HC Deb 27 June 1984 vol 62 cc976-8
3. Mr. Tom Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty''s Government's relations with the Government of Argentina.

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

As we have often made clear, we are ready for official talks with the Argentine Government on the normalisation of our relations. Such talks cannot include discussion of sovereignty over the Falklands. The preparatory exchanges which we initiated through the protecting powers are continuing; their details must remain confidential. Our aim in the talks will be to make progress on a range of practical questions, but it will be difficult to restore full diplomatic relations until the Argentines have formally declared a cessation of hostilities.

Mr. Clarke

How long is the Fortress Falklands policy to continue, given the enormous drain not least on our defence resources? Now that there is a new regime in Argentina, should not the Government be big enough to restore normal diplomatic relations in their fullest sense?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no question of any Fortress Falklands policy. The airfield is being constructed substantially to meet the recommendations of Lord Shackleton, which were made for strong economic and developmental reasons. Its role in facilitating rapid reinforcement of the islands is only secondary to that. But, as I have made plain, there is no question of negotiation over sovereignty. Against that background, as soon as the new democratic Government were elected in the Argentine, we made plain our intention to try to move towards the establishment of normal diplomatic relations, as I indicated in my earlier reply.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Is it not more normal to advocate a Munich before a war rather than afterwards? Is my right hon. and learned Friend on his guard against the gnawing of rats who want to surrender by diplomacy the sovereignty that was defended by arms? Is it not a complete red herring to suggest that the defence of the Falklands is too expensive once the airfield is there?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend's last point is manifestly right. I emphasised in my original answer and subsequently that there can be no question of discussing the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. It is on that basis that the other contacts I described have taken place.

Mr. Ashdown

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the long-term best interests of the Falkland islanders and, indeed, the security of the Falkland Islands can be ensured only within an international framework in which Argentina plays some part?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is obviously in the interests not only of the Falkland islanders but of the Argentines and ourselves that we should take steps towards restoring normal relations between the two countries, including diplomatic relations, on the basis that I have described.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Will my right and learned Friend bear in mind that the undertaking that he has reiterated at the Dispatch Box today not to discuss sovereignty at all with the Argentines makes it impossible for them to negotiate any of the other issues that he has outlined today? Will he therefore make it crystal clear to all of us why the Government believe that sovereignty may not be discussed, or even put on an open agenda?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Government take the plain view that to embark on a discussion of sovereignty in those talks or in any other way would not be helpful to the objective that my hon. Friend has in mind. If my hon. Friend is interested—as many hon. Members are—in making progress towards restoring more normal relations, he should accept that those talks should be directed not to the question of sovereignty but to the many other issues upon which it is possible to rebuild confidence and relationships between the two countries.

Mr. Dalyell

American interest rates having gone up since the Cartagena conference, what is the former Chancellor's, or Her Majesty's Government's, assessment of the real danger that now exists, given the attitude of the hardliners at Cartagena, of great pressure on the Argentine Government and perhaps on other Latin American Governments to default, given their domestic problems?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Negotiations between the Argentine Government and any other Latin American Governments and their creditors must remain a matter for the parties themselves. Plainly, the IMF has a role to play in that, and economic policies to reduce interest rates, on the desirability of which we focused at the London economic summit, would have their part to play.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the visit of two honourable but foolish Members to Argentina may well lead the Argentine Government to think that we are willing to negotiate although we are still nominally at war? Is it not time for the Argentine Government to give way on that factor so that real discussions can take place? Until such time we can discuss nothing.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The presence of some of our honourable colleagues in Argentina arises from the invitation of the Argentine Senate. They are not officially inspired, nor are they intermediaries. The answers that I am giving about the Government's policies represent those policies. I agree that it will be difficult to move in the direction that my hon. Friend and many others would wish so long as Argentina does not formally declare a renunciation of hostilities.

Mr. Healey

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, contrary to the impression that he sought to give to the House in an earlier answer, military spending on the Fortress Falklands policy is costing £2 million a year for every family of islanders and is imposing a serious strain on our armed services? Does he agree that since it is now two years since the end of the fighting and six months since Argentina elected a democratic Government who opposed the invasion and have renounced the use of force in pursuing their claim to the Falklands, it is long past the time when the Government should have restored normal diplomatic relations and started to negotiate about all the outstanding issues between our two countries?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot share the right hon. Gentleman's view of this matter. He must understand that the expenditure still being incurred on the construction of the airfield is directed towards that construction which, as I have already said, has a substantial developmental value. Once that has been completed, it should be possible to reduce the levels of permanently stationed forces on the islands, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in the defence White Paper. The airfield will remain available for developmental value.

We wish to establish a framework within which talks can take place with a view to securing more normal relationships, but that matter has to be handled very carefully. It would be wrong to jeopardise the prospect of those talks by not making it plain that sovereignty was to be excluded from them.