Falklands : MPs Press Conference (Part 1)
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 21.02.2003 (Article Archived on 07.03.2003)
Members of Parliament visited the Falklands this week. Find out what they got up to and much, much more.
MPs PRESS CONFERENCE: WEDNESDAY, 20 FEBRUARY 2003
Commentary by J. Brock (FINN)
A press conference took place with three visiting MPs, Mr. Richard Ottaway (RO) Conservative, Croydon South, Mr. Nigel Evans (NE) Conservative, Ribble Valley, Shadow Welsh Secretary and Mr. Alistair Carmichael (AC) Lib. Dem. Orkney and Shetland Member of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. The press corps was represented by J. Brock (FINN), Lee Hazell, (FIBS), P. Watts Freelance (PW) and Lisa Riddel, Penguin News (LR). Proceedings began at 1600 in the Malvina House Hotelís Beagle lounge area. Mr. Nigel Evans, MP, began by making a brief statement.
NE: This is the first time here for all of us. Weíve seen a bit of everything, really, and I think that variety is important for forming our opinions. Obviously, we knew that agriculture was very important and we saw that when we went out to Camp, on Pebble Island, and being flown around on FIGAS. They were superb in accommodating us.
We visited the Abattoir as well where we saw first hand what they are doing. We read as well that exports to the United Kingdom are going to be increasingly important in the future. We all felt that unless we had seen the sheep roaming around here, we took the organic status as being very important in Britain these days. In many ways, you are one step even beyond that. I think there is going to be a premium for Falklands products when it comes to the United Kingdom.
We saw Fisheries and Fishery Protection as well today. We had that all explained to us. That is going to be now and for the future and we are very impressed with that and the protection that has to be brought in to ensure that they protect the licences and the fishing stocks as well.
Today we went around the Education Department and looked at the Secondary School and the Junior School and the Facilities. They are first class. Sadly, not when Sukey was going through, they are first class as well as the dedication of the teachers we have met as well. We are impressed with that as well as what the Education Department is doing out in Camp. We have seen that first hand when we went to visit a camp settlement with a travelling teacher. They ensured us that education is important.
And, I think, finally, more than anything else, the thing that struck me is that the Islands are larger than we originally anticipated. I suspected they would be beautiful, they are, and I have not been let down in that at all. Also, itís been the warmth of the people. Everywhere we have gone, we have been made to feel welcome. We have been taken into peopleís homes for dinner. Generally - the people on the streets Ė Alistair has met a number of his constituents here and they have been stalking him, I think. Itís amazing. We have all met people who know us in one shape or form from the cruise ships. I met a couple of people from my Swansea days when the cruise ship was in the other day. I will certainly be taking the warmth of the people back with me to England when I go back tomorrow. Iíve got nothing but good memories and great impressions of a wonderful country.
FIBS: What were you expecting?
RO: I think I have seen more or less what I was expecting. The reasons we came here are really of history etched in the minds of everybody in Great Britain and the Falklands. But Iíd heard it was a wonderful environmental paradise and I havenít been disappointed. And, I reiterate what Nigel just said that the welcome here has been quite striking. People are self-assured, confident, articulate, friendly, warm and weíve just had the most wonderful time and the days have flown by.
AC: I think thatís right. The guidebooks tell you what you will find in terms of geography and certainly, what we have seen at times has been quite breathtaking and beautiful, especially the two days we spent out in Camp. What the guidebooks donít tell you is about the tremendous strength of spirit you find in the community. Here you have, in population terms, a fairly small island community which has got challenges to face it, the way in which it has been able to maintain its economic growth, the impact of the change in fisheries, to name but one, the opportunities that enterprise like the Abattoir present. These are all things, which are going to have a fairly profound impact.
What we have found here is an island community that has got a clear idea of what they want to achieve for itself and has been self-reliant in achieving it. And I find that very impressive.
NE: When we were going around the school we were impressed with the number of computers there. Cable and Wireless are going to be wiring them up, etc. and giving some support for the Internet for school, which is important. The Falkland Islands shouldnít be left behind in the technological revolution that is sweeping the world. And, I do hope is that Cable and Wireless look towards ensuring faster speeds of connectivity Ė broadband, or at least, that is currently available. That hasnít happened yet and that means that a number of e-businesses which are very important throughout the whole world now, that the Falkland Islands wonít be left behind there.
PW: You met groups of farmers, did you? At various places?
PW: Did you notice any negativity, despondency over the recession in wool prices Ė well, they did pick up last year Ė any expressions of saying they should be getting more help though they did pick up last year, or that it is tough going?
AC: My impression is that the farmers are pretty adept at helping themselves. You mentioned wool prices. Thatís something that affects my own constituency. In Shetland in particular we have been hammered in that respect in recent years as well. It is a good example of how Island Communities are very often the victims of circumstances over which you can exercise no control. The state of the wool market is one thing like that.
I picked up a degree of optimism as the prices are now coming back up and the sheep are sustainable in that. I found a lot of interest in diversification and modernisation. We have spoken to people who are taking on tourism, we have spoken to farmers who are using AI both for the improvement for their beef and their sheep stocks. Now, that is progressive, forward thinking and open-minded farming. And, as long as that general approach is taken, I think that there must be a future for the Camp.
NE: As Alistair said, I didnít come across any despondency. It was quite the reverse and I think they are looking into the opportunities that are there.
We had a tour of the Abattoir and we were greatly impressed by that facility Ė a world class facility Ė up to European standards and also the diversification of people in Camp to realise that tourism is the worldís fastest growing industry.
Thirty thousand cruise passengers come in and 1500 of them come in on land and I think the desire is to increase that number, certainly, and, what we saw at Pebble Island and as Alistair said earlier, the wildlife that is here is absolutely superb. Youíve got a number of unique opportunities which you canít get in other parts of the world. Iím sure that tourism is going to grow exponentially here and put the number of farmers who are able to diversify into some form of tourism that they will be able to gain from that.
The one thing is that when I go back, I will be half a stone heavier because of Smoko and the enormous quality of the food thatís here. Iíve already gone one notch forward on my belt, which is worrying. It is absolutely superb quality.
RO: I think itís fair to say that I havenít come across any negativity in any sector at all. Even at MPA, we found lads were very pleasantly surprised at how they found the Islands. They wanted to stay on, they wanted to come back again. I used to be in the services and the first thing that used to happen is I would say that I couldnít wait to get out of here. Thereís none of that up there.
In tourism, in industries, in shops and the streets, people we met have all been positive and it comes out of the close-knit community spirit. Everybody is cheering each other on a bit on the project that is the success of the Falkland Islands. And, I think theyíve got it going.
AC: Youíve got to move on. Hill farming, or sheep farming here isnít beans and skittles. Itís plenty of hard work. I was born and brought up on a hill farm in the West Isles of Scotland. What I see here is pretty similar to Islay, where my parents still work. People out in Camp are demonstrating a long-term commitment. Just know the fact that they are there and they are working and they are not going to pretend that life is easy. Thatís a long, long way from negativity.
PW: Was there any time that you thought you were surprised perhaps that you didnít see that you thought, well, 20 years on after the Government here maybe should have done this or would have done that. And, itís all been positive what you are saying, very gratifying to hear that. But is there anything that you felt wasnít up to scratch or something.
NE: in Stanley itself, we were told what it was like pre 1982, now what it is like and the growth that has taken place. You can talk about the roads and FIGAS and it network of places they are able to go to, you have got the one plane, the LanChile plane that'í coming in. Hopefully, that can go to two and that will boost tourism again and I know that'í what you are working towards. I think that the growth that has taken place over the past 20 years. Especially if you talk to anybody Ė youíve seen it yourself, youíve witnessed it and they remarked it to us and sustainable growth is obviously something I am sure you want to see happening to the Islands so that what youíve got here, which is incredibly special, will be here for future generations.
RO: I think that change will come. There are down-turns especially in fishing, then you will have to look to expanding the other sectors agriculture and tourism. And, if you do expand tourism, itís hand to hand. Tourism is a people-sensitive business and you need lots of them. You have a programme of trickle expansion. The economy is growing at 4% and the population by about 4% and thatís a level of growth that most western countries would aspire to. But still, you are talking about very base and very limited numbers.
I was also struck by the fact that nearly 85% of the women work. Itís a much higher figure than you will find in Europe, mainly because the jobs are there and thereís no unemployment. So, there isnít much room to manoeuvre if you suddenly have to grow tourism or go into diversifying agriculture. Thatís a challenge. I think your Councillors and Government are conscious of this and have got it in their minds and will take the necessary steps as and when that happens.
AC: You tie your question back to what happened 20 years ago. What you have to bear in mind is that what happened 20 years ago was all about the rights of Falkland Islanders to self-determination. And, if you teach self-determination, youíve got to practice it. And, that means itís not the jobs of British MPs to come out and say what they think you should have done Ė this, that and the other. Thatís not what this sort of visit is for.
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