Falkland Islands (Shackleton Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:53 pm on 22nd December 1982.

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Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley 7:53 pm, 22nd December 1982

I shall endeavour to follow your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having listened to extensive speeches from my colleagues, however, I shall try to make all the points that I wish to make.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) was right to say that the first Shackleton report was not concerned with sovereignty. Indeed, Lord Shackleton stated in the preface: the terms of reference exclude any matters relating to the political future of the Falkland Islands and their dependencies". In other words, the survey was conducted on the assumption that the political status of the islands would remain the same as in the previous century and a half. Lord Shackleton continues, however: The sovereignty issue overhangs our report as it does the Falklands and the absence of a settlement could well inhibit the full development of the islands". It is no use trying to run away from the sovereignty problem as it has been a dominant factor in all the discussions and is as relevant to the Shackleton report as to the political problem.

The full cost of the Falklands disaster is now becoming apparent—2,000 dead, thousands crippled and disabled, and the ugly prospect of an expensive and unnecessary military garrison 8,000 miles away in the South Atlantic. Indeed, some have estimated that the total bill will reach £3 billion in the next few years.

The only semi-bright light in all this is that the Falklands disaster may cause people and Governments of this country to rethink their colonial policy in relation to territories such as the Falklands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. That rethink must come and the Falklands tragedy may force it more urgently upon Governments than has been the case so far.

Lord Shackleton's verdict on British stewardship of the Falkland Islands can be summed up in four words—private exploitation and public neglect. With regard to private exploitation, today's debate has focused on the problem of abstentee landlords and the outflow of funds from the islands due to absentee ownership of the land. Reading the report and listening to the debate, one might almost think that we were talking about nineteenth century Ireland rather than twentieth century Falkland Islands. The Shackleton report is devastating on this point. The 1982 report states on pages 6 and 7 that before 1976 the outflow greatly exceeded the inflow and since 1976 dividends out have been £1·1 million but investment in has been only £600,000. Not only has there been a net outflow of private capital, but Investment has not been sufficient on many farms even to maintain existing assets". In other words, the private entrepreneurs had such a rotten economic policy that they were not prepared to put in sufficient money even to maintain the value of the farms and other property that they owned. Worse than that, since 1976 the deficit on the Falklands account—the lack of funding—has had to be made up by the British taxpayer who has put in the money through the aid programme. The taxpayer has had to make up for the results of squalid private enterprise exploitation.

There has also been public neglect of the islands over a long period. For example, Shackleton says that we now should spend £10 million to £15 million to provide a decent road network. Moreover, for an island community dependent on shipping, the report states on page 15: The state of repair of the Falkland Islands jetties is generally poor". A major recommendation of the report is: A new main all-purpose jetty will be required in Port Stanley … costing £3–£3·5 million". On air communication, a central feature of the Shackleton recommedations is the need for a major 8,500 ft runway and the establishment of regular civil air communication capable of taking modern medium-haul airliners and costing £30 million. International air traffic has existed for 50 or 60 years, yet in 1982 a report on a British dependency finds that there is still a need for a reasonable civil airport capable of taking not world transit liners but medium-haul jets to provide reasonable civil air communication.

The report is damning about the capacity of the Falkland Islands Government to carry out any development at all and proposes the appointment of no less than £3½ million worth of new officials and staff to provide that Government with the capacity to handle the development programme suggested in the report. This is not new—this was said in 1976, and nothing effective was done about it.

The energy crisis hit the world in 1973, 10 years ago, and yet we have had to wait for the Shackleton report in 1982 to suggest that perhaps there should be wind generators producing electricity, or perhaps a thermal power station burning the local peat, instead of the importation of highly expensive oil, to keep the islands' economy going. It does not seem to have occurred to the Falkland Islands Government, or whatever section of the Foreign Office that is responsible for these matters, that alternative energy sources might have been useful or important when the oil crisis hit the world economy.

One of the most astonishing sentences in Shackleton's report—it certainly startled me—is about schools. Here we have an island whose economy is based on agricultural activity—farming, looking after sheep, grassland and so forth. However, in 1982, Shackleton recommends the introduction of rural science in the school syllabus This suggests that, in a schooling system in a farming community it has apparently never occurred to anybody that the study of rural activities should be somewhere in the syllabus.

That is the record of public neglect of these islands by successive British Administrations. We have to ask ourselves why this exploitation by the private sector—and it has been a squalid and ruthless exploitation of which the chairman and directors of companies such as Coalite should be ashamed and publicly pilloried—was allowed. It is disgraceful.

Why was this exploitation allowed to continue, and why have we neglected these islands when we have been governing them for 150 years? Even if one discounts the pre-Second World War period, we have had 40-odd years in which to make up for that neglect. The answer is fairly clear from the Shackleton reports. The clear implication is that there can be no sensible, viable, economic development plan except in terms of a healthy relationship with the mainland of South America, and that means a reasonable arrangement—politically, economically, and so forth—with Argentina. A political settlement is imperative if there is to be any sensible economic development in the Falkland Islands.

This fact was recognised by Shackleton, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East drew my attention to it, because I particularly looked up the introduction to the 1976 report. Shackleton makes the point that the sovereignty issue overhangs the whole economy of the Falklands and that without a settlement there there is no way forward.

This is borne out by Shackleton's specific recommendations. On air communication, he says clearly that any successful arrangement would have to be either through Punta Arenas or with Montevideo. Even if the communications are through Montevideo, that is subject to Argentine agreement because it involves flying through Argentine air space.

With regard to fishing, Lord Shackleton makes an interesting statement on page 19 when he says: The recommendations relating to off-shore Patagonian Shelf and Southern Ocean fishing should be viewed in a wider and longer-term context than that simply of the development of the Falkland Islands. We cannot talk in terms of development of fisheries and so forth in that area without taking into account the general political context and economic situation.

I was therefore startled when I read that Shackleton recommends the creation of a 200-mile economic zone around the Falklands and around South Georgia. It would be an outrage to international opinion if this country solemnly set out to lay a claim to 260,000 square miles of the South Atlantic as an economic zone for the United Kingdom 8,000 miles away, particularly at a time when we have conceded half our fishing rights to Brussels in the area around our coasts. It would be an astonishing claim, if we claimed 260,000 square miles of the ocean and its economic resources.

We have already dealt extensively with absentee landlordism, but it is clear that private investment on any sensible basis—that is to say private investment, not private exploitation—will not occur in the absence of a political settlement. The same is true of hydrocarbons. What has been said about the problem of icebergs and other things is right, but the biggest iceberg is the lack of any political settlement with Argentina.

The Shackleton bill for the economic recovery of the Falkland Islands amounts to £35 million for general infrastructure, £35 million for the airport, £20 million for the exploratory fishing, and £18 million for land reforms over a period of five years. The Government's response is £31 million over six years for general development, no land reform, a somewhat ambiguous attitude to the airport—no statement about how much money they are prepared to put in—and a rejection of the 200-mile zone idea, a rejection with which I agree as the proposal is out of court.

Shackleton is rightly apprehensive about the impact of the relatively massive garrison on a population of 1,800 people. The Government are unduly dismissive of those problems, but the garrison will seriously inhibit, as Shackleton claims, any proper economic development.

The rationale for the occupation and retention of this nineteenth century colony was, until the First World War and probably even until the Second World War, its use as a naval base and as a coaling station for the British Navy at a time when the Navy was the dominant naval force in the world. Today, our possession of this territory is a colonial anachronism. The clear message of Shackleton is that the economic future cannot be built on this kind of anachronism and can come about only in the context of a political settlement with Argentina.

I am aware of the difficulties, in the present mood, of arriving at such a settlement, but we should explore some sort of interim arrangement, perhaps for five years, a decade or even longer, with the international community. We should make use of the undoubted and considerable diplomatic abilities of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Perez de Cuella, who has been entrusted by the General Assembly with a mediatory role between Argentina and the United Kingdom.

There was a reference earlier to the men who had died in the fighting in the Falklands war. My belief is that the only enduring worthy monument to the men who died is not for us to cling to a nineteenth century colony but to ensure, by a political settlement with Argentina, that no man has to die in the future.