HC Deb 04 December 1968 vol 774 cc1530-40
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Fred Mulley)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a further statement on the Falkland Islands.

In accordance with the undertaking given to the House yesterday, I have now inquired into statements made in the House yesterday about Press reports of remarks attributed to my right hon. and noble Friend when he was in Argentina. I have discussed this fully with my right hon. and noble Friend and I have now received from Her Majesty's Ambassador the relevant Argentine Press reports of the Press conference in question.

The statement to which reference was made yesterday was made in the context of creating a framework in which the obstacles affecting ordinary relationships between islands and mainland will be overcome, particularly with regard to communications and economic and cultural links. In this context—and here I quote the relevant extracts from the two Argentine newspapers Clarin and Nacion:

"Question: Does this mean then that the problem would be to convince the islanders?

Answer: I think it is something which depends not only on Great Britain, but that Argentina also has to solve the problem. Britain's relations with the islands are very good, so it is a question of Argentina promoting good relations between herself and the inhabitants of the islands."

On the issue of sovereignty, again I quote relevant extracts from the Argentine newspapers concerned:

"Question: Has a date been fixed for the change of sovereignty?

Answer: We are not thinking in such terms of a change of sovereignty. This is a question which depends entirely on the wishes of the islanders."

My right hon. and noble Friend confirms the accuracy of these reports.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East suggested that my right hon. and noble Friend said that Britain and Argentina may make a joint effort to convince the islanders that a change of status would be convenient. My right hon. and noble Friend made no such statement.

On all points in the Falklands and in Argentina, as I repeatedly told the House yesterday, he made it clear that there can be no transfer of sovereignty against the wishes of the islanders. The issue was further raised yesterday of the present state of the discussions with the Argentine Government. Since my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary discussed these problems himself with the Argentine Foreign Minister when he was in New York in October, the House would, I know, wish to have a statement from my right hon. Friend as soon as he returns from India.

I understand there has been discussion about this through the usual channels. My right hon. Friend will be making a statement next week.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in trying to explain the various statements made by his right hon. and noble Friend.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order. My right hon. Friend has just confounded the allegations made yesterday against my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Chalfont. In the circumstances, should not we first—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is the point of order?"] I can teach the young fools on the benches opposite how to put a point of order. Go back to school.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will continue with his point of order and not interrupt himself.

Mr. Shinwell

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I am easily disturbed.

In view of my right hon. Friend's statement, should not we ask the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) to withdraw the allegation which he made yesterday?

Mr. Speaker

That is a point of argument, not a point of order.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

If the right hon. Gentleman had not been so impetuous, and had waited for my next sentence, perhaps he would not have had to make that kind of intervention.

We have been trying to extract information. We had to do exactly the same thing over Gibraltar. Trying to get the Minister of State to make a specific statement that sovereignty would not be transferred has been like squeezing water out of a stone.

I have only just seen the statement. However, the right hon. Gentleman says that his right hon. and noble Friend stated: We are not thinking in such terms of a change of sovereignty. This is a question which depends entirely on the wishes of the islanders. The statement continues: On all points in the Falklands and in the Argentine, as I repeatedly told the House yesterday, he"— that is, the right hon. and noble Lord, Lord Chalfont— made it clear 'that there can be no transfer of Sovereignty against the wishes of the islanders'". Why did not the right hon. Gentleman say that before? If only he had done so it would have saved a great deal of trouble.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Secretary of State will make a statement when he returns from his visit to India. We look forward to that with keen anticipation. If it confirms what the right hon. Gentleman has said, all well and good, but we reserve the right to debate this matter, if we wish to do so, after the right hon. Gentleman has made his statement.

Mr. Mulley

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his last remarks. I accept that the Opposition have the right on this as on every other question to debate the matter if they so desire. I am grateful to him for accepting my offer to ask my right hon. Friend to make a statement.

I do not make an accusation against the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), but I could not find any newspaper quotation which measured up to the words which he used in the House. I am sure that he was quoting from memory. That was why I was not able yesterday to give the House the assurance, which I could otherwise have given, that my tight hon. Friend had not possibly used those words.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does the principle laid down by my right hon. Friend that the kind of government they get should always Le determined by the wishes of the islanders apply to islands in other parts of the world?

Mr. Mulley

I am concerned at the moment with the Falkland Islanders and since many newspapers have said that the more often I repeated the pledge, the less the House believed it, I prefer to stand by what I have said.

Mr. Braine rose

Hon. Members


Mr. Braine

There is no question of withdrawing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

Are we to take it from what the right hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon that he categorically denies the report—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I want to hear the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Braine

Does the right hon. Gentleman now categorically deny the report in Monday's Daily Telegraph—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—that Lord Chalfont told a Press conference in Buenos Aires on Sunday that Britain could not work alone in convincing the islanders that a change might be convenient and that it must be a joint effort by Britain and the Argentine?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that yesterday he told the House that Lord Chalfont was accompanied by five journalists? If those journalists have been sending back incorrect reports, are not the Government to blame for not making their position crystal clear?

Mr. Mulley

I am sorry that the hon. Member has not been more candid with the House. He has just quoted from Monday's Daily Telegraph. Not only, when he made his point yesterday, did he not give any reference to a newspaper or any date, but he has now read the correct version. Yesterday—inadvertently I hope—after the word "change" as HANSARD records, he talked about a "change of status", which is a quite different situation from a change of relationships, about which my right hon and noble Friend was talking, as has been confirmed by the Argentine newspapers.

If the House or any hon. Member should be in any doubt about this, I would point out two facts. First, five other British newspaper correspondents were present, several representing newspapers which have been wholly critical of our policy on the Falkland Islands, and not one of them thought fit to report this as a significant statement. If it had been as important as the hon. Member suggests, the Daily Telegraph itself might have put it in a more prominent position in that newspaper.

Mr. Murray

In view of my right hon. Friend's failure to get a withdrawal from the Opposition, does he realise that he would have a great deal of support from this side of the House if he refused to answer any more questions from the Opposition on the Falklands until he has had a withdrawal from the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine)?

Mr. Mulley

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend, and, indeed, of all my right hon. and hon. Friends. I share their disappointment that the hon. Member did not see fit to withdraw.

Sir F. Bennett

Will the Minister clarify two points arising from his statement yesterday? With reference to a referendum on Gibraltar, he said that as it was so well known what the opinion of the Falkland Islanders was at the present time a referendum would be superfluous, but does he recall that in the case of Gibraltar precisely the opposite argument was used and it was said that it was just as well that the world should learn straight away what the people of Gibraltar wanted?

As regards the statement today, does the right hon. Gentleman recall that yesterday he referred, I think, seven times to improved communications? Whatever else Lord Chalfont may or may not have said, he has gone on referring to strengthening links. What is the explanation for this, or is it a Freudian slip?

Mr. Mulley

I have read carefully the reports in the Press on Monday of Lord Chalfont's Press conference. They all reported that Lord Chalfont had stressed very much the need for improved communication links. I think that anyone with any knowledge of the problems of the Falkland Island realises that the fact that they have no access to the Argentine is a cause of very great difficulty for them.

Mr. Faulds

Will my right hon. Friend accept that most of us on this side are as convinced of the need for white self-determination in the Falklands as we are for black self-determination in Southern Africa? Will he please understand that we mean to maintain our stand in both these cases?

Mr. Mulley

I note the views of my hon. Friend.

Sir R. Cary

Why cannot a full-scale Parliamentary delegation visit the Falkland Islands, as was done by the visit of a Parliamentary delegation years ago to Newfoundland, when the future of that island was at stake?

Mr. Mulley

There has been a Parliamentary delegation recently, as the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) reminded the House yesterday, and I am sure that its reports have been of great value. Until the recent visit of my right hon. and noble Friend, no Minister had previously visited the Falklands in, I think, the 130 or more years of their existence as a dependency. The question of a Parliamentary delegation can be considered, but I would point out the difficulties of getting to and fro, demanding a good deal of time.

Sir Dingle Foot

Will the Government remind the Government of the Argentine, if they have not already done so, that both Britain and Argentina are signatories of the United Nations Charter and that under Article 73 of the Charter we are bound as a matter of duty, from which we cannot escape, to have regard, first and foremost, to the wishes of the inhabitants?

Mr. Mulley

As I explained to the House yesterday, it was because of the United Nations resolution that the discussions with the Argentine were first set on foot. Right from the very beginning in the debate in the United Nations, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Caradon made it clear that, in our judgment, the interest and wishes of the islanders must be paramount throughout.

Mrs. Knight

May we take it that the Minister will not emulate his right hon. and noble Friend's example yesterday when, having made a statement in another place, he later went on television to admit that he had not given in that statement all the information which he possessed?

Mr. Mulley

I had the pleasure last night of watching the television programme concerned, and that was not the impression which I gained from it. So far, I have no invitation to appear on television tonight and I have no expectation of receiving such an invitation.

Mr. Mendelson

Is it not quite clear, in view of the last allegation, that all that Lord Chalfont said was, as I have heard many Governments saying over the years in similar circumstances, that in the middle of a diplomatic negotiation one cannot publish all the points involved? Is it not time that this personal vendetta against a public servant of Lord Chalfont's integrity and ability should cease once and for all?

Mr. Mulley

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend.

Lord Lambton

Will the Minister say whether he was aware yesterday, when he answered the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), that Lord Chalfont had received a letter the day before he went to the Falkland Islands which was relevant to the seaweed project? Did he mention the changed circumstances arising from that letter to the Governor and the Council of the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Mulley

I thought that I dealt with that matter yesterday when, I think, we had not the benefit of the presence of the noble Lord.

Viscount Lambton indicated dissent.

Mr. Mulley

I dealt with the matter. Lord Chalfont himself dealt with it in another place yesterday, when he said that the letter was marked "Confidential" and, therefore, sent for his personal information after he had left and it was forwarded to him and reached him just before he went to the Falkland Islands. That letter did not contain anything of the detailed information, or probability of early action, that has been more recently conveyed to the Press by the gentleman in question.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) was on television last night and repeated the allegations, as the transcript would show, made yesterday in this House and which are now found to be without foundation? In these circumstances, would my hon. Friend make a statement to the B.B.C. that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East should not receive his usual fee?

Sir Knox Cunningham

Will the Minister of State, on behalf of the Government—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I want to hear the question.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Will the Minister of State, on behalf of the Government, say that there will be no further discussion of sovereignty with the Argentine, and if he has not that authority will he get it from the Prime Minister, who is sitting beside him?

Mr. Mulley

I went into this question at some length yesterday and I thought that the House had generally welcomed the undertaking I gave today that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will make a further statement next week.

Mr. Hamling

While welcoming warmly the statement made by my right hon. Friend, may I ask whether he would not agree that reliance and insistence upon inaccurate Press reports does a great deal of harm to the confidence of the Falkland Islanders in Her Majesty's Government and that it is the policy of both sides, surely, to reassure the islar ders and not upset them?

Mr. Mulley

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I think that the difficulty in this case arose from the hon. Member for Essex, South-East giving to the House yesterday a wrong interpretation of a Press report, and it is for this reason that I regret that he will not withdraw it.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Minister aware that we on this bench have never had, and do not now have, any cause to question the integrity of Lord Chalfont, and that we accept that he did not use the words attributed to him yesterday in this House? But would the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Government could get out of this difficulty if they would stop using so much such words as, "There will be no transfer of sovereignty against the wishes of the islanders" and, instead, say, "The islanders do not wish any transfer of sovereignty. Therefore, there will be no change of sovereignty"?

Mr. Mulley

This is a most helpful suggestion which I will put to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. C. Pannell

Would my hon. Friend try to find out, on behalf of the House, why those Members opposite who want no further palaver with Argentina want to keep on talking ad nauseam with Mr. Smith?

Mr. Sandys

Since it is quite clear that the only thing which Argentina wants from Britain is possession of the Falkland Islands, and since the islanders are determined to remain British, can the Minister at least tell us what the negotiations are about? Will he tell us whether it has been made clear to the Argentine Government that the question of the transfer of sovereignty is not discussable in the negotiations?

Mr. Mulley

The discussions with Argentina arose for two reasons. One, because the two Governments were requested to discuss their dispute by the United Nations General Assembly. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in March, while we may not agree—and we do not agree—with the Argentine Government on this matter, it is difficult, in the light of a United Nations resolution, to refuse to discuss it with them, and since the dispute concerns sovereignty, naturally the question of sovereignty had to be discussed and has been discussed in these talks.

I think that the House will realise that one of the reasons why they have taken so long and have not come to a conclusion, and, indeed, may well not come to an agreed conclusion, is that we have, as I told the House yesterday, insisted throughout upon the paramount importance of the wishes of the islanders and cannot agree to any transfer of sovereignty against the wishes of the islanders. I thought that I had made that so clear yesterday; so clear, indeed, that I have been taken to task by, I think, almost every newspaper for having repeated it too often.

Mr. Hastings

Has the Minister read a report which appeared on Saturday last in La Prensa which, I understand, is a prominent Argentine newspaper, to the effect that agreement was feasible and that the interests, as opposed to the wishes, of the population would be taken into account, and that sovereignty would be transferred once relations have been improved, and, finally, that a period of from four to 10 years would be set aside for this improvement of good relations, in particular, communications? Is the Minister in a position utterly to repudiate that report?

Mr. Mulley

A question arose about the accuracy of remarks attributed to my right hon. and noble Friend at the Press conference. I am quite certain that no such comment of the kind that the hon. Member has just suggested arose in that conference. While I take no responsibility for what appears in British newspapers, I certainly have no responsibility for what may appear in papers abroad.

Sir C. Osborne May I ask two questions? Why cannot the House be told what Lord Chalfont said to the Executive Council in the Falklands? Secondly, yesterday, if my memory is right, the right hon. Gentleman said that the islanders may change their minds. Will he give an undertaking that no British money will be used to induce them to change their minds?

Mr. Mulley

I am, frankly, astonished by the second question by the hon. Mem- ber, who has had an opportunity, which I, personally, have not had, of visiting the islands, and that he should suggest that we can make them change their minds by the offer of money. That is certainly not the kind of comment I would have expected from him.

As to the first point—I am sorry, but I am not sure what it was.

Sir C. Osborne

Why cannot the House be told what Lord Chalfont said to the Executive Council?

Mr. Mulley

The reason it was possible to have a more confidential talk with the Executive Council was that the Council is the Government of the Falkland Islands. Members of that body are bound by an oath of secrecy. In the normal course of diplomatic practice it is never possible to divulge details of communications without the consent of the other party. Normally, of course, one reaches the point where there is an agreed statement; or, if one cannot get to that point, a general announcement that the talks have come to an end.

Mr. Kenyon

Is my hon. Friend aware that if hon. Members could spend six months on those islands, the majority of them would change their minds? [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is the question to end all questions.