HL Deb 25 January 1978 vol 388 cc338-41

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 can clarify the present position regarding the Falkland Islands.


My Lords, the position is clear. With the agreement of the Falkland Islands Council, we are conducting negotiations with Argentina covering political relations, including sovereignty and economic co-operation. As the terms of reference state, a major objective of the negotiations is to achieve a stable, prosperous and politically durable future for the Falkland Islands. The Islanders are being fully informed and consulted as the negotiations proceed.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. Would he not agree that the rumours which appeared in the Press immediately before Christmas, that there was some sort of serious thinking in Whitehall that the Falkland Islanders should be pressurised into accepting a reduction in their sovereignty, were most undesirable? If he agrees with that, can he give an assurance to the House that the Government themselves are not supporting such thinking in any way whatsoever?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord and the House that those rumours were groundless. I hasten to repeat once more the categorical assurance given by my right honourable friend in the other place, and by myself in this House. The Government have given full assurances to the Islanders that no proposals affecting the future status of the Falkland Islands will be brought before Parliament unless they are acceptable to the Islanders themselves.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord has just said, would he tell us what Her Majesty's Government intend to do to develop the Falkland Islands, which is really the crying question of the time?


My Lords, these discussions are mainly, in our view, aimed at ensuring the right sort of climate and opportunity for such developments not just in the Falkland Islands but in the South-West Atlantic generally. We feel that we, Argentina and the Falklands could very profitably engage in consortial action to develop the undoubted riches of this area with benefit to all three peoples.

As to our immediate programme, I am glad to tell the House that, while certain long term and massive proposals which have great virtue—such as those proposed in sections of the admirable report produced by my noble friend Lord Shackleton—are not immediately practicable, there are nevertheless a number of schemes of development within the Islands themselves which are now making progress. I have a long list here. Perhaps on a more appropriate occasion I might give more detail, or in answer to further Questions—perhaps a Question for Written Answer.

We have agreed to assist in the development of agriculture and its diversification and in the diversification of the industrial activity of the Islands generally, much of it springing from an improved agriculture. I know the noble Lord himself is particularly interested in this subject, about which he made an extremely helpful speech on one occasion when we debated this matter a few months ago. We have agreed to help in developing the road system—the communications of the Islands—and also to set up a new tertiary school hostel so that secondary school children can be more effectively taught at the somewhat advanced level up to the age of about 17. There are other, not proposals, but projects on which my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development, in concert with my own Department, is actively engaged now.


My Lords, while it is possible to formulate proposals for a change in the political relationship between the Falkland Islands and Argentina which would be acceptable to the people of the Islands, will the noble Lord consider very carefully before going any further with these negotiations, whether, so long as the régime in Argentina continues to detain people without trial, to use torture as an instrument of policy, and to murder its own citizens in broad daylight on the streets, as well as detaining a United Kingdom citizen within the last three months, it is likely that any progress will be made on the restoration of freedom in Argentina?


My Lords, of course, we would strongly encourage any such progress within Argentina. Argentina is a country with which this country has enjoyed a very long and close friendship based on a wide and mutually profitable trade, which I am glad to see from the latest returns is again reviving. We should not, therefore, consistently take a pejorative attitude towards the Argentinian Government, but should constantly call to mind the good feeling and good co-operation of the past and use that to solve present and future problems. We have made it absolutely clear to that Government how we view certain practices which are an abuse of human rights, but, in so doing, we also hope to build on the positive relationships of the past.


My Lords, while not in any way dissenting from what the noble Lord said about our long relations with Argentina, is it not a fact that these Islands of English-speaking people in or near the South American continent are not simply relics of colonialism, but small peoples whose rights and culture and right to self-determination should be accepted, irrespective of the character of the regimes to which they are neighbours? Will Her Majesty's Government—I am sure they will—constantly bear in mind that British people all over the world are not for sale?


The noble and learned Lord puts it so well, my Lords. I enthusiastically join him in the sentiments he expressed and I would only add, as a non-legal Member of this House, that we are bound by Resolution 1514 of the United Nations General Assembly to do precisely that.