HC Deb 25 January 1984 vol 52 cc902-4
5. Mr. Soames

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he is currently having with the Argentine Government.

6. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement regarding relations with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

7. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if Her Majesty's Government now have any plans to seek to establish diplomatic relations with Argentina.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

We are holding no discussions with Argentina at present, but we have made clear our wish to restore normal bilateral relations. We will not enter into talks about the transfer of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands to Argentina.

Mr. Soames

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we are now in a position where we can be magnanimous? Does he realise that many hon. Members on both sides are disappointed at the lack of positive response to the news coming from the Argentine? Does he agree that we should seek commercial normalisation, at the very least, as soon as possible, and at least give some encouraging noises to that Government that we would welcome their participation in talks?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely take the force of my hon. Friend's point. The message that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent to President Alfonsin after the election of the democratic Government in Argentina was intended to pave the way towards more normal relationships. It is clearly right for us to seek to do so along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, and as I have said in previous statements, by seeking, for example, to begin improving commercial relationships between the two countries.

Mr. Winnick

With Argentina fortunately restored to democratic government, is this not the right opportunity, as the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) has just said, to explore with the Government of that country all aspects of the future of the Falklands? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the news that about £7 million of public money has been spent on the erection of just 54 prefabricated houses in the Falklands is just one example of the growing, formidable price that this country is paying for the present Government's policy on the Falklands?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that the Government have made it clear that there is no intention of embarking on negotiations about sovereignty, and that is compatible with everything that we have said and done about the Falklands so far. In those circumstances, it is right and proper for us to take prudent steps where necessary to secure the defence of the islands and their development. It is in that context that the houses which the hon. Gentleman mentioned were urgently needed, by way of replacement, and as accommodation for new personnel. The final cost for the supply and erection was high for a number of reasons, but the original contract price had been adhered to. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, as I have already made plain, that we should now look for ways of improving our relationship with the Argentine Government, and we should do that by concentrating first on those areas where practical steps towards agreement are most likely to be possible at an early stage.

Mr. Dubs

If the Foreign Secretary is sincere about improving relationships with Argentina, is not the establishment of diplomatic relations a necessary first step, from which better relations generally with that country will follow?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It would not be right to contemplate the establishment of diplomatic relations unless and until there is a declaration by Argentina of its willingness to end the state of hostilities. However, the absence of such a declaration, as I have made plain, does not rule out the wisdom of looking for ways of improving our relationships. I emphasise that that process must start in the areas which are most likely to be practicable, probably in commercial matters.

Mr. David Atkinson

In the interests of establishing this sort of good will, is not the time ripe for the Government to renew their offer to the Argentine Government to facilitate arrangements for the Argentine bereaved to visit the graves of their relatives on the Falkland Islands?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Yes, I am glad of the opportunity to do that. Since the summer of 1982 we have made it clear on a number of occasions, through the International Red Cross, that we are prepared to facilitate the repatriation of the Argentine dead. That offer remains open. Secondly, we have made it plain that we shall place no obstacle in the way of a visit of the sort described by my hon. Friend by a bona fide group of relatives who meet the conditions that we have suggested and are prepared to go under arrangements made and supervised by the International Red Cross.

Mr. Deakins

Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that immigration into the Falkland Islands will not be ruled out as a subject for discussion between the two countries?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall consider the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Robert Banks

As the Secretary-General of the United Nations is charged with the task of seeking to bring about talks between ourselves and the Argentine Government, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this might be an appropriate moment to make our position known to the Secretary-General, to ascertain whether a dialogue could be initiated?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that the Secretary-General of the United Nations had our position made plain to him in the course of the work that he did before reporting to the General Assembly towards the end of last year. It seems that the right way of setting about this process is to seek to improve relationships through the intermediation of the protecting powers, and to move from that to try to establish a normal pattern of business between the two countries.

Mr. Healey

As the fortress Falklands policy, according to the Government's own figure, will cost the British taxpayer £2 million a year for the next three years for every family of Falklanders, and as much of that money is wasted through incompetence, as we have seen recently in respect of housing, will Her Majesty's Government show the same readiness to meet the democratic leader of the Argentine half way as they have demonstrated in offering to meet the Communist leader of the Soviet Union halfway? Will they undertake negotiations with the democratic Government of Argentina about the future of the Falklands without preconditions, as they have already undertaken negotiations with the Communist Government of China about the future of the 6 million people in Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The parallel which the right hon. Gentleman sought to draw at the end of his supplementary question is characteristically inappropriate. The fact that cannot and must not be overlooked is that the Falkland Islands were the subject of an unprovoked armed invasion, which took place a very few weeks after the Argentine Government of that time had been purporting to negotiate on the future of the islands. Having said that, it is sensible for us to be willing, as we have made clear, to seek a better relationship with the democratic Government of the Argentine. We have welcomed their election, but we must invite them to have some respect for the right of those who live on the Falklands to self-determination.