HL Deb 30 June 1981 vol 422 cc166-87

8.42 p.m.

Lord Buxton of Alsa rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will hold further discussions with the Argentine Government concerning the Falkland Islands in order to find areas of co-operation which would help to resolve the dispute over sovereignty.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be as brief as possible in view of the hour, but I think that it would be quite wrong if we curtailed consideration of this very important subject simply because of the inconveience to ourselves. The situation over the Falkland Islands is getting more serious, not so much as a result of this Government's initiative, which I support, but as a result of traditional British indifference and the apparent disposition to wash our hands of the problem as soon as possible. Practically at no time that I know of have Her Majesty's Government ever shown a tendency towards firmness and flag-waving. We are all well aware, and it has often been pointed out in this House—for instance, last December and last February—that a resolution of the dispute with Argentina must be found, in one form or another, or the British community will ultimately face economic collapse.

The need for a settlement is not based on the Argentine claim to sovereignty. There was no great problem before the coming of jet air travel. In the old days communications between Britain and the Falkland Islands were by sea and vessels went to and fro without being obliged to call at any particular country en route. But today the only regular connection with the Falklands is by small jets of the Argentine Air-force seating 40 passengers and flying now only once a week. This flies between an airport in the far south of Argentina—Comodoro Rivadavia, and Port Stanley, and this is the only regular communication between the Falkland Islands and the outside world.

Thus, through the coming of jet air travel and other factors, Argentina now has an advantage not available in the past and if she chose to be utterly irresponsible she could throttle communications with the Falklands at any time, except for slow, ponderous and irregular visits by sea with the post arriving every three months and other critical reductions in living standards. These conditions simply could not sustain a competitive community in the modern world.

It is not, therefore, the Argentinian claim to sovereignty that makes an agreement desirable: it is the simple fact that at present we cannot get there or sustain the British community without going through Argentina and without the Argentine's co-operation. Considering the nationalistic temperature in Argentina over the sovereignty issue, we should give credit to Argentina at present for their co-operation and support in providing the air service and by not impeding British visitors and tourists in going to the Falklands and by supplying various other services, social and economic. This co-operative attitude of the Argentine Government is part of the current policy to enlist the friendship and recognition of the Falkland Islanders; and disappointment is often expressed, quite understandably when it does not seem to be getting immediate results. But loyalty and partiotism cannot be bought as easily as that, and such blandishments are, of course, slow to take effect.

Argentine history during the last few decades has hardly encouraged British people in the Falklands or anywhere else to regard Argentina as a mature, stable democracy which would make an ideal parent. A few years ago the Argentine Navy actually fired on an unarmed British scientific survey vessel—the "Shackleton", named after the father of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. That sort of outrage and banditry, however conventional in the 18th century, hardly inspires confidence and respect. Inflation, we read, is rampant. I hear from Buenos Aires that the economic outlook is bleak. It is stated in Argentina that thousands of subjects have disappeared without trace under military dictatorship; and it would be surprising if the Falklanders believed in Argentina's capacity to fulfil all the promises that are being made. But we must nevertheless encourage the current Argentine attitude. We must try and persuade Argentina that the path to a solution lies in a long phase of reasonableness, diplomacy and mature statesmanship. It is essential, therefore, to prove somehow that these qualities pay.

One becomes increasingly alarmed at the degree of ignorance of the issues not only here but certainly in Argentina itself. There is a danger of the Falkland's affair becoming polarised as a straight international tug-'o-war between extreme elements on both sides, instead of everyone seeking middle ground which can be exploited to mutual advantage. There are so many opportunities for exploiting things to mutual advantage. But while the extremist attitudes persist, and especially if Argentina obstinately refuses to consider mutual and mature approaches to fishing limits, oil exploration, conservation, tourism and other aspects, we are all the losers—Britain, Argentina and the Falkland Islanders—and we are all losing out to the Eastern bloc. Both Governments are aware that with no proper fishing limits, the seas around the Falkland Islands and the dependencies are teeming with vessels from Russia, Poland and East Germany. And they are not only fishing. In the South Atlantic they are certainly active in geological work and seismic surveys.

The present position is pure folly. It is not our fault. The initiative taken by the Government through Mr. Nicholas Ridley is therefore to be welcomed, and one must plead for a serious and more considered response from Argentina, since if extreme attitudes prevail the only winners will be the Eastern bloc. The big question however, and it is undeniably an agonising one, is what form the initiative should take and what we should try to achieve.

The only sensible approach to the difficulty is for all parties to ignore what happened before 1833, and to recognise the undeniable fact that the Falklands have been British territory occupied by British people for 150 years. Argentina does not accept this approach, making the blanket claim that she is the rightful successor of the Spanish Empire, which never in fact formally occupied the Falklands at all. The Argentine decree of 1829 claiming succession to the possessions of Spain set the date of inheritance as 1810, which was of course a monumental piece of back-dating. The decreee was immediately disputed at the time by the British Government.

However, whatever the answer or verdict about this claim to inheritance, the worry today is what the young are taught in Argentina and what the population now believes. Propaganda, fables and distorted history are deeply rooted. If we do not understand this we cannot understand the problems that a reasonable, fair-minded statesman in Argentina will have in reaching a reasonable, fair-minded settlement. I will not take your Lordships' time by detailing the history, or the facts and the fables, but the distortions are so farfetched over what happened prior to 1833 that most Argentinians believe today that there are still oppressed Argentinian natives struggling to survive under the cruel British yoke. In fact the last mixed settlement from Buenos Aires which went there in 1823, long after Spain ceased to have any interest in that part of the world, was finally dispersed by the United States, after their fishing vessels had been arrested by the Malvinas Governor who was finally appointed in 1829. That was the end of that, and Britain played no part whatever in the demise of the last Argentinian settlement. When, two years later, in 1833, Britain reoccupied the Falkland Islands, the United States acquiesced and all nations except Argentina regarded the United Kingdom as simply continuing its 18th Century settlement. Of course, the Argentinian version is very different, substituting "United Kingdom" for "United States".

The fables explain why Argentinian extremists threaten to liberate the Falklands. The Argentinian nationalists who landed in an aircraft on the racecourse in the 1960s actually expected Argentinian natives to come running out of the tussock grass to welcome them. Today, it is normal practice for reasonable well-educated Argentinian visitors to arrive in Port Stanley on shopping expeditions and ask to be shown the way to the Argentinian village. A huge and successful propaganad job on a national scale has been achieved on these lines for generations. Some Argentinian friends of mine tell me that they were taught these fables and fantasies about the evictions and clearances by the British Imperialists when they were at school, even before the last war.

We can say that that is not our problem; that it is better to recognise that there really is a problem. I personally doubt whether any Argentinians would want to live in the Falkland Islands. On the whole, I think that they dislike that sort of place, refusing as they do their own Government's persuasions to occupy the vast open wastes in Southern Argentina. The problem is simply national pride, and the problem is the propaganda hook on which they have hung themselves.

Argentina blankets all history with a basic insistence that they were the rightful inheritors of the Spanish Empire. Indeed, after the revolution the Buenos Aires Government claimed this inheritance over most of South America, but one by one the various Spanish communities declined to be so encompassed. Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and all the rest all opted out and became independent. This left in Argentina a sense of frustration and injured pride. Turning to the Malvinas as a target to restore national pride was perhaps understandable, but that does not make it any more palatable for the British inhabitants who have made the Falkland Islands their home for several generations.

What has exacerbated the present difficulty has been the unyielding demand of Argentina to hand over sovereignty before anything else can be discussed. I feel that we should say to them that that is not a mature way to set about things unless it were a new Third World state, which I am sure is not likely to be considered. But it is what the Argentine people have been led to expect. I have endeavoured to make it clear to my friends from Argentina that the more they adopt extreme, unyielding positions, the more they will harden extreme, unyielding positions in the Falkland Islands and over here. I repeat that there are so many things that we could do together to our mutual benefit, and this is the persuasion that we have to try to put to them. Even if the Argentine claims to the Falkland Islands were valid and unarguable, it would still be naive simply to demand them after 150 years, before discussing any other subjects. If the boot was on the other foot Argentina herself would not even listen to such a crude ultimatum.

It may have been tough and a matter for injured pride that Argentina did not win that particular scramble 150 years ago, but the facts are undeniable. First, Spain had irrevocably withdrawn any claim that she might have had in 1813. The new United Provinces Government, as Argentina was then called, having decided to have a revolution against Spain, did not have the resources to pursue its ambitions across the seas far beyond its territorial waters. Britain did have the resources to fill the void in international waters and did so without opposition and with international acquiescence. One hundred and fifty years of peaceful democratic government followed. Those are facts.

I therefore appeal to Argentina—and I am very fond of the country and of my friends there—to recognise that it is the wrong approach after 150 years to say, "Let's wipe the slate clean; let's pretend it never happened. Let's pretend that the people there are Spaniards from Buenos Aires". Surely that is being politically naive. By contrast, the British Government have gone a very long way to meet Argentina by conceding that there is a problem, and by being prepared patiently to discuss it and even to indicate a willingness to negotiate, subject to certain fundamental reservations and the consent of the Falkland Islands and of Parliament. That is a major concession in itself and Argentina should recognise that it is a concession. It is now up to Argentina to move and be flexible, and to consider and discuss vital aspects of mutual concern in that part of the world. It should be a source of satisfaction to them that so many people on the British side consider that it would be better to have a settlement. We want lasting friendship and co-operation with Argentina, and we want to overcome this difficulty as soon as possible. It is Argentina, by her unreasonable bellicosity, that is blocking the way, not Britain.

I should now like to turn to the intolerable dilemma which faces the Falkland Islanders. Ignorance in Britain and in Parliament is profound about the Falklands and ranges over not knowing where they are to not knowing that there was no indigenous population before the British. Those who do know where they are usually have the impression of a few rocky outcrops like the Bass Rock; but the islands are 120 miles from East to West, and as you sail along the coastline you could easily imagine yourself passing the West Coast of Scotland. It is a big country about the size of Wales and the term "islands" conveys a false impression. The main islands are the size of Wales. We are, therefore, talking about an actual country, not a lot of tiny dots; an impressive country of fine, if gaunt, landscape like Caithness or the Outer Hebrides, with a peculiarly British look about it.

The Falklands have magnificent harbours. From here the British Navy saved the allies' sea lanes for the best part of two world wars; in the first through the Battle of the Falklands in which the German fleet was destroyed; and then in the opening weeks of the last war by trapping the "Graf Spee" in the River Plate. For the long-term future, the strategic importance of the Falklands, particularly in relation to the dependencies and the Antartic, which is now occupying the determined interest and enterprise of all leading nations (with the single exception it would seem of our Government) cannot be over-emphasised at this point in history.

I am disturbed by what has come to light in the recent Statement on defence cuts. It is reported that this country's only presence in the Antarctic, "HMS Endurance", is to be withdrawn in 1982. All that would remain in that event would be the two British Antarctic Survey vessels, which are also being subjected to cuts of paltry proportions, but on such a marginal basis any cuts will have critical consequences. This business of the "Endurance" is a horrifying prospect, especially for the Falkland Islands. "Endurance" is the only ice patrol ship we have, and if that goes, and if it is said that there are to be other naval visits, then we should know how frequently, and the extent to which they will be in that area to represent British interests.

I outlined this whole problem of the British Antarctic Survey in a debate last June, and pleaded that we cannot be the only nation actually to pull out of the Antarctic, where through the British Antarctic Survey we have been the leading influence for nearly 50 years. Would the Minister kindly tell us what is the intention regarding Royal Navy vessels and HMS "Endurance" in particular, and is he aware that British presence and influence in the Falklands, the dependencies and the Antarctic peninsula and, therefore, our long-term interest in the resources of the South Atlantic, will be placed in serious jeopardy if the current intention about "Endurance" and BAS has any foundation. I trust that it cannot possibly come about.

This aspect of the potential resources also partly explains Argentina's anxiety and pressure concerning the Falklands. Apart from its pride problem, which we have mentioned, Argentina has sound and sensible ambitions in the Antarctic, and I believe that, contrary to the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, large numbers of their personnel there are in uniform and living in what are really military bases. Big choppers fly direct to these bases from Argentina. It is all part of a ploy to become the leading South American nation in the Antarctic, especially at the expense of other South American countries, and it is even rumoured that their Antarctic strategy goes so far as sending Argentine women to Argentine Antarctic bases to have their babies in the area. Certainly it was reported recently that one Argentine lady arrived in Port Stanley to have a Falklands registered baby.

I find that the next more popular impression among the handful of people here who think about the Falklands at all is of weather-beaten crofters scratching an existence with a handful of sheep, existing in stone huts with peat roofs, like the 18th century inhabitants of Sutherland before the clearances. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. A small Falklands farm is about 4,000 acres, run by a hill farmer and his wife with casual assistance, and a large estate may be up to nearly 400,000 acres. Here, round the owner's or the manager's house, there may be almost a modern village with perhaps 50 people employed on the farms. These estates compare in scale and character with the larger places like Lochmore in the North of Scotland. The business is entirely sheep; there are no deer or grouse but there are tens of thousands of wild geese of different species, penguins, albatrosses and various species of seals. The sea trout fishing in the rivers is as good or better than it is in Scotland or Ireland, and there are ponies and horses on the settlements, some of which are raced in a light-hearted manner. There are no roads except round Port Stanley, but landrovers and tractors in ample supply. Most settlements have a jetty for the vessel which calls to collect the wool and where the Beaver floatplanes tie up to bring the mail and to deliver or collect inhabitants. There is vast potential for amenity and tourism.

I am not digressing, because it is absolutely vital that people in this country understand what we are talking about. This is absolutely not a situation like Gibraltar or Hong Kong. The Falklands are a characteristically British scene, perhaps more than all the Outer Hebrides put together, with many British inhabitants of the fourth or fifth generation. It is alarming that the Government and ultimately the British people should be considering the fate of the Falklands when hardly anybody knows or understands much about them. To my knowledge, only two Ministers have been there—one from this Government and one from a previous Government—less than half a dozen MPs in recent years. All the rest of us in both Houses have very little idea of what we are considering. Not only have no Prime Ministers or senior Ministers ever met Falklanders at home or seen the Falklands, but it is widely believed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will not allow members of the Royal Family to go there for fear of offending Argentina. If true, this is utterly shameful, and certainly a case for British injured pride.

To draw similarities with Gibraltar or Hong Kong is senseless, and we must understand that the Falklanders react to the sovereignty dispute in exactly the same way as would our inhabitants of Sutherland or Caithness or the Orkneys, if sovereignty were being claimed by a foreign power there. Out there patriotism is all the more manifest being 7,500 miles away. Their connections, social and commercial, have always been with the United Kingdom. It is difficult for people with normal communications to comprehend the effect and consequence of the isolation of the Falklanders. Whether TV is a good or bad thing is now an academic question. What is important is to realise the consequence for any small community in 1981 which has never had it. The nearest analogy one could think of today would be the population of the more remote parts of the Outer Hebrides in the 'fifties, before TV arrived. But even they had the telephone, the newspapers even if late, the post and the regular grape-vine in the pub, the kirk and the village hall.

The Falkland Islands have none of these things. Their only regular contact with the outside world is the BBC World Service. We shall have more to say about that on another day. What is perhaps surprising is that the Falklanders are so well informed; they are not unsophisticated, but it is hardly surprising that some Islanders find it difficult to grasp why things cannot just go on as they are and why anybody has to bother about the Argentine. The most common feeling is that if the British Government had never responded in the first place to Argentine demands, but firmly closed the door long ago, there would be no problem today. That is almost certainly true, but it is now academic. Frankly, my heart bleeds for our 1,800-odd compatriots, loyal to the core, who have for generations resolutely believed in the moral strength and influence of Britain, and placed their hopes and confidence in us.

What is badly wanted in the Falklands is better information and better communications, in addition to radio, the circulation of news and current affairs by viedo-cassettes, a more generous and efficient domestic air service and a whole lot of benefits enjoyed in the Highlands. The reason why they are not there is because of the totally unrealistic classification of the Falkland Islands as if they were some over-populated third-world state on its beam ends with a starving illiterate population. This has placed the Falklands dependent for its economic prosperity and welfare on the judgment of comparatively junior officials in the ODA whose primary preoccupation has always been with the totally inappropriate per capita cost of Government support. It is even said officially that the Falklands get more support per head than any other beneficiary of ODA. Frankly, the thinking behind this is misconceived and rather wet.

The Falkland Islands are not third world; they do not contain starving millions. They are in reality part of the United Kingdom. If they were off the North of Scotland, or if we could tow them this way, all worthwhile enterprises would be boosted with cash by the Highland and Islands Development Corporation. But in the Falklands every considered subvention apparently has to be divided by 1,850 or thereabouts to get the per capita rate, and then it is solemnly and senselessly compared with the contribution by the ODA to unstable economies in the Third World.

An airfield is an airfield and it costs x million. It is still an airfield, whether the population is 2,000 or 2 million. It is meaningless to relate the cost of a modern airfield anywhere in the world to the number of people who live nearby. This factor has applied to all forms and items of Government aid in the Falkland Islands. The problem is that there has been no investment, only trivial forms of aid. The Falklands are starved of investment, yet Whitehall seriously considers they are handsomely treated. That is another fable. The Falkland Islands have cost the Government next to nothing. They have always paid their way. The popular line on this by officials does not bear a moment's scrutiny.

This is borne out by the outstanding report—which is now an historic document, in my view—by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I quote from the report. Flow of funds—over the last 30 years, outflow of funds to the UK, largely in the form of company dividends, undistributed profits has considerably exceeded inflow made up of UK aid and Falkland Islands' government income from their UK investments. The UK Exchequer gains substantial amounts from taxes on this outflow, particularly on dividends and profits. Very approximately it is estimated that for the 1951–73 period, the UK direct tax take on dividends and profits from this flow of funds was approximately twice the amount given as UK aid to the Falklands". I hope we have now laid that fable to rest.

May I now give a first hand report on the consequences of the Government's present initiative, which I support. Whereas over the last century or more the Falklands population was closely knit and fiercely joined in their loyalty to Britain, now as a result of the Ridley initiative, they are split down the middle. This was probably inevitable and it is deeply disturbing to perceive. Not only islands, farms and settlements have been split but even families, and in one case I heard with dismay that husband and wife and both children were split down the middle and not on speaking terms. This is the agonising path we have brought about in trying to progress towards a resolution of the Argentine problem, instead of simply slamming the door.

I fear that a cynic in Whitehall might say, "It is good if they are split and thoroughly divided. Then, how can anyone say whether or not the inhabitants accept a proposal for change?" This needs careful watching, and I must ask the Minister what is meant by "acceptable to the Falkland Islands", a phrase which is regularly and officially used. There are about 1,850 inhabitants, according to the last count. Will the Government think they have a mandate for change if one more than half, say 926, support a new proposal for change? Or will a bare majority in the elected Legislative Council be assessed as consent? These vital aspects can hardly be left until the last moment and if the Government are serious in their search for a solution, everybody needs to know now what they have in mind. Will the Minister kindly let us know his answer on that point?

The Government have stated that no pressure is being put on the Islands; that the Islanders will have time to think and respond and that nobody is pushing them. I must assure the Government that that simply is not true. They are under the most fearful pressure. While there on my last visit I heard broadcasts on Falklands Radio by two prominent citizens expressing in the most outspoken and candid terms totally opposite views about the Ridley initiative. The atmosphere is so charged that I was amazed to hear that I myself was widely understood to be supporting one particular solution, which simply was not true. The pressure arises not because the initiative is wrong but because the attitude has always been wrong. Whether intended or not, British Governments in the past have given the impression that the Falklands are a bore, that the problem is not really our problem and that the solution lies with the Islanders—"Let them sort it out, and for goodness sake let them get a move on". If that were seen to be true today, it would be cruel and cynical. The pressure on the Falkland Islands is acute and it will intensify. It is a dreadful period and prospect for the Islanders after 150 peaceful years, and it demands this Government's sympathy, compassion and understanding.

One of the great problems is the lack of Falklands representation in Parliament. If the Falklands had enjoyed having an MP, like the Outer Hebrides, just imagine what that MP or MPs would have to say year in and year out, and how acutely conscious and aware Parliament would be of every single problem. Even in this House, imagine the difference it would have made if some of those Falkland estates and farms were owned by Members of this House. When one recalls all the noble Lords during the Countryside Bill manning the barricades in droves at the prospect of one forlorn biologist innocently seeking to penetrate one humble little SSSI, can one imagine the situation here, if some of your Lordships owned 50,000 or 100,000 acres in the Falkland Islands, when sovereignty was threatened and they had the same feelings about those Falkland acres as they do about homes in Britain?

The view of some previous Administrations, and especially the Labour Government in 1968 when the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, went on his ill-fated mission, was that the Falklands, being so far away, were an irksome nuisance in an era when Whitehall's ambition was to divest itself of every commitment around the globe. A more stalwart attitude was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart. I do not know how many officials have actually put their heads in the gas oven over the prospect of being responsible for a small British community 7,500 miles away, and at the same time being involved in an embarrassing sovereignty dispute with a friendly nation. But it appears that the Foreign Office must sometimes have wished that the Falkland Islanders were not good British stock but were black or brown or coffee-coloured, so that they could have been magnanimously handed their independence at a brief flag-lowering ceremony, and probably long before they wanted it

The flag-lowering routine cannot be easily applied in this case. The issues are too complex and different and will blow up in any Government's face if indecent haste and pressure are applied. We must strive for an understanding with Argentina, of course, and we need at the same time to settle our strategy in the Antarctic for the rest of this century. I believe there must be a formula for a treaty with Argentina covering the South Atlantic which could be acceptable to all parties, and then the Falklands could be part of that treaty.

It is no argument for baling out to say we cannot defend the Falklands. Of course we cannot, but there are countless places all over the world which nations cannot defend against armed invasion. But that does not mean one gives them away. One has to assume that law-abiding countries will not go to war and that Argentina in particular does not want to be branded universally for flagrant aggression. If it were seriously true that, Some Argentine general might start dropping paratroopers there", as was suggested in Argentina to the Daily Express recently, then obviously Argentina would forfeit all right to be regarded as a mature state with whom to negotiate. The Daily Express and The Times have sent correspondents to the Falklands, as have other media including the BBC and ITV, and all this makes an important contribution to understanding in this country, which is so scant at present.

A serious prospect arises for the Falklanders over the British Nationality Bill. It is argued that any special measures provided for the Falklands could have knock-on effects for places like Hong Kong. That is manifestly absurd, because there is no comparison. There are no indigenous natives in the Falklands—only 1,800 dyed-in-the-wool British citizens who have been there for four or five generations. There is no other case in what remains of British possessions overseas that could be compromised by the Falklands. Either we must ensure that the Falkland Islands remain British for ever, or the handful of our compatriots must have full British citizenship. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot deny them full citizenship and at the same time be wet about their future. I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister on that point, because without it I feel that we must in due course table an amendment to the Nationality Bill to protect the future of the Islanders.

I am convinced that there are wise and mature statesmen in the Argentine—I have met some—who would like to see co-operation in the South Atlantic developed between our two countries in a sound and rewarding way, covering areas such as fishing, oil exploration, conservation, tourism and so forth. The trouble is that we have given so much encouragement to the sabre-rattlers in the past that they probably appear in Argentina to have a good chance of success. When an unarmed British scientific research ship was fired on with intent to sink we simply played it down and agreed to discuss sovereignty. Other provocation has similarly been met by turning the other cheek. Can anyone be surprised if extremists think the Malvinas problem a pushover?

Only a forthright and resolute approach by Britain and mature statesmanship in Argentina will bring a solution. The leaseback proposal might be one, perhaps unpopular, option, provided that the period of lease is realistic and considerate. Another option might be some kind of base, such as a NATO base, where Argentina could perhaps fly its flag, though I am bound to say that that would cause most Falklanders' hair to stand on end. Best of all might be a British/ Argentine South-Atlantic Treaty—military, scientific and economic—over the South Atlantic and Antarctic peninsular, in which the Falklands affair could be submerged and simply contained, so that Argentina could set gains against losses and thereby get off the hook. I urge both Governments to consider seriously that and all other options. Let us be friends and get together to our mutual advantage.

I hope that the Government will pursue their course and broaden the range of possibilities. I feel sure that wise and statesmanlike counsels will in the end surface in Argentina. But, above all, we must demonstrate greater understanding and responsibility for this particular part of Britain, and stop implying that it is up to the inhabitants to sort out such momentous issues. The issues are British problems, our problems—not just Falkland problems.

9.17 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, the noble Lord has given us so comprehensive a speech for an Unstarred Question that I do not think I shall need to make a very long speech. Since most of my remarks are to be gloomy, I should like to begin with one or two remarks that are not. First, I would pay a tribute to those public servants who have been out there, in particular the governors, such as Governor Parker, Governor French and others, who have carried a very lonely and a very difficult job. I do not know whether we always acknowledge the service that they render. The second tribute that I wish to pay is to the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, himself—or perhaps I should really congratulate his daughter, Cindy Buxton —for the marvellous films on the Falklands that they make. This is rendering a great service. It is making clear the significance of the Falklands. It strengthens the case, which I should certainly support, and I think the noble Lord would—we might not have time to debate it this evening—that possibly the whole, or the bulk, of the Falklands might be made a nature reserve, though under controlled conditions. I think that these films are very valuable.

I am not sure that I entirely agree with the noble Lord as to the nature of the various farms. I have in fact visited every single farm in the Falklands, and not all of them are like Goose Green, which I think is the one which fits the description that the noble Lord gave. Many of the farms are very lonely places indeed. But the Falkland Islands have a great appeal, and certainly anyone who has visited them develops a feeling for them, all the more so because of their extremely British nature, to which the noble Lord referred. The noble Lord has set out the various problems that confront the inhabitants of the Falklands.

I should like to take a quick look at some of the developments of the past three or four years since my report was published. I appreciate the remarks of the noble Lord regarding the report. Sometimes I thought that the report was so long that it was almost unreadable, and those who compliment me on it have probably decided that it is easier merely to say that it is jolly good, rather than to read the whole of it. None the less the noble Lord clearly has absorbed the arguments very fully, and has deployed them to your Lordships' House. If we look at the situation now, we find certain changes. The prospect of oil under the sea is drawing nearer. I have always been sceptical. I have always thought that though the structures were favourable, it was yet to be shown that oil would be found in the area within the Median Line. None the less, this does seem likely, though it may not be an unmixed blessing to the Falklanders.

There has been more interest in deep-sea fishing in the South Atlantic, and even less action by Her Majesty's Government—and in this respect I do not differentiate between either the present Government or the previous Government in their failure to follow the examples of so many other countries which are now exploiting original scientific work of discovery and investigation, and others who are going to harvest krill and other of the abundant fish life. I could go on at great length about the fish, but I shall not. Incidentally, I am not sure that I would have said the sea trout were all that good. As the noble Lord knows, they are brown trout whose kidney function has changed and who now go down to the sea; and I must say that I have caught better sea trout in Scotland than I have in the Falklands. An interesting point for noble Lords who are fishermen is that, although there are no fly, the keenest Falkland Island fishermen actually use fly when they fish for trout; and I am sure there is a very profound moral in that particular development. It shows that fish are silly enough to take a fly even when there is no good reason to do so.

My Lords, some progress has been made. Although I would still maintain my position to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that the substantial majority of the major recommendations have not yet been implemented, nonetheless, there has been some progress. We are beginning, in small ways, to discharge a duty to the people of the Falkland Islands, though I am bound to support the noble Lord in saying that, if the people of the Falkland Islands had been other than white, we should never have got away with the exploitation that we have applied to the Falklands. However, the hostel in Stanley is, I believe, nearly finished; the road to Goose Green is under way, not very fast; and Green Patch has now been broken up into farms. One of our major recommendations related to the nature of the people was that, while still preserving the main structure of the big farms, the 400,000 acres and others, there should be a number of smaller farms; and I am very glad to hear that Roy Cove, which is one of the best of the stations—a very impressive place agriculturally—is also to be turned into smaller farms. So there is some progress on what I regard as one of the major recommendations. I believe that the Grassland Trials Unit are still doing a good job, and are making some progress. On the other hand, regrettably, tourism has not been a great success, and the British Alginate Company has more or less given up hope of developing anything, although I understand that American companies are in fact interested.

I really want to turn now to the major consequences and the lessons that we learn by the decisions of the Government with regard, effectively, to the South Atlantic. The noble Lord referred to the decision to phase out HMS "Endurance" in 1982. This really is a disaster, and one of the tragedies of the present defence review, on which I do not intend to comment in any detail, is the slaughter of activities. It is not only HMS "Endurance". I should say that I am told that the Hydrographer is going to lose two vessels. The hydro-graphic study report is going to be abandoned. HMS "Endurance" is in some way related to this, and here I would ask for a reply from the Minister. Obviously, HMS "Endurance" is not a very powerful force, although I believe she did send her helicopters up when the royal research vessel "Shackleton" was pursued into the Falklands. Nonetheless, the fact is that "Endurance" is a proper ice patrol ship. It is not an ice-breaker; it is an old ship from the Lauritzen Line, of a kind that has been used in keeping Danish bases in Greenland. It is suitable and it is a very cheap operation. This really is a folly; because we know that a frigate with its thin skin will not be able to penetrate the ice. Such a ship will not be able to visit Faraday, Halley or Signy or many of the bases. We shall have to rely upon the British Antarctic survey ships "Bransfield" and "Biscoe". These are civilian ships; they are not a British naval presence. And this we are doing at a time when the Germans are building a big icebreaker and the Argentines have a big icebreaker—and I shall not even talk about the Russians and the Americans.

This is a part of the world where we have had an interest. In many ways, I wish there was no question of exploiting the Antarctic for its natural resources, but they are going to be exploited. This is the moment when we are choosing effectively to remove our presence. Furthermore, HMS "Endurance" practically earned her keep last year when she towed "Biscoe" after she damaged a propeller in ice. I had a propeller fall off in ice in the middle of the Atlantic after hitting ice off Cape Farewell. Towing "Biscoe" into Montevideo, a distance of over 1,000 miles, saved enormous cost and probably paid for the costs of HMS "Endurance" for that season.

Also I hear—and this is relevant to the Falklands—that we are likely to give up one of the British Antarctic survey bases and this may be Gritviken in South Georgia. If one thinks that the Falklands are beautiful, then South Georgia is the most beautiful place I have ever been in the world. It is a lovely island, admittedly on the same latitude as Manchester, but with glaciers coming down to the sea. It is the centre of krill and, in the past, of fishing and whaling, though I hope that we shall not see a revival of whaling. It has been occupied by the British for 100 years. It is part of the Falkland Islands and by no stretch of the imagination can it be called Argentinian or Spanish or even French, as at one time the Falklands were for a short while.

It could be that South Georgia could be used as a forward base for exploitation. There is no airstrip, but one could be built. There are hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of equipment rusting there. If you want to see a ghost town, then go to South Georgia. It would be tragic in its implications for Britain and, I would say, the western alliance if we remove our base even if it may be, as I understand, at Bird Island. The saving is negligible. I am sure that the Foreign Office are not in favour of this particular economy.

I believe that the oil reserves (looking at this wide area and not just in the vicinity of the Falklands) in the Antarctic may well be very large. To abdicate our presence in this area when other countries are walking in seems to be really pretty tragic. However hateful may be the exploitation, none the less I hope that it can be controlled following the excellent treaty which has been signed recently by the Antarctic nations. I would say only this on the political side. The noble Lord was very frank about the Argentine. It is a proud nation and ought to understand; and I hope that the British still have some pride left. None the less, they are an expansionist nation. They have people in uniform in the Antarctic bases. Recently, at the International Oceanographic Committee they alone among the nations demanded a much wider area for their own suzerainty in scientific and other terms. In the end not a single other nation supported them. I do not see how we can possibly cede the Falklands whatever the arguments, economic or otherwise; and I cannot believe that the Argentine cannot see the strength of our argument and of our British case. The demands are growing. I should certainly be prepared to entertain and to negotiate on a long lease but the conditions would have to be very, very strict indeed.

I urge the Minister—who I know has had to reply before and has sympathy—that he should himself act. There have been two Ministers at least who have been down there. Let us make him the third or the fourth so that he can get the feel of this. Mr. Ted Rowlands went down and did feel very strongly. Mr Ridley has become interested. There really is interest. There is a need to understand. My own experience in the days when I had to represent this country as a Minister in certain situations is that until you actually go there it is very difficult to get the full significance. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will approach this in a sympathetic way. I myself find that the situation is a very depressing one.

9.32 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I intervene briefly although there is really nothing to say, but I wanted particularly to endorse what my noble friend Lord Buxton said, covering all the ground in exactly the way that I would, too. I should also like not only to tell the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that I read when he produced it, all his report, including the annex, but I so much endorse what he had to say about the "Endurance". I shall come back to that subject on 20th July.

In the meantime, I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Trefgarne whether, if the "Endurance" is being withdrawn, this means that the Royal Marines are being withdrawn too? If he could reply to that I should be most grateful. In conclusion, I hope that the Government listened carefully to all that my noble friend Lord Buxton said and will take heed of his advice, and that in the end the Flakland Islanders are allowed to live their lives in the way that they wish.

9.33 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has drawn our attention to a problem which, as he says, not very many people in this country follow continuously. Every now and again—usually as a result of some action of the Argentine Government—we give it close and rather excited attention. There are two facts from which one starts. First, it is entirely unreasonable for anyone to expect that Britain wuold abandon sovereignty of the Falkland Islands against the obvious wishes of all the Islanders.

When I was in charge of foreign affairs I made that clear throughout to the Argentine. I am sorry to say this, but since at certain points the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, was rather polemical, I shall say that my task was not always made easier by certain Conservative Members in another place who spread the story that it was the Government's intention to abandon sovereignty of the Islands. That caused a good deal of distress among the Islanders themselves. Long ago as it is, I take this opportunity to say that that was entirely untrue; neither I not the Government of which I was a member would have accepted the abandonment of the sovereignty, except for the absurd supposition that the Islanders themselves might some day decide to be Argentine citizens. Of that I see no more sign now than I did then. That is one point that is clear.

The other point is this: through sheer geographical proximity and the fact that the Falklanders being comparatively near to the Argentine and such a long way away from everywhere else, it was in the power of Argentina to make life difficult for the Falklanders. That was true at the time that I was dealing with the problem, as it is true now. That is why I cannot accept the proposition that we ought to have "slammed the door"—I think that was the noble Lord's phrase—and refused to discuss the problem with Argentina.

I found when I was in charge of foreign affairs that I was often being criticised by the other side of the House of Commons for engaging in conversations with the Argentine Government, only to find of course that the succeeding Conservative Government did exactly the same thing and for exactly the same reason—that it was a sheer necessity. One had got to try to reach some modus vivendi between ourselves, the Argentine and the Falklands. I must reject the idea that this could ever have been resolved by "slamming the door". It has to be resolved, if it is resolved at all—and by its nature the case is extremely difficult—by a prolonged process of discussion with the Argentinians, and making quite sure that we are closely in touch with opinion and feeling among the Falkland Islanders themselves.

I shall not make a long speech, but I believe that the key may be found in the phrase used by the noble Lord who opened this debate, when he spoke about "things we can do together". I remember when once it was my task to assist negotiations between the colony that was then British Guiana (and about to become the independent country of Guyana) and its Venezualan neighbour. There was a boundary dispute there and we were able to take the heat out of it considerably by considering the things that the two countries could do together to develop resources on their borders. It is there, if anywhere, that I think the solution is to be found.

I need not, I think, go over the other things since they have been put forward very well tonight by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, and of course his report is a great source of information. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will be able to tell us what further progress can be made in that field in the concept of the joint interests between Argentina and ourselves in the development of the South Atlantic, with the Falkland Islanders being a beneficiary of that process. I hope also that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will be able to say something about HMS "Endurance" and the hydrography and the general problem of trying to keep the Falklanders more in touch with the outside world. There are, of course, the enormous difficulties of distance and technique, but I think one particularly important form of aid which the British Government ought to give to the Falklanders is to see that they have a greater opportunity to know what is going on in the world and to be assured, I hope, that if in the nature of things the Parliament at Westminster cannot always be discussing their affairs, it certainly does not forget them.

9.38 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, this is very much an issue which arouses deep emotions and rightly and understandably so. I am sure that when Islanders read the record of what has been said today they will be gratified by the support they have been given. It is important that this dispute and the Islanders' situation should be understood as widely as possible to ensure that their interests are safeguarded and their wishes respected. This is at the root of the Government's policy.

Let me outline our position. First of all, Her Majesty's Government are in no doubt whatsoever about the legitimacy of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. They have been settled continously for nearly 150 years by people of British stock —the Government, legal system and way of life are all unmistakably British. We, and all previous British Governments, have rejected the Argentine claim absolutely and without reserve.

Rejecting it, however, sadly does not mean that it has gone away or will go away. The dispute has long overshadowed the Islanders' daily lives. It hinders the proper development and diversification of the Islands' one-commodity economy, it prevents the exploitation of natural resources in the surrounding ocean; most of all, perhaps, its unsettling effect has led to a continuing decline in an already tiny population.

If we accept, as we must, that the dispute is the direct cause of all this, then our prime aim must be to resolve it. Successive British Governments—and the Islanders themselves—have acknowledged this and have sought to establish, through negotiations with the Argentinians, whether a solution can be found which is acceptable to all parties. This Government have held two rounds of talks at ministerial level with the Argentines and we hope to hold more. For the first time ever, representatives of the Island Council participated in both rounds as members of the British delegation.

What are these talks about? The dispute affects so many aspects of Islanders' lives that it would be very difficult to detail all the subjects that need to be discussed. We are particularly interested in discussing areas of potential co-operation to benefit the Islanders' economy and development; but it is no secret that the Argentines are principally interested in the question of sovereignty. Other issues are subsidiary for them. All attempts to secure Argentine agreement to proceed with economic co-operation, while leaving the sovereignty issue on one side, have come to nothing.

The choice for us is clear: whether or not to be prepared to discuss sovereignty. And we have to accept that if we are not willing or not able to sit down with the Argentines and the Islanders and discuss sovereignty, then the Argentines may see no point in continuing talks. If the Argentines felt that we were no longer prepared even to discuss the issues with them, then it could not be ruled out that they would look for other means of obtaining what they want. As I have said, the dispute already makes Islanders' lives difficult, but none of us should be in any doubt that the difficulties could be much greater. We are, of course, pledged to support and defend the Islands to the best of our ability. I repeat that pledge now. But there are limits to our capability in this respect which cannot be ignored.

The Government therefore took the view, after the talks held in April 1980, that we should be prepared to discuss sovereignty with the Argentines. But it was not enough for the Government to decide that An important premise of our policy is that nothing will be undertaken which is not acceptable to the Islanders. Accordingly, we sought the Islanders' views. My honourable friend the Minister of State (Mr. Ridley) visited the Islands for a week last November and discussed with councillors and other Islanders how best to make progress. He explained Her Majesty's Government's thinking, described the various options we had identified—about which I shall say more in a moment—and invited them to let us have their views.

Your Lordships will know the outcome. The Island councillors voted in favour of a continuation of discussions and gave Her Majesty's Government a mandate to try to negotiate a so-called freeze of the dispute; that is, a mutual agreement to put the sovereignty issue on one side for an agreed period of time, during which both sides could co-operate to develop the Islands' resources. Talks were duly held in New York in February this year; but the Argentines made it plain that a freeze was unacceptable. This was a great disappointment; but we have to live with it.

Our position now is that we continue to believe that a negotiated settlement to the dispute should be sought and that further discussions should be held. But those discussions will have to cover the sovereignty issue and we have to decide how we should approach this. One idea which, as your Lordships know, was discussed with Islanders last November is that of leaseback: the granting to Argentina of the title of sovereignty, coupled with the simultaneous leasing back to Her Majesty's Government of all territories and maritime zones for a substantial period of time. There may be other possibilities worth exploring. But the main point is that before we propose anything we need to have the Islanders' agreement to negotiate and to obtain a new mandate from them. We are waiting to hear from them. No deadlines have been set—in any case, the impending elections to the Falkland Islands Legislative Council make it difficult for decisions to be taken which would, one way or the other, affect fundamentally the lives of all Islanders. But once the elections are over, we hope the Islanders will be able to agree to a new round of talks.

I have heard it asked why we pay so much attention to the wishes of the Islanders. The dispute is, after all, directly between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The answer is simple. It is the Islanders' future which is at stake. We have consistently supported at the United Nations the Islanders' right to self-determination, in the face of virtually unanimous opposition, and we shall continue to do so.

It has been further suggested that it is enough to continue to hold discussions: that it is not necessary ever actually to solve the dispute. I believe that that is wrong, for two reasons. First, it is not possible to go on discussing even the most complicated of subjects ad infinitum. We cannot hope to bore the Argentines into giving up their claim. Nor can we expect that, if we simply tell the Argentines that there is nothing more to talk about, there will be no consequences. Whatever our view on the merits of their claim, we have to recognise that the issue is one which gives rise to deep and long-standing emotions in Argentina. In considering a refusal to talk further, we have also to consider the possible implications for the Islanders.

Second, this suggestion—that it is not necessary to solve the dispute—implies that the status quo is acceptable. But it is not. So long as the dispute and the present climate of uncertainty continue, it will be extremely difficult to attract new development and investment and impossible fully to exploit the martime resources of the Falklands—notably the fish in the waters around the Islands and any oil which may exist on the continental shelf. We cannot move to declare a 200-mile fishery zone for the Falklands or their dependencies and establish a licensing régime if neither we nor the Falkland Islands Government can enforce it. Similarly, the presence of oil on the Islands' continental shelf can only be determined by exploration. And only the ending of the dispute will establish the conditions of confidence necessary for commercial companies to investigate and exploit the possibilities. In short, the status quo seems to offer few benefits and many disadvantages. It will lead to a continuing decline in the Islands and a drift away of the already small population.

May I deal now with some of the points which have been raised during the course of this evening's discussion? My noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa, in his most comprehensive opening speech, referred in particular to the Nationality Bill which is currently before your Lordships and the position of the Islanders. Under the proposals contained in the Nationality Bill at present before your Lordships the Falkland Islanders would become citizens of the British dependent territories. Those who have the right of abode in the United Kingdom would additionally become British citizens. The relationship between the Falkland Islands and the United Kingdom is not, of course, affected by the Bill; nor are the Government's obligations to the Falkland Islands and their citizens. The Islanders have made it clear that they are concerned about the proposed new legislation. They have been given assurances by the Government, most recently by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place on 28th January, that the Islanders could depend upon the most sympathetic consideration of their position in the event of an emergency.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred again to his most comprehensive report. At the risk of goading the noble Lord to his feet, I shall not repeat again the statistics which I read out to your Lordships nearly two years ago about the various recommendations which he made. Suffice it to say that a good many of them have been implemented. I shall leave it to the noble Lord to decide whether or not he accepts that as being a majority. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred also to the question of oil around the Islands, a point which I touched on a moment ago. There have been two seismic surveys of the continental shelf around the Islands. Unfortunately such surveys alone cannot prove the existence or absence of hydrocarbon deposits. At this moment, therefore, it is not possible for me to be more specific. We are always ready to consider applications from oil companies who wish to undertake exploration, but while the political dispute continues it will, as I said before, inevitably be a constraint upon any active exploration programme.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister. There are continual rumours about actual oil strikes—admittedly a good deal further West, off Rio Gallegos, but as far as I know there have not been any strikes in the disputed areas we are talking about, unless the oil companies are keeping them very secret. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister would care to comment on that?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that has been my information too—that there have been no oil strikes. As I have said, there have been two seismic surveys, which are not at all the same thing and which simply, as I understand it, indicate the likelihood or otherwise of oil being present.

My noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa also asked how the views of the Falkland Islanders on any solution to the dispute would be determined. This will be for the Falkland Islanders themselves to decide, whether by a referendum or by some other means, in effectively judging the views of the people. The noble Lords, Lord Buxton of Alsa, Lord Shackleton and Lord Mottistone also referred to the position in respect to HMS "Endurance". I can confirm that HMS "Endurance" will be paid off in 1982 on her return to the United Kingdom, following her deployment in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic region later this year. There are no plans to replace her. However, the Royal Marines' garrison in the Falkland Islands will be maintained at its present strength, and from time to time Her Majesty's ships will be deployed in the region.

The final point I should like to deal with is that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham—although, perhaps, it was hardly a point. He recalled the position with regard to himself and his colleagues when he was Foreign Secretary. He described how Conservative Members accused him of a policy which he was not following and that, in any event, his policy at that time is now the policy of the present Government. I certainly accept that the noble Lord described the position accurately but, speaking from memory in this matter, I recall that there was some disquiet among my noble friends on what was then the other side of the House, that the Government's policy was not as they were describing it. I fear the difficulty was a misunderstanding over the words which were used at the time, and I certainly accept that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, and his colleagues never had any intention of abandoning the Falkland Islands, as some people feared at the time.

Some say that if we are not satisfied with the present situation, why do the British Government not do something about it; and indeed that was the tenor of the speech made by my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa. The question is asked, for example, why do we not adopt a more generous attitude towards giving financial assistance to the Islands' economy? Some would have it that this in itself would give an added stimulus to development and would remove the economic arguments for settlement. I doubt the validity of this particular scenario. The Islands are already in receipt of substantial aid. Over the past five years, the Islands have received an average of £735 per annum per head of population—the highest figure for any recipient of British aid in the world.

Whatever happens we will continue to support their economy within the limit of our own available resources and within the ability of the Islands to absorb and administer aid. But it has surely to be recognised that such aid can only be a palliative and cannot of itself stimulate the conditions necessary for economic expansion. For example, the extension to the airport, which is sometimes put forward as a possible means of opening up the Islands and of prompting a tourist industry, would be very expensive. Its capital cost would represent another £5,000 per head of the population of United Kingdom aid. Equally, it has not so far aroused the interest of any commercial airline operators. I understand that there are those who believe that the runway should be extended so as to reduce the Islands' dependence on Argentina.

But the practical problems would remain and, given the Islands' geographical position, we should also have to take into account the various logistical difficulties which might arise and I think my noble friend was aware of those. The reality is that the United Kingdom is 8,000 miles away, Argentina less than 400. It makes sense to involve the Argentines in helping to develop the Islands' economy. For example, the Argentines already provide the only air service and most of the fuel. I know some Islanders resent having to depend on the Argentines in this way, but few, I imagine, would wish to lose these services. Neither could be replaced without great difficulty, not to mention cost and inconvenience to the Islanders.

Another school of thought is that by merely announcing our willingness to discuss the issue of sovereignty with the Argentines, we are indicating that we are not convinced of our sovereignty and that we accept that the Argentine claim has some validity. That is not so. I repeat: we are in no doubt whatsoever about our sovereignty over the Islands. All our discussions with the Argentines have been held on the strict understanding that our position on sovereignty is not prejudiced. By talking to the Argentines we are not accepting their claim; we are dealing with a situation that exists. If the Islands' decline is to be halted and, we hope, reversed, this dispute has to be solved. There is no other way.

There has been much speculation about what form that solution might take. It is not possible to be specific about this. Many different systems of administration have operated and continue to operate around the world; some are successful, others less so. We have been looking and shall continue to look, at them all to see whether there is one which provides a model for a settlement of the Falklands dispute which would be acceptable to all concerned. But there are certain basic requirements on which we should insist. The British administration, legal system and way of life would have to be preserved, perhaps not for ever and a day, but at least for several generations. An agreement would have to involve provisions for assisting the Islands' development and exploiting their resources. And it would have to have cast-iron guarantees from the United Nations or other suitable bodies that there would be no infringements.

None of us can be happy at the prospect of even discussing new sovereignty arrangements when we do not and cannot accept Argentina's claim. But I would ask those who say we should refuse even to discuss the issue to consider who will suffer. It is the Islanders, not us. That is why they must decide for themselves. There can be no question of our acting in some way behind the Islanders' backs. We are a long, long way from the sort of settlement which would provide the guarantees sought by the Islanders and ourselves; but if and when the day comes when we are satisfied that all the criteria have been met, that would not be the final chapter. We have pledged ourselves to submit any agreement to the test of public opinion in the Islands and to Parliament here. It would be hard to devise more comprehensive safeguards to ensure that any agreement is acceptable to all.

The answer to my noble friend Lord Buxton, therefore, is that we have every wish to continue the discussions with the Argentines in order to solve the sovereignty dispute. The decision does not, however, lie entirely in our hands: the Islanders have to decide for themselves which avenues they wish us to explore for them, in the knowledge that the situation has to change if the dispute is not to be allowed to stifle all hopes of development. The Islanders have to be the best judges of their own interests. We await their decision.