Last week, I visited the Falkland Islands with the Defence Select Committee.
The committee had not visited the islands since 1999 so, despite the sabre rattling by the Argentine president, it was right that we visited the UK’s defence establishment at Mount Pleasant where £70 million is spent each year to defend the Falkland Islands.
As has become commonplace on my Defence Committee visits, I soon met a constituent so, amid conversations about helicopters, I was invited to take up a matter by a pilot from Stoford. I felt privileged to oblige.
It is quite clear the Falklands defences are in fine shape – we visited HMS Clyde as it was about to depart to South Georgia, we met with families of serving soldiers, toured accommodation, visited the governor, the Legislative Assembly members, the Chambers of Commerce as well as all military assets and those who look after them.
It was also a real privilege to visit the graves of those who gave their lives during the Falkland Conflict in 1982. The memorial at Blue Beach Cemetery, San Carlos, was particularly poignant as we reflected on the bravery of those who landed there to liberate the islands nearly 30 years ago.
I was pleased to know the radar systems and the overall tactical posture of our assets indicate the Ministry of Defence is taking nothing for granted – no matter how much empty rhetoric is uttered in Buenos Aries.
What was also clear from our conversations is that the Falkland Islands are facing a key moment in their history – the prospect of significant viable oil fields to the south and north of the settlements makes the next decade a potentially exciting one for the overseas territory.
The islanders’ response to this opportunity will have a big impact on the future economic prosperity of the 3,400 inhabitants.
After 17 hours of flying, I returned to my family and the email inbox – I am pleased to say 190 replies were despatched by Tuesday morning.
A full week in Westminster awaits and some last-minute lobbying before the long-awaited budget is revealed next Wednesday.