HL Deb 02 February 1977 vol 379 cc871-81

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about the Falkland Islands and our relations with Argentina. The Statement is as follows:

"Since my right honourable friend now Prime Minister made a Statement on this subject on 14th January last year, Lord Shackleton has presented his 'Economic Survey of the Falkland Islands'. The whole House will join me in warmly thanking him and his colleagues for this immensely thorough and wide-ranging report.

"The Survey paints a vivid picture of this small community of 1,900 people, 7,500 miles away, yet staunchly British and with rich potential in the seas around them. But currently they face an uncertain economic future. The economy, essentially a mono-culture based on wool, is stagnant; the resources do not exist to exploit the new potential in other fields; and emigration is increasing.

"To remedy this situation, Lord Shackleton made a large number of recommendations, many of which will require further study and detailed consultation with the Islanders. Meanwhile, the Government will proceed to implement those internal constitutional changes which have already been approved by the Falkland Islands Legislative Council.

"The recommendations on development aid will fall to my honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development to implement. But I can say now that the Government are ready to consider, after such pre-investment studies as may be required, agricultural diversification, mutton freezing, knitwear production and improvements to education. We also propose to pay special and urgent attention to the Islands' internal communications, with particular reference to the availability and maintenance of an efficient local air service.

"The Survey further recommended certain major capital projects, notably an enlargement of the airport and a pilot fishing project, which would bring the total recommended expenditure by the United Kingdom up to some £13–£14 million. The Government, like Lord Shackleton and his colleagues, are in no doubt that the potential for development is there, and they will at the appropriate moment commission the essential preliminary studies to determine whether airport enlargement is likely to be practicable and cost-effective.

"But for the rest, we cannot at this time accept the more costly recommendations. The overseas aid budget, recently cut in the December public expenditure exercise, would not stand it. There are more urgent claims from much poorer communities. And the right political circumstances do not exist.

"In Lord Shackleton's words, 'in any major new developments of the Islands' economy, especially those relating to offshore resources, co-operation with Argentina—even participation—should, if possible, be secured'. The Government agree. Such new developments require a framework of greater political and economic co-operation in the region as a whole. Without such a framework, the prospect of achieving a prosperous and durable future for the Islands is bleak.

"The Government have therefore decided that the time has come to consider both with the Islanders and the Argentine Government whether a climate exists for discussing the broad issues which bear on the future of the Falkland Islands, and the possibilities of co-operation between Britain and Argentina in the region of the South-West Atlantic.

"I must make certain things absolutely clear. First, any such discussion, which would inevitably raise fundamental questions on the relationship between the Islands, Britain and Argentina, would take place under the sovereignty umbrella; that is, Her Majesty's Government would wholly reserve their position on the issue of sovereignty, which would in no way be prejudiced. Secondly, any changes which might be proposed must be acceptable to the Islanders, whose interests and wellbeing remain our prime concern. In consequence, thirdly, there must be full consultation with the Islanders at every stage; nothing will be done behind their back.

"To fulfil this pledge, I am sending my honourable friend the Minister of State to the Falkland Islands in mid-February to hear from the Islanders at first hand how they view their future. He will also visit Buenos Aires. His object will be, in effect, to see whether terms of reference can be agreed for further more formal talks between the parties concerned.

"Mr. Speaker, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said this to the House last January. 'Given good will on both sides, Britain and Argentina should be able to transform the area of dispute concerning the sovereignty over the Islands into a factor making for co-operation between the two countries which would be consonant with the wishes and interests of the Falkland Islanders'. Today, as 12 months ago, the situation in the South-West Atlantic is a source of potential confrontation, of which there have been recent examples. It is co-operation, not confrontation, both in the Islands and the Dependencies, which we seek to achieve".

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for repeating the Statement and for saying at the very end that it is co-operation and not confrontation in the Islands and in the Dependencies which we seek to achieve. I am sure that that sentiment is common to us all. I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Shackle ton, for the report which he made, a very extensive one, on the Falkland Islands. Certainly it has helped everybody to appreciate the problems which exist there and enables us in some way to appreciate the debate which is appropriate as to how to get over those problems.

As the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said and as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said in his report, it is quite evident that the Falkland Islanders, though staunchly British, live in an area of Argentine influence. I sympathise with the Government when they say that in any major new developments of the Islands' economy, especially those relating to offshore resources, co-operation with Argentina and even participation, if possible, should be secured. That is entirely right.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, three questions. First, the Government agree that the potential for development is there. The Statement says that the Government intend to commission essential preliminary studies for the airport development "at the appropriate moment". I wonder whether that is a vague, diplomatic, Foreign Office way of saying "Not now", or whether it is a forthright, but diffuse, Goronwy-Roberts way of saying. "Now". I should be very grateful if the noble Lord could explain exactly what the Government mean by "at the appropriate moment". In connection with that point, it is not clear from the Statement whether the Government intend to develop the airport some time, even if they cannot do so now, or whether they have not yet decided whether to develop the airport at all. If the noble Lord could elaborate on their intentions I should be grateful.

My second question refers to the development of fishing, which is mentioned in the Statement. If fishing is developed, clearly it means policing the 200-mile zone. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, whether this is feasible and, if we wish to develop the fishing out there, whether we have the ships to police that zone. The third question, and to my mind infinitely the most important one, refers to the point when the noble Lord said: I must make certain things absolutely clear. First, any such discussion"—— this was a reference to the future of the Falkland Islands— which would inevitably raise fundamental questions on the relationship between the Islands, Britain and Argentina, would take place under the sovereignty umbrella; that is, Her Majesty's Government would wholly reserve their position on the issue of sovereignty, which would in no way be prejudiced. On the face of it, that appears to be different from what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said in reply to a Question put by my noble friend Lady Vickers on 27th January of last year. He said then: Her Majesty's Government's policy remains that there shall be no change in British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands against the wishes of the islanders".—[Official Report, 27/1/76; col. 725.] There would appear to be a watering down in the Statement of that reaffirmation. I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, would confirm that the policy of the Government towards the Falkland Islands is today the same as it was 12 months ago—in other words, when the Government said that they would not change British sovereignty against the wishes of the Islanders.


My Lords, we on these Benches are also grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement on the Falkland Islands and would like to express our sympathy with the Government in facing what is obviously an extremely difficult problem. There is no doubt about that. As we understand it, the position is that the Government are not prepared to accept the main proposals that have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. If the Government had been able to accept those proposals, no doubt there would have been a reasonable chance that the Islands would have developed as a happy British Dependency. And no doubt that would have been the best solution.

However, the Government say that they are not able to afford the £14 million required. That is for them to say; we would not necessarily dispute it. It may be so under a very tight budget and that funds are required elsewhere. We would not necessarily dispute that. That being so, the only alternative is, as recognised in the Statement, to have some sort of deal with the Argentine. Otherwise, as they rightly say, the position of the remaining 1900 islanders is extremely bleak. That also must be recognised.

Therefore, at the moment everything depends upon whether they can come to some deal with the Argentine. As we know, Argentina has what it considers to be a legitimate claim on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and we must recognise that, as also the fact that we are not prepared to invest the necessary sums to make these Islands financially and economically independent—for presumably they can never be politically independent—will give additional power to the Argentine negotiators.

I imagine that the solution envisaged by the Government is that when it comes down to negotiation with the Argentine and the remaining British settlers—those who, in a year or two's time have not emigrated—it will mean that the islanders' view as regards the maintenance of their link with Great Britain may be modified. I suppose that is the solution which is ultimately now contemplated. If so, I would not personally dispute the validity of that assumption. It is indeed probably the only assumption at which we can arrive.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I will intervene at once to respond to the observations made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and also the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I think the noble Earl paid me too high a compliment about the Statement; whether forthright or diffuse, it was not my work. My function was simply to repeat it as clearly as possible to this House and to explain, as far as possible, its meaning. I thought it was pretty forthright and precise, but I will do my best to give further enlightenment on the points raised by the noble Earl.

He made the point about the potential being there and about the speed of the preliminary studies, quoting the phrase "at the appropriate time". That is a point well taken. I believe on a further study of the Statement it will be seen that the intention of Her Majesty's Government, which I imagine would be shared by everybody in this House and in the other place, is to proceed with the reforms and the improvements which the noble Earl has recommended. Of course some can be done soon, some must be postponed, and some postponed for a fairly considerable time relative to our economic resources here in the United Kingdom. It is only to that extent that the phrase "at the appropriate time" is a qualifying clause.

The second point he made was about the development of the airport. My noble friend has quite rightly proposed that the airport should be further enlarged. We shall see how we get on in the matter of resources, and indeed in regard to the increased utility of the airport, which is now being improved considerably and which in May of next year may be capable of taking many more and bigger aircraft and to serve journeys which touch the mainland without necessarily being deflected to the Argentine. So, by the middle of next year I think we shall see fairly clearly whether a further enlargement of the airport would be, in the words of the Statement "cost effective", and indeed whether it would be desirable.

The third point related to fishing, and particularly to the possible need to police those waters. My own view—and I am sure it is the view of Her Majesty's Government—is that if we can develop the undoubted possibilities of fishing these waters it must be by agreement with the mainland and therefore, it being a development by agreement, the need for actual policing would be that much less. Indeed, it may not be necessary at all. But I take the point. Fishing nowadays, in the most unlikely waters, carries with it the necessity for a certain amount of policing.

The final point was in regard to sovereignty. The noble Earl quoted what I said in your Lordships' House in January 1976 and asked whether the phrasing that I have repeated today is in any way a watering down of that statement. I can unreservedly assure him and the House that the answer is "No". This is of immense importance, and with your Lordships' permission I will repeat in part paragraph 6 of the Statement which I have repeated this afternoon:

"First, any such discussion"—

and then it continues—

"would take place under the sovereignty umbrella; that is, Her Majesty's Government would wholly reserve their position on the issue of sovereignty, which would in no way be prejudiced".

I think that statement is precise and definite enough on the question of sovereignty.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I appreciate the great difficulties of the Government in regard to the Falkland Islands and the Argentine. I hope the noble Lord will see that the precision in which he has replied to the noble Earl opposite is made known clearly to the people of the Falk-lands. I suspect those people, like my friends in Gibraltar, get very worried when words are imprecise. I have suffered from it myself in the case of Gibraltar, and therefore I hope the noble Lord will see that there is no sense of unease among the people of the Falkland Islands, and will make it clear that it is the intention of the British Government and Parliament that those islands shall remain under British sovereignty until such time as they themselves decide that there shall be a change.

I ask the noble Lord to appreciate that in this particular climate, when he is seeking a response not only from the Argentine but also from the people of the Falklands, a more generous response in terms of physical aid to the Falklands would be of very great benefit. I would ask my noble friend to appreciate that in fact the British Treasury over the years has gained considerably, shall we say at the expense of the Falkland Islands. The inflows into this country because of the work and the investment in the Falklands far exceed any aid or assistance that this country has given to the Falklands. Therefore I ask my noble friend to see whether it is possible to be not only more precise but also a little more generous to these people so very far away.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I believe the House, and indeed Her Majesty's Government, will wish to pay particular attention to what my noble friend Lord Shepherd has said, especially in view of his distinguished occupancy of a Ministerial post in the Commonwealth Office, as it was then known. I take particular note of what he has said on the need to be as generous as our resources and circumstances make possible to this sturdy community 7,500 miles away, and also of what he had to say in the early part of his remarks, namely that the Falkland islanders themselves should be under no misapprehension about the attitude of the British Government towards them and the paramountcy of their own wishes and desires as to their constitutional future. I have no doubt that copies of my right honourable friend's statement—the forthright statement, as we heard it described just now— will be made available to them, together, I should think, with a copy of the proceedings of this House which will include the remarks of my noble friend and, of course, a copy of the proceedings in the other place.

May I, while I am replying to my noble friend Lord Shepherd, also refer with appreciation to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. He raised no actual questions, but he stressed some very important points, among them in particular the importance of the natural links between the Falkland Islands and the dependencies and the mainland. Whatever the shape of things in the future in this area, clearly practically everything will depend upon a relationship of co-operation and friendship, of mutual benefit, between the Falkland Islands and the mainland. I was very glad indeed that the noble Lord stressed that point.


My Lords, would the Minister not agree that it is often silly to be penny wise because you end up by being pound foolish? I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said. I have always understood that in, I think it was 1930 or thereabouts, this country had the opportunity of buying all the oil concessions in Saudi Arabia for £200,000 in gold, but the Treasury said they could not afford it. The Treasury are not renowned for their imagination in these matters. I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will not be influenced in this question of the Falkland Islands by being too penny wise minded. When we think of the vast sums that we spend in this country on certain schemes that really do not deserve that support, we might be more generous regarding the Falkland Islands. I understand the maximum total sum to be £40 million spread over several years. Surely we can defend that. Who knows what might be found within the 200 miles limits of the Falkland Islands? One does not know. For all we know, oil might be there. I sincerely hope Her Majesty's Government will not be too niggardly in this question of the Falkland Islands.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has reinforced the points made by my noble friend Lord Shepherd, and certainly Her Majesty's Government will give close attention to what both he and Lord Shepherd have said on this point.


My Lords, might I thank the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for having re-emphasised so strongly the Government's position with regard to the sovereignty question, and ask him to read again what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said. I think the noble Lord felt, rather as I did, that there seemed to be an element of concern with the way in which the Statement was worded. It said that the Government would wholly reserve their position, which would not be prejudiced. It seemed to me that that could be regarded as a distinction from what the noble Lord said last year, where the emphasis was that there would be no change without the agreement of the Islanders. If the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, was saying that there is no alteration in Government policy at all, that is highly welcome, but I would ask him to ensure that that message really gets through. I think that that was the point the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was making.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, pursuing a little further the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, is there any close correlation between those recommendations which I take it are going to be put off until the Greek Kalends and those recommendations which would bring some real long-term solution to the problem of the Falkland Islands?


My Lords, as I tried to say, it is a matter of phasing the implementation of what are generally desirable reforms and improvements according to our resources and circumstances. I would not at this Box at this moment endeavour to set out a programme, a calendar of achievement. I think the Statement, when it comes to be studied closely, will show that it is the intention of the Government to proceed as far and as fast as circumstances in our own economy enable us to do.


My Lords, may I, in a partial return to a former capacity, venture to congratulate the Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the extreme skill with which this Statement has been drafted. It shows a firmness of support to the Falkland Islanders, and similarly a regard for the extreme difficulty which may well attend negotiations. This file is one of the longest and most difficult in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My only further advice to your Lordships would be that, having expressed your views, to which there can be no objection, your Lordships should watch the Government's efforts and support them with very great patience, knowing the great difficulty and the great deal of emotion to which any negotiations on this subject are only too apt to give rise. With that—I will not call it a qualification—may I wish the Government all success in this new effort.


My Lords, I am sure the House greatly appreciates what the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, with his great experience in these matters, has said. It is not an easy situation, least of all for the Falkland Islanders. A great deal of patience, diplomatic skill and good will will be needed to place the affairs of the area on the right sort of basis for a co-operative enterprise, for which we all greatly hope. May I say that I am rather sorry that I disclaimed all paternity for the Statement, in view of the encomium given by my noble friend to those who produced it.