HC Deb 29 October 1986 vol 103 cc317-9
13. Mr. Bob Edwards

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in the past three months towards the normalisation of relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina.

16. Mr. Dalyell

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

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have repeatedly demonstrated our desire for more normal relations with Argentina. Regrettably, the Argentine Government still show no willingness to respond to the many initiatives we have taken since 1982.

Mr. Edwards

That is a very sad reply. It is vital that some encouragement should be given to this new, democratic Government in Argentina. If we can maintain diplomatic relations with Spain, which has a claim on Gibraltar, there should be no difficulty, now that there is a democratic Government in Argentina, about restoring diplomatic relations with that country. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will have another think about that vital question.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The fact remains that although Argentina now has a democratic Government, about which we have expressed congratulations many times, and a long time ago, the President of Argentina and the Argentine Government have shown no willingness to recognise the rights of the people of the Falkland Islands to have their wishes respected. All the initiatives that we have taken towards restoring normal relations have been rebutted by the Argentine Government. We abolished financial restrictions. The have done so only to a limited extent. We have proposed the resumption of air links but have received no response. We have lifted trading restrictions but have received no formal response. We allow Argentine vessels into British ports. They ban British vessels from Argentine ports. We have offered to return Argentine dead to their native land but the Argentines insist that they remain on the Falklands to support their claim to sovereignty over the islands. Spain and the United Kingdom are members of the European Community and the North Atlantic Alliance, but in terms of Britain and the Argentine we are the country against whom Argentina launched an armed assault four years ago.

Mr. Dalyell

Following the Gimenez visit, would it not at least be constructive to contact the International Red Cross with a view to visits to the Falklands by Argentine families?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that I heard the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question correctly. We have made a number of suggestions through the Red Cross about our willingness to accept next of kin visits to the Falkland Islands, but we have had no response from the Argentine Government.

Mr. Crouch

As someone who recently spent nearly two weeks in Buenos Aires, I can tell my right hon. and learned Friend that public opinion there is not in any way anti-British. There is strong feeling about just one item, the sovereignty of the Falklands, and it seems to be held largely by Members of Congress and by Ministries and is not in the minds of the general public. Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear that in mind, because underneath Government opinion in the Argentine there is a feeling that they want to re-establish good relations with Britain?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the point made by my hon. Friend. The House will welcome his insight and that of this colleagues following the visit of the IPU delegation to Argentina. There is a great deal in the point that he makes. The United Kingdom has been trying to respond to the feeling he mentions by the suggestions that I have spoken about. We have suggested measure after measure to enable us to begin normalising relations with Argentina. The Argentina Government have repeatedly made it clear that the only matter on which they wish to commence discussions is that of sovereignty. That is at the top of the agenda, but it is the most difficult question and one on which we have made our position clear. That is why it is proving so difficult to bring about what my hon. Friend would like.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

During their discussions with representatives from the Falkland Islands, did Ministers not realise that if the financial terms were right the people of the Falkland Islands would accept resettlement? If they would not accept resettlement, they would certainly accept a change in sovereignty. In so far as some calculations put expenditure on the Falkands in excess of £1,000 million a year, would it not be far more cost-effective to spend money on compensation rather than to squander taxpayers' money in the way that the Government are doing?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House will have been somewhat astonished by the grisly spectacle of the hon. Gentleman speaking with such contempt about a matter of this kind. All we are seeking to do is to uphold the wishes of the people in the Falkland Islands. They are representatives of a community that lived undisturbed in those islands for more than 150 years until their life was brutally disturbed by the Argentine invasion only four years ago.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the Foreign Secretary not accept that, as it is now more than four years since the end of the Falklands war, it is regrettable that we do not have direct diplomatic relations with a basically friendly country, as Conservative Members have said? Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity of a new Brazilian ambassador coming to London to examine again the possibility of reopening direct diplomatic relations wth Argentina?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The longer the hon. Gentleman addresses himself to this question, the more he understands its difficulties. It is quite right to say that we would like to see the establishment of more normal relations with Argentina, without embarking on negotiations about sovereignty. It is in pursuit of precisely such relations that we have removed the restrictions I have listed. We have removed trade restrictions and have offered to remove all aeronautical restrictions. We have also removed financial restrictions, but to all those measures we have received no response, or less than a complete response from Argentina. The Argentina Government have not indicated their willingness to take the necessary steps down the road that the hon. Gentleman wishes them to take.

Back to
Forward to