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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

Effectively, we do already have one garrison town to a degree, through the presence in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, but I agree that we want to see more of the Welsh contribution stationed in Wales, and indeed other units. Given the wide range of training environments, it often makes more sense for forces, particularly Welsh-originating forces, to be located nearer to families so that they can get back at weekends and when they have time off on leave.

I will touch quickly on three issues. The first is recruitment; I am very proud of the history of recruitment from my own constituency, particularly to the Army, but when I have visited recruitment offices in Cardiff, and in the discussions I have had with officials from the Ministry of Defence and with Ministers on this, there does not seem to be the type of recruitment going on to bring in the diversity that I know that the Army wants to see in our armed forces.

The point applies particularly to the black and minority ethnic community. It is absolutely crucial that our armed forces of today, particularly our Army, represent the country that they fight for and defend. We have a fantastic BME contribution in the Army, but that is often made up of Commonwealth contributors. They are absolutely fantastic and do a brilliant job—I have spent time with them out in a Warrior on Salisbury Plain with the Royal Welsh—but it is important that we also ensure that young people from communities such as Butetown, Grangetown and Splott in my constituency get the chances offered by the armed forces. I think there is a disjunct there in the levels of recruitment. I urge the Ministry of Defence officials to work closely with Members of Parliament and others who can ensure that the opportunities provided, including some of the fantastic opportunities offered by places such as Harrogate and Welbeck, are also available to people from my communities.

Secondly, on veterans, I work very closely with a number of veterans’ organisations locally, including the Welsh Veterans Partnership, Woody’s Lodge and many others. They do excellent work, but one of the frustrations that we often have is that there are national programmes announced at a UK-wide level, but when we ask, “What is the Welsh option? What is the Welsh contribution?” it is often not there. I know that has been the case with some of the local organisations. They are doing brilliant work on housing, for example, working with local veterans; yet, when they have approached UK-wide organisations that say, “We are working with Government money to provide housing for veterans,” they are told, “Oh, well, that doesn’t apply in Wales.” There is a bit of a disjunct there. I would like to see the UK Government and the Welsh Government working as closely as they can on these issues.

I met with the Office for Veterans’ Affairs the other day at a reception—Sarah Atherton was there too—and raised some of those issues. We need to ensure better joined-up working. It is not a competition between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, and we need to ensure that that work is joined up, so we can support all our veterans and all those who have supported our country over many years.

My final point is about the presence of the Navy. I mentioned HMS Cambria coming into Cardiff South and Penarth, which is fantastic, but it was also suggested by, I think, the former Defence Secretary that HMS Severn, which is one of the River-class patrol vessels, was going to be forward deployed, along with the other River-class patrol vessels, at locations near to their namesakes. I was hoping that HMS Severn would perhaps be spending time in Cardiff, Newport and other locations nearby. That seems to be in some doubt at the moment, so perhaps the Minister can provide some clarity.

We are looking forward to the new HMS Cardiff; I visited her previous iteration, but we welcome the naming of one of the new Type-26 frigates. Of course, that naval history was crucial during the NATO summit, which Wales hosted so admirably in Newport and which we all contributed to. It was a highlight for me to see naval vessels from around the world in Cardiff Bay and for local young people to go on board to meet our armed forces personnel. I also spent time recently on HMS Monmouth when it was berthed in Cardiff Bay; I spent time in the galley, cooking with the chef, and with the engineering teams, to really understand some of the realities and day-to-day experiences of our naval personnel.

The armed forces play a huge part in the history of Wales and in the history of Cardiff South and Penarth. They have a huge role to play in the future. I would not be here if not for the armed forces in Wales, because one of my dad’s last postings in the Army was at Maindy barracks in Cardiff, where I will be returning this weekend for the St David’s day dinner. I know the contribution that that has made in my life. My dad went on to serve in youth work in our communities in south Wales, through his involvement in the Army youth teams, which operated in communities across Cardiff in the 1970s and 1980s. It has made a huge impact in my family’s life. I am sure it has a huge contribution to make in the future, but we need to ensure that Wales gets its fair share and fair representation in our armed forces family across the United Kingdom.