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Future Soldier Programme: Army Estate in Wales

Volume 706: debated on Monday 10 January 2022

6. What assessment he has made of the impact of the future soldier programme of reform on the army estate in Wales. (904824)

My right hon. Friend has fought and fought for the retention of more military personnel at St Athan. At his request, I visited the site personally and re-evaluated our options. Unfortunately, the historic agreement entered into with the Welsh Government does indeed make such—[Interruption.] I do apologise, Mr Speaker, and I apologise to my right hon. Friend—I wanted first to give an answer on future solider in general before getting on to the specifics—[Laughter.] I know exactly what my right hon. Friend is going to ask, because he has been assiduous in demanding more troops at St Athan.

Before I get on to that, future soldier is good news for Wales, bringing additional investment into the Army estate of around £320 million. I know Brecon will be delighted that Brecon barracks—the headquarters of the 160th (Welsh) Brigade—will be retained. We have identified Caerwent training estate for investment to host not one but two units—including the Queen’s Dragoon Guards—and, in north Wales, a new reserve unit of the Royal Welsh will be established in Wrexham.

I associate myself with the comments made about our friend and colleague Jack Dromey.

The Welsh Government’s refusal to extend the lease of the land at MOD St Athan effectively blocked a new major military unit coming to St Athan. What reassurance can the Minister give to the soldiers based at west camp? Do the Welsh Government have any right to the land on which they are based? If so, are they at risk of being evicted in the same way as those soldiers who were based at east camp?

No, they are not. The good news is that the Ministry of Defence holds the freehold for the west camp land, which was not covered by the historic agreement made with the Welsh Government. My right hon. Friend has tackled me on this issue on so many occasions, and I went to visit the camp. We could not put new units into St Athan given the historic agreement with the Welsh Government, but west camp is MOD freehold and we will retain our forces there.

I associate myself with the tributes to Jack Dromey. He was a true friend and a credit to the House.

The Minister spoke about the future soldier programme in general terms, which connects to the Armed Forces Act. He made a welcome concession by agreeing to publish data on both investigations and prosecutions at all stages of the service justice system. What will the Government do if conviction rates for one or more of these serious crimes are concerningly low? Will the Government reconsider their approach and finally recognise that these cases should be dealt with by the civilian judicial system, and what impact does the Minister think that the Armed Forces Act 2021 will have on the Government meeting the target they have set themselves for 30% of Army recruits to be—

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I, too, pass on my condolences to Jack’s family and friends? It is indeed a sad loss.

I am clutching at two words—Army estate—in asking this question. On a recent visit to the Special Boat Service—our Marines special forces—I was shocked to find that it does not have a proper aquatic centre. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me and the House when and if the Special Boat Service will get a proper aquatic centre to do vital training in?

I am aware of the discussions and the proposal and I have seen some suggestions, but I am not in a position to give any detail to my hon. Friend at the moment. I will look into it and write to him.