Last Friday, letters were sent by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Caradon and by the Argentine representative to the United Nations, to the Secretary-General. The letters were published late that day.
The text of my right hon. and noble Friend's letter—and a translation of the other letter—have been placed in the Library, and are being circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The letters state that the two Governments have continued negotiations and that, although divergence remains, special talks will begin early next year to promote free communications and movement in both directions between the mainland and the islands. Her Majesty's Government's position on the central question remains unchanged.
I believe that the House will regard this as a welcome development.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are very grateful for the statement he has made? I am glad that direct communications look like being eased between the islands and the mainland, but, in connection with communications, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has given consideration to the possibility of an air link between the islands and Chile, which, I believe, is more important?
Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we accept the assurance he has given this afternoon, and often repeated before, on what he described as the central question, but if the Argentine continues to want sovereignty and the Falkland islanders want to retain connection with Great Britain will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he is optimistic about what I think the letters describe as a definitive solution of the problem?
On the last point, I really cannot say what the prospects are for a definitive solution. At present, we have made our attitude on this quite clear and the Argentine Government have made theirs clear. As the recent letters say, the divergence remains and I think that we must leave it there.
On the question of an air link with Chile, there is, of course, at present no airfield in the Falklands, but an airfield feasibility study was carried out by experts of the Board of Trade this year for the islands and their report is under study.
Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that the best way of improving communications is the establishment of an airfield in the Falklands? Can he press forward with this? Secondly, if he wants a solution to this problem of the Argentine, is not the best way to terminate the talks once and for all?
I think not, because this present development, although modest, is a welcome development and we would not have got it if we had terminated the talks. As I said, the airfield feasibility study is now under study.
No, Sir. That is not exactly the position. For some time we have been continuing discussions with the Argentine on the whole issue, including what I call the central issue, but now, within the framework of those negotiations, there will be these special talks which will be concerned solely with the promotion of communications and movement.
The Secretary of State will, I think, agree that all Argentine comment has been that they have been interested only, and are interested only, in the talks in communications with the idea that improved communications will ultimately lead to a change of heart by the Falkland islanders. Can the right hon. Gentleman say, in view of the comment which has appeared in British newspapers, whether he shares the hope of that objective, or the contrary?
That is a point of view which anyone can take if he likes. What I am concerned with is immediate policy. It would be quite foolish if, because the Argentine Government held that view, although that is possible, therefore we ought to try to prevent communications being improved.
In the airfield feasibility study, could consideration be given in cost calculations to the possibility of a project for military aid to the civil community which in some way would reduce the direct cost to the Treasury?
While I welcome the talks on communications, can the right hon. Gentleman say, since the letters refer to a dispute over sovereignty, whether the Government have ever formally abandoned the position adopted by our representative at the United Nations on 18th September, 1964, when he said that the Government could not contemplate discussions with the Argentine on the question of sovereignty?
I do not recollect that exact statement, but clearly we have abandoned that because we are negotiating in these discussions, but throughout the discussions we have made quite clear what our view is.
I have the honour to address you in connection with the question of the Falkland Islands.
Following my letter of the 19th of December, 1968, to Your Excellency, the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have continued negotiations with the Government of the Argentine Republic with the common objective of settling as soon as possible the dispute concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in a definitive and amicable manner, taking duly into account the interests of the inhabitants of the Islands, in accordance with Resolution 2065 (XX) and the consensuses adopted by the General Assembly on 20th of December, 1966, and 19th of December, 1967.
I now have to inform you that, although divergence remains between the two Governments regarding the circumstances that should exist for a definitive solution of the dispute, it has been agreed that, within the general framework of these negotiations, special talks with a view to reaching agreement on practical measures for the implementation and promotion of free communications and movement in both directions between the mainland and the Islands, will take place early next year at a mutually convenient time.
Both Governments will continue their efforts towards a definitive solution of the dispute and will report again to Your Excellency in due course.
On behalf of my Government, I request Your Excellency arrange for this letter to be circulated as a document of the General Assembly.