HL Deb 30 April 1984 vol 451 cc334-6

2.51. p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

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 any further progress has been made towards establishing meaningful discussions with the Argentinian Government regarding the Falkland Islands and surrounding areas.

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

My Lords, on 6th April the Swiss protection power delivered our response to the Argentine comments on the specific ideas we put forward on 26th January. We are ready for official talks on the normalisation of relations between our two countries. Such talks cannot include discussion of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands or the Falkland Islands dependencies.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she not aware of the growing concern about the slowness of real and meaningful negotiations starting? Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the slowness of those negotiations getting off the ground is in any way retarding the Government's redevelopment programme for the islands?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government's redevelopment programme for the islands is continuing, and it has not been affected by any negotiations by the Swiss protecting power.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is it not a fact that having the redevelopment programme take place in the present climate of disagreement is placing an intolerable burden on the taxpayers of this country? Is it not also a fact that the sooner negotiations start and some agreement is made the sooner this financial burden may be reduced?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware the financial cost of the rehabilitation of the Falkland Islands includes a £15 million grant for rehabilitation which has been fully committed, and expenditure will be completed by the end of the present financial year; £31 million for development over a five to six year programme, the phasing of which expenditure has not yet been agreed with the Falkland Islands Government; and the war damage compensation scheme, under which more than £3 million has been paid although some claims remain still to be finalised. This continues.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House what is the obstacle to the resumption of diplomatic relations at the present time? Is it the case that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to cancel the Exclusion Zone if diplomatic relations are resumed? Can she further say whether or not Her Majesty's Government are prepared to enter into unconditional negotiations with the new Government of the Argentine?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the first point raised by the noble Lord, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place on 15th March that it would be difficult to restore diplomatic relations until Argentina had said that hostilities towards us have permanently ceased. But the absence of such a declaration need not rule out other intermediate steps. On the noble Lord's second point, as I indicated in my original Answer the Swiss delivered our response to the Argentine comments on our proposals, but we have made it quite clear that talks cannot include discussion of sovereignty.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that meaningful discussions would be much easier to achieve if the Argentinians were to volunteer to clear up the unmarked minefields which they laid in the Falklands in contravention of the Geneva Convention, and which are still killing and maiming animals and, occasionally, human beings?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I believe we all agree that it would be much better if the minefields were cleared up. But great care has been taken by the Ministry of Defence—certainly in the areas I saw when I myself was in the islands—to try to fence off the minefields and open up parts of the area around Port Stanley for civilian use.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what international support the Government are getting for their rather rigid line? Which of our friends and allies have announced their support for it?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we have of course made quite plain to our friends and allies our position about our relationship with Argentina. We have made it clear that we wish for more normal, bilateral relations, and we hope very much that we shall be able to achieve this position.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, while I acknowledge the Government's stand apropos negotiations with the Argentine, which we all hope will one day proceed, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she would not agree that there are a number of disturbing features which ought to be ironed out before real negotiations begin? For example, we are told that Falkland islanders who wish to borrow money from the Government to develop their farms are having them described in some instances as unsuitable, while on the other hand Lafonia, which is the largest block on the airfield site, owned by an absentee landlord named Coalite, is now in receipt of millions of pounds and quite a vast amount of compensation. These two factors together are causing anxiety and some bitterness among Falkland islanders.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the point about land distribution in the Falkland Islands is one that has been raised in your Lordships' House on many occasions in the past. We have indicated that the Government's policy is that there should be a gradual acquisition by tenants in the Falkland Islands of their own farms, and this is proceeding. On the point about land costs for the new airfield, this matter was gone into very thoroughly by my noble friend quite recently.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can the Minister of State assure the House that the import into this country of books published in Argentina is once again permitted?

Baroness Young

My Lords, that is precisely the kind of issue which we hope will be dealt with when we have established more normal, bilateral relations with Argentina.

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