HL Deb 13 June 1989 vol 508 cc1259-61

2.44 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the reported observations of the President-elect of the Argentine Republic, they are satisfied that current arrangements for the defence of the Falkland Islands are adequate.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

Yes, my Lords. Mr. Menem made a reference to the Falkland Islands during his election campaign which seemed to imply the possibility of another resort to force by Argentina. At another point in the campaign he said that Argentina's claim would be pursued through negotiation. We must hope that the second, rather than the first, will represent his considered view of the matter. We are satisfied that the garrison remains adequate for the present, though we keep force levels in the Falklands under constant review, and would not hesitate to augment them if this seemed necessary in the light of an increase in the threat to the islands.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that thoroughly satisfactory Answer. Will he confirm that his implication is that it is very important indeed in this matter that there should be no risk of misunderstanding?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I very much hope that the position of the United Kingdom in this matter is clear beyond peradventure. Recent utterances from Mr. Menem have suggested to the contrary, but I hope that he will take care to study what we have said in the past and what our position is now.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, in view of the much less threatening statements made by President-elect Menem this last weekend as against those made during the general election campaign, should we not welcome those statements? Does the Foreign Office attach any special interpretation to those statements as distinct from the threatening statements he made during the general election campaign?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the most recent statement that I have seen from Mr. Menem—it is to be remembered that he does not take office until later this year—indicated that he wished to discuss the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands with the British Government forthwith. The sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not available for discussion.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Argentina's position would probably preclude it from making war against anyone at the present time? Does he further agree, as I think he does having listened to his previous answer, that Senor Menem first of all says one thing and then says another?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is certainly the case that the economic position in the Argentine is clearly very bad. I hope it will improve. As for its present capacity, that is not a matter upon which I would be able to offer a detailed or definitive comment. I would think it very unlikely that Argentina has the capability to mount much more than some annoyance at the present time.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm and comment on the information currently available in the Argentine that President-elect Menem has the full backing of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya for an attack on the Falklands? Could that not be an influence on the President-elect?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if I found Colonel Gaddafi offering me some support in a venture, I would take real care.