HC Deb 16 February 1948 vol 447 cc822-3
36. Mr. Sharp

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Argentine Government have now ceased, or promised to cease, their acts of trespass on the Falkland Island Dependencies.

Mr. McNeil

No, Sir. Argentine and Chilean naval forces are at present operating in British waters in the Falkland Island Dependencies, with the declared object of enforcing claims to sovereignty in this area. They have also landed parties, and purport to have set up military commands in British Territory. His Majesty's Government consider the British title to the Falkland Islands Dependencies to be well founded, and have been willing that it should stand the test of international arbitration. In the protests which we made to the Argentine and Chilean Governments in December last, we made it plain that we would accept the decision of the International Court. This offer has been rejected by both Governments, and we can only regard this as evidence that they have no confidence in their ability to dispute our legal title.

The Argentine Government have suggested instead, that there should be some form of international conference. We are considering this proposal. His Majesty's Government are always ready to seek means of settlement by discussion in disputes which arise with friendly Governments, and have never closed the door to discussion of the Antarctic question with the interested parties. That is one thing, but it is quite another when, despite our declared willingness to see this question settled legally, ostentatious naval and other demonstrations are made in the areas which we administer, and which everybody knows we consider to be British territory. It should not be supposed that we shall overlook the challenge to our authority. Steps are being taken to ensure that the Governor of the Falkland Islands receives the support he needs.

Rival claims in the Antarctic have long existed, but it has never been thought necessary by any of the Governments to create international ill-feeling, or to arouse public opinion on the subject. My right hon. Friend hopes that the Argentine and Chilean Governments will share his desire to avoid provocation in this matter.

Major Legge-Bourke

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, in the days when the Royal Navy was kept at proper strength action would have been taken long before this?

Mr. McNeil

I have no doubt that action of that kind will be effectively seen to; but there are many other methods of settling international disputes.