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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, May 26, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Falkland Islands, Portfolio Question Time, Drug Deaths, Social Security Benefits, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Correction


Contents


Falkland Islands

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

I ask members and those in the public gallery who are leaving to do so as quickly and quietly as possible.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-04082, in the name of Sharon Dowey, on marking the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament marks the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands in 1982; notes that the anniversary is recognised as a national holiday in the Falklands; recognises all the brave sacrifices made by the British military personnel, their families and the British public throughout this 74-day war; celebrates what it sees as the unity demonstrated by UK citizens in a time of great need to restore freedom for the people in the Falklands; highlights what it considers are the strong cultural links between Scotland and the Falkland community and recognises the significant contribution that members of the Armed Forces from Scotland made to liberating the Islands in 1982; commemorates the lives of the three civilian Falkland Islanders and 255 British military personnel that were sadly lost, as well as the hundreds that were injured; notes the significant role that many civilians reportedly played in supporting the Task Force on its campaign in the South Atlantic; further notes the support that it believes the UK Government continues to provide to the Falklands’ right to self-determination and their wish to remain a UK Overseas Territory; expresses its support for veterans on both sides and Islanders who it understands still struggle with mental and physical scars as a consequence of the events that they have experienced or witnessed; acknowledges the year-long programme of different honouring and celebratory events across the world that aim to commemorate the sacrifices made in 1982; values the Falkland Islands as what it considers a forward-looking community with a strong sense of culture and heritage, and celebrates what it sees as the great progress made in the Falkland Islands since 1982.

12:50  

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

It is my pleasure to bring this debate to the Scottish Parliament to mark 40 years since the end of the Falklands war. The war lasted 74 days and resulted in the loss of 907 lives—three islanders, 255 British personnel and 649 Argentine soldiers. The citizens of both Britain and the Falkland Islands owe a huge debt to those who lost their lives. They were defending liberty, democracy and the right to self-determination, not to mention Falkland Islanders’ right and desire to remain British. They did that in the face of a foreign aggressor—something that feels particularly relevant today—travelling to a distant land 8,000 miles away “across an angry sea”, as one soldier put it. It was a plunge into the unknown to defend a people they had never met and, in many cases, knew little about. That is truly admirable and something that we can appreciate collectively as a Parliament. Their conduct is a shining example of the very best of the British armed forces. They acted with professionalism, ruthlessness, skill and compassion to bring freedom back to the Falklands.

Last week, I had the honour of hosting a reception in the Scottish Parliament along with Richard Hyslop, the Falkland Islands representative in the United Kingdom and Europe. After the speeches, Richard played a short video made by schoolchildren in the Falklands, in which they expressed their thanks to those who fought for their freedom. It was a touching tribute that affected many of us who were present. The comment that stuck me most was the one that was made at the end by a wee girl, who said, “Thank you for keeping us British. Things would not have been the same without you.” It was a reminder that those who fought and gave their lives laid the foundations for the Falklands of today, and their sacrifice has not been forgotten.

The video also showed that the Falklands is a changing place and not the 1982 time capsule that remains in many British minds. For most people, thinking of the Falklands conjures up grainy photographs of marines in cagoules crossing a foreboding landscape of penguins waddling on beaches, or perhaps the liberation of Stanley in the war’s final days. Few people in 1982 could have foreseen the dramatic changes that have swept this small but significant territory over the past 40 years.

It was clear from my conversations with Falkland Islanders that they have prospered only since the war’s conclusion. Both Richard Hyslop and his deputy, Michael Betts, were eager to tell me about the exciting developments that are taking place in Stanley. There has been a huge increase in tourism, not to mention that its booming economy is the envy of South America. If we were to take a walk through Stanley today, perhaps along Thatcher Drive, we would see new houses going up, more fishing boats in the harbour and the development of a distinct Falkland Islands culture—Britishness with a Latin twist, with their own favourite national sports and food, namely Falklands squid and lamb. The Stanley of 1982 is now, for many, just a memory, just as the war thankfully is, too, but we must preserve those memories. We owe that much to those who fought and lost their lives in defence of freedom.

Given more time, it would have been good to delve into the rich connections between Scotland and the Falkland Islands, or the Scottish role in the British response, whether it was the merchant navy sailors or members of the Special Air Service, but I suspect that others will touch on that in their contributions.

Before I end, I thank those who came to the reception that I mentioned earlier: representatives from the South Atlantic Medal Association 1982 and the Lothian Veterans Centre; representatives of the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force; and not forgetting the governor of Edinburgh castle, Alastair Bruce, and members of the Royal British Legion. In addition, Poppyscotland was a great help in organising the event.

It was fascinating to talk to Ian Gardiner, a veteran from 45 Commando Royal Marines, who went on to become an author and military expert, and who writes vividly about his experiences during the war, particularly in the battle of Two Sisters, the fierce night battle that took place 1,000ft above Stanley.

It would not have been a Falklands event without the presence of a strong contingent of islanders. It was great to invite to the Scottish Parliament members of Falkland Wool Growers, the chief islander of Tristan Da Cunha and students from the Falklands who are studying in Scotland, and to learn more about island life from them at first hand. We had speeches from Richard Hyslop, whom I have already mentioned, and from Keith Brown MSP, who has the honour of being the only parliamentarian who served during the conflict—in his case, with the Royal Marines. He spoke memorably about his experiences during the war and of friends lost and battles fought—things that few of us in the chamber will ever know.

I thank the MSPs from across the political spectrum who attended the event. It is fair to say that, despite our differences, we all saw how much British identity means to the people of the Falklands, which was touching. What is more, we can all respect the sacrifice that was made 40 years ago, which has ensured that Falkland Islanders have remained free from foreign rule to this day.

Thank you, Ms Dowey. It is always good to hear of events that are well attended by islanders.

12:57  

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I sincerely thank Sharon Dowey for securing the debate. I, too, wish to commemorate all the lives that were lost and those who were injured both physically and mentally, including British troops, civilians and Argentinians.

I also recognise the professionalism and courage of our armed forces. As well as three Falkland Islanders, in total, 904 military personnel were killed in the conflict. Of those, 255 were British military personnel, and 649 were Argentines. British forces reported that 775 were wounded in the war, with 115 being captured between April and June. Meanwhile, 1,657 were reported wounded among Argentina’s military personnel, and more than 11,000 were captured.

I will go back 40 years, because, for me, those people might not have lost their lives or been injured. Before a shot had been fired, pretty well none of us knew where the Falklands were or what the UK Government had to do with it. As I travelled on the bus to my law studies, I recall how horrified I was to hear passengers in front of me cheering that we should “bash the Argies”.

As we came to learn more, we found out that there had been an incursion on the island by metal workers with some Argentinian marines, who raised the Argentinian flag, which raised the alert. The island was thousands of miles from our shores and had a population in the low thousands. The islanders were not British citizens—citizenship was granted to them only after the war. Of course, I shared the concerns for their wellbeing and safety, but I know that I was not alone in having grave concerns about launching into a war. The country was not united in the decision to attack, nor in the way in which the war was conducted.

There was, I believe, an opportunity to resolve the dispute over the sovereignty of the Falklands by diplomacy. It might have failed, but it was not given enough time and space.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Would Christine Grahame accept that the UK Government at the time made strenuous efforts through the United Nations to reach an accommodation, and that it made all sorts of proposals for joint sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which were rejected by the Argentinian Government?

Christine Grahame

We disagree about that, but I will talk about the press coverage at the time and how the press behaved.

The sinking of the General Belgrano, an ageing Argentinian cruiser, caused the loss of 323 Argentinian lives on 2 May 1982, after it was attacked as it sailed either to or out of the 200-mile exclusion zone. I do not know the ins and outs of what was correct, but the matter is certainly still disputed. There was retaliation two days later, of course, with an attack on HMS Sheffield, which was sunk off the coast of the Falkland Islands, killing 20 men. There was no going back after that.

I recall—before even one British ship had sailed—the increasingly feverish warmongering, which was fuelled, in particular, by a circulation war between The Sun and the Mirror. The Sun had a bloodthirsty stance from the start, which included inviting readers to sponsor Sidewinder missiles and offering free “Sink the Argies” computer games. It never relented. The Sun splashed with the poster front page, “We’ll Smash ‘Em”, printed over pictures of Winston Churchill and a bulldog. Finally, there was the infamous “Gotcha”.

The Sun became increasingly frustrated with politicians who were attempting to negotiate a settlement—I agreed with them—to avoid a “shooting war”, as it was called. At one point, the US Secretary of State, Al Haig, was accused of

“standing in the way of war”

because of his efforts to avoid bloodshed. The paper even urged the Government to reject an offer of peace talks from the Argentine military regime, with the headline “Stick it up your junta”, which became its catchphrase for the war.

Not all the press was like that, of course, but, for good measure, The Sun described the BBC and the “pygmy” Guardian as “traitors in our midst”. The Mirror was a “timorous, whining newspaper”. The Mirror retaliated by saying that The Sun had

“fallen from the gutter into the sewer”.

That language worried me at the time. I was worried about how we were considering the dangers, in particular the dangers that we were putting our troops into in war. Very few politicians have experienced the front line of war, excluding my colleague Keith Brown. Those who speak about it speak very differently of conflict, including at Westminster, and I always listen to them.

Dr Johnson, in seeking to prevent an earlier Falklands conflict, said:

“It is wonderful with what coolness and indifference the greater part of mankind see war commenced. Those that hear of it at a distance, or read of it in books, but have never presented its evils to their minds, consider it as little more than a splendid game”.

I return to the lives lost and damaged. They must not be forgotten—I have not forgotten them—but I have also not forgotten how the loss of those lives might have been prevented, with intelligence and diplomacy being tried first and tested to its limits before putting our armed forces into conflict. Some 1,000 died, and thousands more were injured. We owe it to them and their descendants, and to our armed forces today, to exhaust every diplomatic international avenue before ever resorting to the brutality of war.

13:02  

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I congratulate Sharon Dowey on securing this debate on what is a very important anniversary. I join her and other members in recognising and remembering the lives lost—the British servicemen who were lost, the civilians lost and the Argentinians who were lost, as many of them were conscript soldiers who had no particular appetite for the conflict but were forced into it by an evil military junta that was trying to divert away from its domestic problems by invading British sovereign territory.

I had the privilege of visiting the Falkland Islands in 2012, on the 30th anniversary of the liberation, along with Keith Brown, and Christina McKelvie was there as well. It was a fascinating and, at times, a very moving visit. I had the great honour of laying a wreath in memory of the cook Brian Easton from Alyth in Perthshire, who had served on HMS Glamorgan and was killed on 12 June 1982 when that ship was hit by an Argentinian missile. He was 24 years old. I know that his former colleagues appreciated that gesture that I was able to perform.

Like other members, I have my own memories of the Falklands conflict. I was sitting my highers at the time—I was 16 years old. Mr Carson is nodding—he is obviously of a similar vintage. Against the backdrop of sitting my highers, I well remember the news reports coming through daily, first about the sailing of the task force and then about the conflict in the Falklands. To this day, names such as Goose Green, San Carlos and Bluff Cove are still resonant in my memory from that time. As it did for many people of my generation, the Falklands conflict had a substantial impact on the formation of my political opinions—not least my view of the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and her Government at that time.

A number of myths have grown up around the conflict. Christine Grahame made some fair points, but I think that she overstated the enthusiasm for war that existed in the UK Government then. We must remember that Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet was predominantly made up of middle-aged men who had themselves known war—they had fought in the second world war—and they were not enthusiasts for it at all. The then UK Government made enormous efforts to reach an accommodation with the Argentinians, through the United Nations.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

We can disagree about how the diplomacy was conducted, but on that point would Murdo Fraser concede that the actions of the UK Government before that point—for example, in taking away HMS Endurance and other steps that sent entirely the wrong message to the Argentinians—resulted in the honourable resignation of Lord Carrington?

Murdo Fraser

I will not disagree with Keith Brown; he makes a very fair point. However, he and others should also recognise that there was no gung-ho attitude in the UK Government at the time. It was desperate to try to avoid conflict—not least because of the substantial risks of sending a task force thousands of miles away to the south Atlantic, with no idea as to whether that mission would be successful.

Will the member take an intervention?

If I have time.

I can give you the time back, Mr Fraser.

I will give way.

In fairness, I think that Murdo Fraser will concede that I was describing the gung-ho attitude of a particular tabloid newspaper, which gave me concern about how the public then began to own such an attitude.

Murdo Fraser

I am grateful to Christine Grahame for that clarification, and I recognise the point that she makes. However, although strenuous efforts were made to arrive at a diplomatic settlement, those were resisted by the Argentinians, which left armed conflict as the only way to resolve the matter.

I will conclude, Presiding Officer, as I have probably taken up too much time already. I encourage others who have not been to the Falkland Islands to make the visit. Today, they have a vibrant economy and society, as Sharon Dowey has pointed out, and as a tourist destination they are growing enormously. Visitors can see wildlife; historic sites linked with the conflict of 40 years ago; and penguins in large numbers—those are always a delight. I hope that we will continue to see the Falklands economy growing and thriving, thanks to the sacrifice that was made by our soldiers, airmen and sailors 40 years ago. We should continue to recognise their memory.

13:07  

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I very much welcome the debate, and I congratulate Sharon Dowey on securing it.

The fact that the Falklands conflict occurred 40 years ago means that, for many, it is history. However, a survey that was carried out by the charity Help for Heroes reminds us that a quarter of respondents aged between 18 and 24 had never heard of the conflict; nearly one in two of those aged between 18 and 34 did not know in which decade it took place; and 11 per cent thought that it was the UK rather than Argentina that had invaded the Falklands. Therefore, although it is important that the debate should go on the record and that we should express our solidarity with the Falkland Islanders, it is also important to learn lessons for the future.

For me, the conflict was marked by the fact that the UK was led by Margaret Thatcher, with whom I disagreed profoundly on almost every topic that we could mention. However, the earlier exchange between Christine Grahame, Murdo Fraser and Keith Brown shows what is important in the debate, because we are a democracy and we can have such discussions and look back on history without any of us being put at risk. We can also see the importance in a democracy of having peace making and diplomacy as well as armed forces.

It is important for us to celebrate the fact that the people of the Falkland Islands, who have strong links with the UK—and Scotland, in particular—were united in wanting to retain those links and their UK characteristics. They relied on our armed forces to restore their freedom.

An important part of Sharon Dowey’s motion is that we need to express our support for those who lost their lives on both sides of the conflict, whether they were from Argentina or our own armed forces. The people who were injured also had to deal with the aftermath of the conflict. A veteran of the Falkland war said that “not a day goes by” when he does not think about his experience of the conflict and about those who were badly burned when his ship was sunk by Argentine jets 40 years ago. For many people, the aftermath lives on today.

We also need to celebrate our links with the Falkland Islands—Scotland’s links, in particular. I thank Michael Betts, the deputy representative for the Falkland Islands Government, for meeting me last week. It was good to reflect on the similarities between Scotland and the Falkland Islands. As I mentioned, those include the fact that Scotland has islands, a similar topography and weather, lots of wind power, sheep farming and climate-proofed homes. Sheep are important to the Falkland Islands community, and the community is looking to get recognition to brand its wool as Falklands wool, because it is of excellent quality and is organic.

There are also important similarities relating to climate change. The Falkland Islands have high wind and solar power generation, like Scotland, because they do not have an alternative due to their location.

There are links between the Falkland Islands and universities in Scotland and the rest of the UK. There is also a reliance on the state because of the size of the country; people have an expectation of provision from the state. They get support to go on holiday, they have a very good welfare system and they have funded university and living fees to enable them to come to the UK to study—the vast majority of people return home.

It is important that we reflect on the achievements of the Falkland Islanders and on our links to them. We have strong links through the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and our British islands and Mediterranean region branch.

I started by saying that 40 years was a long time ago and that, for many, the conflict is history, but it is important that we continue to try to improve the relationship between the UK and the Falkland Islands’ nearest neighbour, Argentina. It is critical that respect for the Falkland Islanders is at the heart of that relationship and that we continue our support. Wars are expensive, both financially and because they cost lives.

As we look to the future, let us consider this as a unique opportunity to welcome support and recognise the sacrifices that were made 40 years ago as well as to celebrate our cultural links, work together to share our expertise and academic links and continue exploration of best practice between our countries and people. Let us look at how we can continue to strengthen the link between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and the Falkland Islands.

13:13  

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak today. I congratulate my colleague Sharon Dowey on bringing the debate to the chamber.

Not only was the invasion and occupation of the Falkland Islands by Argentine forces on Friday 2 April 1982 a horrific and illegal act, but it marked a significant turning point for the then UK Government, and it was a test for the then Prime Minister’s leadership and Government.

A British naval task force was sent to reclaim the Falkland Islands, but assembling that force was no simple task. Amassing defence for the islands—which are 8,000 miles from the UK, in the south Atlantic—whether by sea or air, was going to involve logistics and planning of epic proportions. The 26 ships—a number that later rose to 44—of the Royal Navy that took an active part in the campaign were supported by 22 ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. They included six specialist logistical landing ships, two ships from the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service and 54 requisitioned vessels. Many of those civilian ships had to be fitted with extra equipment for the long voyage, including helicopter landing decks, specialist communications apparatus and water-treatment plants. In addition, the cruise liner SS Uganda was requisitioned and converted to serve as a hospital ship.

As well as sea-borne capabilities, we needed air superiority, which was a monumental task to achieve. Although the air tasks were clear, the assets that we needed were not clear at all. Even from the base on Ascension Island, there were no aircraft that could fly to the Falklands and back. Therefore, air-to-air refuelling had to take place, including as part of operation Black Buck, which was the famous op involving Vulcan bombers from RAF Waddington that thwarted Argentina’s ability to fly over Port Stanley. One aircraft had to be refuelled by air 17 times over a period of 15 hours and 45 minutes.

Such a short speech does not do justice to the significance of the operations that took place, nor can it come close to acknowledging the significant contributions that were made by so many military and civilian personnel. We have already heard about the loss of 255 British servicemen, including 15 personnel from Arbroath-based 45 Commando and the second battalion of the Scots Guards, plus three individuals from the Falklands, who were included in the more than 900 lives that were lost in total. The British success in the war came about chiefly due to our ability to project and sustain a task force in an impromptu military campaign for which there was no prior planning.

As we know, Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June 1982, which is a date that has gone down in history. It is known in the Falkland Islands as liberation day, and it is a national holiday. As the Falkland Islands Government has said, Falkland Islanders are profoundly grateful for the strong support that the UK Government continues to provide in acknowledging their choice to remain a UK overseas territory. The people of the Falkland Islands continue to be forward looking, with a strong sense of culture and heritage.

The immense bravery and fortitude that was shown by the Falkland Islanders and armed forces personnel amid the harsh terrain and conditions of the conflict should never be underestimated and should be universally commended.

13:17  

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

I thank Sharon Dowey for securing this members’ business debate to mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands.

I also thank Sharon Dowey for her sponsorship of last week’s 40th anniversary commemoration event in the Parliament, which was a fitting way for us to reflect on the impact and legacy of the Falklands conflict. When I tried to mention all the MSPs who were in attendance that night, I missed out two. I am happy to rectify that now by mentioning them by name—they were Pam Gosal and Tess White.

I also mentioned by name someone who was not there—Murdo Fraser. I do not know where he was that night. [Laughter.] However, I seized on the fact that he came down to the Falkland Islands in 2012, as Christina McKelvie and I did. It was a fantastic opportunity to see a place that is remarkable, and not just for the conflict that took place there.

What is clear from the speeches that we have heard is that, across the chamber, we are unanimous in recognising the bravery and heroism of all the individuals who set sail to free the islands.

I was interested in Murdo Fraser’s speech, in particular, because he talked about a young man who died on 12 June on HMS Glamorgan. As it happens, it was the night between 11 and 12 June when my unit, which is pronounced “four-five Commando” rather than “forty-five Commando”—there is no explanation; that is just what it is known as—conducted an attack. The person next to me directed fire from HMS Glamorgan from our position. That scared me endlessly; I thought that it required an act of faith for somebody to know exactly how far we were advancing and be able to direct fire with that kind of accuracy. It just shows how skilful and brave the people on the Glamorgan were. I send my full condolences to the surviving family of the young man whom Murdo Fraser mentioned.

As we near the 40th anniversary, there are a number of upcoming events and activities that will provide us all with a chance to consider the lasting impact of the conflict.

I am glad that a number of members have mentioned the Argentinians who were involved. It has been said that many of them were not there by choice. The ones whom I met were young men. One had a suitcase. Why would someone take a suitcase to war? He did so because he had no way of carrying proper equipment, so he took civilian clothes. He seemed to me to be younger even than we were. They were hopelessly ill-prepared, and they were hungry and cold. The one prisoner whom I took back to our headquarters was absolutely petrified.

Also, I have to say that one of the major achievements of the Falklands war—for me, at least—was that I saw no ill treatment whatsoever of any Argentinian prisoners of war. In my experience, they were treated exceptionally well, which is a mark of a very professional force, in my view.

I will be delighted to attend the Scottish national event in Edinburgh on 18 June, which is being delivered by the Scottish Government in partnership with Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland. It will provide the people of Scotland with an opportunity to commemorate an important and poignant anniversary. I encourage MSPs of all parties to come, if they can, and in turn to encourage others to come along on that day.

To coincide with that event, Poppyscotland—this relates to Sarah Boyack’s point—is delivering a wider learning programme and package of resources to schools across the country to allow young people to learn more about the conflict. It will also highlight the role of the armed forces, including the role that they play today and how we can support service members and their families.

It is interesting to think that, back in 1982, we were closer to the end of the second world war than we are today to the Falklands conflict. Speaking for myself, in 1982 I thought that world war two was ancient history, so you can imagine how it feels now to be thinking back to the Falklands.

I also look forward to attending the Royal British Legion’s national event at the National Memorial Arboretum to mark the official anniversary.

I would like to take a moment to highlight the work by Andrew Cave to ensure that the efforts of dockyard workers, who worked skilfully and tirelessly to ensure that our personnel and fleet were ready to sail to the Falklands, were properly recognised and commemorated, with plaques being placed in current and former naval dockyards around the world, including just across the Forth River, in Rosyth. It is only right that we pay tribute to those often-forgotten individuals, along with everyone else who made a contribution during the conflict—from the serving personnel to their families and their wider communities. I was scheduled to go to an event at Rosyth when the plaque commemorating those workers and the work of Andrew Cave would be unveiled but, unfortunately, I contracted Covid earlier that week.

We should also take a moment to recognise and appreciate something that we heard last week, which Sharon Dowey will remember, about the strong cultural links that Scotland shares with the Falkland Islands communities to this day. Many people in the islands’ population are descended from Scottish and Welsh immigrants who settled in the territory after 1833. Many individuals from the Shetland and Orkney islands emigrated to the Falkland Islands in the second half of the 19th century, during the development of its sheep-breeding industry.

To turn back briefly to the war and its lasting impact, I note that the war involved all elements of the armed forces and lasted just 74 days. As we have heard, it claimed the lives of hundreds of servicemen and had a lasting impact on thousands more, as well as on their families. Many veterans still struggle with physical and mental scars or have faced hardships in the years afterwards.

I will briefly mention the four men in my troop who were killed: Pete Fitton, Andy Uren, Bob Leeming and Keith Phillips. As I mentioned last week, Bob Leeming was a sergeant with a wife and a family; he had children at home. Keith Phillips, who was the same age as me, and had the same first name, was killed just before the attack on Two Sisters. For him, life was finished there. When we went down to the Falklands in 2012, Murdo Fraser made a call to ensure that as much assistance as possible would be given to their families to allow them to go there. Some family members do not realise that they are entitled to a medal on behalf of their son, brother or father.

So, while we reflect on the events of the Falklands conflict and our ties with the communities there, we have to take a moment to recognise and remember all those who lost their lives or were otherwise impacted by the war and the occupation of the islands. Quite recently there was a council leader in the Highlands who was resident in the Falklands during the conflict, which goes to show the links between our two countries.

It is also important that we acknowledge the lasting impact that can be experienced by some members of the armed forces community. We continue to work to seek to address that. I will finish by expressing my gratitude to our close-knit charity sector, here in Scotland. I am sure that I speak for everyone here when I say that I am continually impressed by the level and quality of support that they provide to our former service personnel and their families. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who supports those charities in whatever way they can.

Finally, we will not forget the brave souls who paid the ultimate price to ensure that the Falklands Islands could exercise their right to self-determination. That is the crucial point.

As for the exchange between Christine Grahame and Murdo Fraser, Sarah Boyack is quite right to say that this is the stuff of democracy. We do not have to agree on these things; indeed, people sometimes think that all members of the armed forces or veterans have the same view on such matters. The wars that we have fought in the past have usually been to protect democratic freedoms, one of which is the freedom to disagree.

I have to say that the way in which the war was conducted—and, indeed, much that I have learned about it—gives me a certain degree of anguish that things could have been conducted differently, but that would probably be true of any conflict. However, I have no trouble with the view that, once Argentinian forces representing a fascist regime were on the islands, it was necessary to eject them forcibly. I think that that was right. For me, this is about the principle of self-determination. We were not reclaiming the Falklands for the UK, but for the Falkland Islanders, so that they could choose to make their own decision, as they subsequently did in a referendum. I hate to say that everyone has the same view of these things, but I would imagine that, when the people involved look back, they will think that that was what they were fighting for. In truth, however, most people in the armed forces will say that they fight for the person next to them and the unit that they belong to, as much as for anything else.

I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate, and I again thank Sharon Dowey for ensuring that the issue is not forgotten and that we continue to remember those who served in the Falklands.

Thank you very much indeed, cabinet secretary. That concludes the debate. I suspend the meeting until 2 pm.

13:26 Meeting suspended.  

14:00 On resuming—