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Falkland Islands

Volume 950: debated on Wednesday 24 May 1978

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Argentines have yet brought an end to their illicit establishment of a base on one of the islands within the Falkland Islands Dependencies; and, if not, when their departure will take place.

An Argentine statement on 11th May indicated that they had not done so. The Argentine scientific station is on British territory. We have protested about this and are pressing the matter.

Is it true that the Foreign Office was informed of the situation relating to the illegal occupancy 18 months ago? If that is so, why was instantaneous action not taken, such as the physical removal of those concerned? Did the Minister ever consider suspending diplomatic relations?

The matter first came to light in December 1976. We protested forcefully and had reason to believe that the activities would be terminated. However, the activities were renewed in the present Antarctic season and, therefore, we have renewed our protest and are pressing the matter.

Does my hon. Friend take the view, as I do, that the word in the Question should be not "illicit" but "illegal"? If this were to happen again and nothing much further ensued, what measures would my hon. Friend be likely to take? We fear that, as in the old saying, an inch can become an ell.

We are pressing the matter. We hope to get the matter resolved through diplomatic exchanges between the two Governments. I believe that that is the best way of proceeding. It is premature to speculate on what further action is required if we fail in our present efforts.

Let us not get too excited about this. Is it not a fact that we have never used the island in any way? Are we not in the position of an absentee landlord who finds squatters on his premises?

It is a piece of British sovereign territory and that is why we treat the matter seriously. It is also true that the island is 1,200 miles south of the Falkland Islands and is totally uninhabited. The present activities on the island by the Argentinians are purely scientific.

Although economic co-operation between the Argentine and the Falkland Islands might make eminent sense, is it not serious that since 1976 an infringement of British sovereignty has taken place and that the Government have known about it since December 1976? Why has the Minister failed to tell us of this infringement of British sovereignty? What positive action is he taking to deal with it?

We have sought to resolve the issue through diplomatic exchanges between the two Governments. That is infinitely preferable to public denunciations and public statements when we are trying to achieve a practical result to the problem that has arisen.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply. I beg to give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment.