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Argentina: Falkland Islands

Volume 721: debated on Monday 11 October 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Government of Argentina about statements made in the United Nations’ Special Committee on Decolonisation.

My Lords, we regard Argentina as an important partner. We have a close and productive relationship on a range of bilateral and multilateral issues, but we will not discuss the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands with Argentina unless the Falkland Islanders so wish.

The UK is not a member of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, but we regularly make clear within the UN our support for the right to self-determination of the Falkland Islanders.

My Lords, that is a most informative reply, but the noble Lord will be aware that some time ago Argentina withdrew unilaterally from the joint commissions on fishing and oil. In the light of the rather absurd statements recently made by the President of Argentina on the subject of oil exploration in Falklands’ waters and other matters, can the noble Lord say whether that represents sensible co-operation? It does not seem to me that it does.

The noble Viscount is quite right that in 1995 Argentina withdrew from the hydrocarbons co-operation declaration and subsequently withdrew from the fisheries co-operation arrangements. We can say only that it is a pity. The benefits to Argentina would be there, were it ready to co-operate, but it has shown a determination not to do so. That is Argentina’s loss.

My Lords, at the time of the Falklands invasion in 1982, the then US Administration were extremely supportive to us in terms of reconnaissance and so on. However, the current US Administration have latterly made some rather unhelpful remarks in respect of the Falklands. Have we made appropriate representations?

I can confirm that the US position has not changed, regardless of the allusions to which the noble Lord has referred. The US recognises the UK’s administration of the Falkland Islands. We are in regular touch with the US on this issue, as on many other issues. We expect that dialogue to continue.

Does the Minister agree that the UN decolonisation committee is normally concerned with the liberation of subjugated peoples rather than the transfer of ownership of islands that are largely uninhabited and are liable to be uninhabitable for a long time to come? Surely the role of the British Government at this time, nearly 30 years after the cessation of hostilities, should be to try to achieve a decree of reconciliation between the megaphone diplomacy of the Kirchner Government and the obduracy of many of the islands’ elected councillors, who do not seem to realise that they live in a world in which their nearest neighbour could be a friend rather than a source of hostility?

Except on the question of the Falkland Islands and its right to self determination, which I am sure that the noble Lord would not be against, we wish with Argentina—an important country and a member of the G20—to establish better relationships. But it is very hard if all the time the counterpropositions and withdrawal of co-operation we have described occur. The noble Lord is touching on a relevant point as regards the decolonisation committee, which is rather outdated and full of language about colonies, British imperialism and so on. We have moved far away from that because the Falklands Islands is a self-governing overseas territory under the British Crown and that is what it remains.

My Lords, will my noble friend explain his views on why 12 Commonwealth countries supported the Argentines in the UN committee? Is that not a source of some regret to us?

It is always a pity when there is not full agreement, particularly among our fellow Commonwealth members with whom we operate closely on many issues. But they have their point of view, to which they are perfectly entitled. The debate goes on, but it is not a binding debate as no binding resolutions are involved. I expect that the debate will continue, particularly among not so much Commonwealth countries but other Latin American countries.

My Lords, the Minister makes the point that Argentina is an important partner. When last did the Government seek to re-engage with Argentina, particularly on the outstanding fishery and oil issues, which clearly are of importance? When, equally, has the Foreign Office sought to ensure that our position as a country is understood throughout the rest of Latin America with our Latin American allies?

I mentioned the difficulty of getting co-operation, which we certainly have on offer, over the two items that the noble Lord mentions. But on other things we are engaged. We are dealing with Argentina as an important country, which, incidentally, is a very beautiful country and is, potentially, a country of great wealth and prosperity. We are dealing with it on science, mining, education and energy. This is a very positive agenda, which we welcome. But on these difficult issues involving the Falkland Islands, we have seen the non-co-operation which we deplore and we would like to see it replaced by active co-operation.

My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who appeared before the decolonisation committee many times in the 1970s, defending the World Bank’s position that it could not lend money to the PLO because it was not a sovereign state. Does the Minister agree that the empty-chair policy is not very enlightened? As we have heard, many Commonwealth countries are members of that committee. Would it not be appropriate for at least the United Kingdom to be present?

The noble Lord obviously has considerable experience on this issue. If he is talking about the decolonisation committee, I am not sure that we are even entitled to be on it. Two members of the Falkland Islands Government have a place on that committee and have made their views clear. I am not sure that those views prevail or are the majority view, but they have made them very clear indeed; namely, that Falkland Islanders do not wish to end their present status. They wish to remain as they are. That is the right approach. If the noble Lord is talking about another committee, perhaps I should have a word with him afterwards about that.