HL Deb 16 December 1981 vol 426 cc208-37

5.51 p.m.

Lord Morris rose to call attention to the development opportunities in the South-West Atlantic; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The knowledge and experience of this ever-increasingly important part of the world held by other noble Lords who are to follow me is a source of great comfort to me and indeed a great help. My interest in the subject is limited to the short period of time I have been a Member of your Lordships' House. However, one thing I have learned in that time is that the uninterest of successive Governments is in dramatic contrast to the interest and concern of the people they govern and the Members of both Houses of Parliament, of all political persuasions. Even today an Early Day Motion has been tabled in another place with no less than 66 signatures of Members of another place, of all shades of opinion. No doubt many more names will be added to the list and I cannot help wondering, in all seriousness, what direct material effect that will have.

It reminds me so often, this subject, of A. G. MacDonell's England, Their England, wherein your Lordships will recall the personal assistant of the United Kingdom's delegate to the League of Nations was sent to elucidate from the Permanent Representative Her Majesty's Government's foreign policy on a particular matter. The officials looked in total amazement when he asked this question, as though he were mad, and responded: Her Majesty's Government do not have a foreign policy other than, of course, that we must be nice to the French ". If one is to substitute " the Argentinians " for " the French " I think one has the message.

Recent parliamentary endeavour and history around this subject has shown us that, with the notable exception of the Administration which the late and much-missed Lord Goronwy-Roberts served, which made a very real attempt to do something, the attitude of successive Administrations has been: Who will rid me of this turbulent priest? Lip-service alone has been paid to the major recommendations in the admirable economic survey of the Falkland Islands made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. Indeed, at the very beginning of this Government's Administration in May 1979 an Answer was given in another place in the form of a Statement, to the effect that the majority of recommendations in the report had been implemented. The Question that had been asked in the other place was followed up by a Question in your Lordships' House and it was made quite clear that, by any straightforward measure, this was nothing if not misleading. However, am pleased to inform your Lordships that only this afternoon in another place the record has been put straight. In answer to the same Question—of course, I am quoting from memory—Her Majesty's Government changed their answer and gave the following: Very many of the recommendations have been implemented, some are in hand, and some have been rejected ".

In the light of that Answer, may I ask my noble friend which of the recommendations of the report have been rejected? He will be aided in his answer because he can refer specifically to the list of recommendations which was tabled by Her Majesty's Government at the time. That would be very helpful indeed. It is, however, sad to reflect that those recommendations which will have a major impact upon development will no doubt be those which are rejected.

As your Lordships will be aware, there are other indications of increasing uninterest by Her Majesty's Government in maintaining and encouraging developments in that part of the world. In the face of increasing activity by other nations in the marine resources of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies and the Treaty area of Antarctica, Her Majesty's Government decided to take HMS " Endurance " out of active service next May. Knowing full well that other noble Lords will be developing this theme far better than I ever could, I will only say that this decision is as sad as it is short-sighted. This decision has been greeted with unalloyed joy in the Argentinian press. It has been seen, which is hardly surprising, and I quote— as a relaxation of Britain's vigil in Antarctica ". When one considers the almost certain presence of oil in the area, not to mention the fish, krill and kelp, one begins to understand the ever-increasing international interest and activity in the Falkland Islands and British Antarctica. A recent survey of Antarctic waters by the CIA Glomar Explorer, previously used to raise part of a Russian missile submarine sunk off Hawaii, discovered large quantities of methane gas, which is, as your Lordships will know, a very firm indication of the presence of oil. The agency's report said that oil reserves as much as a third of those now in Saudi Arabia lie under the Antarctic Ocean, most of them in territory now claimed by Britain. This view is endorsed by scientists of the British Antarctic Survey. In addition, West German scientists, during the survey by the research ship " Meteor " in the 1980–81 southern summer reached similar conclusions.

West Germany, like Russia, America, Japan, China and Brazil among others, have no territorial claims in Antarctica but that in no way appears to inhibit their research. Indeed, Dr. Richard Laws, director of the British Antarctic Survey, points out that in the case of the Russians their claims are widespread throughout the continent. With newcomers like the Chinese, an agreement has been reached with Chile for joint exploration and research. Since the Antarctic treaty does not touch on the economic exploitation of the continent, only the climatic and sea conditions remain a real barrier to attempts to extract the oil. These and the present world glut of oil are likely to be only short-term inhibitions, since in the view of Dr. Laws the technology now exists to enable the oil to be drilled once the most promising sites have been located.

This brings me to HMS " Endurance ", because one of the most vital tasks that ship performs is the hydro-graphic survey of such areas which are still largely uncharted. As has been seen with the movements of oil rigs around the familiar coasts of the British Isles, such surveying is absolutely essential as a preliminary to the movement of both rigs and supertankers.

Another piece of evidence of international interest in this part of the world is that the French have now established an important base with a colonial governor on the remote Kerguelen group of islands, which are far to the east of South Georgia, but only a little more northerly in latitude than South Georgia. It is from Kerguelen that the French support their research stations in that part of Antarctica to which they lay claim.

Notwithstanding that, perhaps the most telling development has been the fact that Argentina has advertised the availability of licences to drill for oil in disputed waters that straddle the median line between the Falklands and Patagonia. My honourable friend in another place, the Member for Uxbridge, Mr. Michael Shersby, in an excellent speech on the Address, named three groups of companies which are interested in bidding for concessions. Her Majesty's Government's response to this—and I quote from column 202 of the Commons Hansard of 5th November—was: We have protested to the Argentinian Government about what they have said. Our information is that the block for which they have invited tenders … has not yet been awarded ". The only response one could possibly have to that is: I should think not!

I was pleased to learn that my noble friend Lord Mottistone will speak on the point of the illegal occupation of Southern Thule. I do not wish to develop this, but I should like to say that the presence of military personnel on British territory, and indeed in British Antarctica, is nothing other than deplorable. No doubt, my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein might be tempted to suggest that the military uniform and side-arms of the Argentinians are akin to the bowler hat and umbrella of the British. However, I shall not say any more on that point, because I know that my noble friend Lord Mottistone will be handling it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Morris. I am not sure whether I heard him correctly at the beginning. I support him on most things, but, if I may say so, his enthusiasm has led him slightly astray in giving the names of senior diplomats. On the whole, as a former Civil Service Minister, I find this undesirable. I forgive him, and perhaps he may have said something at the beginning. But perhaps, at the end, he might care to express some regret on this. It would be very undesirable. Somebody might give the noble Lord's number, but perhaps he would not mind that.

The subject of this debate is a very good one, because we are talking about the South-West Atlantic and one of the problems is in getting people to understand that this is not a single issue. It is not just the Falklands; it is not HMS " Endurance "; it is not South Georgia and it is not oil on the Burdwood Bank. It is a complex which needs to be looked at in a totality, because these issues are all very closely related. Of course, the British Antarctic Territory is a place to which, thanks to the treaties—and I know that this is an old remark—the cold war has never come. It owes much to the pioneer work of British scientists and explorers over many years. It is in this context that noble Lords and honourable Members in another place have been critical of the decision to scrap HMS " Endurance ". This is perhaps the most obvious and vital symbol that is at stake.

It is not without significance that I have been approached by friends on the Argentine side, who have asked whether that meant that the British were thinking of changing their posture generally. I may say that I believe the Government when they say that they have no such intention. But intentions are not enough, and it is some of the facts that we want to draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I am not sure how far he has dealt with this subject. I know that he is interested in conservation and that is one of the matters that I shall want to talk about.

I am sorry to say—and this is why I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, in his desperation in trying to get at the diplomats—that no Government have ever really understood this issue. I would also say that, had it not been for some pretty determined action, particularly in another place, we might well have seen a departure, an abandonment of our interests. What is at stake—and I say this particularly to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, who, dare I say, may be speaking for the Opposition on this occasion, and not for the first time—is peace and the continuation of the status quo in the Antarctic and in the adjacent islands: that is quite fundamental.

It is, of course, a fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has said, that the Argentines have fired a few shots in the past, though, I am happy to say, not recently. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, will be referring to the fact that there are not many scientists on the Argentine base, that there are quite a number of military bearing arms, and even carrying that new-born baby whose mother was flown there so that there might be the first Argentine colonial member of the Antarctic. My friend Peter Scott carried that 10-day old baby in his arms. I do not say that the baby is contrary to the Antarctic treaty, but bearing arms is.

Most of the arguments have been deployed at some time or other, but I should like to recap some of the main points with regard to the Falklands. First, the Falkland Islands are unquestionably British. I am told that some tourists from South America arrived there and expected to be able to speak in Spanish. They are very surprised when they look at the oppressed Falkland Islanders and find that they are very British and very proud. They are indistinguishable—and people will have seen some recent television films about them—from inhabitants of the British Isles. They are a declining population. This is because their future is uncertain and, again, the decision to scrap HMS " Endurance " contributes to that.

But I want to repeat something of which no Government will ever take cognisance, although it is in my report, which was rather long, and I shall not blame the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, if he has not had time to read it. But the fact is that over the 23 years up to 1973, the Falklands effectively contributed to the United Kingdom Exchequer—that is, out of profits repatriated to this country—more than twice what they received by way of assistance at current prices. In certain years, it may have been the other way round. I am not making a racist point, but if the inhabitants had been not British but Indian, coloured or black, there would have been a howl at the United Nations, because this is a classic example of colonial exploitation. I say that without any hesitation. The British have failed to repay a debt which they owe to the Falklands.

Not everybody may like the Falkland Islands. It is wild, empty country with a very temperate climate. They never have it as cold as we have had it in one or two parts of Britain lately, and they do not get it as warm either. The wealth there has been in the sheep. They are dependent on good relations with the Argentine, which provides many services. I hope that they will continue to be good neighbours and, maybe, in the course of time, as this good neighbourliness develops, the people of the Falkland Islands may wish to have some association. But the Falkland Islands are 300 miles away. After all, Britain was a bit slow in joining European Community and we are only 20 miles away.

The fact is that at the moment the people there, for good or for ill, are totally opposed to the idea of being joined up with the Argentine. But it is not only the Falkland Islands. There are the dependencies. There is that marvellous island of South Georgia, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, which is on the other side of the Antarctic convergence. Although it is only the same latitude South as Manchester is North, it is very sub-arctic. It has marvellous wildlife, abandoned ghost towns from the days of the whaling stations, tens of thousand of pounds worth of equipment. It is the centre of one of the richest fishing areas in the world. These ports are properly British. We have developed them. Although at the moment there is only a British Antarctic survey base, it would be intolerable if the Falkland Islands were leased or given away and if South Georgia should also go that way.

The fact is that most of the fishing and maritime development in the Antarctic has been done by the British. I am going back not only to the explorers but to the discovery, the investigations, the biological work. At the moment we are taking nothing in the way of the wealth of the sea. In the last year or two it is said that the Russians took 240,000 tonnes of fish from the vicinity of South Georgia. They are already beginning to take fairly large quantities of squid, and certainly fairly large quantities of krill. I do not know how much squid they are taking. There is enough food there to equal the whole of the world's fishing industry product. There is an important requirement to achieve a proper régime of conservation in which I know that the British, having taken the initiative, will play an important part.

This links up with the South-West Atlantic. In the British Antarctic territory where there have been bases for a number of years (American bases are nearby and also Argentine bases) there is undoubtedly a prospect—I say no more than that—of oil. I have very mixed feelings about oil. I would much rather that people did not find oil either in the vicinity of the Falklands—because I do not think that in the short run it would necessarily be to the benefit of the Falklands—or in the Antarctic. But if oil is found, it will almost certainly be exploited. It would be very wrong if the British were to abandon their entitlement under whatever treaty arrangement may be made to exploit oil, since we are the people who have done most of the work in developing this part of the world.

This brings me back once again to the importance of HMS " Endurance " and the importance of the white ensign in the Antarctic. HMS " Endurance "—I assure noble Lords that it is not because of my family connection that I take this view—is the one naval ship which is capable of going into ice. It is also the one ship which, with her very economical performance, is capable of covering tremendous distances. The Falkland Islands are 7,500 miles from the United Kingdom. To send a modern frigate down there would require a lot of time. It would probably need a fleet auxiliary company, because frigates have such poor endurance, and it is doubtful whether there is suitable gas turbine fuel in the area. HMS " Endurance" is particularly well qualified to perform this role. It is a former Danish Dan ship—I think it was the " Anita Dan "—and she probably has another 15 years of life. We are told by the Government that it costs £4 million to £4½ million a year to maintain her and that this is too large an amount to be carried. But the fact is that a number of very heavy overhead costs are loaded on to this. If one looks at the cost of British Antarctic surveys, with two ships—" Brans-field ", which is very much larger than " Endurance ", and " Biscoe "—several bases, and several aircraft and if one realises that " Endurance " comes to a great deal less than that, one wonders whether or not HMS " Endurance " could be operated more cheaply. It is vital that the white ensign should be there. It is vital that there should he a presence. When the research ship " Shackleton " was intercepted there is now good evidence that the presence of HMS " Endurance ", even though she is not heavily armed, since she has only two 220 millimetres, a couple of helicopters and perhaps a few missiles for the helicopters, was a point in ensuring that our ship was not taken after she had had shots fired at her—officially across the bows but actually over. HMS " Endurance ", furthermore, has saved a lot of money and, I suspect, lives. They provide the back-up to British Antarctic surveys. When " Biscoe " was damaged, HMS " Endurance " had to tow " Biscoe " from Port Stanley to the River Plate, the longest tow since the war, with very great economy. Again, HMS " Endurance " had to help " Bransfield " when she went aground in Graham Land. HMS " Endurance " is part, but not an isolated part, of the general picture in the Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic area.

This is a short debate. There are many arguments which I could add. Although I have been black-guarded in the Argentine press—at least they thought they were blackguarding me when they said that I was as bad as Drake, Dampier and Cavendish—the British take this as a compliment! There was something about the wolf having sailed. I have many friends in the Argentine. I have a very high regard for the Argentinians. They have a proud tradition. But they ought to realise that we also still, I hope, carry some traditions and some duties. This is something which we can afford because our future in the Antarctic is very important. I am not talking about the next year or two but about the next 20 or 30 years. A withdrawal now might be very difficult to recover from. It may be necessary for HMS Endurance " to be laid up for a year, but I hope very much that it will be possible to sustain the one ice-patrol ship that we have which is also capable, if necessary, of being operated in the Arctic.

There have been some broadcasts on the subject. One produced a letter which, although a bit of a tear-jerker. I should like to read to your Lordships. It is written from a school which is named after my father. They use the family motto: " By endurance we conquer ". This is why my father called the ship " Endurance ". They say: We are so sad to hear that the ' Endurance' is on its last voyage and is going to be sold to another country ".— I hope there is no question of HMS " Endurance " being sold to another country in the short run— We are so unhappy to think what might happen in the future. It would be wrong if the Antarctic Treaty was not renewed and people move in and build oil rigs and drill for minerals spoiling the landscape. If the land was polluted penguins may die out and become extinct ". These are very small children. The letter continues: All the good things would be destroyed. Please would you do all you can so these things do not happen. Is there any more we can do? And so on: … it would be a shame to spoil this land and just let it be used for money-making purposes ". The least I can do is to read that letter to your Lord-ships' House. Although it may be sentimental, there are still reasons why our own interest coincides with sentiment.

6.20 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, somebody had to have the misfortune of trying to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on this subject and it seems to be my unlucky day. We hear him all too seldom. On this subject he is, of course, the acknowledged expert. It has occurred to me that, as the number of our colonial dependencies decreases, it ought to be possible for Her Majesty's Government to give an increasing amount of attention to those which remain. In my necessarily rather hurried study of this subject, I find very little evidence that that is actually what happens. I will leave it to other more qualified speakers, particularly the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, to say what is the strategic significance of the geographical position of the Falkland Islands, but I assume that, at least in the negative sense of denying that base to any potential enemy, they must be of some importance. However, that may be, I am basing my speech on the assumption that we do intend that the Falklands shall remain British. It would surely be quite unthinkable to make any other assumption in view of the loyalty and the frequently-expressed wishes of the inhabitants, practically all of whom are of our blood.

This is a declining economy that we are looking at, and it is dangerously dependent on the single commodity of wool. There is no lack of suggestions as to how this decline might be halted. Most of them are either ways in which the economic and social infrastructure of the islands can be improved or directions in which the economy might be diversified. Diversification depends, of course, on infrastructure, and both depend upon the removal of political uncertainty, since political uncertainty deters investment just as surely as it lowers the morale of the population. There are others who will deal with many of these difficult and interlocking questions. Two previous speakers have already dealt with many of them. I shall leave kelp and krill to the experts and concentrate on the sheep and the wool, the land and the people who so sparsely inhabit it. I do this not only to conceal my own ignorance of the more technical subjects but also because I feel sure that no matter how desirable some of these more complicated developments may be in the long run, the economy of the Falkland Islands will for all practical purposes for some time to come depend upon the land, the sheep and, most definitely, the people.

There seems to be unanimity among all the experts I have been able to consult, among whom I include the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Guillebaud Report, and the Falkland Islands Office of Information. There seems to be unanimity that the free-ranging system of grazing sheep has led to a progressive decline in the quality of the pasture. The sheep are not fools; they eat what they like first, and like children they should be encouraged to eat the other equally nourishing things which are not so appetising. Everybody agrees that more fencing is needed so that tracts of grazing land can be rested in rotation. I understand that in many cases electric fencing could be powered by wind-generated electricity. All this is so widely agreed that one wonders why it has not been more widely practised.

I wonder too whether the monocultural preoccupation with sheep is altogether wise. The Falkland Islands' yield of about 2,000 tons per year looks very small when compared with the 900,000 tons which come from Australia and New Zealand, and it is entirely at the mercy of fluctuations in the demand for, and price of, wool, and open to increasing competition from man-made fibres. I read that in the middle of the last century there were about 50,000 head of cattle roaming wild in the Falkland Islands: these were the feral descendants of quite a few South American cattle which de Bougainville had deposited there in 1764. So some diversification into beef and out of wool would seem to me to be a sound policy.

However, what I consider to be the most important point—and here again I find that the experts are all agreed—is that the system of land tenure is at the root of the trouble. I find it very difficult to believe, although I have read it in at least two reports, that there are only about 30 farms in this territory, which is not much smaller than Wales. The ownership of these farms is concentrated in a very few hands. There are virtually no tenant farmers, only salaried managers. However well-paid these managers and the other employees may be, they lack the incentive of the farmer who farms his own land. There is in my party a fairly ancient tradition of anti-landlordism, but I want to assure the House that we do no longer sing the old song, " Give the land back to the people ", perhaps because we have all forgotten the words, if indeed we ever knew them.

It is not that spirit which inspires the next point I wish to make, which is that I believe with great conviction that in an ideal world nobody would own any land unless he recognised that one does not ' own ' land in the same sense as one can own a suit of clothes or a motor-car. A good landowner, of whom there are many examples in your Lordships' House, knows that he is really holding the land in trust for posterity and it is surely his hope that when he eventually hands it on, the land will be in better heart than it was when he acquired it. That is a mental attitude which comes fairly easily to many people, but is it—and this is at least a half-rhetorical question—a mental attitude that one can expect a company to adopt? I should take some convincing of that, and yet these Falkland Islands are virtually " company islands ".

6.29 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord McNair, will allow me to interrupt him, the actual figures are that out of 36 farms that we reported, nine are sole trader partnerships and four can be described as owner-occupied, in that the farm residents own more than 50 per cent. of the capital shareholding. This does not destroy the main purport of the noble Lord's argument, because the other 23 farms are owned by 14 companies, and virtually 50 per cent. of the economy is owned by the Falkland Islands Company.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I do not believe I need to withdraw anything I said, but I am grateful for that amplification. I think it is true that, in addition to owning almost half the sheep-bearing land, the Falkland Islands Company markets the entire wool-clip from the islands and has a substantial stake in the company which is the principal buyer. I believe that this is known as vertical integration ", and I have no doubt that it makes very good business sense, and brings considerable comfort to the shareholders. But the consequences on the islands you can see in the low morale, the steady drain of emigration and the difficulty of attracting the right sort of new immigrant. I am not—and I want to emphasise this—imputing any villainy to the Falkland Islands Company. This is not a scandal like the treatment of Ocean Island by the British Phosphates Commission some years ago. But surely it was a mistake in colonial administration to sell those 28,000 acres to the Falkland Islands Company in 1964. They had enough already.

To conclude, I am sure that there are many things that ought to be done in the Falklands—a regular and direct air link with South America, development of tourism and of the alginates industry, judicious exploitation of the enormous reserves of marine protein, encouragement of immigration of the right sort; the ideal package would seem to be a hardy young shepherd married to a schoolteacher with two young daughters. All these things no doubt should be done, and I hope will be, but I am sure that this question of land tenure must be tackled as a first priority.

6.32 p.m.

Lord Buxton of Alsa

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Morris for introducing this debate which is both timely and of extreme importance. May I first apologise to your Lordships that I have to leave, I fear, before the end of the debate, owing to a very long-standing commitment which I cannot opt out of, but I shall, of course, read what is said after my departure with the greatest of interest tomorrow.

I have spoken at considerable length in the past on this subject on two or three occasions and I shall not do so again this evening. But I should like to try and unravel how our policies have become established in regard to the Falklands and also how decisions like that concerning " Endurance " have been made. I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will clarify a lot of these points in his reply, which I shall of course be anxious to read. Whereas this whole subject of the situation in that southern part of the planet should be one of elation and excitement for British people, it is sadly of great concern and anxiety—exactly the opposite of what it ought to be in view of our history and experience and our advantages. We see at present the lamentable picture of Britain, the historical and traditional leader in Antarctic discovery and in the search for new opportunities, apparently tamely opting out, while all other countries are moving in, taking advantage of our past endeavour and enterprise, gaining at our expense the prospects which we have always, up till now, firmly held in our grasp.

On the question of HMS Endurance " I must say that I have some understanding and some sympathy for the Secretary of State for Defence. Like any business manager, he has to manage his budget, and I can understand that in his examination of these problems, tiny fringe costs like HMS " Endurance ", without other knowledge, might be readily forfeited. Perhaps it is not necessarily his responsibility to take account of the far-reaching consequences for Britain's future of the withdrawal of this absolutely vital Royal Navy service. But may we get this issue clear—and I hope my noble friend will clarify it. The Secretary of State for Defence presumably, in my limited experience, has to defend primarily what the rest of the Government want or demand. Being under severe pressure to trim his expenditure and obliged to cut wherever he can, no doubt " Endurance " and other apparently fringe items are likely to be axed unless voices are raised in protest by other Ministers, some of whom should have a keen and acute interest.

I do not want to hear so much what the Ministry of Defence has to say about it; what I want to be told, and we should he told, is what other Ministers said before the " Endurance " decision was taken. Can the Minister tell us what the Foreign Secretary said? Can he say what the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries said? What was said by the Department of Trade and the Department of Energy? How did they react and what representations did they make before this decision was taken? It is said that this was a Cabinet decision, but these Ministers cannot all have been asleep, or do they not understand the importance to this country's future of the Antarctic.

The hinge of our position, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton has made so clear, in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic and the key to our future economic interests are of course the Falkland Islands and the Dependencies. The root problem is that they are apparently not recognised by the Government as an important defence commitment. The Government seem to see the Falkland Islands simply as an irksome problem concerning 1,800 isolated British citizens; they do not see them as the vital key to future opportunities for future generations. Of course, there are these 1,800 isolated British citizens, being, if f may say so, treated very discourteously, particularly over the axing of " Endurance ", but that is not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is that the Falklands and the Dependencies are the key and the doorway to British interests in the future in the Antarctic.

There is surely something lacking at present in Government priorities. We all understand, particularly those of us on these Benches, the present economic difficulties, but when our country's future interests abroad are at stake we Back-Benchers must take account of how the taxpayers' money is deployed overall. What we are talking about for the maintenance of HMS " Endurance " is, it is said, £4½ million a year. I take Lord Shackleton's point that one would like one's accountants to look at that very hard to see how it is arrived at. Yet at the same time we see nearly £200 million being happily granted to the arts. I am not a philistine and I am not attacking the arts, but, just think of it, £200 million apparently available for the arts while £4½ million is not available to protect Britain's future in the Antarctic and the interests of future generations and our grandchildren. There must be something wrong with priorities.

Of course, the Secretary of State for Defence may not on his own be able to solve this dilemma of priorities. However, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet can. It is up to them to do what is required to make the necessary adjustments in the national interest and to enable the Ministry of Defence to sustain British interests for the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, and others have pointed out the importance to Britain, and indeed to all nations, of future opportunities in the South West Atlantic and Antarctica, some perhaps unknown as yet. But the doorway to these benefits unquestionably resides in the advantages we already possess, particularly the Falkland Islands and the Dependencies, especially South Georgia and the British Antarctic Survey bases on the Antarctic Peninsula. Above all, the most vital part is the servicing of these outposts by the Royal Navy. It is simply not valid to say that the ship itself is what matters. I have heard suggested, " All right, if you want the ship, let us keep it, or BAS could use it ". It is not the ship that matters; it is the presence of the Royal Navy, the Royal ensign. The critical factor is the Royal Navy.

Again, the problem as I see it is a lack of cohesion in Government. The Foreign Office, whatever it says, is clearly at present uninterested in the Falkland Islands. Of course, one has to hold the Government responsible for current decisions. I myself take a more detached view and do not necessarily blame this Government for the attitude. The Foreign Office has been at it for years, conducting a negative policy about the Falkland Islands, and it started long before Lord Chalfont went to buy out the inhabitants in favour of Argentina in the 'sixties.

It is not entirely irrelevant in this context to mention the question of the BBC External Services, because it helps to underline the point. I do not hold my friends in the Government responsible for the policy of the cuts, although I hold them responsible for the decisions. How could they be responsible for the policy when the cuts have been pressed for in Whitehall for eight years, long before our Government came into power? The new cuts are part of a consistent plan pursued by the Foreign Office, and the present general round of cuts were, in my view, simply an excuse for pursuing a long-established policy. The only benefactors are our enemies, primarily Russia, and exactly the same thing is now happening in the South Atlantic over the Falklands and over " Endurance ". The axing of " Endurance " is a massive undeserved bonus for other nations.

So, if the Falkland Islands are the key to our economic prospects in the southern hemisphere, I can understand as well as anyone in Whitehall or the Foreign Office the problem about the Falklands and Argentina. I firmly believe that a joint solution may be possible; I have broadcast on Falkland Islands Radio to the islanders and stated firmly that I believe a solution must be found, and that I believe that it is possible, provided both parties manifest some statesmanship and flexibility. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I also have had discussions with Argentinian friends and people in responsible positions, and I believe that it is conceivable that the end result could bring a harmonious and mutually rewarding conclusion.

But with great respect, the Foreign Office are being two-faced at present and are making a successful outcome to such things very difficult, if not unlikely. Every time this important subject arises we get the declaration that the Government consider the Falkland Islands British, and that is that, and nothing will be done without the agreement of the islanders. But you cannot just say that unless you consolidate it with positive policies and actions. The British Government cannot say that the Falkland Islands are British and then do absolutely nothing to keep them British. It is frankly hot air, and I hope that the Minister will simply not repeat it today unless he has some new, positive information to encourage everyone.

In recent times, there has not been one single event or action that could give the Falkland Islands any encouragement whatever to believe that the Government mean what they say and intend the Falkland Islands to remain British. There is, and has been, simply a long sequence of actions and events which is totally discouraging to everyone. Not one encouraging symptom—only a long history of discouragement. That is dishonest. It is the same as the Government saying that they are against inflation and then doing absolutely nothing about it. It does not make any sense.

Of course, the Foreign Office does not have to tell me that there are difficulties with Argentina. We know that there are. But you can have difficulties with your brother, sister or cousin, and it does not mean that you have to have a bust-up. It does not mean that you have to make enemies. You have to sort things out and sometimes you have to go to court. but it does not mean that members of families are not on speaking terms and that one side has to go into a decline because it does not seem to have the fibre or the stomach to stand up for its case. Even if you are in dispute with a brother, sister, or cousin, you do not surrender all your cards in advance, denude yourself of your vital tactical asset, and then go naked into the negotiation. That is what the Government are doing by planning to withdraw HMS " Endurance ".

As a member of these Benches, and anxious to help and to support all Ministers in their various responsibilities, I hope that I do not cause offence by stressing that what concerns me about our Antarctic policy, our Falkland Islands policy and about our attitude to the Argentinian problem, is that several left hands do not seem to know what several right hands are doing, and I do not believe that these decisions have been carefully considered in the round, taking into account all aspects and interests. I consider that they are short-sighted and (dare I say?) appear unpatriotic.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for raising this subject. I believe that it is imperative to have a Motion at an early date on the subject and thereby assist the Secretary of State for Defence by having a convincing vote in this House, and hopefully a vote in another place, to ensure that the Royal Navy maintains a positive presence in the most interesting region of the world that now remains, and not to deny future British generations their rightful heritage and quite probably great opportunities in the decades ahead.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Hill-Norton

My Lords, I, too, must apologise in advance as did the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, for the fact that an engagement at which I am presiding and which was arranged many months ago, will, I fear, cause me to leave before the debate is over. I shall not detain your Lordships long and nor shall I, except in passing, deal with the economic aspects of the South-Western Atlantic now or in the future, about which other noble Lords are much better informed than I and have spoken wisely both today and on previous occasions.

As your Lordships will suppose, my interest is in the strategic aspects of the subject of our debate today, and they are, as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has said, of great importance. They lie, as is normal, primarily in the domain of foreign policy, but our objectives and our development opportunities in the area which we are debating tonight can only he reached and maintained, as is also normal, by a complementary defence policy.

I share the serious doubts of the noble Lords, Lord Morris, and Lord Buxton, about whether our general policy on this increasingly important strategic area is sufficiently clear for our own understanding, much less that of our potential competitors, or worse still, potential adversaries. What I have no doubt about is that the decision to withdraw HMS " Endurance " from this station next year, after 27 years of continuous Antarctic patrol, without replacement by another of Her Majesty's ships suitably fit and fitted, is a grave mistake. The consequence of it will almost certainly be disastrous in the political, military and economic fields alike, and equally probably it will be irreversible. I believe that each noble Lord who has spoken this evening has said much the same thing, but perhaps not so strongly.

The Government have stated that the withdrawal of the " Endurance " is part of the major reduction of the surface fleet, the foolishness of which not only I, but many other noble Lords have referred to on several recent occasions. It has also been asserted that her role will he fulfilled by what can, in the very nature of naval operations, only be rare and occasional visits by other naval vessels, which will not, of course, be ice-strengthened. This is in practice nonsense. It cannot be done—certainly not with the surface fleet to which it is the Government's intention to reduce our navy. Rare and occasional visits, even if they were possible, could never adequately take the place of a permanent presence during the operational season.

The Government assert, as a noble Lord has already said this evening, that the withdrawal and paying off of the " Endurance " will save £4 million a year. That is a highly dubious figure which would not withstand any objective scrutiny, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has already suggested, But, even if it were true, I ask your Lordships to reflect that it would be £4 million out of £12,500 million. Put in housekeeping terms, that is equivalent to 1p in £40. Do any of your Lordships know anybody who could budget to that sort of accuracy? I do not. What I do know from many years of experience of actually doing it is that such a trivial sum is well within the margin of error always, and necessarily, accepted when compiling defence estimates.

What, then, are we losing for the sake of this almost invisible candle-end? We are losing deterrence. It is a sad fact, confirmed by everything that Ministers have said and written on the subject this year, that they either cannot or will not understand the notion of deterrence. It is certainly not for want of having had it explained to them. The " Endurance ", wearing a White Ensign, is a very visible symbol of British interest, not just in the Falklands Islands but in Antarctica as a whole. Of course, it is not her actual military power that matters. What matters is simply that she is there. Nor will it do for the Government to say that she is not always there, for she always has been on station until now during the seven months of the year when the ice edge is far enough south to permit the operation of a ship strengthened as she is.

Much less will it do to assert that the small Royal Marines detachment in the Falklands is, by itself, an adequate deterrent to any aggression against those islands, because it is a military fact that without the " Endurance ", or a suitable replacement, the value of that detachment is vastly diminished. Nor could it be deployed elsewhere in the region by any other means, and everyone with an interest in the area—except, it seems, our own Government—knows that.

We have many interests in the Antarctic, some of which have been referred to—some in detail and some in passing. As other noble Lords have said, it is highly likely that in the medium or long term those interests will multiply dramatically in importance. The best, and certainly the most economical, way of protecting them as part of our foreign policy is by deterrence. It is a fact of life that in the South-West Atlantic and Antarctica this can be done only by one of Her Majesty's ships at sea on station. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, gave many other detailed reasons in support of that view.

Therefore, to conclude, it is my view that to withdraw the " Endurance " would be the clearest signal imaginable of our lack, or loss, of interest, not only in the Falklands but in the whole area. Make no mistake about it, that signal will at once be read, with anguish by our friends and with delight—as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has quoted—by any potential opponent. I beg the Government to reconsider this false and derisory economy; to retain HMS " Endurance "; and quickly to provide a replacement for her under the White Ensign.

6.54 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, it is, indeed, a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, in a debate of this sort. I hope that I shall not need to detain your Lordships too long because he has said so much from the great depth of experience that he has which I would seek to underline. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Morris for raising this debate and, indeed, all those who have spoken, who have consistently made this strong point. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take particular account of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who I am sure we all felt privileged to hear, not so much because of his knowledge and his connections with the part of the world about which we are talking but because of his great stature as a Minister in this House and as someone whose views must surely be respected, even if those of us who are trying to contribute do not get the same level of respect.

I deeply hope that when my noble friend replies he will at least be able to say that the matter is not closed and that the Government are still prepared to listen, because one gets a very strong impression that they are deliberately closing their ears. It could be that my noble friend Lord Buxton is right and that this is a consistent, long-term and—if I may say so—narrow-minded policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That I would not know, though perhaps it rather looks like it. But whatever it is, I hope that Ministers of the present Government will listen and think.

I had a Question down on Monday about the unauthorised occupation by the Argentinians of an island called South Thule. I would very much commend to your Lordships—and there is not time to spell it all out—the exchange that took place on 10th May 1978, when my noble friend Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary, expressed the views that all those who have spoken in this debate are trying to express now. I can understand why my noble friend sought to push the point aside, because it might be very embarrassing for him when he answered my questions. But the fact of the matter is that both he and my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel put their fingers on the fact that this was an unauthorised occupation.

Why was this? It is because not only is the " Endurance "—and this applied to her predecessors as well—essential for the very reasons that were so succinctly put by the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, but also perhaps because there is not enough of a peace-keeping presence to ensure that the possessions and the lands which are the responsibilities of this country are properly watched as the years go on. When we possessed vast territories it was not necessary for each and every corner of the Empire, as it then was, to be so watched over, because people knew that there was a force on the high seas keeping a watch for us which could come when required. Now that our horizons have narrowed, it has become very much more important that those responsibilities that remain are properly looked after and watched over, because otherwise we get examples like South Thule and unauthorised occupation occurring, because we just have not seen it happen. If your Lordships read the exchange on the Question of 10th May, you will get the impression, as I have, that it was quite some time even before we knew that the Argentinians were there.

So I would most strongly suggest to the Government that not only must they retain the " Endurance ", for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, has given, but also that they should back her up in addition with the sort of periodical patrols that they themselves have suggested. They need those patrols in addition to the " Endurance " and not instead of the " Endurance ". It so happens that this debate is about the South-West Atlantic as a whole, and it so happens that we have other similar possessions in other parts of the South Atlantic, and it would seem to me that we need to have a patrol every year going round and having a look in the areas that the " Endurance " herself has not the time to look at.

I would suggest to your Lordships that it is easier for the Government—because essentially the Government are all land animals—because it is just like beating the bounds of the parish. All that one seeks to do is what, in earlier times in this country, parishioners sought to do when they beat the bounds of their parish; they saw that the nearby parish had not taken over their land or their possessions. This is the factor that is necessary as time goes on, not only to show potential enemies, or greedy countries, that we are interested, concerned about those territories for which we are reponsible; not only to show them that we also believe that it is our right to develop those territories if it should turn out that that is something that needs to be done; but also to give reassurance to peoples who live in the vicinity, like the unfortunate Falkland islanders, who must feel that there is a steady conspiracy to persuade the British Government to ignore their interests gradually over the years.

Therefore, I would endorse all that has been said before. I would implore the Government to listen to those of us who have spoken, and in particular to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, with his great eminence in this House; to give the sort of reassurances that we are seeking, and above all in no circumstances to carry on with their plan—their piddling little plan—to pay off the " Endurance " before her function has been properly replaced by another.

7.2 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for introducing this Motion. I should also like to congratulate him on his persistence, since this Motion has been down on the Order Paper for, I think, about 18 months in one form or another, so it is gratifying that his patience has been rewarded. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, will forgive me if I do not follow him precisely in taking up the point about HMS " Endurance ", because the subject has been dwelt on at great length by a number of speakers and I think that it may almost be in danger of confusing the issue. If we allow ourselves to consider the " Endurance " too much in the specific, we shall lose sight of the general issue which is at stake this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, gave a comprehensive review more related to the original title of this debate; namely, the opportunities for economic development in the South-West Atlantic. Obviously, any consideration of this issue cannot exclude the Falkland Islands and therefore, by definition, our relations with Argentina. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will forgive me if I say to him that I do not propose to speak from the point of view of the opposition, because I do not think it is helpful to refer to the Argentines in this context as the opposition. But what I do propose to do is examine for a minute—

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, would the noble Viscount give way? I was not suggesting that the Argentine was the opposition. I was suggesting that the noble Viscount was the opposition.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his compliment in that respect, if I may take it as such, but I am not sure that that is quite correct either, because I think we are probably very much on the same side in this issue.

What I want to do for a few minutes is to examine this problem from, as it were, the other end of the telescope, because so frequently in this House we examine this issue only from the point of view of the British. The Argentines have been brought up to believe that the islands belong to them. Indeed, they have so believed since the last century. The technical and legal aspects of this claim, whether it is right or wrong, were outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, in his comprehensive and long speech of 30th June.

However, the point is that, rightly or wrongly, the Argentine belief that the islands are their territory has passed out of the realm of folklore and is in fact an article of faith. We in Britain debate this issue fairly infrequently, and I think the importance of the issue is to a certain extent underlined by the small number of people who are here this evening. Indeed, we debate it more frequently in this House than they do in another place. In other words, the whole issue of the South-West Atlantic—wrongly, in my opinion—is a relatively minor issue in terms of British foreign affairs.

On the other side of the coin, in Argentina it is quite the reverse. In Argentina, if there were a Parliament, this issue would be debated weekly. In Argentina the issue of the islands is second in importance only to relations with the immediate neighbours. As a foreign affairs issue it is viewed by the people—not just the Government—as being of paramount importance.

It is vital that when we in this Chamber consider this objectively we remember this situation. That is the realpolitik of the affair, and must never be ignored.

But as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, pointed out in his excellent summation in the debate on 30th June to which I have referred—I am sorry I was not here—it is vital to all parties that we continue to make progress with these discussions, and anything that is said here, or in any other place, to exacerbate those discussions will not be helpful.

Of course in the context of those discussions the islanders are British; always have been, always will be, and that is not really in dispute by anybody. But what is considered a confusion, and what is in fact something which cannot be ignored, is that it is the land on which they live and will continue to live which is the subject that we have to consider philosophically—not the nationality of the islanders nor where they will go, but the land on which they live. There have been many solutions proposed to try to resolve this question—for example, leaseback, condominium—all of which are undoubtedly worthy of further analysis, but whatever we do, whatever consideration we come to, this must be jointly with Argentina. We have to work together.

It has been pointed out in past debates that Argentina provides services to the islands, and indeed those services are very important, and therefore to a certain extent Argentina exerts leverage on the islanders. That is correct, but it does not win the hearts and minds of the people. I have put it frequently to my Argentine friends—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has done likewise—that it behoves everybody concerned with this issue to try to help the islanders see what the real situation is, because this issue can never be resolved until the islanders themselves freely and willingly realise the advantages that will accrue from closer association with the mainland, whatever form that closer association may take. That is the key to the issue to which those on all sides of the problem should address themselves.

Returning to the title subject of the Motion, the area has vast marine wealth, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, once again gave us the benefit of his knowledge of the matter. But both Argentina and Great Britain are losing out, and so therefore are the islanders, although they may be the least aware of their loss in the matter. As several noble Lords have pointed out, other nations take advantage, and Argentina turns a blind eye, something to which we must address ourselves. But by collaboration, by working together, Britain and Argentina, together with the islanders, could achieve great progress for everyone concerned. I hope the Minister will reassure us tonight that the discussions on the future of the area will be carried on as soon as possible, and with even more vigour, than has been shown hitherto.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend how the Argentinians justify their unauthorised occupation of South Thule, which is not part of what I believe they call the Malvinas Islands, and many miles away from it?

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

I have never actually asked them that question, my Lords, so I do not think it would be proper for me to answer my noble friend. However, I would point out, in considering South Thule that, it is some 1,200 miles from Port Stanley, and I am not sure, therefore, that it is necessarily a matter of great preoccupation to the islanders. I should have thought their preoccupation was much more with what was going on on the mainland, and I suspect that the islanders by and large were never even aware that there might have been such occupation until somebody from outside drew it to their attention.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I must first apologise in that my name was omitted from the typed list of speakers for this debate, That, I regret to say, was due to a loss of communication between the Government Whips' Office and my own, but in fact my name was put down to speak last week. I wish to concentrate briefly on two aspects only, the hydrocarbon potential of the area under discussion and, unashamedly, on HMS " Endurance ", which I think are inextricably linked and interwoven. I must declare an interest, or perhaps I should say a quasi interest, on both subjects in that one of the companies with which I am associated is on the fringe of hydrocarbon exploration. On the other hand, I am a retired officer of the Royal Naval Reserve. Into the bargain, I wish to refer to the question of costs in that I have also been involved in the shipping industry for some 20 years.

On the question of hydrocarbons, the South Atlantic area, am advised, has been under review for some years now, but industry—and here particularly I mean British industry—has consistently fought shy of involvement due to the political situation in the area. However, I am further advised, I believe on good authority, that in the last two to three years the prospects in the context of hydrocarbons have been considerably upgraded, but again the political situation discourages active participation. As for getting an answer to the question, " Is the area a really worthwhile one in the context of hydrocarbons? ", my advice goes further, namely, that it would need a further 18 to 24 months of concentrated seismic activity to reach a drilling stage; not a very long period if—the important word is " if "—the industry concerned has sufficient confidence in the political stability to invest its money. Finally, in the context of hydrocarbons, I think there is no doubt—the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is much more of an expert on this than any of us—that the Falkland Islands and South Georgia are two of the, if not the two, safe deep water ports in the area. Why throw them away by default? That is a point to which I shall return.

With regard to " Endurance ", I make no apologies for raising the matter again. My noble friend Lord Montgomery I think tried to steer us away from HMS " Endurance ", but I believe it is inextricably interwoven with the whole British presence in the area and, as has been said before and I repeat, it is a symbol of the British presence there. There are perhaps three major activities performed by " Endurance " or a ship of her ilk. The most important, as has been said, is the expression of a British presence by the mere fact of the White Ensign. In no particular order, the second, from a business point of view, is that to the best of my knowledge the United Kingdom is the only nation charting in that area. The work of " Endurance " is co-ordinated by the Hydrographer-General of the Royal Navy and a large part of her work is in hydrography. This is of inestimable value not only to the British shipping industry but for the maritime safety of the world. The third main area of her activity is undoubtedly in the very real support she gives to British scientific exploration in the area, which includes seismic exploration, which in turn brings me back to the importance of the hydrocarbon potential.

I said I would be brief and I intend so to be. We, the British, are there now. My noble friend Lord Montgomery told us that the Argentinians regarded the Falkland Islands as theirs. With respect, so does the People's Republic of China regard Hong Kong as theirs. So does Spain regard Gibraltar as theirs. That does not make either of those two places, Hong Kong or Gibraltar, any the less British, be it the people in or the land on those two independent territories.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I said that was how they saw the issue. I did not say that they were necessarily right. I said that was how it was perceived in that country. It is important to realise that.

Lord Geddes

I thank my noble friend for that intervention, my Lords. My point in turn was that so it was similarly perceived by the two countries I mentioned. HMS " Endurance " is effectively—I think this point has not been sufficiently emphasised—the only mobile, if not the only, means of secure British communications in the area. That could be a vital factor in times of stress.

Industry—by which I clearly mean in this context the oil industry—have said loud and clear that they have not invested in the area as the investment climate is not good. Or, to put it another way, comment has been made to me that there would be industry interest in both the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as " a safe jumping off point " for the South Atlantic shelf if the bugbear of territorial rights was removed. Clearly, expansion by industry would cause problems for both the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, but, my Lords, what pleasant problems for them to have! Expansion would surely give a rewarding spin-off to British industry per se, and in this context some of your Lordships might have been privileged to be in the House for the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Kadoorie, of Kowloon, during consideration of the British Nationality Bill when he made exactly the same point in the context of Hong Kong.

There is a real fear that in the present situation, which includes—and again I make no apologies for bringing it up—the rejection of British nationality for the Falkland Islanders by the narrowest of decisions in your Lordships' House during the passage of the British Nationality Bill, and now the withdrawal, or the threatened withdrawal, of HMS " Endurance ", that something either is going, or has already gone, by default. The cost of maintaining HMS " Endurance " has been instanced. I do not claim specialised knowledge of the running costs of that particular ship. I do have passing knowledge of the cost of running a ship of similar size and weight, and it cannot he any greater than half a million pounds sterling per annum. There is no way that such a cost, if done commercially, could be greater than that.

I submit that it is not too late to cancel the withdrawal of HMS " Endurance ", which symbolises our presence in a very important area of the world. Indeed, I am advised that there is precedent for such an eleventh hour change of heart in that HMS " Endurance " was threatened with withdrawal under the 1974 Defence Review, which was reversed in mid-1976. I earnestly ask the Government to ensure that HMS " Endurance " is maintained on station in the South-West Atlantic, thereby both directly and indirectly giving encouragement not only to the inhabitants of the area, but also to industry to invest in that area.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for the opportunity to discuss this wide-ranging and interesting topic, which is of such great importance not only to us in Britain, but also to the people of the Falkland Islands. We are also grateful to the noble Lord for putting that dependency in its geographical context. I am also personally grateful that the great expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, not only on the Falkland Islands, but on the working of your Lordships' House, has been brought out to help us in our debate this evening. I agree with what the noble Lord said in his opening remarks regarding my noble friend. I, too, suffer from exuberance, being a young man, and I would say to my noble friend that in his exuberance perhaps he went a little too far. It is neither correct nor fair to attribute to officials responsibility for decisions taken by the Government of the day. The noble Lord's suggestion that members of the public should telephone certain Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials about HMS " Endurance was therefore misdirected. The decision on HMS " Endurance " was taken by Ministers, and any representation should be addressed to them, through Members of Parliament, or directly. Since, not surprisingly, practically every noble Lord has this evening referred to the subject of HMS " Endurance ", I shall come back to that in a minute.

In the course of the debate your Lordships have mentioned so many individual aspects of the development potential in the South-West Atlantic that it is not easy for me to know where to start my reply. Perhaps it would be best if I follow the example of those of our forebears who first ensured that there would be an abiding British interest in the South-West Atlantic, by starting with the sea, and then moving on to the land.

There are three main aspects of South-West Atlantic marine resources to be considered, and I shall begin with the opportunities for fishing, which were mentioned primarily by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his justly renowned report on the economic opportunities for the Falkland Islands, to which several of your Lordships have referred tonight, made it clear that there was considerable potential for fishing in the waters around the Falkland Islands and their dependencies.

However, perhaps before I go into that it might be appropriate if I answer my noble friend Lord Morris on his question about the number of recommendations in the report which have been implemented. In general terms, out of the list of 90 recommendations published in the Official Report of this House (Vol. 401, cols, 634–644) nearly 70 have either been implemented, or are in train. Specifically, Recommendation No. 14 (the appointment of a chief executive) has not been implemented. Recommendation No. 16 (about the Exco and Legco Committees) has been rejected as impracticable without more officials. Recommendation No. 21 (consideration to be given to providing sheltered houses/old people's homes) has been held over until funds can be made available, and the same reason is put against Recommendation No. 23, relating to the construction of a patients' hostel.

Recommendation No. 35 (that a permanent social worker should be appointed) has been rejected. The recommendation about the oil jetty (Recommendation No. 47) has been examined, but rejected. The recommendation that Her Majesty's Government should offer OSAS terms to qualified islanders living in the United Kingdom has been rejected. Recommendation No. 55, about a commercial bank to absorb the Government's savings bank, is, I am told, now under way—

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, when the noble Lord says that it is under way, does he mean that the recommendation has been implemented or not implemented? If I may say so with due respect, this is one of the most dishonest numbers games that I have ever heard in any debate. I am not accusing the noble Lord personally.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am not au fait with the day-to-day workings of every department within the Foreign Office. I certainly did not intend to be dishonest. By saying that it is under way, I understand that it is in progress at the time. In other words, it has not been rejected; it has not yet been implemented fully. If there is any change from what I say, or if I have got it wrong, I shall certainly write to the noble Lord.

The recommendation about a feasibility study to be undertaken on the introduction of television in the camp, using video cassettes, has been recommended against by the British Council on the lines that video is now in widespread private use, anyway. I shall speak in a little more detail in a minute about Recommendation No. 63—that the Government should finance an extension of the permanent airfield.

With regard to Recommendation No. 79 (that the Falkland Islands Government should invite ODA, MAFF, and the White Fish Authority to conduct an exploratory fishing survey) a desk study by the White Fish Authority has been commissioned and received by the Government, and I shall say something about that in a minute. With regard to Recommendation No.85 (the appointment of a horticultural adviser) the Falkland Islands Government carried out a survey and rejected the recommendation. Those are the facts as I have them at this minute, and if I am wrong, I shall most certainly let noble Lords know.

A few minutes ago I mentioned the desk study of the White Fish Authority. It was as a result of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the then Government commissioned, in 1978, a desk study from the authority to identify the extent of the resources and to suggest how a fishing operation could most profitably be mounted. The authority's report was completed in early 1980 and discussed soon afterwards between Ministers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food and representatives of the United Kingdom fishing industry. The report confirmed that there were, indeed, large stocks of fish in the waters around the Falklands and their dependencies, although an exploratory voyage would be necessary to provide more detailed statistics. However, the report also made clear that much of the fish was of poor quality and that there was unlikely to be much profit in marketing it in the United Kingdom. A mother freezer ship operating a number of trawlers might have the capacity to be economically viable, but there would be no guarantee of this.

In discussion with representatives of the industry, Ministers made it clear that there would be no Government finance available to fund an exploratory voyage to the area, but also that there would be no objection to United Kingdom companies fishing in these waters, just as certain other countries are doing. It is the Government's view that if a profit can be made out of fishing in the South-West Atlantic, it should be left to private enterprise to do it. If no profit can be made, then there is no point in the Government underpinning a losing operation. If there is no profit for United Kingdom interests, some have said, why do you not at least declare a 200-mile fishery zone, so that the Falkland Islands Government may benefit from licensing the foreign trawlers which operate there? Nothing would please us more than to be able to do just this. But a fishery zone does not just mean licensing fees for the administering authority: it also means that the latter have responsibilities and obligations which they must fulfil.

It is clear that neither the Falkland Islands Government nor we would be able adequately to police a 200-mile zone in the South-West Atlantic. The difficulties are obvious when one considers that the islands are less than 400 miles from the Argentine mainland, and that both countries are in dispute over the ownership of the waters. For a zone to he operated successfully will require some agreement with Argentina on how it should be done. During several talks at both ministerial and official level, the Government have sought to obtain agreement to a declaration of a 200-mile fishery zone around the Falklands—I am afraid, without success. The Argentines have hitherto maintained that their claim to Falklands waters is an aspect of their claim to the Falklands themselves, and that agreements cannot be reached piecemeal on parts of the whole. I can assure the House that we will continue to press hard for progress on a scheme to bring under control the activities of third country fishing fleets in these waters.

The second marine resource is seaweed—the kelp which has led to the Falkland islanders calling themselves helpers. A British company showed interest several years ago in exploiting the Falkland Islands' rich supply of kelp, but has never in fact started operations. This is a disappointment both to us and to the Falkland islanders, but it is a matter for commercial judgment. I understand, however, that an American company has recently shown interest and has been in correspondence with the governor of the Falkland Islands.

I turn now to the third possible resource on which so much of tonight's debate has centred—that of hydrocarbons. Let me make absolutely clear from the outset that nobody knows whether there are any hydrocarbons present in exploitable quantities on the Falkland Islands continental shelf. There are occasional reports in the press making very interesting but entirely speculative suggestions about the vast quantities of oil which may be found there. I emphasise that these reports are not based on solid evidence. The situation is straightforward: there have been two seismic surveys of parts of the Falkland Islands continental shelf, authorised by Her Majesty's Government and carried out by American companies in 1978.

The results of these surveys were made available to the Government. While they remain commercially confidential, it is generally known that the area appears to contain sedimentary layers with a structural style and of sufficient thickness both to generate and to contain hydrocarbons. However, in order to confirm the existence, location and extent of any oil or gas deposits, which may be there, exploration drilling would be necessary. Until such drilling takes place it would be premature to conclude that the area contains economically recoverable hydrocarbons, though it clearly has potential and hydrocarbons have been discovered offshore of Argentina.

There is a very simple reason why drilling has not taken place. No régime exists in the area for the exploitation of any such resources. It is the Government's view that this is needed urgently. But it is also our view that it can be planned and operated only in co-operation with the Argentines. No other proposal seems workable to us. Any attempt by us to introduce a régime unilaterally would be bound to exacerbate the already delicate relations between Argentina and the Falkland Islands, and it would be very difficult for us to provide any oil companies interested in working in these waters with the protection they would have the right to expect. The fact is that no reputable oil company is going to risk investing the huge sums of money which would be necessary when there is no agreement between Governments as to which has the right to exploit the resources of the area.

This is not to say that the Government are in any doubt about their sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and their rights over the continental shelf: we remain as certain of this as ever. But the political reality, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein, is that no viable oil régime can be put into operation without a solution to the sovereignty dispute with Argentina. In any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has himself pointed out, it would be a great pity to allow the Falkland Islands to be turned into a base for oil development. While revenue from oil operations would certainly be of enormous help to the islands' exchequer, the Falklands simply could not assimilate the activities normally associated with oil exploration and survive in their present form. The only solution that makes sense is co-operation with Argentina and the use of the facilities which already exist there for developing an oil industry.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I am not disagreeing, but my remarks need a little more qualification than the noble Lord has expressed. I merely express a slight reservation.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, that point is taken. I was trying to do a little encapsulation, and if I unintentionally misled the House in so doing, I apologise. In this connection the noble Lord, Lord Morris, asked what action the Government will take if drilling commences on the Falkland side of the line. I should answer him with some care, that we shall deal with the situation if and when it arises, but we need to protect our rights and the interests of the islanders.

My noble friend Lord Buxton asked why we are talking to the Argentines at all. The claim of the Argentines simply will not go away. As long as the dispute continues, it will remain difficult for the islands to be developed properly and there will be a shadow of uncertainty over the islanders' daily lives. That is why successive British Governments have held talks with the Argentines, and we are continuing to do so. But the wishes of the islanders themselves are paramount. No solution could be approved which was not acceptable both to them and to Parliament.

However, the bulk of Lord Shackleton's report and its recommendations dealt not with marine resources but with the islands themselves. I obviously have not the time to go into them all here, but perhaps I may comment in particular on those which involve British aid. It is a measure of our commitment that over the past five years the islands have received more British aid per head of population than any other recipient. While the sums involved may not in themselves be large, we have to take account of our own economic constraints, as well as the small population and relative prosperity of the islands. A great deal has been done. For example, the islands' airport was built with British money. Several speakers tonight have criticised the building of an airport with what they see as too short a runway, and have called on the Government to have it extended. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned this towards the end of his fascinating speech on agriculture, which I must say struck home with me.

The arguments for a longer runway are that it would make the islands independent of Argentina, and would help to promote an expanded tourist industry. No one can deny the beauty of the islands and their potential for tourism. But, equally, no one can deny how remote they are and how expensive travel to them would be. The Argentine company operating the present service was in fact obliged this year to reduce the number of flights to one a week in each direction because of lack of demand. There would seem to be little obvious incentive for any other airline operator to he interested in offering an alternative service. We understand that the Argentines have decided to reduce the flights to one each way a week, because there was insufficient traffic to justify two flights.

Our ambassador in Buenos Aires is discussing with the Argentines the restoration of a second flight during the summer tourist season. We cannot spend what would amount to a minimum of £10 million of aid money on such a project only to discover that there is insufficient interest. In addition, an expanded airfield would be accompanied by increased recurrent costs which the Falkland Islands Government would find it difficult to meet. This is the main recommendation, perhaps, of Lord Shackleton's report which has been refused. However, the Government are flexible and have said that we should be prepared to look at the matter again should the circumstances change.

British aid has also gone towards improving the islands' internal communications, helping with the education of the islanders' children and assisting the improvement of the quality of the islands' grasslands. Again the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, was applicable here. I think that he asked about the grassland trial unit, which is working well; but no firm results are expected before next year. When the results are received and we have had time to consider them, we shall write to the noble Lord. Our aid also supplements the salaries of over 40 expatriates in senior positions in the Falklands.

This is not to say that we should not like to be able to do more, but the Government are convinced that in the end more aid is not the answer. What is needed is the impetus which private enterprise and investment can give to the islands' economy. But as long as the dispute with Argentina continues it will inevitably be difficult to persuade private enterprise to risk their investment in the Falklands. It is for this very reason that we want to overcome our difficulties with the Argentines so as to guarantee for the islanders a secure and viable future under the administration of their choice.

Practically every noble Lord who spoke today has suggested that the decision to pay off HMS " Endurance " implies that the Government are losing interest both in the Falklands Islands and in the Antarctica. I hope that what I have said so far will convince your Lordships that nothing could be further from the truth. We know that HMS " Endurance " will be missed. During her annual deployments in the South-West Atlantic she has performed a great deal of useful work. To answer my noble friend Lord Buxton, this was preceded by interdepartmental consultation in the normal way and the decision was that of the Government. The decision to withdraw her none the less was far from easy. But it was taken against the background of a reduction in the overall size of our surface fleet, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, surmised. It has to be borne in mind that she has only a limited military capability.

We remain firmly committed to the defence of the Falklands and shall maintain the Royal Marine garrison in the islands as a tangible demonstration of that commitment. Royal Navy ships will also continue to deploy to the South Atlantic from time to time. Equally, although " Endurance " has made an invaluable contribution in support of the work of the British Antarctic Survey, her withdrawal does not indicate any diminution of our interest in Antarctica and it will not seriously affect the work of the Survey which has its own ships, the " Bransfield " and the " John Biscoe ", both of which have strengthened hulls and can go into the ice as does " Endurance ".

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, can they also operate helicopters?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords, they cannot also operate helicopters.

As several noble Lords have mentioned, Britain has a long and proud record of exploration and research in Antarctica. We were the first country to stake a territorial claim in the area in 1908. We were one of the main architects of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 which carried on from the experiences of International Geophysical Year and paved the way for international scientific co-operation in the area while protecting the widely varying positions of the parties regarding territorial claims. We run an active Antarctic programme which is the envy of many other countries. The British Antarctic Survey operates four stations which are engaged in fundamental research in the atmospheric, earth and life sciences.

There is growing interest in the resources of Antarctica. The fisheries of the area, like those around the Falklands, are being increasingly exploited although again the British fishing industry has shown little interest. Several noble Lords have drawn particular attention to the Antarctic krill which is being caught by a number of countries, notably Japan and the Soviet Union. Conscious of the need to prevent over-fishing, we took a leading part in the negotiation of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, concluded in Canberra in May 1980, which provides for internationally-agreed regulations for the harvesting of krill and other marine species of the Antarctic ecosystem. The United Kingdom ratified the convention in August this year and it is likely to enter into force early next year. Also, we play a leading part in the international research programme (BIOMASS) which is studying krill and the species which depend on it for food.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in a passing remark about babies and passports in Antarctica asked whether these activities were taking place. They are. In our view they have no significance in respect to the Argentine's claim to territorial sovereignty in the Antarctic. My noble friend Lord Montgomery, in a most diplomatic speech, said that the Argentine people have been brought up with the knowledge of their claim over the dependencies and over that part of Antarctica. Argentina has explicitly claimed sovereignty over South Georgia for more than 50 years and over the South Sandwich Islands, of which Southern Thule (referred to by my noble friend Lord Mottistone) is one, for more than 30 years. We have no doubt about British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands dependencies.

Let me add a particular word on the subject of whaling. Her Majesty's Government have a strong conservationist policy on whaling. We have been pressing in the International Whaling Commission for a moratorium on all commercial whaling. The possibility that important mineral resources may be found in Antarctica, particularly hydrocarbons, has also attracted growing international attention. However, the technology to exploit any such resources, in spite of what has been said this evening, I am informed, does not yet exist and, in view of the costs involved, it is unlikely that any exploitation will take place unless an appropriate political framework can first be established. In this context we should not forget that the parties to the Antarctic Treaty include those with territorial claims and those who do not recognise any sovereignty in the region. There are rival claims by Argentina and Chile to most of the British Antarctic Territory and our claim to sovereignty in the area is not recognised by, among, others, the United States, the Soviet Union or Japan.

At the last Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting, a recommendation was adopted setting the stage for the negotiation between the Antarctic Treaty powers of an Antarctic Minerals Regime which would provide the necessary framework for the exploitation of resources. Negotiations are likely to open in Wellington next year. We shall approach these negotiations in a positive spirit but we are determined that British sovereignty in the British Antarctic Territory should be fully taken into account and that we obtain the maximum possible benefit for Britain under any régime eventually agreed.

The negotiations on Antarctic minerals exemplify the fact that Antarctica, an area of many different claims and interests, has become an area of co-operation which the countries concerned are seeking to extend to new fields. It is in the same spirit of looking for elements of co-operation that we approach negotiations with Argentina concerning the Falklands Islands. I repeat that we have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Falklands, their dependencies and British Antarctic territory. We are fully conscious of our responsibilities, but in the South-West Atlantic as a whole we want to work with the countries of the region, and not against them, so that its resources may be exploited in peace for the good of all.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, may I give him one other correction? In my report there is no suggestion that the extended runway was proposed in order to by-pass the Argentine. We merely pointed to the development of fisheries, trawlers, the need to fly crews out and, above all, tourists—probably from Buenos Aires, which happens to be in the Argentine.

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords, I suggested that an argument had been advanced. I did not pretend to suggest that it had been advanced by the noble Lord.

7.51 p.m.

Lord Morris

My Lords, first of all may I thank my noble friends and noble Lords from all sides of the House for taking part in this debate. I should particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for mentioning at the very beginning of his speech the fact that almost six years of watching with very little encouragement developments in the Falkland Islands and continual Parliamentary Questions, debates, and other methods of persuasion provoked me inadvertently to commit a parliamentary solecism which I most bitterly regret. In all honesty, I fervently believed that the department of state concerned had no comprehension of the depth of feeling of the people whom they are meant to serve. This is of the greatest importance. Members of Parliament and the Civil Service are too quick to forget the people whom they are meant to serve. It was most negligent of me that I made the ignorant mistake of not seeking wiser counsels. However, the continued and persistent ignoring of the express will of Parliament and the views of members of the public in this country and, above all, the anxieties of the Falkland Islanders themselves, I believe is a matter of deep constitutional concern.

I am afraid that it never occurred to me that to suggest as I did that the department of state should be exposed more directly to the views of those whom they serve would be met by such a passionate protest. On the contrary, those close to influencing the decision-making process must surely welcome confirmation that the decisions to be taken either now or in the future are in line with public opinion, or of the extent to which they are in line with public opinion. I may be old-fashioned, but I happen to wonder, if any Government, let alone department of state, choose to ignore or diminish public or parliamentary opinion, what value there is in expressing a view. However, I admit my ignorance and indiscretion. I regret my clumsiness. It has been suggested to me—not by my noble frend Lord Skelmersdale—that my indiscretion while speaking to the press was founded in ignoble motives. Not unnaturally, I both deny and resent that suggestion.

Turning to the speech of my noble friend Lord Montgomery—which was as usual most interesting and stimulating—may I say this from a central point that he made? The realpolitik in the United Kingdom is that the Falkland Islanders are our flesh and blood. He agrees with that. It is something which cannot be denied. However, what my noble friend is suggesting—and this is the point that he is missing and, knowing his influence in Latin America, I implore him to get this point across—is that the islanders should agree to trade their birthright, the land upon which they have been born, the land upon which they live, the air which they breathe for what may be a richer way of life for this generation. I ask, what of their children and their children's children? It may not be absolutely clear to my noble friend but it is absolutely clear to all other noble Lords, and indeed to all other people who are tied to land, that without their land they are nothing. The Falkland islanders will become non-persons, whatever a piece of paper issued by a Government may tell them to the contrary.

I must confess that my heart went out to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale in his closing remarks, for I happen to know that he was put in the hot seat at very short notice. He spoke with admirable courage. I know other noble Lords will agree with me—I have heard this trotted out time and time again—that the brief which he read so excellently, if rapidly, was a potpourri of this Government's and other Government's dead flowers. The nub of my noble friend's remarks is very simply this: the official view on oil exploration—and indeed on any major exploration—the major recommendation of Lord Shackleton's report, is simply this: we can do nothing out there for fear of upsetting the Argentinians. That is precisely what I suggested in my speech, and again this has happened. Again they came trotting out with the argument about the largest amount of assistance per head of population of anywhere in the world. There are only 1,850 people in the Falkland Islands. Anybody can play this mathematical game. It is totally divorced from reality to look up previous Government statements and come trotting out with that argument again. It was beautifully argued down by my noble friend Lady Elles. Those who were there at the time will remember that it was well and truly defeated

I welcome most strongly the news that Her Majesty's Government are determined to look to our interests in the future and for the future in the Antarctic area. What concerned me very much indeed—and this will take very close reading later on—is that the cold hand of Government deciding what is in the best interests of the people of the Falkland Islands has raised its head again. I cannot understand this. If anybody wants to know what the best interest of other people is, the best thing to do is to ask them and not suggest to them what is their best interest. Surely they know what is in their best interest.

The final point that I should like to mention is that my noble friend appears at any rate to be unaware that the presence of a people in a particular area speaks far, far louder than the law. The fact that there are people present in a particular area gives them a standing whatever the legal position might be. I have spoken for far too long in winding up this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? He took me to task. I was not suggesting in any way that there should be a trade-off. What I was suggesting—and, if he reads my remarks, he will see what I said—was that there are three parties to this problem of developing the South-West Atlantic, all of whom have interests: the islanders, Argentina and Britain. It behoves us to work together to the same end and not to take sides in the issue. It is only by working together that a solution will be achieved.

Lord Morris

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I never suggested that one should work other than with the Argentinians. What is quite wrong is to use the land as a bargaining counter. That is the hub of the whole position. To bend to the big neighbour is, I believe, a dishonourable way of going about it.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.