I echo the remark made by the shadow Minister, Gerald Jones, that the debate has been very consensual. Looking around, I can see that no one in the Chamber would disagree that the first duty of Government is the security of the nation, and this Government are absolutely committed to maintaining a strong defence through well equipped and highly trained armed forces.
The UK’s armed forces are rightly renowned and respected around the world. People from every corner of our country and our Union share pride in what the armed forces achieve. Wales’ contribution to our defence and to the ongoing success of our armed forces is immense. I am delighted that, for my first outing as a Defence Minister, I have the opportunity to reply to this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Fay Jones on securing it and on her excellent speech. I will respond by drawing out three themes: Wales’ contribution to capability, to defence support, and to recruitment, which is the lifeblood of our armed forces, as many hon. Members have mentioned.
In determining the location of our armed forces, our priority is to have units that not only fight together, but live together and are based close to their training areas, generating centres of military specialisation, which gives the UK the best possible operational capability. Currently, there are 2,200 Regular Army forces personnel based in Wales, many at Brecon’s infantry battle school and associated training facilities and the headquarters of 160th Brigade. I reiterate to my hon. Friend that 160th Brigade headquarters will remain in Wales. My Department is undertaking an assessment study to determine the precise location. She is lobbying hard for the Brecon area, and we hear her loud and clear. We are sympathetic, and I look forward to ongoing discussions.
On balance, the defence estate review is neutral for Wales, as my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb mentioned and as was picked up by other Members including the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Some planned defence closures are envisaged, including Cawdor barracks—I know I will hear a lot more about that from my right hon. Friend. Questions tomorrow will be interesting, although I would not say that I am anticipating them eagerly. We plan to relocate an infantry unit to Wales, however, and have identified our preferred location as MOD St Athan, on which there will be more to come.
In the air, RAF Valley is our Air Force’s key Welsh location. All new fighter pilots pass through RAF Valley’s fast jet course before reaching their frontline squadrons. Its runway was restored as part of a £20 million refurbishment.