The Ministry of Defence routinely deploys a range of military assets in defence of the Falkland Islands and in fulfilment of our standing Atlantic Patrol, South task. Despite media speculation to the contrary, there has been no recent change to force levels. There is no evidence of any current credible military threat to the security of the Falkland Islands, and therefore no current plan for significant changes to force deployments. However, Her Majesty’s Government are committed to defending the right of the Falkland Islanders to self-determination, and plans exist for rapid reinforcement of the land, sea and air forces in and around the islands should any such threat appear.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. May I press him on the defence plans? Is he confident that the United Kingdom has sufficient naval assets in the area to prevent any naval attack?
Yes, we are quite confident that we have sufficient naval assets in the area, and we have the ability to reinforce those naval assets should there be any evidence of intent to carry out any form of attack.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the withdrawal of HMS Endurance some 30 years ago prompted a subsequent invasion, and that although there is no intention whatever to militarise the south Atlantic, proper precautions are absolutely necessary?
My right hon. Friend is right on two counts. First, it is absolutely necessary to ensure that our intentions are not capable of being misinterpreted. We have the strongest possible intention of defending the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination and the strongest intention to defend the islands. Equally, we have no desire or intention to increase the heat around the debate. We are not seeking to take actions that are provocative or cause unnecessary alarm. We will defend the islands—nobody should be under any illusion about that—and we will deploy the forces necessary.
May I press my right hon. Friend on that very matter? Will he do whatever it takes to ensure that the only time that the Falkland Islands will not be British is when the Falkland Islanders themselves decide that they do not want to be?
That is the position of Her Majesty’s Government. We will not discuss the issue of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless at any time it becomes the islanders’ wish that we should do so.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK has important strategic interests in the south Atlantic, not least in energy security, the important work done by the British Antarctic Survey on climate change and the geopolitics of the Antarctic? Will he update the House on any discussions that he has had with our allies regarding the defence of the Falklands?
The defence of the Falklands is an integral part of our overall military tasks, and I regularly discuss the conduct of those tasks with our allies as appropriate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the determination of the people of the Falkland Islands to remain British must be respected and protected, as it rightly was when a fascist dictatorship grabbed the Falklands 30 years ago? If there is any sign from this crew in Buenos Aires that they are going to try it on again, will he ensure that they are stopped?
I can answer the right hon. Gentleman unequivocally by saying yes. It is important that we also recognise that the crew in Buenos Aires, as he puts it, is quite a different crew from the fascist dictatorship that invaded the Falkland Islands using conscripts back in 1982. We are dealing with a democratic Argentina that has publicly eschewed the use of military force in pursuing its claim to the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
I spent some time with HMS Montrose in September last year before it sailed to the south Atlantic. During the discussions over deployment, it became clear that the supply routes to the Falklands for fresh provisions were being severely impeded. Will the Secretary of State say something about the security of supply to the Falklands of fresh food and other services, and about the deployment of the Navy?
As the hon. Lady knows, an air bridge is operating via Ascension island and other routes into the Falklands are available. The Government are concerned about the actions and statements of some states in respect of access to their ports for Falkland Islands-flagged vessels. We will keep this issue under close scrutiny. We always have the option of increasing the frequency of the air bridge, should that become necessary.
Are not Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, Admiral Lord West and General Sir Mike Jackson absolutely right when they say on the record that were the Falklands again to be occupied, Britain would not be able to retake them because this Government do not have any naval aircraft carriers on the high seas? We are in our weakest position in five centuries of naval history, and it is happening on the watch of a Conservative Government.
The right hon. Gentleman has succumbed slightly to hyperbole. The Government’s position is clear. Our approach is to make clear to Argentina our intent to defend the islands, to deploy the necessary military forces to provide a credible defence of the islands, and to ensure that we are not placed in the invidious position of having to mount a long-range invasion to retake the islands.