HL Deb 28 November 1983 vol 445 cc431-4
Lord Avebury

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will approach the democratically elected Government of Argentina, with a view to normalisation of relations with them.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we have publicly welcomed the restoration of the democratic process in Argentina and have made clear our wish to develop more normal relations. We hope that the new Government in Argentina will, as a first step, respond positively to the proposals we have made for the restoration of normal commercial and economic relations between our two countries.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's forthcoming reply to the Question. May I ask whether she does not recognise that it may be difficult for the incoming Government of Argentina to take the first step in normalising diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom? Will the Government perhaps consider making a joint approach with Argentina to the Secretary General of the United Nations that he should use his good offices in devising a solution that is acceptable to the people of the Falklands and takes account of the legalities on the question of sovereignty?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I have already indicated, we should like to see better bilateral relations with Argentina. We have publicly welcomed its return to democracy and, as an earnest of our good will, our banks have helped to re-schedule Argentine debts. On the second point, our position is clear, and that is that we are not in a position to negotiate the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the new Government have yet declared that hostilities are at an end?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the new Government will not be in post until 10th December but there has been no statement from the Argentine Government that they are prepared to declare a definitive end to hostilities.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, will the Minister say what are the proposals to which she has made reference? Will the Government take an initiative on the matter in view of the great insecurity for the people of the Falkland Islands and the enormous cost? Will she say where the Government stand in relation to the prospect of United States' arms sales to Argentina? This is an urgent matter on which the Government should take an initiative.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, is, as I have indicated, that we welcome and should like to see better bilateral relations; that is to say, economic relations, trade and commerce, cultural relations and sporting relations. There are a number of ways in which we could have better bilateral relations and we welcome those. On the question of the possibility of United States' arms sales to Argentina, we have said that we would regret this, but it is not a definitive matter as yet.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the noble Baroness's colleague Mr. Ridley was in course of negotiating the sovereignty of the Falklands with Argentina and is on record in the House of Commons Hansard as reporting back on the results of his endeavours to do so? Is it not therefore the case that the Government are in the position of having to negotiate this matter? Will they not eventually have to do so at some time or other?

Baroness Young

My Lords, it is true that the Government were in negotiation with the Argentine Government; but one has to recall that it was the Argentines who invaded the Falkland Islands. We have made it absolutely plain that we are not going to negotiate the sovereignty of the Falkland Islanders.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, may I ask this question: arising out of my noble friend's answer to my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, is not an acknowledgement, when the new Government of Argentina come into power, that, from their point of view, hostilities are over, a condition precedent to any improvement in relations?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we very much hope that the new Government in Argentina will make such a declaration of their policy. If I might add one further point: just as the Argentine people have been able to express their wish for their Government through the ballot box, so we hope that they will understand why the Falkland Islanders should be entitled to the same right.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in expecting the Argentine Government, if there is such a Government, to make the first approach. I accept that, and I am sure that a large number of Members of your Lordships' House take the same line. However, would it not be a gracious act on the part of the United Kingdom Government, in all the circumstances and, in the end, to our advantage, and perhaps more inclined to promote peace rather than more conflict, if we made the first approach in ascertaining the opinion of the Argentine Government now that they have adopted to some extent the democratic approach?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I hoped that I had made it clear in one of my former answers that the British Government have already made a gesture to the Argentine Government because our banks have helped to re-schedule their debt. We have had a very limited response to this. Therefore, it would be difficult in the circumstances to say more than our public welcome of a return to democracy and our public wish to have better bilateral relations.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, in view of the reference of the noble Baroness to cultural relations, may I ask whether the Government will take advantage of the restoration of democratic Government in the Argentine to remove the ban on the import of books from that country, which operates to the detriment of the British book trade and also to the detriment of universities which are waiting to receive them?

Baroness Young

My Lords, these are all matters which can be looked at and would be looked at very sympathetically if of course we had a return to better bilateral relations.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, we all welcome what the noble Baroness has said about economic and commercial relations and the initiative which the British Government have taken. However, will not the noble Baroness agree that the crucial issue over the next few years is to restore normal and friendly diplomatic relations between Britain and the Argentine? As the question of sovereignty is just as important politically in the Argentine as it is in this country and so it would seem that neither Government would be in a position to start negotiations, would it not be sensible to start talks about talks (as we had to do in Rhodesia) using the good offices of the United Nations and particularly of the Secretary General?

Baroness Young

My Lords, it was my right honourable friend the Prime Minister who made it clear that we are willing to enter into talks about good commercial, economic or diplomatic relations. But the time is not yet right to talk about the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

Lord Morris

My Lords, will the time ever be right to bring the issue of sovereignty into discussions?

Baroness Young

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware—because I have said it on several occasions this afternoon and the Government have made it quite plain—that it really must be an issue for the Falkland Islanders themselves to determine.

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, will not my noble friend agree that there is no real comparison with Zimbabwe because they were choosing to have their own constitutional Government? The people of the Falklands wanted to choose their own destiny; they did not want to have their children taken over by an Argentine regime with all that that meant, and nor did they want to have the children educated in Spanish. It is right that we should uphold their right to have their own democratic choice as regards the Government that they wish to have.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to confirm that what my noble friend says is very important: the wishes of the Falkland Islanders in this matter should be paramount.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I fully recognise that the opinions of the people of the Falkland Islands should be of enormous importance in determining the political future of those territories. May I ask whether the Government agree that tests conducted by the British Government will not be seen as impartial among world opinion, and that this is an additional argument for doing as we suggested—that is, inviting the Secretary General to use his good offices to arrive at a solution, including consultations with the inhabitants of the Falklands themselves?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think that I have already indicated my answer to the suggestion that has been made on several occasions in the course of this exchange about an intervention by the Secretary General of the United Nations. However, the House may like to be reminded that in the recent vote in the General Assembly the result was slightly better from the British point of view than it was in 1982, and that 63 countries showed their understanding of our position by declining to support the Argentine resolution.

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