HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc405-10
4. Mr. Thorpe

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether, at the forthcoming talks with the Argentine about the future of the Falkland Islands, he will make it clear that under the Charter of the United Nations the islanders have the right of self-determination.

11. Sir Nigel Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what matters will be discussed during the forthcoming talks with the Government of the Argentine about the Falkland Islands.

13. Sir Bernard Braine

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if it is intended to hold the proposed talks with the Argentine on the future of the Falkland Islands before or after the autumn elections in the islands.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Edward Rowlands)

As was announced yesterday, the first round in Anglo-Argentine negotiations on the Falkland Islands dispute is taking place in Rome from 13th to 15th July. The topics for discussion are set out in the terms of reference for these negotiations which were announced on 26th April. The Government's commitment to the principle of self-determination will once again be made clear to the Argentine during the current negotiations.

Mr. Thorpe

I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. but will he also see that it is made clear to the people of the Falkland Islands themselves? Will he accept that if what he says is correct any diminution of their sovereignty can take place only with their consent, and that if it is not forthcoming this country will be morally obliged to reject any such claim from the Argentine?

Mr. Rowlands

We shall of course inform the Falkland Islanders about our actions and our approach to the talks. I have myself sent a message to the Island Council informing it in advance of the first round of talks. I made it very clear to the House when we debated the matter on 1st March that the Government would not even bring proposals to the House unless they had received the acceptance of the islanders themselves.

Sir N. Fisher

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his forthright declaration, clear and categorical, that there can be no change in sovereignty without the full consent and approval of the islanders. But whilst it may be advisable and indeed even necessary to offer the Argentine participation in the development of fishing, exploration for oil and that type of thing, will he at least consider lengthening the airfield so as to make the islanders less dependent on the Argentine for their communications?

Mr. Rowlands

We have already carried out one extension of the airfield, which has only just been completed. The idea of extending it considerably to take very large international airliners has been the subject of considerable debate. It would be extremely expensive —a multimillion pound project—and on the basis of existing evidence we could not commit ourselves to it. However, we are willing to commission, when it seems appropriate, any preliminary studies necessary to investigate the matter further. I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman, who is, as I am, a keen supporter of the Falkland Islanders' welfare, that if we built the extension and it turned out to be something of a white elephant the burden of cost to the islanders themselves could be considerable.

Sir B. Brain

Why, just before the British community in the Falkland Islands holds its own free elections, are the Government holding any talks at all with the Fascist Government of the Argentine, whose disregard of fundamental human rights has already caused the United States to cut off aid'?

Mr. Rowlands

The hon. Gentleman will know that I went to the islands myself to talk to the Island Council and met many islanders to explain the background to the round of talks. I said that we should probably have the first round at about this time, and this was accepted by the Island Council without demur. We should be taking part in subsequent talks, and after the elections we should continually consult and maintain our consultations with the islanders and the new Island Council. There is no way in which we have gone behind the backs of the islanders in this respect.

Mr. Grocott

On the wider issue of the remaining dependent territories of the Commonwealth, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government do not quite know what to do with those territories? As any one of them, including the Falkland Islands, could become a flashpoint at any time, is it not about time we had a proper and comprehensive review of what our policy to the remaining territories should be?

Mr. Rowlands

I think that probably as Minister I have spent as much time as most Ministers historically, if not more, in dealing with our remaining dependent territories and considering their future. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need a coherent policy. We have been evolving such a policy for the majority of the territories concerned—for example, the Associated States in the Caribbean, the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert Islands and the Ellice Islands, and the Seychelles last year. We are evolving and have evolved a coherent view in respect of most dependent territories, but no general policy could apply to particular situations, and there are particular situations in places such as Belize and the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Has the hon. Gentleman seen a recent copy of the Falkland Times, which expresses its considerable concern about the lack of proper and authentic information about what the British Government have in mind? Will the hon. Gentleman give an absolute assurance to the House that the people of the Falkland Islands individually—perhaps through that publication—will he told about the substance and details of the talks now going, on in Rome?

Mr. Rowlands

I resent the implication that we have been keeping information from the islanders. I was the first Minister in nine years to go to the islands to discuss the problems with the islanders themselves. I have kept up, by regular correspondence, consultation with the islanders and the Island Council, and whenever Falkland Islanders have come here I have tried to meet them. We are maintaining and developing first-class co-operation between ourselves and the Falkland Islands. I do not think that the Falkland Times is the only vehicle for conveying the views of the British Government to the Falkland Islanders.

Mr. Ogden

Does my hon. Friend accept that no hon. Member has any right to complain about the lack of personal interest that my hon. Friend has shown in the affairs, welfare and well-being of the people of the Falkland Islands? Does he also accept that there is no reason why detailed progress on local issues, including economic issues, should be held up simply because talks are taking place with another Government?

Mr. Rowlands

Of course. I think that many of the hopes and aspirations of the islanders on local issues can be met, and we shall make every effort to do so.

Mr. Tapsell

Is it a fact that a Scottish company is interested in helping the development of the Falkland Islands fisheries? Will this sort of project be encouraged by Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Rowlands

We have given every encouragement particularly in recent months, following publication of the Shackleton Report—to encourage anybody who wishes to invest and to develop, particularly on the fisheries side in the islands and island waters. That is one of the few areas for development that the report identifies. I cannot give specific information about the particular company mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but I assure him that we are giving the maximum encouragement to such investments or projects.

5. Mr. David James

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to generate income from the airfield on the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Rowlands

The Falkland Islands Legislative Council announced on 15th June an imposition of a£2 a head embarkation fee at the new airport. The prospects for the Falkland Islands Government being able to generate further income will be dependent on future economic activity in the region.

Mr. James

Will the Minister seriously research the proposition that if the runway on the Falkland Islands were greatly extended it could be part of a major alternate great circle route to Australia and New Zealand? Will he bear in mind that airports are highly labour-intensive?

Mr. Rowlands

I have already dealt with the question of the extension of the airfield in answering previous supplementary questions. At the moment we have no evidence to suggest that many of the commercial airlines wish to travel to and refuel from the Falkland Islands. It is one of the many aspects of the airport extension project that require further study.

Mr. Whitehead

Will my hon. Friend accept that economic support for the people of the Falkland Islands is the best assurance they could have that we shall not push them closer to the repressive regime in the Argentine? When we consider the statement by Senor Allara today, at the outset of the talks in Rome, that the Argentine has full control over the Falkland Islands, will my hon. Friend accept that there is cause for the worries and reservations of the islanders?

Mr. Rowlands

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, it is just not so. We are in control of the Falkland Islands, together with the Falkland Islanders themselves.

On the first point, we have said that we can get on with many projects in the Falkland Islands and help in local development, but we think--this was Tony Crosland's point when he made a statement earlier this year—that the major areas of economic development will require a degree of co-operation with the Argentine Government, and that is part and parcel of these talks.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that no decision with regard to the future of the Falkland Islands will be made during the recess or without further reference?

Mr. Rowlands

I give that assurance. One does not envisage these talks being suddenly completed. This has been a long-standing problem and we have no miracle solution to it.

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