HC Deb 27 July 1982 vol 28 cc912-3
7. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the progress of engineering and other reconstruction work by Her Majesty's forces in the Falklands.

Mr. Blaker

In conjunction with the Falkland Islands' public works department, the Royal Engineers have been undertaking the necessary "first aid" repairs to restore water and electricity supplies in Port Stanley. Houses and roads have also been repaired and emergency work has been completed on the airfield. Although the main task of the Royal Engineers is to support the Armed Forces, they will continue to provide assistance to the Falkland Islands Government wherever possible.

Mr. Latham

I realise that there are difficulties, such as minefields, but does my hon. Friend accept that the British people expect their troops to be out of tents and decently housed as soon as possible? Will he make sure that every possible step is taken by the Ministry of Defence to provide the necessary logistic support to get the construction work done as soon as possible?

Mr. Blaker

Yes, indeed. I give my hon. Friend and the House that assurance. It is right, on the other hand, to recognise that there are great difficulties facing the Royal Engineers in the Falklands, especially over accommodation. There are three times as many troops as civilians. There are only 350 houses in the whole of Port Stanley. Most of our troops, as my hon. Friend knows, are already under hard cover of some kind. There are 500 troops in tents at the airfield, where, unfortunately, there are no hard buildings which they can use. The troops have to remain at the airfield to protect it and to look after the Harriers, which are necessary for the defence of the Falklands. We shall get on with the job as soon as we can.

Mr. Crawshaw

Has any thought been given to the provision on a temporary basis of inflatable buildings, which are easily transportable and which have proved effective under similar circumstances?

Mr. Blaker

We have considered that suggestion, but weather problems on the Falklands lead us to believe that it is not necessarily the best solution.

Mr. Foulkes

Why are the Government not pursuing reconstruction with the same diligence as they pursued the war? Is it not the case that this illustrates the logistic difficulty of supplying any equipment to the islands without the assistance of the Government of Argentina?

Mr. Blaker

No. I do not accept the latter proposition. We are pursuing the logistic problems with the utmost zeal. They are very difficult. We are giving first priority to getting the airfield open and lengthened so that we can provide fast jets for the protection of the Falkland Islands.

Sir Hugh Fraser

With great respect to the public works department of the Falklands, which consists of one and a half persons, I should have thought that there was a case for moving in some kind of task force to see that the work is done effectively and quickly. Does my hon. Friend not agree that outside contractors should be engaged to build the airfield as quickly as possible?

Mr. Blaker

We have there the matting that is necessary to lengthen and strengthen the airfield. That work can be done by the Royal Engineers. My right hon. Friend mentioned a task force. There are nearly 1,000 Royal Engineers on the Falkland Islands. I think that they amount to a task force.

Mr. McNamara

There is no lack of expertise in the United Kingdom on the creation of prefabricated buildings. Many people who are unemployed could supply that accommodation easily and quickly. We understand that temporary airport extensions will be provided by the use of alloy matting. When will a decision be made about the permanent extension of the runway? Is there any possibility of a second runway being built? Will these matters be the responsibility of the Minister for Overseas Development?

Mr. Blaker

The shape and length of the permanent airport are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The revised Shackleton report will no doubt be relevant.

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