Falkland Islands - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 4th April 2022.

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Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A, Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A 2:36 pm, 4th April 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what their policy is towards the future of the Falkland Islands; and whether their policy will be determined by the views and wishes of the Falkland Islanders.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the future of the Falkland Islands is one that only the people of the Falkland Islands should decide. The United Kingdom’s relationship with the Falkland Islands and the rest of the UK overseas territories is a modern one, based on partnership, shared values and the right of the people to determine their own future. As evidenced by the overwhelming result of the 2013 referendum, the people of the Falkland Islands wish to retain their status as a self-governing UK overseas territory. The UK will always support the Falkland Islanders.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A, Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Should we not now recall the conflict of 1982 and, above all, the 253 British personnel who gave their lives on that occasion, including 22 from HMS “Ardent”, commanded by the then Commander Alan West?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, in this poignant anniversary year we will continue to defend the Falkland Islanders’ democratic rights and celebrate the modern and diverse community they have built. We remember all those who lost their lives in the conflict, and those still affected to this day. These memories are an important reminder of the long shadow the conflict casts and we remain committed to working with veterans’ organisations on both sides.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for his kind words. Forty years ago this week, a task force sailed to the South Atlantic. Within about 12 weeks, it had managed to expel the Argentine forces, capture the others and retake the islands. It was an incredible military achievement, even though it was nip and tuck at times. The message that had been given to the Argentines by cuts to our defence forces made them think they could do something—and we could do this only because we had not yet made the planned cuts. In the context of what is going on in Ukraine, we can see that oppressive, dictatorial regimes that invade close neighbours take note of defence forces. Will the Minister go back to Cabinet and point out that it is not Ukraine’s health or social services that are keeping the people going in their bravery; it is their military forces? Nothing extra has yet been spent on our Armed Forces and, in the final analysis, no matter how good all the other things are in your country, if you do not have those then I am afraid you suffer.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. It is worth saying, as many have said in the past few weeks, that the bravery being shown by the people of Ukraine, playing out day after day, is staggering. I am pleased also that one thing that has enabled Ukraine to achieve what we hope is success—it is hard to know exactly what is going on—is the contributions made by this Government. That point was made emphatically yesterday by Ukraine’s President. On the Falkland Islands specifically, as noble Lords would expect, we conduct regular assessments of any military threats to the Falklands on a routine basis. We are always aware of the need to retain appropriate levels of defensive capabilities.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I agree with noble Lords that this is the appropriate time to honour the 255 British deaths, the 649 Argentinian deaths and the three Falkland Islanders who also died during the conflict. But, as the noble Lord has rightly indicated, we need to be very wary. Has the Minister seen the article by the Argentinian Foreign Minister stating that, although they wish to maintain good, strong diplomatic and trading relationships, they were seeking to make linkage between sovereignty of people who are in the Falkland Islands and our relationship, going forward. Will the Minister put on record that we will not link the sovereignty and the choice of those people with the good relations we wish to seek to have with Argentina?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I did see the op-ed, and obviously that has been shared around the FCDO and Government. But the reality is that this is not a bilateral issue between the UK—or, indeed, anyone—to be negotiated between our two countries. This is about the islanders’ wishes, and those wishes are paramount.

I mentioned in my opening remarks the referendum: I cannot think of a single referendum in the history of referenda where the result has been as emphatic, with nearly 100% turnout and nearly 100% support. It is very clear what the Falkland Islanders want, and it is our duty to ensure that that is what they get.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I endorse that entirely. Should we not take this opportunity to salute the memory of three exemplary parliamentarians: the Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, for the courageous leadership she gave; Michael Foot, Leader of the Opposition, for ensuring that the other place was as united as possible by his support for the task force; and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who adorned this House for so long and whose resignation was one of the most honourable in British history?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am very, very happy to enthusiastically echo and support those remarks. I particularly point to the support that Margaret Thatcher received from the Opposition at the time, which made all the difference. It really showed the importance of politicians speaking with one voice in the face of an obvious and unambiguous threat.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the heroic efforts of the military forces, and other noble Lords have mentioned that, but Help for Heroes recently warned that, 40 years on, many veterans of the Falklands War are still suffering from mental health problems resulting from their involvement in the conflict. Could the Minister tell us what the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office actions have been in support of the Government’s veterans strategy action plan—could we have a little bit more detail?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Lord can certainly have more detail, but I am going to have to follow up this discussion with a letter providing that detail—not least since most of the actions that are taken in relation to our veterans, whether from the Falklands or elsewhere, are the responsibility of other departments.

Photo of Lord McDonald of Salford Lord McDonald of Salford Crossbench

In the 40 years since the victory in the South Atlantic, the UK has monitored the state of preparedness of Argentinian forces much more closely. Could the Minister please tell the House when was the last time Her Majesty’s Government reviewed the state of preparedness of British forces in the Falkland Islands in reaction to that changed threat—and, if he cannot tell us, could he please write?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I cannot provide a date, but I can say that the MoD conducts routine and regular assessments of any threats to the Falklands and it is our policy that we must retain appropriate levels of defensive capabilities at all times. To my knowledge, that is the case: that is certainly the position of the Government.

Photo of Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Conservative

My Lords, I very much welcome the Minister’s confirmation that the wishes of local people should be paramount in determining the future of the Falkland Islands. Is this a principle that we should extend more widely so that, in territorial disputes across Africa, Asia and elsewhere, we try and give paramountcy to what local people want? That is not to say other claims are meaningless—that geography and history have no force—but that the world would be a better place if people lived in units where they felt enough in common one with another to accept government from each other’s hands?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I strongly agree with the noble Lord. I think that the position of the UK Government, and our historic position, in relation to countries that are part of our family is a model for the world to follow. Where those arrangements are based on genuine consent, I think the relationship will always be a happier one. It is a model that many other countries would do well to learn from.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, individual overseas territories have differing needs. Nevertheless, there are similarities, which the Minister, along with others who have contributed today, has identified in his remarks. But what is the status of the current negotiations regarding Gibraltar between the Governments of the United Kingdom, Spain and Gibraltar, and the European Union? If there is an agreement, will it need to be ratified by the respective legislatures?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his question; I will follow up with a letter. This issue is obviously associated with but not directly relevant to this Question. I am confident that an update will be provided in due course, but I just cannot tell him when.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, do the Minister’s remarks about the prevalence and importance of local people also apply to the future of Hong Kong?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I think I caught the first part of the question; it was a follow-up to the noble Lord’s question about local democracy. The reality is that Hong Kong is in a very difficult position, under the control of a gigantic state whose intentions towards the people of Hong Kong appear less than benign. It is the view of the British Government, as it is my view, that local democracy should prevail and that countries, or even regions, should be able to determine their own future in the way that our policy applies to the Falkland Islands—but it is not something that is entirely in our control.