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UK Armed Forces: Wales’s Contribution

Part of Special Educational Needs: Isle of Wight – in Westminster Hall at 5:36 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence 5:36 pm, 25th February 2020

I thank both hon. Gentlemen for their honeyed words and kind remarks. I am afraid that I will not respond with an answer to satisfy them fully. We have made clear our preference for the location of the extra infantry unit at St Athan. We recognise the case for Brecon as the ongoing location in some form—in that area—for the 160th Brigade headquarters. I cannot fully satisfy the hon. Gentlemen, but defence is always an area in which tough decisions have to be taken, and we will not always make the ones that either of them like, but we are where we are. There is a decision, in preference, for St Athan as the location for the new military unit.

We have discussed the RAF, so moving on to the Royal Navy, the £11 million Royal Naval Reserve base in Cardiff will be completed in 2020. I see that Stephen Doughty is pleased with that, and he referred to it in his speech.

In addition to the physical presence of thousands of armed forces personnel, vital elements of our military equipment capability are manufactured and maintained in Wales. For example, the Army’s next generation of Ajax armoured fighting vehicles are made at General Dynamics UK in Merthyr Tydfil and Oakdale. The RAF’s Shadow aircraft will be supported by Raytheon in Broughton for the next decade under a £250 million contract. Furthermore, MOD Sealand has been designated as the global F-35 component repair and maintenance hub. Sealand is also the home to the Defence Electronics and Components Agency which, as mentioned in the debate, makes north Wales a national centre of excellence in this field.

Not only does Wales supply invaluable equipment to the armed forces, but it generates prosperity and jobs. The F-35 programme alone will generate more than £2 billion in revenue over the next 30 years. I was delighted that my Department’s procurement spend in Wales increased by 11% in the last financial year to £1.08 billion—the highest percentage increase in all the UK’s regions and countries. That investment supports more than 7,500 jobs directly and thousands more across wider supply chains, including 1,150 highly skilled private sector jobs at RAF Valley, making it the second biggest employer on Anglesey. There is more to come, with 200 jobs on Shadow at Raytheon’s intelligence and surveillance hub, additional Qioptiq personnel at St Asaph, and the new Cardiff Royal Naval Reserve centre supporting about 300 jobs locally.

Defence equipment investment supports vital roles across Wales, but all in the Chamber would agree that the most important jobs are those undertaken by the men and women who join our armed forces. Traditionally, Wales has always been a strong recruiting area for our services, especially our land forces, and that proud tradition continues. I have some reassurance for my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire. Capita was discussed during the debate but, over the past year, it has been reinvigorated and there has been a far better performance on the contract. I am delighted that 77,000 people applied to be regular soldiers alone in the course of the past year, which is a 33% increase. Change needed to be made, and we have made changes, so that contract is performing far better.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth referred to the need to have diversity, and I could not agree more. It is absolutely the Army’s intention to ensure that the armed forces reflect the country that they serve. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the most recent recruiting campaign, he will see that that is absolutely front and centre to how we perform.

I am afraid I cannot be precise about the numbers of recruits from Wales as we do not maintain regional recruitment figures, but given the strengths of the connections of the Welsh regiments—the Welsh Guards, the Royal Welsh and the Queen’s Dragoon Guards—I am absolutely certain they will get more than their fair share.

I wish to say so much more in the debate, but I am being tugged down to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire to respond. I hope on other occasions we will be able to talk about veterans and service families accommodation. I would be delighted to speak to Chris Evans in particular on that issue. I apologise that I have not been able to respond to more of the points made in the debate, but I wish to allow my hon. Friend an opportunity to respond.