Defence Spending in Wales Debate

Diolch Mr Grey, it’s a pleasure to serve under your Chairmanship this morning

May I begin by congratulating the Hon Member for Swansea East on achieving this very important debate about defence spending in Wales.

It is very brave of her to put in for such a debate considering that under her party, the amount of defence spending and jobs in Wales as a percentage of the UK Budget shrank significantly.

Hon Members are here largely to express their concerns about the ending of the Metrix proposal for the Defence Training College at St Athan, cancelled in October by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

As we have seen in other areas of Defence, such as the £10.5bn contract with AirTanker Ltd, for the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft to provide air-to-air refuelling and passenger transport services, 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 £12bn to £14bn and that in a time when the recession hit and the necessary capital through land sales was not becoming available as expected.

The former MP for the Vale of Glamorgan strangely thought that the increase in the price tag was a positive for the bid!

We will see in the Spring whether St Athan will be successful again, dependent upon 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 which will require these training facilities.

While on the subject of St Athan, I need hardly remind everybody that while politicians were full of the joys of the proposed Academy, the number of staff actually working at RAF St Athan itself is falling, with 339 job losses being announced this time last year.

Further to that, a response to a recent Parliamentary Question a fortnight ago from the Hon Member for the Vale of Glamorgan concluded that no further work would be done using the superhangar to maintain and repair RAF aircraft at the base after 2010. Make of that what you will.

But the title of today’s topic 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 Labour 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, this has risen by 3%

For civilian personnel, it is a far more substantial drop – 62%, from 5,100 in 1997 to 1,970 today. In England this has fallen by only 30%, less than half the fall in Wales.

The south-east of England has the largest number of service personnel, almost 45,000, or, in other terms, 15 times the number of service personnel in Wales.

In percentage terms, these figures might be more striking. Although Wales is 5% of the UK population, just 1.7% of service personnel are stationed here and 2.8% of civilian jobs are in Wales.

Meanwhile, of course, there are almost 20,000 service personnel remaining in Germany – seven times as many as in Wales – and we have almost as many service personnel stationed in Cyprus as we do in Wales.

Unfortunately, this year’s figures do not include the Estimated UK Regional Direct Employment Dependent on MOD Expenditure, which has been included in previous editions, such as UK Defence Statistics 2009.

In the past, these figures have been provided by the MoD on DASA according to country so that we could see what was taking place – a concentration of defence spending in England and away from Wales and Scotland.

The figures in last year’s statistics show that 92% of MoD employment is in England, compared to around 84% of the UK population, and that 1% is in Wales.

There has been a growing centralisation, with that figure rising from 89% of employment in England in 2003-04

Those figures are true both for equipment expenditure and non-equipment expenditure.

But our ability to be made aware of these figures and to scrutinise them is under threat.

Instead of the government being accountable for changes in policy, manpower and spending in different parts of the UK, they are simply no longer going to publish the statistics relating to this – and indeed have already stopped doing so.

This was the subject of a Westminster Hall debate in July by my friend, the Hon Member for Moray, after the Defence Minister initially responded on the floor of the House that such country and regions statistics would be continued in future, only for a later note to confirm that he had mis-spoke and that this 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, while 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 constituency level.

The simple fact of the matter is that we must have open books. The coalition agreement says that, and I quote:

“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.”

And also, and I quote again

“The Government believe 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, firstly that “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, then published on a regular basis.”

It seems almost self-evident that this 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 industry, inside and outside the UK.

If we cannot see the effect upon our countries of UK defence spending then how can we, as Members of Parliament, be effective judges of their effect.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that the UK Govt intend to maintain these series of statistics in accordance with the spirit of their coalition deal.

Diolch yn fawr

Discussion Area - Submit a comment

Your reply will be moderated and not appear immediately. You can prepare your text in a word processor before pasting it into the box, but formatting such as bold and colour will not appear.