HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1060-2
11. Sir J Langford-Holt

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what machinery he will establish to ascertain the views of the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands on the status of those islands.

16. Sir F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will afford an early opportunity for the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands to give official expression of their views on the future of the territory.

28. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards the Falkland Islands.

32. Mr. Braine

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has had from representative bodies in the Falkland Islands for any change in the territory's status; and what steps he now proposes to take to ascertain the wishes of the population in regard to any proposal for the transfer of sovereignty.

Mr. George Thomson

The position of Her Majesty's Government on all these points has been made clear by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in the debate on the Consolidated Fund on 26th March and in reply to Questions on 1st April—[Vol. 762, c. 3–5.]—and by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the Adjournment debate on 28th March—[Vol. 761, c. 1868–76.]

Sir J. Langford-Holt

A few minutes ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that substantial guarantees have been given to the people of Gibraltar about their position. Will he assure the House that guarantees of no less force are available for the people of the Falkland Islands, and that any effort to ascertain their views will be on the basis of direct franchise rather than on some basis of indirect franchise thought up by Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Thomson

As I understand it, the people of the Falkland Islands have direct franchise at present. There will be the fullest consultation with their elected representatives in the Legislative Council and the Executive Council. In answer to the main point raised by the hon. Gentleman, I remind him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave these substantial guarantees in the speeches to which I referred. For example, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), he said: …the wishes of the islanders are an absolute condition ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1968; Vol. 762, c. 5.]

Sir F. Bennett

If the right hon. Gentleman does not think that a direct referendum such as took place in Gibraltar is necessary here, will he confirm that that is so because he knows in advance what the answer would be? Second, will he remove from the record of what was said by one of his right hon. Friends in another place the one unfortunate word "immediate", when it was said that there will be no immediate transfer of sovereignty without the consent of the Falkland Islanders? Will he once and for all expunge the word "immediate"?

Mr. Thomson

As regards the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, there has been a great misunderstanding that some fundamental change was imminent here. Nothing of the sort has ever been the case. As regards how the people of the Falkland Islands will be consulted, it is too early to prejudge that question because, first of all, we must have something to consult them about, and we have not reached that stage yet.

Mr. Marten

In view of his use of the word "imminent", will the Common wealth Secretary expand upon the clarity with which he said his right hon. Friend had dealt with this matter and give an absolute assurance that there will be no change in the status of the Falkland Islands at any time without the consent of the people of the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Thomson

That was exactly what I sought to do in answer to the original Question. I thought that it might have saved time.

Mr. Braine

In his answer to my original Question, did the right hon. Gentleman mean that he had had no representations whatever from any bodies in the Falkland Islands? If so, since there is no support for cession in the Falkland Islands, will he make early arrangements to ascertain the wishes of the islanders?

Mr. Thomson

My original Answer did not mean that there had been no representations. We have had a distinguished Member of the Legislative Council of the Falkland Islands in this country.

Mr. Rankin

Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will not place the fate of this country in the hands of the Falkland Islanders?

Mr. Thomson

My hon. Friend, who is an old and doughty fighter for the right of self-determination, will agree with me that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders are, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, an absolute condition. At the same time, it would clearly be much in the interests of the Falkland Islanders if they were to feel that there was an acceptable modus vivendi arrived at with their neighbours on the mainland of Latin America 200 miles away.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Does not the Minister realise that the Falkland Islands are British, and will he terminate immediately any negotiations with the Argentine about them?

Mr. Thomson

No, Sir. For the reasons I have just given, I do not think that that would be in the interests of the Falkland Islands.

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