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Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010

We have a very close and productive relationship with Argentina on a range of issues, including in the G20, on climate change, sustainable development and counter-proliferation. We have absolutely no doubts whatever about our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, nor over the islanders’ right to develop a hydrocarbon industry within Falkland waters.

Is the Minister satisfied that there remains enough defence capability in the Royal Navy to deter Argentina from any mistaken reversal of position, going back to military adventurism, given that we now have almost as few destroyers in the Royal Navy as there are Liberal Democrat Members attending this session of Foreign Affairs questions?

I am not in charge of Liberal Democrat attendance, although it is sometimes better to have fewer rather than more.

We are confident that we have what we need to be able to maintain the security of the islands, but it is important to bear in mind that the Argentines have made it very clear, even in some of the noises off that they have been making, that they are not talking about blockading the Falklands, and they are not talking about returning to the 1980s. That should be a reassurance to us all, although of course we should never be complacent.

The Minister will be aware that the Argentine Government have introduced new permit rules for ships travelling to and from the Falkland Islands. What impact is that having on the islands, and what steps is he taking to have those permit rules lifted?

Obviously, it is for the Argentines to make whatever declarations they want to make, but they have not made it clear what will follow on from the laws that they passed a few weeks ago. So far, as I was telling the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), there has been no blockade of the islands; there has been no impact on the islands, and I very much hope that that remains the same. Frankly, no matter how much argy-bargy there is, we will always return to the principle of self-determination for the Falkland Islanders.

It is all right for the Minister to say that it is not having an impact, but there is an impact: there are threats against companies that do business in the Falklands and that want to do business there in the future. Has not the time come for the Minister or the Secretary of State to visit the Falkland Islands to show their solidarity to the people who live there?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I think that he is now the second person who has offered to send me off to the Falkland Islands during the general election campaign, but I am not sure whether he is recommending that that should happen before I submit my nomination papers.

The serious point is that I had conversations with the Argentine Foreign Secretary during the inauguration of the new President of Chile in Santiago a couple of weeks ago, and it is very clear from those conversations that the Argentines have no intention of blockading the Falklands. They do not want to talk about war. They do not want—and it would be inappropriate for any of us—to raise the temperature of the conversation that we are having. In my conversations with people from the Falklands, I have made it clear that, if they want a Minister, they can have one as soon as they want them to visit.

Will the Minister be very clear in saying that he will vigorously defend the rights of the Falkland Islanders to remain within the United Kingdom family and that they will not be used as a trade-off for oil exploration?

I do not know whether I can make it any clearer than I already have: we are absolutely certain about our sovereignty. We rest our case firmly on the United Nations principles, which state that the self-determination of the people on the islands is vital. We believe that we have stronger cards now, because the European treaties also happen to make it clear that the Falklands remain an overseas territory, as part of the United Kingdom. We are not complacent about this, but we are very determined.