Monmouth MP David Davies, who chairs the Commons' Welsh Affairs committee, has written to the Defence Secretary over the way the Welsh army has been affected by Army cuts. In particular he raises concerns about the decision to axe a battalion of the Royal Welsh.
In his letter, Mr Davies tells the Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond that he and MPs on the committee want answers to the following concerns.
In evidence to the Committee on this issue, an independent defence expert told us that, based on proportionality, cost and recruitment considerations, it would be more advisable to cut several battalions of the Scottish regiments and the Gurkhas.
We heard that 98% of the Royal Welsh is drawn from within Wales, and in many families service to the regiment has continued for many generations.
We believe that the impact on families and communities across Wales, as well as on morale in the regiments more widely, will be enormous.
We are concerned that the decision to cut a Welsh battalion may be at least partly politically motivated. Scottish regiments have found it difficult to recruit in recent years, and the decision to maintain all five Scottish infantry regiments, albeit with one performing ceremonial duties, suggests preferential treatment. We seek assurances that this is not the case.
We are also concerned that the statement regarding the loss of 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh did not provide greater clarity for the serving men and women. We seek clarification on how many of them will be ‘absorbed’ into the 1st Battalion and how many will be made redundant. In a time of high unemployment, all possible assistance must be provided to enable former servicemen and women to seek employment after the armed forces. They currently face a great deal of uncertainty regarding their future.
A group of Welsh veterans says they intend to challenge the decision to merge Second Battalion the Royal Welsh with the 1st Battalion.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says an Army shake-up will create a 'balanced, capable and adaptable force.'
The head of the Army in Wales has told ITV Wales' Andrea Benfield that the cuts to the Army will mean 2,000 fewer soldiers from Wales.
Brigadier Philip Napier said the merging of the two Royal Welsh battalions into one, is the price that has had to be paid to secure the future of all of Wales' regiments.
A senior Welsh Conservative backbench MP has raised the possibility that the loss of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Welsh, was motivated by political considerations. Monmouth MP David Davies, who chairs the Welsh Select Committee wants to know why the battalion, which is at full strength, was chosen.
– David Davies, Conservative MP
We have heard this morning from independent defence experts who told us that, based on proportionality, cost and recruitment considerations, they would in fact cut several battalions of the Scottish regiments, and of the Gurkhas, and we are concerned that this decision to cut a Welsh battalion may be at least partly politically motivated.
Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, has asked the Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan, if her Conservative colleague's fears are groundless. The other Welsh regiments, the Welsh Guards and the Queen's Dragoon Guards, escaped the cuts despite fears about the dragoons, known as the 'Welsh Cavalry'.
– Owen Smith's letter to Cheryl Gillan
I welcome the fact that 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards are to be preserved but am concerned at suggestions, notably from the Conservative Chairman of the Welsh Select Committee, that the decisions regarding the Welsh Regiments are in any way ‘politically motivated’. Would you reassure me that this is not the case and that there is no correlation between the decision taken in respect of the Welsh Cavalry and that regarding the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh?
Amidst the announcements of cuts to the army, there's one piece of good news for Wales, according to Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns. He was told by the Defence Secretary that that a new RAF support squadron which is being formed is 'likely' to be based at the St. Athan site. Alun Cairns said:
I’m so pleased to hear of the formation of 614 (West Glamorgan) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force. As it’s likely to be based at RAF St Athan, it will be a real and much needed boost to the local community which has such a long history with the Royal Air Force and the MOD.
A further announcement will be made within the next 6 months to confirm the details for the squadron and recruitment of the project team. The aim is for the unit to be fully operational by 2018.
The area has a proud history of RAF activity and many people locally are retired RAF personnel. They will be delighted that the base is returning to its original intentions. These activities are in addition to those of the Special Forces sited within the wire on the base.
A source close to the Secretary of State for Wales has condemned comments made by her Labour shadow in response to today's defence cuts. The source told me that Cheryl Gillan found Owen Smith's remarks (that 'her support wasn't worth a pitcher of warm spit') 'disgusting' adding that,
They contribute nothing to the debate on the future of our armed forces. Not only is he wrong to say that 600 people are losing jobs but incredibly naive if he thinks Wales can remain unscathed from difficult decisions made to fill the £38bn black hole Labour left.
People will look at these comments and question his character. After all this is the man who had to apologise for comparing spending cuts with domestic violence. He clearly hasn't learned lessons from that nor has he learned the art of making political points without being offensive.
Labour's Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith says the army cuts highlight the failure of Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan to defend Wales' interests. Mr Smith said:
I warned the Secretary of State at Welsh Questions last week that Wales was going to lose out in this review of army personnel.
Retaining the cap badge of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards is a hollow victory for Wales when we see six hundred jobs going from a battalion of the historic Royal Welsh.
Cheryl Gillan said that she was offering her 'undiluted support' for Welsh regiments. Diluted or not, her support clearly wasn't worth a pitcher of warm spit for the six hundred soldiers in Wales who've just been told they may be losing their jobs.
Hazel Hunt, the mother of the 200th Soldier to die in Afghanistan, says that plans to withdraw the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh have let the soldiers down. Richard Hunt was serving with the battalion when he was killed in 2009.
Mrs Hunt said that the decision by the UK Government has left her beyond rage after all the sacrifices the members of the battalion have made.
First Minister Carwyn Jones says that today's decision by the UK Government to withdraw the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh is hugely disappointing news for the soldiers involved.
He said the Royal Welsh had already been through a major amalgamation in 2006 and that he could only imagine the impact that this latest blow will have on the morale of the whole regiment which has always been a source of pride to us citizens of Wales.
– Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister
Today's decision by the UK Government means the members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh now face the prospect of losing their jobs.
The loss of the Battalion will be a severe blow to serving soldiers and veterans of this regiment, and also to the families of those that have given their lives for our country.
I call on the MOD to make sure it does all it can to help those personal who will be affected by this decision, by either transferring to other units or helping them prepare for civilian life.