A CAMPAIGN by Welsh independence supporters to prevent army visits to schools “damages social mobility and aspirations”, a former Conservative  minister has suggested.

Plaid Cymru have previously accused the army of targeting deprived areas in Wales when it comes to recruiting young soldiers and have a long-standing campaign calling for an end to the Ministry of Defence's attempts to recruit teenagers. 

A 2015 report from the Welsh Parliament's Petitions Committee concluded that there was evidence "that the armed forces disproportionately visit schools in areas of relatively high deprivation". 

However, Tory MP and former Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb told the Commons that moves to stop such visits were harmful to young people. 

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During a debate in the Westminster on Monday he said: “Does the minister agree with me that now more than ever we need to encourage army visits into schools, and that the long campaign by nationalists in Wales to stop those kind of visits actually damages social mobility and aspirations?”

Defence minister Dr Andrew Murrison replied: “I entirely share his enthusiasm. The armed forces is a huge engine for social mobility. The army achieved over 5,000 school engagement visits across the United Kingdom in the last year, each at the schools’ request.

“The British Army is the public’s army. It is important it engages with the people it serves, despite the best efforts of some on the left and the nationalists to which he refers.”

The 2015 report recommended that the Welsh Government consider "ensuring students do not encounter glamourised or sanitised impressions of the armed forces without being encouraged to question them". 

The UK remains one of only 20 countries in the world which allows under-18s to join the armed forces. 

The National: Liz Saville-Roberts said attempts to recruit Welsh schoolchildren from the most deprived areas in the country were unacceptableLiz Saville-Roberts said attempts to recruit Welsh schoolchildren from the most deprived areas in the country were unacceptable

Plaid Cymru's leader at Westminster, Liz Saville-Roberts MP (above), has previously branded the deliberate targeting of under-18s from deprived backgrounds "unacceptable". 

"It is clear to see why some young people are funneled into the armed forces when they see little support coming their way and army careers are marketed as glamorous social activities," she said. 

"The government are targeting young people who want to belong and whose experience of formal education has often been unhappy.

"But the Army is no place for 16 and 17-year-olds and the MoD’s blatant targeting of Welsh teenagers is unacceptable." 

Murrison was also asked if "the rise of woke" was making it harder to recruit "the right people" to the British armed forces. 

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Former Tory and Reclaim MP Andrew Bridgen, who now sits as an independent, said: 

“The rise of so-called woke culture has been infecting our society for many years and it should be unsurprising that it’s now infecting our military. Does the minister think the rise of woke makes it easier or more difficult to recruit the right sort of people into our armed forces?”

Murrison replied: “Well, I completely reject the premise of (Bridgen’s) question.

"If he’s talking about increasing the amount of women in our armed forces, if he’s talking about Lord Etherton’s review into LGBT historically in our armed forces, if he’s talking about our ambition to make our armed forces more reflective of the society from which they’re drawn and which they serve then I’m as guilty as charged.”