HL Deb 27 March 1968 vol 290 cc990-6

2.38 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 give an undertaking that the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands will be paramount in deciding whether or not sovereignty over the Islands should be transferred.]


My Lords, as the noble Lord may be aware, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made a Statement this morning in another place about the Anglo-Argentine talks on the Falkland Islands. In the course of that Statement he confirmed that Her Majesty's Government's object in conducting these talks was to secure a satisfactory and lasting modus vivendi between the Falkland Islands and Argentina, and that Her Majesty's Government have thought it right in pursuance of this objective that the question of sovereignty should be discussed in these talks.

Her Majesty's Government believe that a transfer of sovereignty could be considered only as part of an agreement which would secure a permanently satisfactory relationship between the Islands and Argentina, and one which would fully safeguard the special rights of the Islanders. That is one condition. The cession of sovereignty could be considered only as part of an agreement of this nature. While the power to decide over a transfer of sovereignty lies with Her Majesty's Government, they would agree to such a cession first on the condition I have mentioned, that it must be part of an agreement fully satisfactory in other respects, and, secondly, only if it were clear to us, to Her Majesty's Government, that the Islanders themselves regarded such an agreement as satisfactory to their interests.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I imagine the answer to my Question is, Yes? If so, I cannot think why on earth the noble Lord did not say so before. He gave a number of very ambiguous answers ten days ago when we discussed this problem. If the answer is, Yes—as I take it to be from what he said—is he aware that we on this side think it a very good thing that we pursued the policy; otherwise, the answer might not have been so satisfactory?


My Lords, I cannot accept the implication in the last few words of what the noble Lord has said. Neither can I be responsible for what he infers from my answer. My answer was not, Yes. My answer was delivered in clear, carefully chosen words to indicate what I mean and what Her Majesty's Government mean. Furthermore, may I say that while I regret that I was not able earlier to give the assurance and to make the Statement that I have made today in your Lordships' House, as the noble Lord will be aware this was the subject of confidential negotiations with another sovereign State. I am happy to be able to give the noble Lord the assurance that I have given him this afternoon.


My Lords, presumably the noble Lord was trying to answer my Question, and the answer is either Yes or No. Is the answer, Yes or No?


My Lords, the fact that the noble Lord now puts the question in a simple form does not make it a simple question. This is a highly complicated Question and I am not prepared to answer Questions in your Lordships' House with a simple Yes or No. The Question has been asked. I have answered it in words that I have carefully chosen to convey my meaning. I hope that my meaning is clear.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord what method will be adopted to ascertain the precise wishes of the Islanders in this matter?


My Lords, there is another Question on this specific point later this afternoon in your Lordships' House. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to answer it fully when that Question is put.


My Lords, may I refer to this Question? Is it not a fact that the coyness of the Government in this matter is leading to further suspicion? Would it not be better to make a really clear statement in clear terms?


My Lords, I suggest that the statement I have made is in the clearest possible terms and is quite unequivocal. The words have been carefully chosen to be clear, and they are clear. I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government should be required to answer every question put to them with a simple Yes or No. What I have said seems to me to indicate exactly what the policy of Her Majesty's Government is. I cannot believe that this will lead to any distress or suspicion anywhere. I hope that it has in fact cleared away suspicion.


My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that about ten days ago, in answering a Question on this subject, he said three times that the Government were following the principle of consultation and consent? Would the noble Lord tell the House, if "consent" does not mean the agreement of the people of the Falkland Islands, what on earth it does mean?


My Lords, the principle of consultation and consent, which I endorsed in my previous Answer, was, as the noble Lord will know, a quotation from or a reference to a statement made by our representative at the United Nations. I endorsed his sentiments and his statement then and I endorse them now; and if the noble Lord will study my Answer carefully he will see that there is no conflict between what I have said and what Lord Caradon said at the United Nations.


My Lords, the Minister used the phrase "permanently satisfactory". May I ask: permanently satisfactory to whom? And if the settlement is to be permanently satisfactory to the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands, why were they not represented at these talks?


My Lords, to answer the last part of that supplementary question first, the representation of the Falkland Islanders at these talks is, of course, not relevant. Her Majesty's Government are responsible for the sovereignty of these Islands, and we are responsible for the negotiations with the Government of the Argentine following upon the United Nations resolution. I used the phrase "a permanently satisfactory relationship", and I went on to say that one of our conditions would be if it were clear to us, to Her Majesty's Government, that the Islanders themselves regarded such an agreement as satisfactory to their interests". Of course, they would have to be satisfactory to us as well, and I think that answers the noble Lord's question.


My Lords, may I have just one more go, because I really am confused about what the noble Lord is saying? Would he not agree that the views of the Falkland Islanders are of the greatest importance in this matter? Would he therefore tell me and tell the House whether, if the Falkland Islanders do not wish for sovereignty to be transferred to the Argentine, it will or will not be transferred?


My Lords, let me agree first that we do regard the wishes of the Falkland Islanders in this matter as being extremely important, and indeed we regard their interests in this matter as paramount. All I can say in specific answer to the noble Lord's question is what I said before: that one of our conditions would be if it were clear to us, to Her Majesty's Government, that the Islanders themselves regarded such an agreement as satisfactory to their interests". I can think of no clearer English than that.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that Her Majesty's Government have clearly departed from Lord Caradon's pledge before the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1965, when the noble Lord said that the people of that territory "are not to be bartered"? Can he explain why Her Majesty's Government have changed in that respect?


My Lords, I think that if the noble Lord will study again what Lord Caradon said at the General Assembly in 1965—incidentally, he made another statement about this subject in 1967, which I think is more relevant, but let us go back to 1965—he will see that he said: 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, they will not be bartered and they will not be betrayed.


My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government a question which I have asked on previous occasions? Have not Her Majesty's Government gone against the experience of all the world hitherto, which has been that to admit a question on a matter of title is to weaken that title? And was that not practically admitted by the noble Lord himself on the previous occasion, in his remarks about "relinquishing a degree of sovereignty"?


No, my Lords. My remark about relinquishing a degree of sovereignty to international bodies was a remark designed to show what happens when nations join organisations like the United Nations and automatically thereby relinquish absolute sovereignty, in part, to that Organisation. It had nothing to do with the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. I dissent completely from the noble Lord's proposition that to discuss sovereignty with someone is to weaken one's claim or to give sovereignty away.


My Lords, is it not a fact that the Argentine has no legal claim whatsoever to these Islands? Secondly, may I ask the noble Lord whether the United Nations has not in this matter flaunted its indifference to International Law, to the human rights of the inhabitants and to the provisions of the Charter?


No, my Lords, the United Nations has of course done no such thing. If the noble Lord will study the United Nations resolution he will see that all it did was to invite this Government to enter into discussions with the Government of the Argentine—an invitation which we accepted. There is no question of flouting human rights in this respect.


My Lords, may I press the noble Lord on this matter? Did he not say in a supplementary answer that the wishes of the Islanders were exceedingly important and that the Government regarded their interests as being paramount? Does that mean that the Government are going to be the judge of what their interests are, despite their own wishes?


My Lords, the legal question of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands resides with Her Majesty's Government. It will be for Her Majesty's Government to negotiate and arrive at decisions with the Argentine Government. We shall do so on the basis of the two principles I have already outlined, and I think the House will not want to be wearied by having them repeated again—because that is all I should do. But when we come to make agreement with the Government of the Argentine, when these decisions have been made they will of course be published and will be subject to debate in both Houses of Parliament, in the other place and in your Lordships' House. There is no question of bartering over the heads of anybody here. All I have said is that we regard the wishes of the Islanders as being of great importance; and, of course, we have studied those wishes constantly in the course of the negotiations. There is continuing consultation all the time with the Governor of the Falkland Islands about this matter; and, as I say, in all this we shall regard their interests as paramount.


My Lords—


My Lords, I wish only to intervene. I think we have had a fair go at this Question—


No, no!


I hoped that that would be the feeling of the House. There has been a fairly large number of supplementaries, and it is possible that we are entering into a debate. The House well knows that if it is wished to explore this matter further, there are other means by which it can be explored in depth. I would therefore suggest that we should move to the next Question. There is, after all, another Question later on the same subject.