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Falkland Islands

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations with overseas Governments he is having regarding the Falkland Islands and their future.

Our first task remains that of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the islands. When the islanders have had time to recover and consider the future, we shall be consulting them about their views. It would be premature to discuss their future with other Governments until that stage has been reached, but I have of course explained to a large number of other Governments the British Government's position and approach.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no one in his right mind would wish to live under the rule of the junta in Argentina? However, is there not a danger now of Britain becoming isolated over the Falklands issue? Would it not be sensible at least to explore the possibility of United Nations trusteeship? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm today that he has not ruled out the possibility of negotiations on the future of the Falklands?

The immediate problem is to restore and rehabilitate the islanders, their way of life, and the structure of the islands. Secondly, our aim is to restore normal relations with Argentina. That has been our policy since the end of the conflict. We have had the advantage of our friends in the European Community making approaches direct to Argentina with us in an effort to bring that about. So far, there has been remarkably little sign by Argentina that it wishes to restore normal relations. That, I think, must be the beginning of relations—negotiations or relationships, call them what one will—with Argentina.

It is premature to consider the question of trusteeship or the other possibilities that could arise in the long-term future. When the islanders have recovered from the shock that they suffered, and have considered their future in the light of events, that will be a more appropriate time to consider the possibility that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that whether the negotiations are undertaken bilaterally or with others as well, there is little point in such negotiations if it is proclaimed in advance that they must end in the sole sovereignty of Argentina not only over the islands but over the dependencies?

There is no question of negotiations of that sort taking place at the moment, as I made absolutely clear—[HON. MEMBERS: "At the moment?"]—well, maybe never. I am talking about negotiations on sovereignty. That is the whole point and the argument which we deployed at the United Nations and which I have made clear to countries all round the world. However, there is good reason to restore normal relations with Argentina in commercial, diplomatic and other ways, because that is to the advantage of the islanders.

What have the Governments of Chile and Uruguay said to our requests for landing rights? May there not be a dreadful accident involving Hercules aircraft in the hazardous business of refuelling and refuelling again from Victor tankers?

We would welcome, of course, the establishment of a regular commercial air service of any kind between the Falklands and the South American mainland, whether in Chile or elsewhere. At present, however, there are political and practical obstacles to that. Undoubtedly Argentina's neighbours are somewhat sensitive about the matter at the moment, and there are other problems. However, it is a desirable objective and one that we are pursuing.

Although I appreciate my right hon. Friend's answer, does he agree that it would help the British Government to have discussions with Chile, because that could provide splendid communications with the Falkland Islands, without going to Argentina or impinging on Argentine air or land space? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Chile is gradually moving back through a voted constitution towards democracy, and that that would stabilise Chile as well as the southern Atlantic?

As I said, we would welcome the establishment of links of that kind with the South American mainland. As Chile is part of that mainland, I include that country in the answer that I have just given.

How does the Foreign Secretary distinguish between the Fascism that exists in Chile and the Fascism and breaches of human rights that occur in Argentina? Would not such an ally be a very dubious one? Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the declining support among our friends for Britain's stance on the Falklands? Therefore, is it not right that the immediate problems to which he alluded and the longer-term solutions are not mutually exclusive, and that we should be seen to be rather more flexible than he is at present?

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. There has been no decline in support for Her Majesty's Government's position over the Falkland Islands. Indeed, the reasons for the decisions and the steps that we took are widely respected, and the House would be entirely wrong if it thought that that did not still command widespread respect—even, I might add, in Latin American countries, some of which, for understandable reasons, feel a certain solidarity with Argentina. Chile was quite helpful to us during the actual conflict, and that is something that we should bear in mind in considering our relations with that country now.