Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to Michael Fallon’s Oral Statement on the Falkland Islands:
Can I start by thanking the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it?
May I also state from the outset that it is right on an occasion such as this to once again remember and pay tribute to the courage of the men and women of our Armed Forces in retaking the Falklands in 1982.
In particular the 255 Britons who made the ultimate sacrifice and the hundreds of service personnel who were injured and their families?
We should also remember [as the Secretary of State said] that the views of the Falkland Islanders are firmly on the record.
Does he agree with me that the recent referendum was a democratic process, overseen by international observers, and has now made clear again that the Islanders wish to remain British?
Mr Speaker, our position is clear: the only people to determine the future of the Falkland Islands is the Falkland Islanders themselves
And so the Government is right in its vow to remain vigilant and committed to the protection of the Falkland Islanders at all times.
We support the current deployment of assets – Typhoon combat aircraft, Rapier surface-to-air missiles, and about 1,200 troops permanently stationed on the Falklands, supported by visiting Royal Navy warships and attack submarines – as a realistic deterrent to any potential threat to the islands.
However isn’t it the case, Mr Speaker, that this posture should be continuously reviewed and that the Government should remain constantly vigilant for any emerging threats?
For some years now, Argentina has been trying to replace its antiquated and increasingly unserviceable fighter fleets with a newer and more capable air frames.
Can I therefore ask the Secretary of State to say a little more about Russia’s involvement? And what conversations has he had with our allies about the role of Russia in the South Atlantic?
Can the Secretary of State share with the House his assessment of the actual threat level facing the Falklands at the moment? And has it increased in recent months?
Can he tell the House how these measures announced today will be funded?
In the context of the spending plans set out in last year’s spending review it became clear that the MoD budget would come under severe pressure and the Chancellor’s Budget did nothing to dispel those concerns – how then will this ongoing commitment be met?
Can the Secretary of State say a little more about why it was that certain parts of the media were reporting greater numbers of troops this morning, yet he made clear in his statement that they will remain “around their current levels.”?
How soon will the missile system be upgraded? And can he guarantee that there will not be any capability gaps between end of rapier and commencement of the new system?
Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that we have the appropriate number of Typhoons deployed?
And can I ask the Secretary of State to set out whether he is satisfied that there is the appropriate level of intelligence sharing to ensure we are able to deploy our assets most effectively?
Will the Secretary of State say a little more about the timescale of modernising the infrastructure of the Falklands, including the harbour?
The involvement of Russia is clearly a worry and the deterrent of enhanced military capabilities is to be welcomed but we can surely all agree that the best way forward is diplomacy. So may I also ask the Secretary of State what diplomatic activity is taking place? And what discussions he has had with the Foreign Secretary about these issues?
Finally, is this not the clearest indication that we need an open debate about the defence and security challenges facing the UK? And that the next SDSR needs to be strategically-driven, equipping our Armed Forces for the challenges of an increasingly unstable and dangerous world? – as the Defence Select Committee have themselves said today.
The will of the people of the Falkland Islands – their right to self-determination – expressed in the recent referendum, must be respected. And Argentina’s transition to democracy should give us some confidence that this will be the case.
However we believe it is prudent to take the measures outlined by the Secretary of State, as a proportionate response to the current. We believe these measures should command the support of all sides of the House.