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Defence Spending (Wales)

Volume 520: debated on Wednesday 8 December 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Stephen Crabb.)

I am grateful for the opportunity to secure this important debate, and to the Minister for attending. Wales has a long and proud heritage with the armed forces, and is home to the British Army’s most famous regiments, great ports, and RAF bases. Many towns are affiliated with Royal Navy warships and submarines. It is a world leader in the aerospace and defence industries, and from a strong cluster around Airbus UK in the north to GE Aviation, General Dynamics, NORDAM and British Airways in the south, manufacturers and suppliers employ thousands of highly skilled people in high-tech, highly paid jobs throughout the country. Wales is also an important recruiting area, and many young men and women in Swansea, and particularly in my constituency, join up.

That legacy dates back more than 300 years, and is strongly intertwined with our industrial past and communities throughout Wales. Indeed, the cenotaph at the heart of St Athan village is dedicated to the memory of

“the youth of all nations who fell that war might end, by the boys of the South Wales coalfield.”

That is an enduring tribute to the link between our nation’s proud coalfield communities, and the young soldiers who fought so selflessly to protect them. What gives that message even wider symbolism is the heartless graffiti and vandalism that has recently desecrated the memorial. Without wishing to make too blunt a point, it is difficult to ignore the parallels with the cruel disregard for St Athan shown by the coalition Government. They made an abrupt decision to scrap the plans for the St Athan defence academy, and I shall focus on that today.

The Government’s decision is a huge blow not just to the Vale of Glamorgan, but to the whole of Wales. The project would have led to the creation of thousands of training, support and construction jobs, and would have provided significant opportunities for local suppliers and the local community. The coalition Government’s decision to cancel the Metrix consortium project will mean losing up to 2,500 training and support jobs and up to 1,500 construction jobs, as well as the loss of a £700 million to £800 million defence technical college construction contract and the £60 million annual supply chain expenditure, and a £500 million annual boost to the Welsh economy from operational activities, and a large boost to local tourism.

Wales makes up 5% of the UK population, but contributes 8% of the armed forces. The Government pride themselves on fairness, so surely Wales should receive an equal proportion of military spending. South-east England receives £7.1 billion and Scotland receives £1.5 billion, but Wales receives just £390 million.

Blaenau Gwent contributes many servicemen and women to our armed forces, and we have had some great armed forces days in recent years. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: according to statistics that I have seen, Wales receives just £380 million in defence expenditure. Surely that is not enough.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Wales received the second lowest military investment of any region in the UK. Surely that cannot be right. The decision in the summer to award Gwent-based General Dynamics a £500 million contract to help to equip the Army with a fleet of new Scout combat vehicles was very welcome, and that should have been followed with an annual £500 million boost from St Athan. Together, they would significantly have redressed that unfairness. Instead, the coalition dithered, and that has cost us dear.

On the defence technical college, does my hon. Friend agree that it is bizarre that, at a time when south Wales is likely to lose many thousands of jobs in the public sector, that private sector development will not go ahead?

In addition to the issue of the unfairness, does it not seem that the coalition Government are determined to cut off their nose to spite their face, because they will lose the savings and efficiencies that the new academy would have created?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. Unfortunately, the Government cutting off their nose to spite their face does not help people in south and wider Wales.

I am listening with surprise to the hon. Lady, because she seems to be saying that we should make defence decisions based on employment in south Wales, rather than on the needs of the armed forces and the nation. Is that right?

I cannot agree with the Minister. I am saying—I thought I had done so clearly—that there is a disparity, which would have been reduced if the Government had decided to go forward with the defence technical college. It is not rocket science; a decision to build the college would have provided more equality and fairness. It would not have endangered front-line services, but would certainly have helped our forces, who serve so valiantly in Afghanistan.

On that important point, if the Government were concerned about the well-being of the armed forces, they would have ensured that the technical college went ahead. That point illustrates that the Government are not concerned about the long-term defence of this country.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. What have we heard from the coalition? The Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary maintain that there is still a bright future for the area, and that a decision will be made in the spring. The Welsh Secretary insists that she is continuing to press the case for St Athan, but we have all witnessed the power that she wields in the Cabinet. There have been so many words, but so little action—there was the decision to close the Newport passport office, deferral of the electrification of the south Wales main line, and the fact that Wales was not included among the new superfast broadband pilot areas.

Order. Before the hon. Lady answers, I remind hon. Members that we are debating defence spending in Wales. It is not in order to discuss other projects that may or may not have been cut.

I thank my hon. Friend—and I include the north Wales prison on my list.

We are already witnessing the impact of the Government’s dithering, delay and abandonment. Last week, business confidence in Wales dropped severely from 22.4 points last quarter to 6.3 points. Scrapping the St Athan project was mentioned explicitly as a “significant dampener on confidence”. That is hugely worrying, and demonstrates the huge risk in the coalition’s assumption that the private sector will provide jobs for those in the public sector who become unemployed. For Wales, the stakes are even higher. Public investment plays a greater role in our economy than in England, and our business sector is much more fragile. As our Labour First Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones, has said, the spending review is clearly regressive. The human and social impact could be both devastating and wasteful, and the real cost could be with us for generations. It further demonstrates how the Government are pursuing cuts with a scale, scope and speed that risk Welsh jobs, Welsh growth and Welsh recovery, and puts the squeeze on the most vulnerable in our society.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a strategic investment of the magnitude that we are talking about would have a major multiplier effect on inward investment in Wales? I am talking about not just visitors and tourism, but the clusters of aero-industry, and encouraging early rail electrification, which has been delayed. Such measures work together in harmony for Wales, and without them the opposite applies.

Success breeds success, and if the scheme had gone ahead, we could be looking forward to a much brighter and more successful future. Wales still has a lot to offer British troops serving in the UK and overseas. Increasing the defence footprint in Wales will strengthen the Union and local communities. The benefits are wide and invaluable, but the matter is not being addressed by the coalition.

When asked about the equitable distribution of defence spending across the UK, the Defence Secretary stated:

“When I meet troops in Afghanistan, they do not ask one another whether they came from Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh or London. They are forces under the Crown and proud of it.”—[Official Report, 5 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 18.]

And rightly so.

That is good stuff, but will the hon. Lady explain why over the past 13 years, two military establishments in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire have been gradually eroded, so that they are now approximately one third of the size that they were in 1997?

As we understand, things have been—and are—very difficult. There was an alternative, and under a Labour Government there would have been an opportunity for the defence technical college. As Welsh MPs, we lobbied long and hard for the defence technical college, because we knew that it would bring opportunities and investment.

One of the big success stories of the defence budget in Wales, and the UK, is RAF Valley in my constituency. It is a centre of excellence for fast jet training, and has had hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment. That is now under threat.

I agree, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on that; it is important that places such as RAF Valley continue to thrive and prosper. They add to the defence footprint in Wales and need to be enhanced.

Does my hon. Friend share my regret that over the past few months we seem to have lost cross-party consensus on protecting the interests of Wales, particularly in terms of defence? I pay tribute to the work of those hon. Members who, under the previous Government, fought to persuade military chiefs and the MOD that south Wales was worth investing in. That support has been lost, and it bodes badly for the future that there will be only one or two parties in Wales to speak up for the interests of Wales.

My hon. Friend is correct. I was part of that lobbying group, and we worked hard to demonstrate how we could provide a service that would have been world-beating, and that would help ensure the safety and future of our brave young men and women.

When I talk about those brave young men and women, I am thinking about people in my community. When we talk to families about how well their sons and daughters are doing, they tell me about the problems and challenges that they face as individuals and as part of the wider community. They are troubled about their future, and given that more than 60,000 people face losing their jobs, the decision on St Athan means that many people have little hope for the future. Those families deserve to be rewarded for the great contribution they have made.

The defence training academy is not only an economically sound investment, a socially beneficial plan and a strategically intelligent initiative, but fair. It is fair that a highly skilled work force should get the investment they deserve, and it is fair for our armed forces to be equipped with the best training and facilities possible.

Are those brave young men and women the same brave young men and women who had to buy their own kit to fight in Afghanistan over the past few years?

We have heard such tales. I have been approached by families and relations, and I went to the bother of checking out every story. I found that such statements were just not true. There were opportunities for the families to do other things, but the troops had equipment of the highest standard. I can pass on letters that I wrote to Ministers and those I received in reply. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

Well, the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) is entitled to his opinion, just as I am entitled to mine. It is fair that a community with a proud military history should continue its lasting legacy, and it is fair for Wales to get military investment to match its contribution to our armed forces. The Secretary of State for Wales repeatedly states:

“We have secured a fair settlement for Wales.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2010; Vol. 514, c. 904.]

and the Defence Secretary insists that the best decisions will be made for the defence of the UK. Neither has yet delivered on those promises, although that could change today.

Is my hon. Friend surprised that although Conservative Members complain about individual areas of underspending under the previous Government, they support massive cuts to the defence budget, particularly in St Athan? That is absolute hypocrisy.

I am not surprised; I think that is to be expected. The people of Wales know what is to be expected, as do people in other parts of Great Britain.

My hon. Friend says that the people of Wales know what to expect. Yesterday, I looked at the part of the Ministry of Defence website about defence in Wales. It said that the £14 billion investment in St Athan was still to go ahead. Would it be helpful if the people of Wales were able to look at that website and see accurate information? Perhaps when the Minister responds, he will announce that the website is in fact accurate.

I urge people to look at that website. We must have the most up-to-date information, and I hope that the Minister will give us good news today.

In my closing remarks, I will quote the memorial in St Athan. It says that the boys of the coalfield will

“dedicate themselves to complete the task so nobly begun.”

I hope that the Minister will return to his Department and dedicate himself to completing this task for St Athan, the people of Wales and our brave soldiers.

Order. A large number of people are trying to catch my eye. I intend to call the Front-Bench speakers at 10.40 am, and I appeal to all those who wish to contribute to do so as briefly as they reasonably can.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, Mr Gray, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. As a member of the Defence Committee, although not a Welsh MP, I take a keen interest in these matters. As the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) will acknowledge, the Committee’s report pulled no punches when it came to reviewing the Government’s attitude to the strategic defence and security review, and in reporting its conclusions.

I agree with the concept of a defence training college. One of the critical challenges facing the armed forces is the need to avoid duplication and streamline training processes. When the Defence College of Electro-Mechanical Engineering—DCEME—was formed in April 2004, it brought together a number of separate service training organisations, all of which delivered different forms of engineering. The aim was to exploit synergies, improve training delivery and increase efficiency and effectiveness.

The notion of a defence training college is sound. There is a lot of training duplication across the three services, and anecdotally, there are many common factors to basic engineering training programmes, although that is not always acknowledged by the different services. It is clear that St Athan should play a key role in delivering a harmonised service.

In theory, a further rationalisation to one site could reduce costs and save money. That should bring areas of expertise and excellence together and lead to greater co-operation between the services. However, it is not clear whether the work has been done by the three services to align their training requirements. There are always good reasons to compromise, and different services have different needs. Such matters need to be ironed out, and we must be clear what we are aiming for in this investment.

I appreciate the fact that the hon. Gentleman is taking part in the debate. It is important to have members of the Defence Committee in the Chamber, because this discussion is not only about Wales but about what is best for the armed forces. I appreciate his train of logic, which steers us towards the rationale of having tri-service training on one site—we hope that it will be in Wales, but please let it be somewhere—for the good of the armed forces. However, the hon. Gentleman is approaching a compromise.

I do not want to digress from the subject of the debate, but when the decision was taken on Sheffield Forgemasters, there was an undertaking that discussions would continue. However, nothing has happened. We hear that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) is delighted that discussions are continuing on this matter, but yet we have heard nothing. Will the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), or perhaps the Minister, illuminate us on what exactly the future holds for the tri-services and St Athan?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am confident that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that point; obviously, I am not in a position to verify it. However, I will point out that the defence academy at Shrivenham is a good example of successfully bringing together different service needs in delivering training. That defence academy has proved a resounding success. The majority of training there is postgraduate, with accredited civilian qualifications the result for many people.

The question was asked: where is the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns)? Given that this issue is so strategically important for his constituency and that he is the new MP for the constituency, and if he is saying things about discussions, why is he not here? Where is he?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I understand from colleagues that my hon. Friend is working in the Vale of Glamorgan today. Obviously, I cannot account for the movements of other hon. Members.

The concept of St Athan was good, but it was decided that the project was undeliverable by the Metrix consortium. It is clear that a huge number of courses across the services need harmonising.

I am a little puzzled about the decision. What the hon. Gentleman refers to was clearly decided—he is right about that—but it does not seem to have been decided on the facts, which demonstrated savings for the armed services as well as efficiencies from the proposals, which were assessed very carefully before the decision to go ahead was made. So why was the decision made to change that? It had all-party support. There was careful examination of the benefits to the services. Where did the decision come from?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. No doubt the Minister will want to deal with the point about the logic of the Government when they made the decision.

What is confusing to me, as someone who has taken an interest in defence matters, is the extent of the investment at St Athan. Let us say that three services are coming together and, for example, work is being done on ship engines. How reasonable and cost-effective will it be to get engines from Portsmouth to St Athan? Is that the right option? To what extent will all that work be cost-effective? Presumably it would be helpful to have a driving range for tanks if people wanted to test the tanks on whose engineering they had been working.

How does the Minister reconcile the fact that, as the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) said, Wales receives the second lowest “investment” from the MOD with the arguably bigger imperative to achieve value for money for the MOD as a whole and for UK defence as a whole? Looking to the future, I am clear that defence training needs to be harmonised. That issue needs to be considered on two levels. Where would be the best place to site such a college from a UK defence perspective? In addition, such a decision should not be wholly based on relative under-investment in one region of the country or another.

No, I shall make a little more progress and come back to the hon. Gentleman in a minute.

If the best place is St Athan, there is a need to bring certainty to the decision and clarity on the time scale and scope of the project. However, I do not believe that money should be spent in Wales just because it needs the investment. That is just one part of the decision. It is critical to ensure that any consolidated training college addresses the broadest possible needs.

I am extremely pleased to see my colleague from the Select Committee on Defence here today and I pay tribute to the work that he does as a Member for whom I have a great deal of respect. However, what he is suggesting today is that the Ministry of Defence has failed over the past three years rigorously to examine the proposal for St Athan. He is suggesting that civil servants and Ministers have neglected to consider all the issues that he has raised. That is just not true.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I have a great deal of respect for her and her knowledge of this subject, but it was her party that was in government for several years and had an opportunity to bring this matter to a conclusion before the election. I wonder why it did not do so.

For me, the challenge remains the need to rationalise defence training and spending across the three services to the broadest possible extent. Let us consider leadership and management training. There are a huge number of locations throughout the UK. There are separate leadership schools and centres of excellence. There are vast numbers of adventure training establishments and music schools. I am frustrated that there is not enough clarity about taking the process that I have described to the furthest extent and perhaps giving greater scope for initiatives such as those that I am discussing.

I worry that what we have here is a softening up. The hon. Gentleman serves on the Defence Committee. Surely he has the ear of the Minister and speaks to him in the corridors, as we try to do as well. Our suspicion is that discussions will continue about St Athan till the cows come home on the pastures of St Athan and that we are being softened up for the tri-service academy not going ahead in any shape or form that we recognise. It will be dispersed somewhere else in the UK or to various other sites in the UK. That is what the hon. Gentleman is hinting at.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Obviously, not being the Minister, I do not have the ability to make those decisions. I am just flagging up the wider defence interests that are at play. A serious examination is needed of what is right for UK defence interests as a whole and the efficient delivery of tri-service support. I am making the case for that to be as broad as possible and for the right decision to be made for the UK.

Diolch, Mr Gray; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) on achieving this very important debate about defence spending in Wales. The reality is that the trajectory of Government policy in recent years has seen a reduction in defence spending in Wales, and it is very important that we have a discussion about that. Hon. Members are here largely to express their concerns about the ending of the Metrix proposal for the defence training college at St Athan, about which the hon. Member for Swansea East spoke eloquently. It was cancelled in October by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government in Westminster.

As with other areas of defence, such as the £10.5 billion contract with AirTanker Ltd, the Public Accounts Committee has pointed to the flaws in defence procurement and the difficulties in keeping a lid on projects paid for under private finance initiatives. Indeed, the estimated budget for St Athan, even before work really commenced, had increased substantially, from an original estimate of £12 billion to £14 billion, and that at a time when the recession hit and the necessary capital from land sales was not becoming available as expected.

We shall see in the spring whether St Athan will be successful again, depending on the new criterion being announced for defence training by the UK Government, which will of course have changed in the light of the strategic defence and security review and the downsizing of the number of UK troops who will require those training facilities. However, we can be sure of one thing: the scheme will not go ahead as previously envisaged.

While I am on the subject of St Athan, I need hardly remind everybody that the number of staff working at the site is falling, with 339 job losses having been announced this time last year. Further to that, a response to a parliamentary question a fortnight ago from the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), whom I notice is not here today, concluded that no further work would be done using the super-hangar to maintain and repair RAF aircraft at the base after 2010. Make of that what you will.

However, the topic of today’s debate is defence spending in Wales, and it is good that we can have a debate about that, because those figures have been made available to us. Thanks to the “UK Defence Statistics” annual publication for 2010, published on the Defence Analytical Services Agency website, we can see that the number of jobs as a result of defence spending in Wales under the last Government fell from 8,990 in 1997 to 4,900 today—a drop of 42%. In terms of service personnel, that is a drop of 13% from 3,300 in 1997 to 2,930 this year. In England, the figure has risen by 3%. For civilian personnel, it is a far more substantial drop of 62%, from 5,100 in 1997 to 1,970 today. In England, the figure has fallen by only 30%, which is less than half the fall that happened in Wales. The south-east of England has the largest number of service personnel, with almost 45,000, or, in other terms, 15 times the number of service personnel based in Wales. In percentage terms, those figures might be more striking. Although Wales has 5% of the UK population, only 1.7% of service personnel are stationed there and only 2.8% of civilian Ministry of Defence jobs are in Wales. Meanwhile, of course, almost 20,000 service personnel remain in Germany—seven times as many as in Wales—and there are almost as many service personnel stationed in Cyprus as in our country.

Unfortunately, this year’s figures do not include those for the estimated UK regional direct employment that is dependent on MOD expenditure, which were included in previous editions, such as, “UK Defence Statistics 2009”. In the past, those figures were provided through the MOD by DASA according to country, so that we could see what was taking place—a concentration of defence spending in England, away from Wales, Scotland and the other Celtic nations. The figures in last year’s statistics show that 92% of MOD employment is in England, which has 84% of the UK population, and that 1% of the employment is in Wales. There has been growing centralisation, with that figure rising from 89% of employment in England in 2003-04.

The figures are true for both equipment expenditure and non-equipment expenditure. However, our ability to be aware of those figures and scrutinise them is under threat. Instead of the Government’s being accountable for changes in policy, manpower and spending in different parts of the UK, they will simply no longer publish the statistics relating to them, and, indeed, they have already stopped doing so. That was the subject of a Westminster Hall debate in July secured by my friend, the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), after the Minister for the Armed Forces initially said on the Floor of the House that such country and region statistics would continue, only for a later note to confirm that he had misspoken and the series of statistics would, in fact, be discontinued. This is a matter of freedom of information, as much as anything else. In the United States, such statistics are available to state level, and in Canada, a Commonwealth country with a similar military and parliamentary system to our own, the Department of National Defence produces similar statistics, down to provincial and even constituency level. The simple fact is that we must have open books.

The coalition agreement says

“technological innovation has—with astonishing speed—developed the opportunity to spread information and decentralise power in a way we have never seen before. So we will extend transparency to every area of public life.

The Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account.”

There are two specific commitments in the deal, first:

“We will require full, online disclosure of all central government spending and contracts over £25,000.”

and, secondly,

“We will create a new ‘right to data’ so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis.”

It seems almost self-evident that that transparency and openness necessitates continuing the series of national and regional data in the defence industry, so that we can easily see and scrutinise the amount of spending in the defence sector, inside and outside the UK. If we cannot see the effect on our countries of UK defence spending, how can we, as Members of Parliament, be effective judges of it? I hope the Minister will confirm that the UK Government intend to maintain the series of statistics in accordance with the spirit of their coalition deal. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

It is depressing for the second time in a fortnight to listen to one or two Opposition hon. Members talking down the Welsh economy in this context. I listened with interest in the Welsh Grand Committee the other day, and nothing much has changed. Let us look at the context, and the Opposition may take some credit for this: 180 companies currently dependent on the MOD in Wales, 25,000 jobs, £220 million of expenditure and £250 million put into the local economy.

I am a beneficiary of that expenditure in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire; we have a great but small MOD establishment at Castlemartin camp. I am hoping for some good news, as the closure of certain tank training ranges in Germany might bring some positive benefits to the area. We have a small MOD establishment at Penally, upon which the local community heavily depends. We have an independent weapons training centre at Pendine, which is crucial to MOD development, not only in Wales but across the UK, and we have at least one very decent Territorial Army unit based in Carmarthen.

I should declare a slight interest in that I served in the Territorial Army for a number of years, and very good years they were too. I acknowledge the comments made by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) about the colleagues I used to deal with back in those days. What a different place it was then—the most dangerous place I ever went to in the TA was Warminster. Now the regiment with which I served goes to a lot more dangerous places than that. Not only do the local soldiers contribute to the Territorial Army in west Wales, but so, too, do their employers, which let them off work without concern for what effect it might have on their businesses, day after day, week after week, and weekend after weekend. In the interests of the nation, they gladly let these guys go off to train. Those are all positive things, which the MOD and wider armed service community bring to our local area.

I am bemused. Surely the hon. Gentleman should be calling for greater investment on behalf of his constituents to bring jobs and prosperity to his constituency rather than supporting cuts. I cannot understand this.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He troubles me, because, surely, defence of the realm is the most important thing on which to base our decisions in this context. Delightful though it is, this is not a job creation scheme. This is about defending the nation in the context of an extremely complicated and rather depressing financial background and the £38-billion black hole in defence procurement spending, with which we were left.

Is it important today to back the deficit and cuts generally, ignoring the difference between investing in our strategic interests for the future to defend our country and spending? Clearly, this is all about cuts and not the interests of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

I could not disagree more: the point I made about Castlemartin is valid in this context. Of course I have been in touch with the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister about the future of that depot and others.

No. It is simply not possible to have this conversation as if the UK economy did not exist. We have to operate within the context of the wider economic circumstances in which, for whatever reason, we have been placed. That is where we are. Of course the decisions have to be taken with local interests in mind, but, ultimately, as the Minister said earlier, surely this has to be about defence needs in that wider context.

The choices are almost too tempting. Who was first? I believe the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was the patient one.

I had almost given up on the hon. Gentleman, but now I am on my feet I am grateful to him for giving way. He referred to the completely fallacious figure of £36 billion—or he may have inflated it to £38 billion. The National Audit Office made it clear that if there was a gap at all, it was of £6 billion. He should not perpetuate these myths.

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased that I am able to quote. The black hole of £38 billion in unfunded procurement commitments to which I referred is from an MOD brief, post-SDSR defence SB, from 19 October 2010. If that is good enough for the MOD, it is good enough for me. I am sorry that it is not good enough for him.

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. The figure is not fallacious; the MOD budget was projected to be overspent by £38 billion over the next 10 years.

It is not drivel. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) knows that the previous Labour Government were planning cuts across the board, throughout Government spending, of 20%. Hearing people defending such matters does not go down well.

I thank the Minister for his intervention.

Let me turn briefly to St Athan. It is not my normal habit to come to the defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), but he is actually in the Vale of Glamorgan today, where he is working hard on behalf of his constituents.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), I am not, sadly, in possession of the diary of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan. [Interruption.] I wish I had not bothered to do this. However, nobody can doubt my hon. Friend’s commitment to the future of St Athan. [Interruption.] I would love to continue, but if anybody wishes to intervene, they can do so.

I am sorry that it took such a long time to give way to the hon. Gentleman—it is nothing personal.

What could be more important to a Member than defending a £20 billion investment in their own constituency?

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman answers, let me say that it is a long tradition of the House that we do not discuss Members who are not present in the Chamber unless we have given them notice that we intend to do so. This particular discussion is not necessarily central to our debate on defence spending in Wales, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman returns to the main topic under discussion.

Absolutely, Mr Gray. I apologise for coming—unnecessarily, as it turns out—to the defence of my colleague.

No, I want to make a wee bit of progress. Fun though these exchanges are, they will come to an end in the very near future.

The facts are these. As I said earlier, one of the depressing features of the Welsh Grand Committee—I will be reprimanded again in a minute—is the extraordinary denial about the past 13 years; it is as if they never existed. The truth is that Metrix simply could not deliver what we hoped on time or on price. If there is a difference between the previous and the current Governments, it is that the current Government are not prepared to go down the road of signing off, willy-nilly, contracts that we can justify neither financially nor in the context of defence.

I genuinely thank the hon. Gentleman for his clarity and honesty, because we are seeing a complete volte-face from the Conservative party’s position before the election, when there was cross-party sign-up and support for the Metrix bid and the MOD’s analysis of it. The hon. Gentleman has now made it clear that the bid did not stack up—not in terms of the MOD’s priorities, but in terms of spending, and that is a tragedy. We now know that if we argued for the Metrix bid for St Athan, we would not have the Conservative party’s support.

It is only a matter of time. Despite that, I do not agree with a word that the hon. Gentleman said. The Government faced some extremely difficult choices—hon. Members have heard that expression before—in the context of not only defence spending, but every other form of inward investment in Wales. The evidence speaks for itself, and the Minister will no doubt put us right. We should also not allow ourselves to be tempted into believing that this is somehow the end of the road for St Athan, because it has been made perfectly clear that it is not. However, we will hear more about that, and I do not want to steal the Minister’s thunder.

I said that this would be a brief contribution, although it has been slightly longer than I had intended. However, as an ex-serviceman on the very fringes of the military, I think it is simply nonsense to believe that decisions can be taken on the basis purely of local need or local economic considerations, rather than the nation’s overall defence needs in the overall context of the UK economy.

No. I am coming to an end.

We are holding the telescope to the wrong eye if we think the nation can proceed in that way economically or in a defence context. I am delighted that we are facing up to that issue, because Labour Members have not done so before. That depresses me, and every intervention by a Labour Member has simply confirmed my fear that they are prepared to take decisions with no possible concern for the economic, local or defence consequences.

No. I will finish now. I am sure that the hon. Lady will then have the floor.

To end on a lighter note, there is one decision on which I commend the previous Government: they ensured that the Welsh Guards regimental goat, William Windsor, survived their various assaults on the armed services in Wales. However, it is all very well the hon. Member for Swansea East referring to the many letters that she may have received from satisfied servicemen’s families. I do not know what world she inhabits, but I can assure her that, in the world that I have been inhabiting, I have had personal contact year after year, month after month, and day after day with people who are in the service of our country abroad who have been begging for some small improvement in their lot. They are deeply frustrated by the inactivity or incompetence—I do not know which—that, I am afraid, epitomised 13 years of Labour rule for those who happened to be armed servicemen.

Order. A further seven or eight hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. According to my elementary arithmetic, that means that they will have three or four minutes apiece. It would be courteous if hon. Members could keep the length of their contributions down to something of that order.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I want to distance myself slightly from something that the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) said. This is a serious debate, and Labour Members do not see it as fun. Wales is strategically important for defence training and the security of the whole United Kingdom, and Labour Members are proud of the investment that has gone into enhancing that capability over the past 10 years. The best pilots in the world are trained in Anglesey, and they are there because of the strategic importance of its RAF base. Those facts do not bear out any of the hon. Gentleman’s points.

I pay tribute to the Welsh personnel who serve in the armed forces and who serve overseas. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, I think it is important also to mention those behind the scenes who are involved in setting up operations. Similarly, it is important to mention the Territorial Army, and that is one thing on which I agree with the previous speaker; Wales makes one of the greatest contributions of volunteers, and I pay tribute to them. I am sure that the Minister will join me in that.

Defence spending in Wales is vital to defence training in the whole United Kingdom and to the important role that that plays in NATO. The United Kingdom is part of NATO, and plays an important defence role in that context. However, we need commitment and sustainability for the future, and that is what the debate is about.

I am concerned that the strategic defence and security review was conducted in a hurry. It was done just before a comprehensive spending review and was, frankly, caught up in it. I would rather that decisions had been made in the cold light of day, based on strategic defence requirements, than in the heat of a comprehensive spending review. The strategic defence and security review must be bolder and look at broader issues. It must look at least a quarter of a century ahead. I welcome the Government’s five-year review, which is important, because things change. The threats to the United Kingdom change considerably, and we do not know where they will come from in the next three to four years, let alone the next 25 years. I therefore agree with the idea of a five-year review.

It is important that the Minister tells us what impact the departure, in my constituency, of 5,000 air personnel from the RAF would have on defence spending and defence personnel in Wales.

If the hon. Gentleman is so supportive of a regular review of defence spending now, will he tell us why there was not one between 1997 and 2010?

Actually, I have lobbied on these issues. If the hon. Gentleman knows me, he will know that there is no difference between my criticisms of the Labour Government and of the current Government when I think that they are wrong. I think the current Government are wrong to have carried out the review so quickly. There is a window of opportunity to review things in five years, but that might be too late—that is the risk. We should have taken about 18 months to have a proper defence review. Whichever party was in office, the comprehensive spending review would have had to be done, and there would have had to be cuts, but we could have seen things in the cold light of day and had those strategic defence reviews in the future. That is my point.

I am conscious of the time, and had wanted to speak a bit longer than I will now be able to, because the subject is very important to Wales and my constituency. As the Minister knows, RAF Valley is in my constituency and is a centre of excellence for fast jet training with Hawks. There has been huge investment there in the past 10 years. Only last week a new building was opened, which will house the new Mk 2 jets. They are fantastic equipment and I am proud that they are British and will be part of our defence training.

The search and rescue headquarters is also based at RAF Valley. I was not 100% keen on the decision of the previous Government about part-privatisation, but I did understand the need to harmonise Navy and RAF helicopters, and, indeed, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency search and rescue, and bring them together. That decision—with billions of pounds of private investment coming into it—has been put on hold, and that will have a considerable impact on defence expenditure in Wales and my constituency. I am concerned about it and would like the Minister to clear up the matter of whether we shall continue with a part-privatisation, or whether there will be full privatisation. The uncertainty is affecting the morale of people employed in my constituency, who include a very famous member of the royal family, Flight Lieutenant Wales; that has got some attention.

The base is strategically important for search and rescue. If the part-privatisation had gone ahead, RAF Valley would have been the first base for such training in the whole United Kingdom. That would have been massively important to the local economy of north-west Wales, and the rest of Wales. I want some answers from the Minister about that, if possible. It is hugely important, and the base is there not because of job opportunities but because of Anglesey’s strategic importance to the United Kingdom. The base has an excellent record.

As to the strategic defence review itself, the impact that the loss of 5,000 personnel from the RAF alone will have on Wales is important. I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers, but I was very concerned—I want the Minister to deal with this if he has the opportunity—to read an article in The Sunday Times of 28 November with the headline “Cuts leave RAF with fewer jets than Sweden”. I do not know much about Swedish defence, but I know that Britain trains and provides the best fighter jet pilots in the world, and I want that to remain the case. The article continues to say that many of the smaller NATO countries—and on the graph we are one of the smallest NATO countries with military fighter attack—would use a NATO base in Texas. I am happy to acknowledge the contribution of the Americans, but I do not think that their pilots are as good as ours. We need European and British involvement in NATO, and I cannot see why we cannot enhance our bases here, and get more Americans and Canadians. Canadians, Indians and Saudis come to RAF Valley now to train.

Billions of pounds have been invested in strategic defence. Hundreds of millions have been invested in the past 10 years in RAF Valley. I want that to continue. There are 1,500 personnel there, both civilian and military. It is top quality. It is a centre of excellence, not just in this country, but in the world. The search and rescue headquarters has people coming from all over the world, including Hong Kong, to see what we do, because we do it best. I am concerned that the strategic defence and security review, coupled with the comprehensive spending review, could undermine that and have a huge impact on strategic defence, and on local economies in Wales.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this feisty and entertaining debate. I thank all hon. Members who have taken part and congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) on securing it.

As hon. Members can probably tell, I am not a Welsh speaker or, for that matter, a Welsh Member of Parliament. I represent Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, one of the finest naval bases in the country. I am struck by the fact that no one seems to have mentioned at any length during the debate the financial position that the coalition Government found they were in when they came to power. [Hon. Members: “ Oh!”] I know that it is something we would all like to try to ignore, but unfortunately it is an issue that must be tackled. Whether hon. Members believe it or not, when the Government came to power they found that they had a £38 billion shortfall in the Ministry of Defence budget. At some stage that had to be dealt with. I realise that there are some who may feel that we do not need to tackle that issue at this stage of the game, but the civil servants who gave the coalition Government advice are the same ones who were in post prior to the general election, and they gave that advice to the Labour Government.

I think that we need to kill this myth. We are talking about strategic defence for the next 25 years, not an economic cycle. Is the hon. Gentleman honestly saying that the Government are setting their priority for the defence of the nation within that five-year cycle?

I wrote, during the run up to the strategic defence and security review, my own submission, in which I said that we certainly needed to re-order our priorities, and that defence was No. 1 of the two issues that I thought were important, along with long-term care for the elderly, which I still think is a very important issue for us to deal with. However, we are where we are. None of us came into the House to vote to cut defence expenditure. I for one will continue to campaign to ensure that my constituency stays firmly up in its position alongside other such places.

Before I go any further I pay tribute to the Welsh servicemen who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those who have served in the Falklands, along with many Royal Marines from my constituency; no one should underplay the contribution they made.

Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has, in the past 10 years, had similar concerns about what would happen to it to those outlined by hon. Members. Frigates were potentially to be moved to Portsmouth—

Order. Similarity is not enough. The debate must be about defence spending in Wales, and not about Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, close as it is to the hon. Gentleman’s heart.

With respect, the hon. Gentleman is the second Government ringer who has been brought into the debate this morning. We need to talk about the defence of this country in Wales, and not to hear about his constituency.

Fine. What I will say is that Wales has a significant part to play in the defence of our country, as have other parts of the United Kingdom, including my area. I should be interested to hear from the Minister not only what action he will take on issues to do with various bases in Wales, but what activity there will be in Wales to ensure that there are combat stress facilities, and similar things. We should not be talking just about investment in defence procurement and infrastructure. We need also to ensure that our servicemen and women, who have done such a good job for our country, have the opportunity to be well looked after, when they have done their time with the services. I ask the Minister to consider that and set out what is being done.

Debate on the subject will continue for some time, and I welcome the decision to have regular reviews. I will be fighting from my perspective, and I have no doubt that Opposition Members will do so from theirs. It is up to us to see who shouts loudest and puts forward the best case for the Government to listen to.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) on securing the debate. Even in a debate about defence spending, we cannot talk about defence without paying tribute to our brave men and women fighting overseas. I stood, like many other hon. Members, at cenotaphs in St Fagans, Pontllanfraith and Cefn Fforest in my constituency, and Maes-y-cymer, where we paid tribute to our war dead. We should always keep them in mind when we talk about defence.

I want to focus on the effect of defence spending on the wider economy. The defence footprint in Wales is massive and hugely underestimated. I often liken it to the car industry. There is no Welsh car but our supply chain, which manufactures components for cars, has a massive effect on the car industry. About 2,300 people work in defence in Wales; £250 million is spent by the Ministry of Defence with firms in Wales. My hon. Friends the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) and the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) discussed St Athan, the training college, and made an important point about RAF Valley. A delay in one thing has a knock-on effect on the economy. With the promise of an MOD contract, firms ask to borrow money from banks. The bank manager will ask when the contract is arriving. They wait and wait, but still nothing. What happens is that the firm goes to the wall, the contract is eventually awarded by the Government, but there is no firm to produce the components needed.

That strikes at the heart of the problem with this Government at the moment: a real lack of understanding of economics. The idea that the public sector and the private sector should be separate is absolutely wrong, and if anywhere that can be shown to be the case, it is in the defence industry. Ian Godden, the chairman of ADS, the British aerospace and defence industry body, has warned that the British defence industry will halve in size from 10% to 5% of the UK’s manufacturing output. The main customer for the defence industry is the Government, who have the power to shrink or grow the sector. Unfortunately, they have made the decision to shrink it. It is not about cutting an aircraft carrier or a tanker; it is about cutting investment for the future. That is the problem with defence cuts.

The hon. Gentleman appears to be making the case for defence spending to be used as an economic development tool, which contradicts the comments made about the need for a strategic defence view of the world. In the context of arguing for defence spending as an economic development tool, can he justify why for the past five years—between 2003-04 and 2007-08—defence spending in Wales was less than 1% of the total under the Labour Government?

I will come to that point when I discuss General Dynamics in my constituency.

This is about the knock-on effect on the economy. If a major defence contractor comes to a constituency—as we have been lucky enough to experience in Islwyn with General Dynamics UK—the knock-on effect is amazing. GDUK came to Islwyn, because Government encouraged it to invest in the community, and we are glad that it is there. If we look at the knock-on effect, a ground-breaking innovation centre—the EDGE facility at Newbridge—has been set up to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to transform innovative ideas into products fit for market. The centre acts as a springboard for new IP—intellectual property—providing a collaborative environment where the MOD, Britain’s leading universities and high-tech SMEs are able to conduct rapid testing of new advances in technology.

That is the reality of defence. GDUK is a Welsh success story. The battlefield communication, Bowman, was developed in my constituency. The company has sent technology all over the world and has invested in upskilling its workers. The company takes the view that that would have been impossible without the support from Government for its successes. The fact is that once the technology is cut, it never returns. That is what we need to see when we are talking about defence. I have kept my comments short in order to allow other speakers an opportunity to make a speech..

It is highly appropriate that you are chairing this Committee, Mr Gray, given your knowledge and experience in the field of defence.

As a newly appointed member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I have recently discussed with members across Europe their view that the British defence and security review was rushed. That is not just an impression in the UK, but across NATO, where there is concern at the result of the cuts for European defence.

We are here to look specifically at the impact on defence in Wales. I recall a statement of my mother’s that she threw at me many a time: “Decide in haste, repent at leisure.” That is the situation with the strategic defence and security review—a decision that is going to impact dramatically on our sovereign capability, our skills capability and our financial—

The Labour Government were in power for 13 years yet, after the initial period, they failed to produce a review. Why did they not have a review much sooner, as the coalition Government have had?

The Labour Government held a number of reviews, but not full defence and security reviews. There was a constant review of our capability, which had to take place because of our involvement in Afghanistan. I do not think anyone can say that the Labour Government failed to review and assess constantly the needs of our armed forces.

I want to focus on the issues of sovereign capabilities and skills capabilities in the defence industry in Wales. I am particularly concerned that we are not looking at the impact of cuts on our long-term capacity to protect our troops with the equipment and the platforms that they need. Prime contractors are represented in Wales, as colleagues have mentioned. Defence manufacturers based in Wales include EADS in Newport, General Dynamics in Islwyn and Thales Optics in St Asaph. For every job created by the industry, 1.6 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy. It has been calculated that a £100 million investment in the industry creates 1,885 jobs throughout the UK economy, 726 of which will be directly in the defence industry.

I want to focus on the role of SMEs in the defence sector in Wales, and to make the case for supporting and nurturing them in the months and years ahead. According to research from the Defence Industries Council, there are more SMEs in the UK defence industry than in the French, German, Italian and Spanish industries combined. Interestingly, General Dynamics—in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans)—said in evidence to the Select Committee on Defence:

“GDUK believes passionately in building a strong supply chain based on British companies, and in particular SMEs; and we practise what we preach. 70% by value of our work on Bowman is undertaken by British companies.”

The Bowman programme is based in south Wales. In the same evidence, GDUK stated:

“We took a deliberate decision to concentrate that growth on south Wales. Following the recent signature of the contract for the Demonstration Phase of the Scout Platform, we expect the size of our work force to grow steadily over the next three years, again with much of that in south Wales.”

We have to remember that the impact of the growth of General Dynamics will rely strongly on 70% of SMEs being financially capable of surviving the current round of cuts and insecurity around contracting coming out of the MOD.

It would appear that we are again receiving a lecture about the role of defence spending in economic development. I am bemused by the fact that between 2003-04 and 2007-08, defence spending in Wales fell from £430 million to £390 million under the Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman is trying to turn the whole debate. I am frightened by the debate, because the Government seem not understand that our defence capability relies on the defence industry being able to provide the equipment, and on our having the skills and the sovereign capability to provide our troops with the ability to defend this country.

No, I am not giving way again; our time is severely limited and I want to make progress.

I have made contact both with SMEs that form part of the supply chain of equipment to the MOD and with the large companies that I mentioned earlier. In my constituency, I have TB Davies, AMSS Ltd, Spectrum Technologies and TES Aviation, all of which are not only vital to the economy of Wales and of my constituency but provide the skills base that allows the MOD to provide the platforms needed by our armed forces.

It would be irresponsible not to consider the implications that the loss of the skills of the SMEs based in Wales would have for our prime contractors; we should remember that 70% of the work of those main contractors is allocated to SMEs. If we do not protect those SMEs, if we do not consider that skills base, if we do not consider our sovereign capabilities, we will put the defence of this country at severe risk.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) on securing this debate. I put on record a point that has been made by Members on both sides of the Chamber: we should continue to pay tribute to our armed forces personnel for the job that they do, often in extremely difficult circumstances. Of course, they are backed up and supported by civilian personnel, who provide their own area of expertise.

We had a full debate on the strategic defence and security review on 4 November. The last thing that we want this morning is a re-run of that debate. That is not what today is about. It is a real opportunity to show just how much defence spending means to Wales as a nation. I hope that Labour colleagues, at least, will accept that as a Celt, I recognise what defence spending means in Wales, and in Scotland and every other part of the United Kingdom.

Does my good friend agree that what we heard from Members on the Government Benches today was a shameless misrepresentation of Labour’s position? Labour in Wales is standing up for the defence of our country, while recognising that employment is important to our constituencies. All that we had from the other side was a couple of defence ringers, who did not properly recognise our emphasis on our country’s defence.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I hope to cover some of the points that have been raised this morning, and I shall comment on that.

It is pretty clear that military establishments and bases are dotted across the entire UK. It must be recognised that those facilities become part of day-to-day life in those communities, whether through a sense of pride in being associated with the defence of our country, or simply because of the employment opportunities that they may bring. Frankly, whatever the reason, it all matters.

I want to quote from the debate of 4 November, because comment has been passed on the manner in which the strategic defence and security review came about. The quotation, from Hansard, is:

“The strategic defence and security review was an opportunity to reshape the UK’s military force in that changing global security landscape. Unfortunately, according to the Royal United Services Institute, 68% of the defence and security community felt that it was a ‘lost opportunity for a more radical reassessment of the UK’s role in the world’.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 1074.]

Many of us, including all Labour Members, have said that it was far too quick. The previous full review under the Labour Government took some 15 months to complete.

I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that there has been another loss of opportunity in relation to the St Athan defence technical college. We supported it not primarily because we wanted investment in Wales but because we wanted to improve training for our armed forces. So many of our young men and women go into the armed forces, and we wanted to make sure that their lives were protected and that they had the best training possible.

Absolutely. I shall come to that later, but I have to say to my hon. Friend that I could not have put it much better. Until now, at least, there has been more than a fair degree of consensus on what was to happen at St Athan. It is somewhat disappointing that we are not getting the same feeling today.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee on Defence carried out a full and thorough inquiry into the proposed training academy at St Athan, and felt that it was the right place for it, and that it was the right activity to carry out there?

My hon. Friend is an extremely knowledgeable member of the Select Committee, and is exactly right; indeed, the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) indicated the same thing at the start of his speech. It basically made sense, and the Select Committee gave it full backing.

I said that the Defence Committee’s report was pretty clear about the SDSR being undertaken in the wrong circumstances. I did not mention the report on St Athan.

I clearly picked up from the start of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution that St Athan, and what was previously proposed on a cross-party basis, made sense. However, Hansard will show what was said.

We see uncertainty in the questions that are being tabled, whether on departmental redundancies, rescue services or the level of savings. This morning, in contributions from both sides of the Chamber, we have heard that that uncertainty still exists. We need to be clear about where we are going with St Athan. I am not convinced that the Minister will be able to tell us today, but indications are that we might hear in the spring. For all concerned, I sincerely hope that we will have a clearer idea by then.

A question was asked about what that uncertainty does for communities. The debate is about defence spending. It is about investment. It is about the future of our armed forces, and what we are best able to do to serve those who serve the nation in difficult circumstances. They do not need uncertainty. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made the valid point that small and medium-sized enterprises in many communities play a vital role. Uncertainty about where we are going can destroy SMEs, a point made also by my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans). Delays lead to economic uncertainty.

The figure of £38 billion was mentioned once again. I wish to make it abundantly clear that that sum was never to be found in any document. The figure that was spoken of came from page 22 of the MOD major projects report of 2009, which mentioned £6 billion over 10 years. The only way that that £6 billion could become £38 billion was to assume that there would be no increase in Britain’s defence budget until 2021. That was never going to be the case under a Labour Government, and I sincerely hope that it was never going to be the case under any coalition Government. In fact, there was a 10% rise in defence spending between 1997 and 2010. In this country, defence spending consistently formed 2.5% of GDP—one of the highest levels in the world, so it is not that we scrimped at all.

I appreciate that I need to allow time for the Minister to speak. I am only sorry that I cannot give him more time. Members on the Opposition Benches have been clear this morning: they want more certainty on the matter. Let me finish with something that was said by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile)—he and I sat together at a dinner a couple of weeks ago. There was almost an admission from him that this rushed strategic defence and security review was financially driven; it was not in the best interests of our country, our defences or those who serve in foreign lands.

This is the first Westminster Hall debate to which I have contributed in the past five years. It is a pleasure to be here and to be under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) on securing the debate. She spoke about the effects that choices on defence spending can have on regions of the United Kingdom, and I hope to return to her words shortly.

There has been some suggestion that the Government are, in some way, anti-Welsh; that they have their daggers out for Wales. That is absolutely not the case. Let me give my own credentials. My great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were doctors in Islwyn, in Risca. My grandfather was headmaster of Llandaff Cathedral school.

I am just saying that I am not Welsh- [Interruption.] Rather, I am not anti-Welsh. The name Robathan is Welsh. In fact, in Islwyn, there are many Robathans in the telephone book. I had a great-uncle in the Welsh Guards, and another great-uncle who was killed at Gallipoli.

The hon. Gentleman is always full of hot air. If he could listen for a bit, he will hear what I have to say about some of the comments that have been made. I also had a great-uncle in the Welch Regiment who was killed at Gallipoli. I would rather not be accused of being anti-Welsh. I can promise that I have spent more time on the Brecon Beacons in the driving rain and snow and in Sennybridge than most people in this Chamber, possibly with the exception of you, Mr Gray, and my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). I have also climbed from Capel Curig adventure training camp. Those are all the military assets in Wales that I have used in my life. I would rather not hear the suggestion that we are anti-Welsh. This is the first Welsh debate in which I have taken part, because I am not representing Wales.

Let me pay tribute to all the civilians who work for the MOD and in defence projects in St Athan and elsewhere in Wales. I should also like to pay tribute to all the armed forces who are based in Wales or who are from Wales. Indeed, I support anyone who supports the defence of the United Kingdom from wherever they come.

I have been surprised by this debate because I have found it extraordinarily narrow and partisan [Interruption.] Did the hon. Gentleman say because it is Welsh? I find it astonishing. The hon. Member for Swansea East compared the desecration of war memorials in her constituency with the fact that we are not proceeding with the Metrix bid at St Athan. I can see no relationship there at all; I do not believe that her constituents or people outside will, either.

Hon. Members have spoken about the SDSR, but let me be quite clear about it. Across Government, we have faced the worst financial and economic crisis that anybody in this room has seen in their lifetime. [Interruption.] It is no good groaning. The hon. Member for Rhondda was a Minister in the previous Government and he knows that it is true.

We are currently borrowing £143 million a day. In terms of defence in Wales, that would buy, every week, three Type 45 destroyers. [Interruption.] Do they never go to Welsh ports? It is not fallacious, as the hon. Member for Rhondda said—[Interruption.] Gosh, he witters. It is not fallacious that the defence budget was overspent by £38 billion; it is true.

Let me turn briefly to some of the remarks that have been made. First, the hon. Member for Swansea East quite reasonably wants to hear about St Athan. One of the biggest decisions that the Ministry of Defence had to take was on the defence training rationalisation programme. We have heard at length about its cancellation. Put simply, that project, in the guise that it was in, was never going to be made affordable. Despite strenuous efforts by the Department—under both the previous and current Administrations—it became clear that the bidder, Metrix, was unable to deliver an affordable, commercially robust proposal within the prescribed period. On that basis, the Defence Secretary decided to terminate the project.

We continue to believe that individual technical training co-located on fewer sites, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) mentioned, remains the best solution for the armed forces, but not necessarily for St Athan. The SDSR committed the Government to continuing to look at options from pre-training across the services.

This is a serious point. Many of us believe that bringing together all the forces for technical training is an important part of what was suggested in the past. It has worked extremely well at Shrivenham. Who would ever have thought that the Royal Navy would be prepared to leave Greenwich? It has, and it has worked. Is the Minister still saying that he wants to achieve purple training in, we hope, St Athan or elsewhere?

As the hon. Gentleman will understand, I have to be very careful not to commit myself to things that we are reviewing at the moment. None the less, we do see a need and a sensible way forward for more purple training on some issues. Some of that may take place in St Athan and some elsewhere.

I can assure hon. Members that St Athan is still being considered; a substantial amount of training continues at St Athan.

Will the Minister give us some indication of the time frame in which we will get clarity over whether there will be a joint establishment and where it will be? Will it be in a year, two years, three years, or does he just not know?

The review does not have an end date, but I expect it to be within the next few months.

I appreciate that the cancellation of the DTR was not something that the hon. Member for Swansea East or the people of south Wales wanted to hear. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) pointed out the rocketing costs of the DTR in St Athan. He said that in two years they had gone up from £12 billion to £14 billion. He mentioned the job losses. He said that almost half the people who were employed by the MOD 13 years ago are now not employed. He also talked about the Red Dragon hangar. The previous Government decided to build that hangar. It cost £107 million and it was to accommodate the refurbishment of 48 Tornados and Harriers. The repairs and refurbishment were cancelled before the hangar was completed in 2004; it was a complete waste of money.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) talked about the Metrix decision being made in the context of the SDSR. He is wrong. It was separate from the SDSR and not part of our overall view. He also talked about RAF Valley. I can reassure him that RAF Valley plays a very important role in pilot training—fast jet training. If there are changes, we will keep him informed. He is also welcome to write to me, and I will write to him if changes come up.

The hon. Gentleman talked about Texas. I have to say that the weather is generally better there than in Anglesey.

Will the Minister tell us the position with regard to replacing Sea Kings with Sikorsky helicopters? The £7 billion contract is important.

I am afraid that I do not have the time, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

In conclusion, the previous Government let down the United Kingdom. They let down United Kingdom defence and they let down Wales. I was told today that Labour was standing up for defence. It has not been standing up for defence in Wales but for narrow partisan interests. Frankly, it is a scandal. We will not make defence decisions based on regional party political advantage, or on the advantage of the Principality; we will make a clear-headed assessment on what is best for our armed forces, the United Kingdom—including the Principality—and its defence.