Falkland Islands (Shackleton Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 22nd December 1982.

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Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion 6:01 pm, 22nd December 1982

I read Lord Shackleton' s first and second reports with great respect. I shall elaborate on them later.

There is one point only of the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) that I want to take up. He spoke of his visit to Latin America and the need to improve our relations with those countries. Almost in the same breath, he talked about Chile's disregard for human rights. We want to improve air communications with the mainland of South America, and the Argentines are still reluctant on that point. Chile is the only other country that it is possible to consider in this respect and we had better make up our minds whether the economic or the human rights consideration is to take the upper hand.

I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney, Central for not speaking against the cost of the Shackleton proposals, unlike a large number of newspapers stretching from The Guardian to The Financial Times. The House has to face their widespread criticism, although the hon. Gentleman was careful not to give expression to it. Bernard Shaw said: How incapable must one be of learning from experience. By God, he was right. The basic lesson to be learnt from the Falkland crisis is the cost of not implementing the Shackleton proposals mark 1. If we had built the airfield that he recommended, which would have cost about £9 million in those days, I do not believe that there would have been an invasion. If we had implemented other parts of his plan, private enterprise would have had confidence in the future of the Falkland Islands.

The hon. Gentleman rightly raised the subject of land reform. I am attracted by the idea, but one of the reasons why the Falkland Islands company repatriated so great a proportion of its profits was that successive British Governments, both Labour and Conservative, left the future sovereignty of the islands, and thus the status of the company, in doubt. If one wants the company to re-invest in the island it must be confident that the existing status will continue. The same is true of new investors.

A long time ago, when I was at the Foreign Office, Lord Greenwood of RossendaleTony Greenwood, a friend of many of us—came to see me on behalf of an oil company of which he was a director. He wanted a licence to prospect. He was deterred by the uncertainty of the Foreign Office as to the islands' future status. Although I encouraged him to go ahead it was understandable that his co-directors did not want to.

If we had implemented Shackleton mark 1, the effect upon the Argentines could have been decisive. If they had seen that we were determined to develop this little archipelago I believe that they would have hesitated to attack us. It emerges clearly from General Galtieri's interview with the Italian lady, Miss Orlanda Forlucci, that he did not believe that we would try to take the islands back. The expenditure proposed in Shackleton mark 1 would have been about 1 or 2 per cent. of what we had to spend to take the islands back. That is the lesson that should be learnt by both sides of the House.

It is extraordinary how we could forget that a failure to spend money on defence led us into the First and Second World Wars. Both parties tripped up, but a little more expenditure on defence before 1914 and 1939 could have prevented the disasters that came later.

Some of the critics of the Shackleton mark 2 proposals, notably in the Financial Times but in other journals as well, have asked whether it is worth spending that amount of money on these little islands. That is an eighteenth century old colonialistic view. Do we judge the amount of money we spend on a bit of British territory by what we get out of it? That is not the line we take with the Outer Hebrides or other adjuncts of the British Isles. The Falklands are British islands. They may be 8,000 miles away, but it is a rather flat-earth philosophy to say that because of that we must regard them as foreign. They are not. They are stocked by British people. They have been British for a long time. Why should we look on them as foreign in an age when the world has shrunk? Eight thousand miles is not so important, as the Ministry of Defence was able to show.