James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James at The Springfields Academy
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Conservative): Thank you, Mr Crausby, for chairing the debate so well. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), who never misses an opportunity to speak up for the Royal Navy and for Gosport. I am delighted that she is serving as chairman of the sub-committee of the all-party group on the armed forces, of which I am chairman. In that capacity, she is looking after the Royal Navy and doing a very good job, too. I thank her for that.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who has laid out with barristeresque detail and clarity the case for the continuing independence and right to self-determination of the Falkland Islands. I will not attempt to repeat or to disagree with anything that he said, which was absolutely right. I will expand on it a little, but without the learned qualities that he was able to bring to his contribution.
My hon. Friend was right to start by paying tribute to the 255 British servicemen whose bodies lie in cemeteries in the Falklands to this day. I think that that was the last war in which the bodies of servicemen were not returned to the United Kingdom. In remembering them and the sacrifice that they made for the freedom and independence of the Falklands Islands, one should also remember the very many servicemen who came home but who suffer, because of the terrible injuries that they sustained as a result of their service, to this day. It was a great pleasure recently to welcome Simon Weston to Wootton Bassett town hall to turn on the Christmas lights in the high street. One need only think of the sacrifice and the efforts that Simon Weston and others have made to help servicemen like themselves.
Of course, in Wiltshire, we are very fortunate to have the home of Help for Heroes and, in Tedworth, the excellent home for servicemen injured in war, which is in the process of being completed and which I visited last week. At a time such as this, it is terribly important not only that we remember the 255 servicemen who gave their lives for the freedom of the Falkland Islanders, but that we think about and make efforts to help the very many servicemen—52,000 altogether in the United Kingdom—who will suffer for the rest of the lives as a result of the service that they have given.
In that context, I will, if I may, make a slight deviation to my own constituency. I am thinking particularly of the servicemen from RAF Lyneham, as it was. Sadly, thanks to the previous Government, it is no longer RAF Lyneham; it is to become a cross-service training depot. In those days, the Hercules fleet was based at RAF Lyneham and performed a magnificent service in ferrying people up and down to Ascension Island and onwards to the Falklands.
Also in my constituency, we were delighted last Thursday to give the freedom of the town of Chippenham to 9 Supply Regiment, the Royal Logistic Corps, which is the largest regiment in the British Army. Colonel Bob, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), might be interested to hear that 9 Supply Regiment, based at Hullavington, was given the freedom of Chippenham. Its predecessor also made significant contributions in supplying all that was needed during the great conflict 30 years ago this year.
The thrust of the debate today is plain. People in dependent territories and, indeed, elsewhere according to the United Nations, must have the right of self-determination. There can no question about that whatever. Most of the wars that we have fought in the past 100 years have been in the interests of freedom and of self-determination. It is right that people should be able to say for themselves whom they wish to run their country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned, that principle lies behind the current debate about a referendum in Scotland, although that is beyond the scope of this debate.
It is right that people should be able to say that they wish to remain one way or another. I suggest that if we challenged the 3,000 people who currently live in the Falklands to do so, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would receive 3,000 letters tomorrow morning indicating that every single one of them wished to remain British, to retain the British passport, to be part of Great Britain and to be a dependent territory of the United Kingdom. There is no question whatever about the unanimity and strength of desire of the people of the Falklands to do that.
With that background, it is only right that our nation should send the clearest possible messages to the Argentine Government that in no circumstances will we countenance anything like military action towards the Falklands. I must say in passing that military action against the Falklands is extraordinarily unlikely. There is not the remotest possibility that the Argentines will consider a replay of the war. None the less, they are choosing at this time for political reasons to make sabre-rattling noises, suggesting that they might do so. We should say that we will defend the Falklands to the last man—of course we would; there is no question about it, and it is impossible to imagine we would not. However, what is more important than that is what lies behind it, which is that we should be ready to say firmly and clearly to the Argentines—in saying this, we should echo it with messages to other parts of the world—that we do not believe it is right to say that the Falklands are part of Argentina, or to use the name the Malvinas. Just saying that and just making those noises undermines the right to self-determination of the people of the Falklands. It should not be allowed under international law. We should make it plain to them that we will not allow them to continue to do it.
Of course there are all sorts of ways in which we could persuade the Argentine Government of the wisdom of that view. They depend on us for all kinds of things. They want a sensible relationship with the rest of the world. The rude noises that they make about the Falklands should form an important part of negotiations that they might have with us about other things. It is outside the scope of this debate, but we heard this morning about strange remarks from Spain about Gibraltar’s independence and freedom. What we say in this debate about the Falklands is exactly mirrored in our approach to the independence and freedom of the people of Gibraltar, who have the right to decide whether they want to remain British—I am certain, having visited recently, that they do, to a gigantic extent. We must say to the Government of Spain, no matter what our relationship may be, that precisely what we did in the Falklands we would do with regard to Gibraltar, if they were to be foolish enough to tread on our toes in that way. We should reiterate the principle of independence and self-determination.
In congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham on calling the debate, I have only one slight regret. He may not realise that to this day 10 January is celebrated in the Falkland Islands as Thatcher day—and a good thing, too. It is a shame we could not have this debate on Thatcher day, the day on which she visited the Falkland Islands six months or so after the war was over. We should remember the part that she—a great woman—played in maintaining the freedom and independence of the Falkland Islands. Let us not forget it. I do not like “The Iron Lady”. It is not a particularly tasteful thing to have done. On an occasion such as this it is right that we should pay tribute to the great Margaret Thatcher for the wonderful work that she did in preserving the freedom and independence of the people of the Falkland Islands.
The question whether there is a risk of military intervention in the Falklands has already been touched on. I do not believe that there is a risk, or that the Argentines are foolish enough even to contemplate doing anything of the sort. I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham that the quality and strength of the defence that we have in the Falklands—my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport saw the evidence when she visited with the armed forces parliamentary scheme last year—is such that no one, whether the Argentines or anyone else, would possibly consider it.
I have a couple of minor concerns about the outlying islands. I am very much involved with South Georgia, which is of course the place where the Argentines first landed all those years ago. To this day, it remains exposed to some degree. It is of course a quite remote place, entirely populated by rats, which we are doing our best to eradicate at the moment. It is a place that we have to keep our eye on to ensure that no intervention is possible there. The Argentines have also made some foolish remarks about Antarctica. It is covered by the treaty and is no part of Argentina. We should preserve the international nature of Antarctica from any possible encroachment by the Argentines or anyone else. There are not only diplomatic reasons, but important commercial reasons for that. Mention has been made of oil, and Rockhopper is a fine Wiltshire oil company, which is currently considering what it can do in the south Atlantic. I am delighted to help in any way that I can to ensure that its rights of exploration—if, indeed, it decides to use them—are preserved against a possible commercial objection by the Argentines or anyone else.
Our forces in the Falklands, as has been said, are second to none. They are ready to repel any boarder. However, I have one concern. This matter was raised in the Chamber on Thursday, during the defence debate. By the end of the current strategic defence review, we shall have an Army of 82,000 people. In many parts of the world, and under many definitions, that is not an army but a defence force. The number above which a force is considered to be an army is normally 100,000. Our Army is now the smallest that we have had since the Crimean war. Our Navy has been decimated and the RAF has been cut in half. If there were to be an encroachment today of the kind that happened before, we would not be able to produce a taskforce as we did then, because we simply do not have the resources. As I said in Thursday’s debate, that is entirely wrong. If we have a moral duty as a nation, whether in the Falklands, Gibraltar or elsewhere in the world, we must have the resources to carry it out. I fear that the strategic defence and security review has resulted in a defence force for this country that is not sufficient to carry out the tasks that the Foreign Office requires. The Minister may want to consider whether the Foreign Office could make stronger representations to the Treasury about the amount of money available for the defence of the realm, so that if we ever have to, we can once again send a taskforce of the kind that we are remembering today.
We are sending a clear message to the people of the Falklands, and to the United Nations, the United States and the rest of the world, that we believe that the people of the Falklands have every right to self-determination. The people of the Falklands must be allowed to decide their future, and we will use military force if necessary—certainly military defensive force—to ensure that that happens. However, we should send a stronger message that we are determined to do the same elsewhere in the world. We are determined that people’s right to make up their minds about their future, a free and independent liberal economy and democracy are the things that our nation stands for. We demonstrated that we stood for them during the Falklands war, and we stand for them elsewhere in the world; but to do so we need sufficient defence forces and investment.
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