HL Deb 26 June 1968 vol 293 cc1389-93

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will exclude the issue of sovereignty from any renewed discussions which they may have with the Argentine Government about the Falkland Islands.]


No, my Lords, I made clear in my reply on March 27 to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that Her Majesty's Government have thought it right that this issue should not be excluded from the talks.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, but I cannot pretend that I am particularly happy about it. I am as anxious as anyone that we should remain in close and cordial relations with the Argentine, but can the noble Lord tell us what useful purpose is served in continuing to discuss this issue of sovereignty with the Argentine, in view of the fact that the Falkland islanders are British, as was clear to anyone who saw yester- day evening's television programme, and unalterably opposed to the transfer of sovereignty? Is not this course on which the Government are embarked and seem to be continuing calculated to create the maximum disquiet among the islanders and to mislead everyone, including the Argentinians, about what may be our ultimate intentions?


My Lords, I cannot, of course, agree with what the noble Earl has said.


Why not?


Her Majesty's Government, like noble Lords opposite, have no doubt that sovereignty legally belongs to Her Majesty's Government. However, we have been required by the United Nations to engage in talks with the Argentine Government and we are doing so.




I am sorry to hear the Pavlovian reaction from the Opposition at the mention of that Organisation. The fact remains that there is a United Nations resolution requiring us to have talks with the Argentine Government, and we are having them. There is another reason, which is that, arising out of the Argentine claim, whatever the rights and wrongs of that claim may be, are certain conditions which are causing distress to the people of the Falkland Islands. We believe that by a civilised process of discussion with another sovereign Power we may be able to mitigate some of that distress and inconvenience. So far as we are concerned, our object in these talks is to obtain a permanently satisfactory relationship between the Islands and the Argentine and we shall continue the talks with that end in View.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government give an undertaking that nothing will be done to alter the status of the Falkland Islands without consulting the inhabitants and taking a plebiscite to ascertain their views?


My Lords, I cannot, as I have said before, undertake that there will be a plebiscite or any other particular way of ascertaining the wishes of the people of the Falklands. I believe we are all well aware of what the people of the Falklands think and want. I think I can do no better than repeat what I have said before: that any agreement made with the Argentine Government over this matter must be fully satisfactory in all other respects and, secondly, could be reached only if it were clear to Her Majesty's Government that the Falkland islanders themselves regarded the agreement as satisfactory to their interests. I cannot think of a way of putting this case to give more satisfaction to noble Lords opposite or to the people of the Falkland Islands.


My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that the pledge he has given is to a large degree vitiated by his admission that the question of sovereignty is not excluded from the discussions, when it is known by the Government that the people of the Falkland Islands do not want any change of sovereignty? If that pledge is going to be honoured what is the point of discussing sovereignty at all?


My Lords, the point of discussing sovereignty is that another sovereign State, the Government of the Argentine, have made a claim referring to sovereignty. As a civilised country we are discussing that claim with the Argentine Government in a civilised way. It is therefore totally illogical that sovereignty should not arise; and I would suggest that it is not the Government who are creating uncertainty in this respect but noble Lords opposite.


My Lords, in view of the editorial report published in the Daily Express this morning, would my noble friend wish to comment on the suggestion that an Argentine Consul-General is to be appointed to the Falkland Islands?


My Lords, it will come as no surprise to your Lordships' House to know that I am not responsible for the editorial policy of the Daily Express. I can only say that anyone who studies the transcript of last night's television programme will be able to arrive himself, I am sure, at a true assessment of the merits of that editorial.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to clarify one part of his Answer? I think he finished up by saying: which is in accordance with the interests of the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands". I have been in the unfortunate position in my life of having my Governments often thinking that they understand my interests better than I do myself. By that phrase does the noble Lord mean satisfactory to the Falkland Islands in all respects, or does he mean something else?


My Lords, I mean exactly what I say: that the agreement should be satisfactory to the people of the Falkland Islands. Perhaps I can hammer home this point by repeating once again in your Lordships' House a Statement made by our representative at the United Nations, by which we still stand, and I think this will probably—at least I hope so—satisfy everybody: There can be no question of negotiating the issue of sovereignty and signing away the whole destinies of people over their heads. The people of these territories are not to be betrayed or bartered.


My Lords, if the Minister is unable to allow a plebiscite at the present time, would he give an undertaking that if and when any suggestions are made for the future of the Falkland Islanders a plebiscite should then be held by the people of those Islands?


My Lords, I think this is really a case of stirring up difficulties where none previously existed. We are not getting this kind of question and this kind of suggestion from the people of the Falkland Islands. I really cannot answer hypothetical questions like that.


My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that recently at different times we have offered that this issue should be taken to the International Court, and also that it should be settled by arbitration? Does he consider the refusal by the Argentine to accept either of those courses in accordance with civilised practice between civilised States, to which he referred a moment ago?


My Lords, I think that even if I were to comment on that suggestion it would be the kind of comment, however I phrased it, that could do nothing but harm to the sort of discussion we are now having with the Argentine Government. I must ask noble Lords to realise that we are engaged in sincere consultations with a friendly sovereign State, and I ask noble Lords not to ask me to make comments which might in some way prejudice, or even pre-empt, the agreements that we might arrive at.


My Lords, can the noble Lord assure us that the question of the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not part of a package trade deal with the Argentine?


My Lords, were it not for my great respect for the noble Viscount, I would say that that question did not require an answer. But since he has asked it I shall tell him quite unequivocally that of course it is not any part of any package deal.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is not absolutely aware of what would happen, what the Falkland Islanders would do, if there were any change in sovereignty? I say "if", but he knows that in the programme in which he appeared last night the answer was given that they would leave the Island and go to New Zealand.


My Lords, what the Falkland Islanders might do in any hypothetical situation is, I think, something that they would decide when that situation arose. It is hypothetical, and I do not propose to comment upon it.