Falkland Islands (Shackleton Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:08 pm on 22nd December 1982.

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Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester 8:08 pm, 22nd December 1982

I offer my tribute to Lord Shackleton for his 1982 report, and for his previous report. I agree with many hon. Members that if only we had implemented the bulk of his recommendations in the past, we should not have had to repossess the islands and suffer the humiliation, the loss of casualties and now the huge costs. The background leading to how and why we were tricked and humiliated in the first place by the Argentine invasion is the subject of the Franks report and is not a subject for this debate.

However, we all know that the hostilities have not yet officially ended. Defence is vital to the security and therefore to the long-term economic viability of the Falkland Islands. In looking to the future, we must face some of the clear lessons of the immediate past. Some of these lessons include such things as, first, that the threat that we all face in defence terms is global. Second, defence, it appears—yes just appears as opposed to is—weak, it will be tested—by someone. Third, the United Nations, while it can play an important role in preventing conflict, has illustrated in several instances in the recent past that it has little teeth in taking much effective action once war has started. Therefore, in the final analysis, we must look to ourselves for our defence. The fourth lesson is that diplomatic support is a vital factor. We should remember our friends in the United Nations, in the EC and in the British Commonwealth, who stood by us in our cause of defending freedom against unprovoked, armed aggression. But we should also note those who failed to stand by that principle, and especially those who deserted us in midstream.

Our Armed Forces, as many hon. Members have said, have performed outstandingly. They have shown to the House and the country their value and we must continue to support them strongly. They showed efficiency, flexibility and determination. I shall quote from R. S. Grant, a young subaltern in the Royal Marines, who was at Malvern, the same school as me and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He said: The difference came in the calibre of men. Our forces lived rougher, moved faster, carried more and made do with less but still managed a smile and a joke. Yesterday's debate brought out this most important factor of the man on the spot, despite all the weapon systems of modern armed forces.

Our Armed Forces and civilian volunteers have received much well-deserved praise in the past, but no great enterprise is achieved without great leadership. It is clear to me that without the honest, clear and decisive leadership of the Prime Minister we would not have freed the people of the Falkland Islands. The whole thing would have failed dismally. We would still have been merely talking. Armed aggression would have been seen to pay and would have had a dramatic effect upon the total defence status of the free democracies of the world. I for one am glad that in looking to the future of the islands we still have this outstanding leadership and proven ability.

I welcome the commitment of my hon. Friend the Minister to the Falkland Islands Development Agency. It is absolutely correct. I also welcome his drive to gain support at the European Investment Bank for the fishing industry in the Falkland Islands. That is the correct use of that institution.

I also welcome my hon. Friend's tribute to the role of the Armed Forces in the rehabilitation of the islands. It is a dreadful task. The forces there include one regiment from my constituency, the Royal Hampshire regiment, and elements of the 1 Infantry brigade, which is located in my constituency and in which I still have the privilege to serve as a territorial. We must pay a great deal of attention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) said, to the short-term amenities of the garrison, particularly looking ahead to the next winter. My hon. Friend made an important contribution to the debate. I was going to mention the matter in more detail, but now that would be merely repetition.

With regard to mine clearance, what action are the Government taking over the outrageous actions perpetrated by the Argentines in laying plastic mines indiscriminately and in unmarked areas? Are we following the matter in Geneva, the United Nations and so on?

This Government have now done and propose to do more than any other Government to help to build a future for the Falkland Islands. However, I ask the Government to put more pressure on the International Monetary Fund. It is making vast loans to the Argentine Government. Some of the funds are being used to purchase armaments. I agree with Opposition Members and my hon. Friends who expressed consternation at that.

I realise that it is difficult to enforce the use of loan clauses by one sovereign nation on another sovereign nation, especially in this situation. However, through the IMF we can exert considerable influence on the Argentine Government on the use of proceeds of its new loans. Spending those moneys on armaments is not only reducing Argentina's creditworthiness in the international lending market but is diverting vast sums from its citizens and creating more poverty at home. We can and should do more to exert a correcting influence through the IMF.

With regard to land reform, many Opposition Members have urged more positive action in breaking down large farms and creating smaller farms. Lord Shackleton referred to that in his report. I am still uncertain whether that would have any long-term beneficial effects on the islands. I have yet to see the evidence that that would create more employment. By that I mean more viable employment in the islands. This is my only major disagreement with the Shackleton report. I see his argument, but I do not see the evidence that if we implement his suggestion it will create a better economy.

We could have a major impact on preventing the repatriation of earnings by doing two things—first, by restoring confidence in the islands and, second by means of taxation. Also, with regard to land reform, we must make sure that the Falkland Islands Company does not withdraw without a proven viable alternative.

In looking to the future, we must ensure that we restore confidence, for confidence is the key to the future economic viability of the islands. Confidence is the oil that will allow the economy to move forward. If we truly want future economic viability, we must restore confidence. If we want confidence we must show no willingness to discuss the handover of sovereignty to Argentina. It is utterly wrong to talk about negotiating sovereignty at this stage, particularly as the hostilities have not officially been closed.

With the future in mind, I shall submit two ideas for consideration. The first is the establishment of a forward NATO facility, and the second is the establishment of a tax haven.

I have put forward the idea of a NATO facility before. It has fallen on stony soil. Many people argue that the islands are far outside the NATO area. Of course they are. There are other areas of vital interest to NATO which lie outside the NATO area such as the Arabian Gulf. However, unlike the Arabian Gulf, NATO would be welcome in the Falkland Islands. If we allowed NATO to use naval facilities and air and army training areas in the Falklands, large earnings would inevitably be generated for the local community.