It is a pleasure to be here for the debate, and I congratulate Fay Jones on clearly setting out the importance of the Welsh defence footprint. I totally endorse her remarks: Wales is a country, and one that, much like Scotland, has historically made a great contribution to the UK armed forces by providing bases, training grounds, recruits, and defence and aerospace developments.
We have heard contributions from Alex Davies-Jones, Stephen Crabb and Stephen Doughty, who talked about his experience in the Navy. I was slightly concerned that he was let loose in the chef’s area—maybe I can hear more about that after the debate.
Jessica Morden talked about the veterans charities that do such great work, and about her constituent who had life-changing injuries and faced various challenges. By total coincidence, I met British nuclear test veterans this morning, so it was really interesting to hear Chris Evans talk about them. I met Alan Owen, and I fully endorse the hon. Member’s comments about medals: there is absolutely no reason why these people should not have some recognition of what they went through in the Pacific during the British nuclear tests.
It is disappointing that there has been a general declining trend in recent years in the presence of the armed forces in Wales. Although Wales represents 5% of the UK’s population, only 2% of the armed forces are currently stationed in Wales. According to 2018 figures, there are approximately 3,250 MOD personnel in Wales—down 900 from 2012. The Government’s proposals to further reduce the defence estate and to relocate personnel currently based in Wales is a major blow. If the closure of the Brecon barracks goes ahead, the percentage of UK armed forces stationed in Wales could drop to as little as 1%. That figure corresponds with the pattern of over-concentration of forces in England, with the clustering of bases.
The right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire mentioned the Capita contract. We have been complaining about that for many years now, and it is something that unites Members of different parties. The arrangement has been poorly administered and Capita has failed to meet targets for recruitment, yet it still blunders on.
Given that approximately one third of the defence pound returns to the local community through personnel spending, and that there is a multiplier effect as military families spend money near the base, local communities bear the brunt of bases being closed.
I can understand the frustration of Welsh Members who have noted the proposals to reduce the defence estate in Wales and to relocate personnel currently based there. In Scotland we have a litany of broken promises on this issue, on defence spending and on troop numbers. We were promised all sorts in the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014, including an increase in troop numbers and investment in Scotland’s military footprint. We were told our numbers would increase to 12,500 personnel by 2020. Not only has that target not been delivered; it has actually moved backwards. In 2013 we had 10,600 defence personnel, but that has now fallen to 9,680—7% of the UK’s total, and below Scotland’s personnel share of 8%. To put it bluntly, we have been short-changed by approximately 3,000 full-time personnel.
Like Scotland, Wales needs a properly funded and maintained defence force. The UK Government have a duty to ensure that Wales contains a fair proportion of military presence for the size of its population. Following the recommendations of the Welsh Affairs Committee, will the UK Government reconsider their defence estate strategy to ensure that any base closures do not result in negative outcomes? We need explicit commitments from the Government on the number of personnel based in the other nations. Scotland and Wales need their fair share.
In addition, the UK Government need to protect the remaining bases in Wales and provide certainty about any changes to unit locations that could negatively impact the Welsh economy and local communities. The Government say that all UK countries are valued and that opportunity and investment must be spread to every part, but we question that sentiment when looking at the defence figures, which show that, while the Government focus defence efforts, resources and investment in England, the other nations are being left behind.
Wales plays and wants to continue playing its role in the global community. The Government must support Welsh defence personnel and the Welsh defence industry to enable them do so.