HL Deb 20 July 1984 vol 454 cc1752-7

11.46 a.m.

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on Argentina—Talks, which is being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"I will, with permission, Mr Speaker, make a Statement on the talks which took place in Berne on 18th and 19th July between British and Argentine representatives.

"As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have consistently made clear to the House, we are not prepared to discuss with the Argentine Government the question of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. But it is plainly in our interests, as well as those of Argentina and of the Falkland Islanders, that we should move towards more normal relations between Britain and Argentina. We therefore sought, in exchanges through the protecting powers over many months, to establish an agreed basis for talks which would achieve that end.

"After careful and detailed discussions, a clear basis was agreed which would enable talks to take place. It was of course very clear to us that if the talks were not to founder at the outset on the issue of sovereignty, any such arrangements needed above all to meet the different positions of the two sides on that question. Accordingly, the specifically-agreed arrangement on that point was that if the Argentine representatives raised the question of sovereignty, as they clearly wished to do. the British representatives would make quite clear in reply that we were not prepared to discuss it. Discussion would then move straight on to practical issues of concern to both sides and would continue on those subjects. This basis was plainly agreed and clearly understood by the Argentine Government. This arrangement was also confirmed by the Swiss Government.

"When the talks opened in Berne, the British side complied scrupulously with this arrangement. As foreseen, the Argentines began by raising the question of sovereignty. We replied by making it plain, again as foreseen, that we were not prepared to discuss it. We went on to suggest a number of practical issues—such as the resumption of normal commercial and financial relations, the restoration of the air services agreement between Britain and Argentina, and a visit by Argentine next-of-kin to the Falkland Islands—on which there could be some prospect of agreement.

"We regarded this as the best way to start restoring confidence between Britain and Argentina. But the Argentine representatives were not prepared to continue the talks on this basis, although it had been agreed in advance. They argued that discussion of any of the practical issues put forward by the British side would have to be linked to discussion of a mechanism to address the question of sovereignty. Unless this new condition was met, the Argentines were not prepared to continue the talks. This was totally at variance with the agreed basis and the talks thus came to an end.

"Her Majesty's Government continue to take the view that it is in the interests of all concerned to seek the restoration of more normal relations between Britain and Argentina. I am sure that the House will share my sense of regret and frustration that, after many months of careful preparation, the Argentine Government brought the talks to an abrupt and premature end by failing to proceed upon the basis that had been clearly agreed."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. We support the Government's readiness to join in these talks and we deeply regret the breakdown. We hope that this is merely temporary as it is very much in the interests of Argentina and ourselves that we should return to normal relations as soon as possible and we hope that further efforts will be made to resume negotiations. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can tell us if there is any expectation that talks will be resumed with the Argentine representatives. While I accept that the Argentine representatives went back on the agreed mechanism for dealing with sovereignty, is it not the case that the formula was a fragile one from the start? A formula which enables the Argentine Government to raise the subject of sovereignty and then allows the British representatives to, say that they would not discuss it, with an expectation that the Argentines would be prepared to drop it and discuss other matters, on the face of it seems very facile; although I do not doubt that that was the agreed basis. But it seems to have been a very shaky basis from the start.

Would the noble Baroness not agree that a very much firmer basis for discussion is needed, especially bearing in mind the undoubted domestic difficulties facing the new Argentine Government? Would the noble Baroness not agree also that there is a case for referring the question of sovereignty to a third party—preferably the International Court of Justice—provided that the Argentine Government are prepared to commit themselves to accepting the findings of that court as we should have to do? Is she further aware that we fully support the practical issues which the Government had in mind as an agenda for these talks and that we hope that some way can be found of returning to these practical matters at an early date as their settlement is very much in the interests of the Argentine people, the Falkland Islanders and ourselves?

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating this important Statement and to express our dismay at the fact that the talks, so evidently necessary, have now (for whatever reason) broken down. The first question that I should like to ask the noble Baroness is this. Was the specifically agreed arrangement, as it is called, that sovereignty should not be discussed formulated in writing? If so, could the necessary document or documents be produced so as to make it absolutely clear that the Argentines did go back on their word? That is point one.

The Government perhaps may be aware that in my last speech on this subject some months ago I suggested that if and when talks with the Argentine started it should be agreed that the question of the political future—and not sovereignty, which is a highly tendentious term—should not be excluded from the talks, though it will be approached only if and when progress has been made in other urgent fields. That is what I suggested. Could such a formula still prove to be acceptable and the negotiations eventually resume?

Thirdly, I note—and I may be wrong—that the Argentines do not seem to have insisted that sovereignty itself should he discussed in the talks; but rather that there should be discussion of a mechanism to address the question of sovereignty, which seems, to me at least, to be rather different. If so, is not this a mechanism for discussing eventually the question of sovereignty—or indeed the political future, as I would say—of the islands? Is this not a possibility? If the political future of the islands is ever to be discussed and if it is ever to be the subject of negotiations—and after all it was the subject of negotiations for years and years before the war—surely the negotiations should not be confined to the Argentines and ourselves but should have other participants unless, as the noble Lord has just said, a decision is made to take the whole question to the court. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reply to these I hope rather pertinent questions.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank both noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Gladwyn, for the reception of this Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said that he regretted the breakdown of the negotiations, as indeed do Her Majesty's Government. But I was glad to hear him say that he supports the practical issues on which we have sought to have better bilateral relations with Argentina. He asked what the next moves are; and whether are we to resume negotiations; I think that the noble Lord would agree that at the present time the need is to pause and reflect over these matters.

He asked whether the formula on sovereignty was not a very fragile one. The fact was (as he himself has agreed) that it was a formula that was agreed with the Argentine Government. And I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that it was an arrangement in writing. Both noble Lords have raised the whole question of sovereignty. We are confident of our position on sovereignty. We have made our position on this matter abundantly clear on a number of occasions. The fact of the matter is that the Argentines have to live with the consequence of the fact that it was they who used force and invaded the islands while we were negotiating on this matter in good faith.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, suggested a formula in which we might discuss not sovereignty but the political future of the islands. I have already indicated the Government's clear view on the matter of sovereignty and we would not wish to enter into negotiations in which we would be misleading the Argentines on this matter. On the question of whether or not the Argentines might say that they wish to discuss a mechanism to address the question of sovereignty when raising a separate point, the fact of the matter is that we entered into these negotiations on an agreed basis with a formulation as I have described it. We believe that this was a way in which we could have moved forward. It is a matter for regret that the Argentines have not kept to it.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would agree to publish the documents in which the agreement was arrived at.

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I have indicated, these matters are in writing and I will certainly consider what the noble Lord has said.

Lord Home of Hirsel

My Lords, is it not clear that the wounds of war are far too raw for the Falkland Islanders to discuss the question, or to raise the question of sovereignty at all or even the political future which must contain the item of sovereignty? This is particularly raw when the Argentines continue to refuse to state that the state of war is at an end. I should not have thought that there was any practical future in discussing or even raising the question of sovereignty now.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his intervention. He has raised of course the most important point on this matter. As I have indicated, we are not prepared to negotiate sovereignty.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that the wounds of war were not too savage just 12 months ago for this country to make a substantial financial loan to the Argentine Government, and that that ought to hold us in very good stead? Our present Government in their last endeavours have made something very worthwhile which ought to have been seized upon by the Argentine Government for negotiations to continue. They have done very well indeed, and it is to be regretted that their endeavours have not been properly appreciated.

My last question is this. Is the noble Baroness not aware that if we were to divide the subject matters and to say that we should have further discussions on economic issues which can be of benefit to both countries; and that to be followed at a later agreed date on the political issues that divide us; and that if there are two separate meetings or conferences, first, on the economics and that to be followed at a later stage by the political element, then the atmosphere could change to make it a possibility of there being a reality?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the record will show that Her Majesty's Government have taken a number of steps since July 1982 to try to improve relations with Argentina. In answer to the second point that the noble Lord has raised, it is precisely because we wish to get into more normal relations with Argentina that we have been searching diligently over the past six months to find a way in which we could do so. It is therefore a matter of regret that the talks have now broken down.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, in sympathising, as I think we all do, with the Government in the present situation, is my noble friend aware that there are a large number of people in this country—and I include myself—who would prefer not to hear the word "sovereignty" mentioned again until such time as the Caribbean. Central America and the Panama Canal are made secure to the free world?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think I have made the Government's position on the question of sovereignty quite plain, and I note the other point which the noble Lord has made.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while it is regrettable that it was not possible to discuss the crucial, practical matters to which the noble Baroness referred, including, I think, the cessation of hostilities and also the exclusion zone, nevertheless, is it not the case that sovereignty is an issue that will not go away? Will the noble Baroness deal with my suggestion about a reference to a third party, such as the International Court of Justice at The Hague, as one possibility that should be considered over a period of time?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we are confident of our position on sovereignty, and we do not consider it necessary to refer this matter to the International Court of Justice.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, with respect to the noble Baroness, and I do not dispute what she said. the more confident we are, the more ready we should be to go to the International Court of Justice.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord has said. but I believe that the whole House will recognise what our position on sovereignty is, and will recognise that, although before 1982 we were in fact negotiating on this point, the truth of the matter is that the Argentine Government have to live with the effects of the invasion and the consequences of it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords. arising out of the last answer of my noble friend, is she aware that the Argentine Government's direct and clear repudiation of a recently made agreement cannot fail to be noted by those from whom Argentina is trying now to borrow money?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, I take the point of my noble friend.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, have the Government made any estimate of whether the security needs of the area have changed at all as a result of the breakdown of the talks? Are we as capable of fulfilling our commitments to the Falklands and in that area now as we were before the talks took place?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the answer to the first part of the question of the noble Lord is that it really is too early to say; but the answer to the second point is that we believe that we are capable of fulfilling our obligations to the Falkland Islanders.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend where are those who presume to think that the people of the Falkland Islands and indeed the people of this country are so stupid that they do not recognise sovereignty under a different name? Furthermore, if the Argentines cannot he trusted to stick to an agreed agenda, what hope is there for trust in the Argentine Government generally?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we greatly regret the fact that the talks have broken down. We greatly regret the implications of this as indicated by my noble friend.