Falkland Islands

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th November 1969.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham 12:00 am, 24th November 1969

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a further statement on the Falkland Islands.

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.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

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?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

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.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the continuation of the civilised dialogue between the United Kingdom Government and the Argentine Government on this matter is very much welcomed on this side of the House?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I believe that that is so and that it is welcomed by everyone who has studied this problem and wishes the islanders well.

Photo of Mr Michael Hutchison Mr Michael Hutchison , Edinburgh South

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?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

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.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

Do I understand that future discussions with the Argentine Government will be concerned mainly with communications?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

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.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

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?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

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.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

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?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

That is going a little wide of my statement, but I will look at it.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

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?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

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.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

Since the Foreign Secretary has said that the difference between the two Governments is absolutely clear—and we welcome that—may we take it that it is fruitless further to discuss sovereignty in future talks? May we have an assurance that it will not be discussed?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

No, I do not think that it would be sensible to do that. These talks, despite a profound difference of opinion, have been conducted as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) said, in a civilised manner, and it is sensible to continue them.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Will the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that he will persuade the Secretary of State for Defence not to demobilise the territorial voluntary defence force there, where it is sadly needed, as it has been abolished in this country?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

That is a question which should be put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Following are the letters:

Letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations by Lord Caradon, United Kingdom Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

21st November, 1969.

Your Excellency, 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.

(Signed) CARADON.