HC Deb 30 March 1977 vol 929 cc393-6
12. Sir Nigel Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether discussions with the Government of the Argentine about the future of the Falkland Islands have begun; whether they include the issue of sovereignty; and if he will make a statement.

20. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will bring forward proposals for consulting the people of the Falkland Islands about their future relationship with the United Kingdom.

21. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Rowlands

As I told the House on 1st March, we are considering whether negotiations on the future of the Falkland Islands including sovereignty might take place. No negotiations have yet begun but if they do there will be full consultations with the islanders.

Sir N. Fisher

Will the Minister go rather further than that and confirm that there will be no change in the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands without the full consent of the islanders, and that no pressure will be put upon them by the Government to accept any such change against their wishes?

Mr. Rowlands

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Official Report of the debate on 1st March and the full statement that I made in response to questions he will realise that we have given very full assurances. I went so far as to say that the Government would not bring proposals to the House if they were not acceptable to the islanders.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said that the question of sovereignty would be decided in this House? Will he now give an assurance that the people of the islands will be given the chance of a referendum before any change of sovereignty is envisaged?

Mr. Rowlands

We have not even begun to negotiate yet, let alone have proposals which might be brought before the islanders or the House. It is therefore premature to anticipate in what form consultations can take place. We did not discuss this with the islanders when I went there. Clearly, this matter will come up, and how consultations will take place at a later stage will certainly be considered.

Mr. Jay

Do I understand my hon. Friend's statement today to mean that no change will be made without the express consent of the people in the Islands?

Mr. Rowlands

As I have told the House over and over again, we certainly shall not bring forward any proposals which are not acceptable to the islanders, and they must obviously receive the consent of this House.

Mr. Tapsell

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm, so as to allay some anxieties stemming from Press reports, that it is impossible for Argentinian business interests to gain control of the land of the Falkland Islands, because this requires the authority of the Secretary of State, which would certainly be withheld?

Mr. Rowlands

I would rather clarify the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. First, no land on the Falkland Islands can be alienated without the permission of the Falkland Islands Government, which is hardly likely to be forthcoming. Secondly, the British Government would not support such a move.

Mr. Whitehead

In view of the widely authenticated reports on the systematic suppression of human rights in Argentina, which my hon. Friend may have seen—the Amnesty report and others—does he think that this is an appropriate moment to enter into any kind of negotiations with that Government about the possible transfer of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Rowlands

We all deplore abuses of human rights, wherever they occur. Nevertheless, the welfare interests of the islanders require our discussing these matters with the Argentinian Government.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the Minister say what aspect of sovereignty is negotiable?

Mr. Rowlands

This is one of the major difficulties of apparently reconciling the almost irreconcilable. Until we have had some discussions and negotiations, I could not forecast what their outcome might be.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Government help the islanders in their present economic situation by making a decision to extend the airport runway, and incidentally help them to preserve their status?

Mr. Rowlands

The extension of the runway, costing more than £5 million on current estimates, is a serious and important project, but it seems to us that on present evidence it would be hard to justify it. It could bear very heavily on the current revenue problems of the Islands. We have not closed the door to the project, but we need more convincing that it is viable.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend on all occasions please refrain from using the phrase "whole-hearted consent"? We do not want to deceive the Falkland Islanders in the manner in which the ex-Leader of the Tory Party tricked this nation and dragged it into the Common Market.

Mr. Rowlands

I should not dream of using the undesirable terminology of Conservative Members.

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