HL Deb 01 July 1982 vol 432 cc326-8

3.12 p.m.

The Duke of Portland

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 intend to include in any agreement with the Argentine Government provision for repayment of the expenses incurred by Her Majesty's Government as a result of the Argentine aggression in the Falkland Islands.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, this question is being given careful consideration. There is no immediate prospect of any such agreement with the Argentine Government being concluded.

The Duke of Portland

My Lords, is it not possible to give any indication as to the views of Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the first priority is to restore conditions on the islands to as near as normal. This we are most certainly doing at the present time. Whether there is any prospect of an agreement covering the Falklands depends primarily on the attitude of the Argentines. I am bound to say that the reports from Buenos Aires suggest that at present they do not wish to pursue the matter.

Lord Rennet

My Lords, has not the Prime Minister stated in the House of Commons that the Government are not going to ask for damages from Argentina?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, words to that effect were spoken by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in a debate some weeks ago. The context was a little different. I think it is reasonable and right that the answer to the question should be brought up to date. As best I can, I have now given the answer.

Lord Peart

My Lords, may I ask what is the totality of Argentine assets in this country and whether they are going to remain frozen?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I cannot give an answer as to the totality of the assets. The trade and arms embargo which this country has against the Argentine still continues.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Britain entered into this project with the support of the Security Council, of the EEC, of NATO, of the Commonwealth and of all parties, both in this House and down the road? Therefore, is it not prudent at least to leave our options open, in view of the difficulty of making a settlement with the Argentine, and to reserve the right to make a claim for compensation as a result of their aggression?

Lord Belstead

Certainly, my Lords.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall—though he could hardly do that; he was much too young—our experience after the First World War when we demanded reparations, only to discover that it worked to our disadvantage? Ought we not to be very careful about compensation? Perhaps it is far better to forget about it, though it is perhaps difficult to do so, rather than to involve ourselves in financial difficulties and perhaps make our relations with another country even worse?

Lord Belstead

Yes, indeed. I know that what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said is correct. But we were wronged by the aggression of Argentina and we are entitled, if we wish to do so, to claim compensation. Nevertheless, I agree with the noble Lord that this is not to say we should find it easy to obtain compensation if Argentina contested our claim or simply did not pay.

Lord Renton

My Lords, bearing in mind how much the islanders have suffered from this aggression, can my noble friend assure your Lordships that if it is decided to ask for payment of compensation it will be paid in sterling or another sound currency and not in Argentine paper money?

Lord Belstead

A very wise piece of advice, my Lords.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind the plight of pensioners of the Argentine Government? I refer particularly to those subjects of this country who were employed by, say, the Argentine Railways when they were nationalised. Is the noble Lord aware that the Argentine Government has ceased to pay them their pensions, and will he take the question of their pensions into account?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not wish to appear unsympathetic. I quite understand why the noble Lord asks the question, but it is rather different from the Question on the Order Paper.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that, even if an agreement were reached with Argentina that they should pay us reparations, they might be in the position of being unable to pay because they have very little money and that therefore it would be very nice if they owed us a debt and were in our debt, which would keep us in a slightly stronger position?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, these are all good ideas which the Government will certainly take on board. At the end of this exchange it might be right to remind your Lordships that a very substantial quantity of Argentine military equipment has fallen into our hands, some of which is proving quite useful.