I spoke in yesterday’s debate on Wales’ contribution to the UK Armed Forces. Here’s my full speech from the debate:
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) on giving us this opportunity today to thank our armed forces, who make such an important contribution to our national life. As she did so very eloquently, I would like to pay tribute to all those who have served, past and present, from my constituency and across Wales.
I will make a few mentions for my constituency, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) has just done. Raglan barracks in Newport is an established base for several reservist units, including the 104th Regiment Royal Artillery, which is the only Army Reserve artillery regiment in Wales. The Gwent and Powys Army Cadet Force also has successful detachments in our area, including in Newport and in Caldicot. Llanwern High School in my constituency is one of the very few state schools to play host to the Combined Cadet Force, developing skills and qualifications that I know are valued both by employers and further education institutions, and it provides a brilliant experience. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Royal British Legion, which has two branches in my constituency, in Caldicot and in Newport. They undertake great work all year round to support the forces community, including our veterans.
The Welsh Government have a strong track record in supporting the armed forces community in Wales, including through initiatives such as Veterans NHS Wales—we are the only part of the UK to have that. It has supported thousands of veterans since being set up in 2010. Every local authority in Wales has signed the armed forces community covenant, and last year Newport City Council was one of the employers to be recognised by the Ministry of Defence with the gold award.
There is also great work going on in the voluntary sector. Last month, Help for Heroes set up a new hub in Newport International Sports Village to promote sports recovery activities. Newport County AFC—no debate is without a reference to Newport County AFC—working with Newport City Council and veterans’ charities, has helped to establish a local weekly drop-in for veterans at Bar Amber.
Although there is lots to celebrate and lots on offer, we need to reflect on what more can be done for veterans in Wales and across the UK. Service in our armed forces offers young men and young women from Wales a huge range of amazing careers and life-enhancing opportunities, but for some, sadly, there are longer term issues arising from their service experiences, including conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. I am indebted to my constituent Anthony Lock, who served with the Royal Welsh Regiment in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and who has campaigned tirelessly to bring about change and to help others. In his book “Broken by War” he harrowingly describes the life-changing injuries he sustained as a result of two improvised explosive device attacks during his service in Helmand, which left a long-term legacy of depression and PTSD and which, sadly and wrongly, damaged his employment opportunities. It is a really powerful book, which I recommend to others. His experience is not a positive one, but it has encouraged others to seek support and to campaign for change, which is really important. We need a joined-up and robust approach to signposting mental health support services within the community, as well as a better way of handling compensation and pension claims.
I know my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) is keen to speak so I will just make a few final points. As has been mentioned, none of our Regular Army combat units are based in Wales. I too support relocating the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, as do others.
Finally, as the title of today’s debate is Wales’s contribution to the UK armed forces, I want to mention a group of people who have made a huge contribution to the UK’s armed forces. I have the great privilege of representing a number of Afghan interpreters who are settled in Wales and in Newport. They came here under the Government’s scheme following the huge sacrifices that they made to help our armed forces. I very much value their contribution and pay tribute to them. I know there have been a few problems with the scheme in the past, but I hope the Government will do all they can to support them in the years ahead.