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Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has raised his concerns about the future of the army’s presence here in Wales including the possible closure of its Brecon HQ.

Mr Bryant claims talks have been taking place which could lead to the full merger of the Welsh brigade which already comes under the responsibility of the West Midlands division.

And he reckons those talks could involve getting rid of the Brigadier based at Brecon or even closing that HQ in Brecon.

Mr Bryant said,

There are secret conversations going on at the moment within the army, within the Government, thinking about combining the Welsh brigade with the West Midlands and taking the HQ away from Brecon.

That’ll mean a loss of jobs, loss of influence and I think it’ll mean the downgrading of the British army in Wales.

That’ll be a big mistake and yet another example of the government turning its back on Wales.

The Ministry of Defence says  that discussions are ongoing about how all three forces will be reorganised as part of the Government’s strategic defence review.

It’s confirmed that those discussion are looking at how Wales can play its part in that review.

But it says no decision has been made and the MOD wants to ‘retain its footprint’ across the UK.

 

UPDATE 1800 – here’s the official statement from the MOD:

The army are looking at ways to ensure that the organisational structure is as effective as possible but no decisions have yet been made. Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said that he is keen to maintain a military footprint in Wales.

 

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It’s just six months until we vote in the next Assembly election, but today I can bring you some news about the election after that, scheduled for 2015.

The UK government says it’ll give the Assembly – if it wants – the power to delay elections in future to avoid clashing with parliamentary elections.

You may remember the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreement includes plans to introduce fixed-term parliaments of five years.

The Assembly (as well as the Scottish parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly) already has fixed terms of four years, so the plan would mean the next UK general election would be held in 2015 – the same year that the next-but-one Assembly election is due.

That’s led to anger from politicians here who fear that the Welsh campaign would be completely overshadowed by UK politics.

Last night in parliament, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party joined forces with Labour to try to alter the legislation that would introduce the new election timetable.

But they were taken aback when the Parliamentary reform minister, Mark Harper, offered an unexpected concession.

He told MPs that the government will consult the parties in the devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to give them the power to delay their election dates by up to six months to avoid parliamentary elections.

As I mentioned, Assembly terms are fixed at four years and must be held on the first Thursday in May but under the current law,  if two thirds of Assembly members vote for it, they can dissolve the Assembly up to six months earlier.

Mark Harper told MPs “We want to give them the power to extend, because if they have only the power to hold elections earlier, elections would effectively have to be held in the depths of winter. The Government have listened on that point, which is why we want to consult the legislatures on the ability to extend the date, which will give them much more flexibility.”

The Plaid MP behind the original amendments Jonathan Edwards said he was delighted that the government had made such a significant concession.

He said he was”very pleased that the UK Government has finally accepted our sensible argument that elections to the National Assembly for Wales should not be held on the same day as the UK election.”

He said he was assured the consultation would begin today.

Well if that was a surprise, even more unlikely was that Plaid’s joint effort with the SNP was supported in the Commons by Labour, led by the Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, a trenchant critic nationalist parties.

Mr Bryant congratulated Jonathan Edwards and said he would have tabled exactly the same amendments if he’d been quicker.

UPDATE 1415

I’ll post reaction here as I get it.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said “The Welsh Liberal Democrats are fully committed to fixed terms in both Westminster and Wales.  It can’t be right that in an election race, one of the contestants gets to fire the starting pistol. We want to avoid a clash so that the Welsh and UK general elections do not take place on the same day. We understand options are being discussed within government and with the Welsh Assembly Government  to try to achieve this.”

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