly in locations in the hon. Lady’s constituency. I had the pleasure of spending time there with the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Welsh, the reserve Army grouping, and with other Army formations, including the special forces, in some of the training areas that she mentioned. I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of maintaining those areas in Wales and the crucial role that they play in preparing our armed forces for operations around the world.

As vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the armed forces, and having spent time on the armed forces parliamentary scheme, the crucial role that the Welsh contribution to our armed forces—the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force—has played is clear to me. That is particularly true in my constituency. We hosted a reception here a couple of weeks ago, as has been mentioned, where I met constituents from St Mellons and Splott who had just joined the Army and were excited about their future careers.

We have a proud Royal Navy and merchant navy tradition in Cardiff and Cardiff Bay. As has been mentioned, HMS Cambria is located on the edge of my constituency, but will be moving into Cardiff Bay as part of a new development, which we all fully welcome. Given that history, we look forward to seeing the progress of the Navy’s work there to build a flagship for the Royal Navy as a base in Cardiff.

There is also a history with the Royal Air Force, particularly due to the location of St Athan down the road in the Vale of Glamorgan. The famous Guy Gibson, one of the Dambusters from 617 Squadron, spent time in Penarth. RAF Pengam Green was based in part of my constituency in the past. We have long been a recruiting ground for the armed forces and there continues to be a significant presence in the near vicinity.

I emphasise the point made by many colleagues: the Army in particular has historically recruited disproportionately from Wales—usually about 7% or 8% of the Army are recruited from Wales, which represents only 5% of the UK population. However, it has been mentioned that the presence of the armed forces in Wales is much lower than that, at just 2%, as highlighted by the Welsh Affairs Committee report, and it is potentially dropping to just 1%.

That is a real concern. I agree with many of the comments made by colleagues from across the Chamber about that presence. It is crucial to ensuring that Wales is properly represented in our United Kingdom armed forces, but also, given the importance of strengthening the Union, to ensuring that that contribution is recognised. We need to maintain that presence. I certainly support calls for the Ministry of Defence to look at rebasing some of the Welsh contribution to the armed forces in Wales itself, particularly through the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, and to see the Army coming to Wales.