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Falkland Islands Referendum

Volume 546: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2012

With permission, I wish to inform the House that the Government of the Falkland Islands announced their intention yesterday to hold a referendum on the political status of the islands. This decision, which was taken by the Falkland Islanders themselves through their elected representatives, has the full support of the British Government. The referendum will be organised by the Falkland Islands Government and will take place in the first half of 2013. Independent international observers will be invited to observe the process.

In the past, the Falkland Islanders have made it clear that they wish to remain a self-governing British overseas territory, and to continue living in the same peaceful and neighbourly manner that has characterised their long history on the islands, stretching back some nine generations. They have no interest in becoming a province of Argentina.

Regrettably, however, not everyone has been willing to accept this reality. The Argentine Defence Minister recently accused the UK military of holding the islanders as hostages, while Argentina’s ambassador to this country has claimed that the islanders would be quite happy living under Argentine rule, apparently on the basis that some of them have been on holidays to Argentina.

The islanders regularly rebut these baseless allegations and have recently embarked on an extensive campaign of public diplomacy around Latin America and more widely to ensure that their views are better known. The Foreign Office has offered extensive support to the islanders in doing so. Despite this, the Argentine Government continue either to misrepresent the views of the Falklanders or to dismiss them as irrelevant.

Elsewhere in the region, the islanders have often been surprised by the lack of understanding about their wishes and their outlook on life. It is because of this that the islanders have decided to hold a referendum to eliminate any possible doubt in the eyes of the world as to what future they want. That will provide a legal, fair and decisive means for the people of the Falkland Islands to express their views.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), who is responsible for the Falklands, is in Port Stanley today and has discussed the matter in detail with the islanders’ elected representatives. They are excited about the prospect of showing the region and, indeed, the whole world what future they want for their islands.

As the House will be aware, tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands by British forces. Events will be held both on the islands themselves and here in the UK to commemorate the extraordinary series of events that unfolded 30 years ago. We will remember all those who paid the ultimate price in defence of basic freedoms. For the Falkland Islanders, tomorrow will bring mixed emotions: thankfulness to those who fought and won; sorrow for those whose lives were lost; and anger that an attempt should ever have been made to invade their home and deny their most basic rights.

It is fitting that around the anniversary of their freedoms and rights being restored, the islanders should announce their intention to give these freedoms further expression through a referendum. In a region that advocates democracy and human rights, it is entirely appropriate that the Falkland Islanders should express this fundamental right. The principle of self-determination is a key part of the United Nations charter, as we and the islanders have repeatedly made clear and will continue to make clear.

While the current Argentine Government insist that they will seek to recover the islands only via peaceful means, their behaviour towards the islanders remains aggressive in many other ways. Argentina has placed a ban on charter flights through Argentine airspace to the islands. It has banned Falkland Islands-flagged vessels from its ports and prevented cruise ships that have visited the Falklands from docking in Argentina. It has introduced domestic legislation to penalise companies who wish to do business with the Falkland Islands. It has sent threatening letters to those engaged in the wholly legitimate business of hydrocarbons exploration around the islands, and it has recently attempted to politicise the Olympic games by screening a deeply offensive television advert showing images of an Argentine athlete training on a war memorial on the islands. Those actions, directed by the Argentine Government towards an innocent population of 3,000 people, are not the actions of a responsible power on the world stage.

While the Argentine Government have offered threats and misleading rhetoric, the islanders themselves have responded with dignity and determination. For our part, the British Government will continue to offer unequivocal support to the islanders by maintaining a defensive military posture on the islands, by supporting their growing economy, and by protecting their rights and wishes today just as we did 30 years ago.

I believe that the forthcoming referendum will provide further evidence that the islanders alone will decide their future, and that it will offer a simple but powerful expression of democracy. I hope that Argentina, and indeed all in the international community, will take note of the islanders’ freely expressed democratic views. Further details will be announced by the Falkland Islands Government in due course, and I shall keep the House informed of developments.

I commend the statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for his statement, and also for allowing me early sight of it, which was a clear indication of his natural courtesy. As he said, it has been plain to all but the most obdurate that it is the will of the Falkland Islanders to remain a self-governing British overseas territory, especially as the economic picture for the Falklands is improving, with both fishing and oil exploration prominent. He rightly highlighted the outrageous aggressive actions of the Argentine Government. Will he tell the House what action we are taking in international bodies to overcome them?

As the Minister said, the Argentine Government still quite wrongly claim that the islanders would be happy to live under Argentine rule. A referendum with international observers would put that claim to rest once and for all. Will the Minister reassure us on the clear legal authority under which the referendum will be held, and can he assure us that the conduct and the question will meet appropriate standards so that there is a clear and unequivocal outcome?

Today we also need to send a clear message of reassurance to the Falkland Islanders, and a warning to the Argentine authorities that our resolve in support of the Falkland Islands remains as firm as it was 30 years ago. Then, we faced an unprincipled and cowardly attack by the vicious Argentine military junta, an action that ultimately and fortunately led to the end of that regime. Our military responded heroically and successfully, and it is in honour of their memory as well that the House, on behalf of the country, should signal our continuing resolve. We welcome the assistance given by the Ministry of Defence to enabling veterans to attend the ceremonies in the Falklands. However, that resolve must also be backed by capability. The Minister rightly spoke of

“maintaining a defensive military posture on the islands”,

but can he reassure us that the cuts in the armed forces have not undermined our ability to deter any rash and irresponsible action? Aircraft carriers without aircraft do not send the right signal.

We greatly fear that the stepping up of the aggressive rhetoric and actions of the Argentines which the Minister described is part of a wider campaign by an Administration who face considerable domestic problems. That pattern, unfortunately, is not unprecedented in a country blessed with great resources, fine people and, too often, dysfunctional politics.

It will be no consolation to the Falkland Islanders to know that they are not alone in facing this attack. Spain is incensed by the forcible nationalisation of the Spanish stake in the oil company Repsol. We welcome the robust response from not only the Spanish Government but—as the Minister will be well aware form his portfolio—the EU foreign policy representative, Baroness Ashton, who rightly said that this created

“legal insecurity for all European Union and foreign firms in the country.”

She also said that the EU was considering “All possible options”.

Can the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place with Spain and our other EU partners on how they will ensure that the Argentine authorities uphold their international commitments and obligations? What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with Baroness Ashton about the co-ordination of the European response across international forums? Although Repsol has indicated that it plans to take its case to the World Bank arbitrations court, it is reported that Spain may also raise the issue at the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and other international bodies. What support will we be giving it in those bodies? In that context, we welcome the crucial support for Spain’s case from the United States and urge the Foreign Secretary to work closely with Secretary of State Clinton to bring this sorry episode to a successful conclusion. This issue is crucially linked to the Falklands question, because those who show cavalier disregard for the norms of international behaviour in one area will behave badly elsewhere. What will the Foreign Office be doing to make clear the link between these issues?

In conclusion, as I have said, the Minister for Europe is a thoroughly likeable and decent Minister, but the future of the Falklands is of huge concern not only to the Falkland Islanders but to this country and, frankly, this statement should have been made by the Foreign Secretary, or by the Minister with responsibility for south America, who on this important occasion is actually—and properly—in the Falklands, along with the Opposition spokesman on south America. Surely it would have been better to await his return to give a report from the ground, or to have the Foreign Secretary give the strategic overview?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his broad overall support for the statement and the Government’s policy on the Falklands and the Falkland Islanders. Thirty years ago the official position of the Labour party was to support Margaret Thatcher and her Government in standing up to Argentine aggression, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman personally represents the best of the Labour party’s patriotic tradition today. I shall chide him slightly for his final remarks, however. As I said in my statement, the timing of the announcement and the decision to hold a referendum were the responsibility of the Falklands Islands Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is on an important visit concerning vital British security interests abroad. He would have liked to have given this statement in person, but we felt—and he felt—that the correct thing to do was for Parliament to be informed as soon as possible after the Falkland Islands Government had made their announcement about the referendum that they have decided to hold. I make no apology for the fact that I have come to the House today. I fear the Opposition would have criticised the Government had we held off a statement on the referendum.

Let me try to respond to some of the more detailed points the right hon. Gentleman raised. Yes, we are confident in the legal authority of the Falkland Islands Government to carry out the referendum. We want it to be conducted to the highest possible standards, and we will be encouraging the Falkland Islands Government to look at things like our own Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 in order to see what best practice can offer. As I said in my statement, the Falklands Government, with our support, intend to invite independent foreign observers to ensure that the world can see that this election is being carried out to those high standards.

In regard to military capability, I reassure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that all our analysis tells us that we have the right mix of military assets in the Falklands and the surrounding area and, critically, that they can if necessary be reinforced rapidly. The state of our military preparedness was reviewed by senior Ministers earlier this year, and their conclusion was that the right things are being done to ensure we can defend the Falklands in the way the House would expect.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about Spain and the Repsol case. We have made our position very clear to Spain; my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did so when he met Spanish Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo a couple of weeks ago. We support its stance in protesting against Argentina’s action against Repsol, and we will continue to give Spain diplomatic support both bilaterally and in the appropriate international forums.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what representations we have made and what actions we have taken on behalf of the Falkland Islands through international bodies and more generally. We have made, and we will continue to make, all appropriate representations. For example, at the time of the controversy over access to ports in the region, we talked to Governments of other countries, particularly Chile, Brazil and Uruguay, which have all continued to allow into their ports vessels flying the red ensign. Trade is continuing normally, and countries in the region have made it clear to us that they have no wish to take part in any kind of trade boycott or blockade of the Falkland Islands.

Both Front Benchers have rightly paid tribute to the magnificent efforts of our armed services 30 years ago. Will my right hon. Friend remember something without which the Falkland Islands would not have been liberated—the steely determination and, at a time when the Conservative party was languishing at 16% in the polls, the sheer political guts of my right hon. Friend Baroness Thatcher?

I am more than happy to acknowledge the importance of the leadership shown by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of his statement. We pay tribute to all military personnel in the Falklands, including Keith Brown, who served with the Royal Marines and who is currently in the Falklands representing the Scottish Government as the Minister responsible for veterans affairs in the commemorations. We are delighted that the UK Government have recognised the right to self-determination. Will the Minister confirm that the referendum and its timing are a matter for local authorities, and that the UK Government will respect that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. It is entirely appropriate that Keith Brown, as a Falklands veteran as well as a Minister in the Scottish Government, should be present in the islands at this historic moment. I salute the bravery of Mr Brown and the bravery of his colleagues in all three armed services who fought, 255 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in that war.

I rather expected from the hon. Gentleman a question that took us slightly wider than the south Atlantic. The Falkland Islands is a British overseas territory that, under the law and constitutional arrangements governing British overseas territories, has the right to decide whether to hold a referendum and the terms of that referendum. The case of Scotland is not comparable: the United Kingdom Government is intent on facilitating a referendum, as the Scottish Government have asked, but it must take place in proper, legal form in accordance with UK law on referendums.

Tomorrow, there will be commemorations to mark the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands, including a service in Colchester for the Parachute Regiment, which excelled in that conflict. Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence announced 4,100 redundancies in the Army, Navy and Air Force. I invite Ministers to read the military history of the 20th century to see how the Government of the day performed with the nation’s defence interests.

The Falklands are not the only islands in the south Atlantic. Without Ascension Island, and without 30 years of loyal support from the citizens of St Helena—both islands are overseas territories—the Falklands could not prosper. Put all three islands together economically.

The arrangements under which the Falklands, Ascension, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands are separate overseas territories work well. I assure my hon. Friend that when the National Security Council, which includes Ministers from both coalition parties, considered the Falklands’ security and defence earlier in the year, it looked at that not just in the context of the forces stationed on the islands but in the broader context of logistics, supply and reinforcement, and took into account all the points that concern my hon. Friend.

A few weeks ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) and I were guests at the unveiling of the Falklands memorial at the national arboretum, which again brought home to us the sacrifice made by our armed forces personnel.

The Government and Parliament have been robust on the issue of self-determination, and will back it up with military might if necessary. Will the Minister ensure that the Government continue to give those strong messages so that there is no chink of light anywhere for the Argentines?

I take very seriously the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I can give him the assurance that he seeks.

Having visited the Falkland Islands, may I pay sincere tribute to the Falkland Islanders for their stoicism, patience and resilience in the face, as my right hon. Friend said, of bullying and commercial aggression from the Argentines? Will he do all that he can to persuade the Argentines and, indeed, all the countries in the region, to respect the outcome of the freely given wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands?

We shall certainly do so. It is a cause of sadness that, in an age in which democracy and human rights are part of the standard political culture in south America, the right to self-determination for the Falkland Islanders should be determinedly ignored by the Government of Argentina. We hope that they will listen and take proper account of the democratic wishes of the people of the Falklands.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the whole House is united in support of the right of the people of the Falkland Islands to remain British as long as they wish to do so, and will he make it clear to the predatory idiots in Buenos Aires that any aggressive act, whether military, diplomatic or trading, will be met by similar measures from this country? He referred to best practice in referendums, and may I remind him that not long ago, the people of Gibraltar held such a referendum? I led the supervisory team to make sure that it was totally valid, which it was. Will he tell the Spaniards to lay off Gibraltar?

We have made our views on Gibraltar clear on many occasions, and our support for the right of the people of Gibraltar to stay British remains a matter of record and firm Government policy. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is putting in a bid to visit Port Stanley as an election observer, but I welcome his support for the statement.

It is very sad that 30 years on, the Argentine Government are still sabre-rattling. Hopefully, the referendum will be the final word, demonstrating the intention of the people of the Falkland Islands to continue to be part of the United Kingdom’s overseas territories. To that end, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Inter-Parliamentary Union provides as many parliamentary observers as possible from different parts of the world so that parliamentarians from every corner of the globe can witness the fact that the referendum is carried out in a full and proper way?

My hon. Friend makes a helpful suggestion. It is indeed important that observers are present from various different countries.

As someone who has always argued for self-determination, like many of my Labour colleagues—not incidentally, a unanimous view in years gone by—may I ask whether the Minister accepts that if one believes in self-determination one should respect the view of those people in the Falklands, which is probably unanimous, who want to retain their links with Britain? That view, which no doubt will be reflected in the referendum, should be respected not just by us but by the international community at large.

This Government can be commended for their engagement with Latin America, which was marked by the Foreign Secretary’s Canning House speech in November 2010. The Minister will know that the Argentine Government’s and President Kirchner’s diplomatic campaign has been ongoing for many years. With that in mind, will he have a gentle word with his colleagues in the US State Department and remind them that their policy positions and use of language are extremely important to the persuasiveness of the British case?

As my hon. Friend knows, the position of the United States Government for many years has been that they recognise the de facto British administration of the Falkland Islands but do not take a position on sovereignty. I can assure him that the United States Administration, at the highest levels, are well aware of our position and determination regarding the Falklands, and I believe that the principle that self-determination and democratic consent are required for constitutional change is something that ought to be very appealing to American politicians and the American people.

I, too, pay tribute to our armed forces who fought so valiantly to free the Falkland Islands from Argentine occupation 30 years ago. I warmly welcome the referendum because it will send a strong signal to Argentina and the wider world on where the people of the Falkland Islands stand. We need a referendum in the Falklands, we are going to have one in Scotland, and possibly one on the EU, but the good news from Northern Ireland, where legislation requires a referendum on its future status only if it appears that there might be a majority to take it out of the United Kingdom, is that in a poll yesterday only 7% of people there, including those who traditionally describe themselves as nationalist, said that they would vote for a united Ireland, so the Union is strong and enduring as far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

The geographical dexterity of my colleagues never ceases to amaze me. In deference to the right hon. Gentleman’s seniority and distinction, I did not interrupt him, but I think we can probably leave it there.

Ten years ago I had the honour of accompanying the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) as an observer of the referendum that took place in Gibraltar, which has been very important to its subsequent development. May I endorse the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that steps should be taken to ensure that observers are available from many countries of the world so that the result of the democratically organised referendum in the Falklands can be spread far and wide and no one can argue with its result?

The Minister will know that his statement is warmly welcomed not just across the House, but throughout the United Kingdom, which stands full square behind the right of the Falkland Islands to self-determination. Will he give an assurance that not a single penny of British taxpayers’ money will go to Argentina while it adopts this aggressive position on the Falkland Islands?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House a short while ago, British taxpayers’ money is not going to Argentina through World Bank loans. Our position is that any bid by any country for a World Bank loan must be considered on a case-by-case basis, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who leads on such policy decisions, will have careful regard to the hon. Lady’s comments.

As a number of Members have mentioned, the Government of Argentina will inevitably try to portray the result of the referendum as somehow rigged. May I say, in support of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), that in addition to having representatives from Latin America look at the elections, we should focus on observers from Commonwealth countries, a large number of which have not been fully supportive of the position of the Falkland Islands, because that will send a firm, credible message to the world?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I think that it is important that, if at all possible, the observers include people from countries whose Governments have perhaps been sceptical in the way he describes.

I, too, fully stand behind the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination, and I do so as a former Minister who had responsibility for them, but I have to say that the referendum in Gibraltar changed not one whit the view of the Spanish Government and we would be extremely naive if we were to think that we would change President Kirchner’s view by having the referendum. However, there are Argentine senators and members of Parliament, including Peronists, who simply laugh at their President’s position because they know that it is there for party political advantage and nothing else. Will the Minister confirm that calm and resolute negotiations with Argentina not on the basis of our holding the Falklands, but on other matters, is a better way than sabre-rattling?

One of the great sadnesses when reflecting on the situation in the south Atlantic over the past 10 years is the change in Argentine politics. Argentina has moved from what had appeared to be a policy of gradual accommodation and reconciliation towards the much more aggressive stance that President Kirchner has taken. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the United Kingdom continues to make it clear that we want a mutually beneficial, friendly relationship with Argentina but that that will not come at the price of selling out the democratic rights of the Falkland Islanders. That remains our position.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning outright the Argentine navy’s recent attempts to intervene on, and even on occasion board, European fishing vessels operating under licence from the Falklands, which is exactly the sort of intimidation and bullying that the Falklanders have to face up to on a regular basis?

Like many Members, I have visited the Falklands—I went last November—and so particularly welcome the referendum, which will re-establish the will of the islanders. I urge the Minister to ensure that, with regard to expertise, sufficient support is giving to the Falkland Islands regional government and, in particular, the young people, who are so keen to play their part in the future of the islands and their economic development.

I certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. We will give all possible help and support to the Falkland Islands Government in their preparations for the referendum. She makes a good point about the young people of the Falkland Islands. Tomorrow the President of Argentina is due to appear before the United Nations special committee on decolonisation. I understand that the Falkland Islands legislators who will represent the views of the islanders at that meeting will bring with them some of the young men and women from the Falklands who can make it clear that they, too, see themselves as British and wish to remain so.

It is enormously welcome that the Falkland Islanders will decide by referendum whether to govern themselves. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Chancellor that the time is coming for us to follow their example?

When Europe is facing an existential economic crisis, this is not the time to talk about a referendum on our membership of the EU.

I thank the Minister for his commitment to a referendum for the people of the Falklands. Oil has recently been discovered off the Falkland Islands. Will he assure the House that full protection will be given to any of the companies exploring for oil, that the benefit of any oil revenue will go to the people of the Falkland Islands and that any aggression from Argentina will be seen off?

The revenues from any successful oil and gas development will indeed accrue to the Falkland Islands Government. They have voluntarily said that they would want to share some of that revenue with the United Kingdom to offset the cost of our defence expenditure towards the islands. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will do everything necessary to protect the legal right of the Falkland Islands to continue with hydrocarbon development.

Almost 10 years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the Falkland Islands, somewhat unusually on my honeymoon, so they hold a very special place in my heart—I am still married. I was struck by the dignity and pride of the islanders during my visit. In relation to the referendum, which I welcome, can my right hon. Friend give any more clarity on its terms, particularly who will be eligible to vote, because that might have an impact on its legitimacy across international boundaries?

It will ultimately be a matter for the Falkland Islands Government to determine. Our working assumption of the most likely arrangement is that those people who are on the current electoral roll of the Falkland Islands, about 1,500 people, will be the ones entitled to vote, but as I say it is a matter for the Falkland Islands Government.

I have been fortunate enough to visit the Falkland Islands twice, most recently with the Defence Committee, and this House should commend the Falkland Islanders on the huge commitment and support that they give on an ongoing basis, generously and freely to veterans who served in the Falklands, whom they continue to welcome back and to host in the most amazing way. But we also met the chamber of commerce, with which I have had ongoing communication, and it is still having difficulties with Latin American countries blocking trade, transport and tourism. Will the Minister continue to look at that and ensure that international monitors from Latin America visit so that they can see that the rhetoric from Argentina is not having any impact and does not represent the view of the Falkland Islanders?

Having Latin American monitors is a sensible and creative idea, and, if the hon. Lady would like to share with my Department the particular instances that she knows about in terms of the obstruction of trade and so on, we will be happy to look into it further.

May I congratulate this House on sending a firm message about how important the Falkland Islands are? May I also suggest that in the future White Paper on the British dependent territories my right hon. Friend considers offering them an opportunity to vote for a Member of the House of Lords, when it is eventually reformed, so that whether to Spain or to Argentina we can send the very clear message, “Hands off the British dependent territories”?

That is certainly an innovative idea, which I shall draw to the attention of the Deputy Prime Minister.

I welcome the fact that there is going to be a referendum, and I am confident that the people of the Falkland Islands will want to remain British—and I am proud of that, too. This country’s reserve forces have played a significant role in providing security on the islands, and we need to pay tribute to them. Has the Minister had any dialogue—I am sure he has—with his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence about ensuring that the reserve forces are kept at a sustainable level on the Falkland Islands?

I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those members of the reserve forces who have served, and continue to serve, in defence of the Falkland Islanders, and I can assure him that there have been the conversations that he hopes for between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. He will know that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth), is sitting beside me on the Government Front Bench, and the reserve forces will certainly continue to play an important role in the defence of the islands.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the President of Argentina should respect the principle of self-determination as a fundamental right, honour the outcome of the referendum and turn her attention to domestic challenges, rather than continuing her aggressive posturing towards the Falkland Islands?

I hope that President Kirchner, even now, will reflect on the fact that Argentina is a signatory to the United Nations charter, article 1.2 of which talks of members developing

“friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”.

That right of self-determination applies to the people of the Falkland Islands as much as to people anywhere else.

The economy of the Falkland Islands is almost entirely reliant on the fishing of squid, and a lot of exported squid goes to Spain. What discussions is the Minister having with other EU countries and, in particular, with Spain about keeping such trade channels open, despite the pressure from the Argentine Government?

So far as I am aware, all the evidence is that trade is continuing normally, despite the various pressures exerted by Argentina. Where there is evidence of interference with trade having been, or threatening to become, effective, we are always willing to intervene with the Governments concerned to ensure that we are able to explain and reassert the legal rights of the Falklanders to the resources within their waters, and to ensure that trade patterns resume as normal.

Order. We are going to have call a halt soon, because we have other business and time for that must be protected, but we will take a couple more questions, with the emphasis on brevity.

Much as we all love referendums and rightly remain absolutely committed to the principle of self-determination in the case of the Falklands, is it nevertheless part of the Government’s strategy, once these important and emotionally charged anniversaries are over, to rebuild relations with what should be a friendly democracy in Argentina?

We have never sought to shift away from a friendly and constructive relationship with Argentina, whether political or commercial. It is Argentina, under its current leadership, that has chosen to walk away from the prospect of a fruitful relationship with the United Kingdom. We will be only too willing to have the sort of warm relationship with Argentina which ought to exist, but in order to seek that we are not prepared to sacrifice or to put at risk the self-determination of the people of the Falklands.

What discussions have the Government had, specifically on the referendum, with Argentina’s neighbouring countries, many of which are becoming increasingly embarrassed by President Kirchner’s actions?

We are in frequent contact, at both official and ministerial level, with other countries in the region. Although most countries of south America support the Argentine claim to sovereignty, they also make it clear that they do not want to be participants in any trade boycott or effort to bully the people of the Falkland Islands.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Recently the Argentine Government have accused us, the British, of militarising the south Atlantic. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reason why we have strong, effective and deterrent armed forces on the Falkland Islands is that Argentina continues to make threats that might turn to military ones?