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Military Bases

Volume 459: debated on Wednesday 2 May 2007

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the future of military bases in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (134258)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Defence. There is a strong defence presence in Wales, which will be strengthened by the St. Athan defence training project.

RAF Valley is an integral part of the Anglesey community, has been so for over 60 years, and is a major contributor to the region. The recent positive announcement by the Ministry of Defence on locating the search and rescue headquarters and the new Hawk integrated operational support contract at Valley is creditable and gives confidence to both the civilian and military work force. Does he agree, however, that the academy at St. Athan offers further potential for RAF Valley to benefit and to broaden its skills base, and that a party with the aim of independence would jeopardise that?

I agree very much with my hon. Friend that RAF Valley has enormous potential, does good work and has potential linkages across Wales, including with the defence training project. That project, which is the biggest such public investment project in living memory—if not ever—will bring unparalleled investment in Wales, with over 5,000 jobs, an additional 1,500 jobs in construction and about £16 billion of investment, all of which is a result of the strong partnership between Westminster and a Welsh Assembly Government—a partnership that would be put at risk by a nationalist-Tory alliance in the Welsh Assembly Government if they won power.

Obviously, the Secretary of State has changed the order: it is now nationalist-Tory, not Tory-nationalist; in any event, it is nonsense, as it was last week. May I set the record straight? Plaid Cymru was fully supportive of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency bid from day one, we still are, and I fully appreciate what the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) says: the development is important to Wales and we could be world leaders in that kind of technology. At no stage have I expressed a contrary view, except to say that I would have preferred the jobs to have stayed in the public sector.

As the hon. Gentleman mentions the point, I do not mind whether the alliance is nationalist-Tory or Tory-nationalist; it would still put the Tories in power in Wales, and they have not been in power at a serious level of government anywhere in the United Kingdom for a long time. In respect of the policy of defence investment, why did his party president, Dafydd Iwan, call for the disbanding—

Given the Government’s massive investment in defence training, do not the armed services provide an excellent career for youngsters throughout Wales and across the United Kingdom? In that case, how does the Secretary of State answer those in Wales who call for Army recruitment to be banned in schools?

I did notice that one Plaid Cymru Assembly Member was calling for the Army to be banned from recruiting in schools, which is a crazy policy, like all Plaid Cymru’s other crazy policies that are designed to separate Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom, which would be a disastrous policy if it formed part of a Welsh Assembly Government’s future objectives.

Further to the question of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), the Secretary of State will be aware that the air service to be launched next week linking Cardiff airport with RAF Valley is to be subsidised by the Welsh Assembly Government to the tune of £800,000 per annum, which equates to a subsidy of more than £170 per passenger, per return flight, if those flights are fully occupied. Does he consider that such a level of subsidy is good value for taxpayers’ money? When does he anticipate that the service will be able to stand on its own feet financially?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) says from a sedentary position, the project is an investment in improved north-south transport links, which I would have thought the hon. Gentleman, as a north Wales MP, would welcome. I would have thought that he would say that businesses and individuals in north Wales who need to travel to and from Cardiff, which can take as long as five hours by car and a similar amount of time by train, should have the advantage of that service, which will bring extra investment to north Wales and Anglesey. He should be backing it, not attacking it.