Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
Sir Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown): I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate the Falklands, and I count myself fortunate that I was able to visit the islands in January this year. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) and I received an extremely warm and friendly welcome, and it is a trip which I am certain neither of us will ever forget.
The first thing that strikes one about the islands is the remarkably strong British character which runs through the way of life of the islanders and their approach to international and national affairs. The population of about 2,200 is almost exclusively British, and many inhabitants are fifth and sixth generation islanders. From 1883, there was uninterrupted British administration until the 1982 invasion by Argentina.
The invasion left very deep scars, and it is clear that the people of the islands will never forget that 250 British service men gave their lives for their freedom. There is a deep distrust of Argentina among the islanders. After all, Argentina is still making public claims on the Falklands. Only a few months ago, President Menem said:
"The Malvinas will be ours by the end of the century." The people of the islands do not want any formal relations with Argentina until it has given up its claims of sovereignty for all time.
The people of the Falklands fully understand the commitment of the Government and this Parliament to their defence. Indeed, the islands provide a magnificent opportunity for training Her Majesty's forces, particularly the RAF. I attended one meeting with some farmers at which the low-flying Tornado aircraft were discussed. The farmers were asked what they thought about the Tornados zooming all over the islands at ground zero and making a lot of noise. One of them got up and said, "Thank God for the sound of freedom." That lesson might go home to one or two people in this country who whinge and moan about the low-flying training which the RAF must do if it is to maintain the peak of efficiency that we require from our armed forces. During the visit of myself and the hon. Member for Woolwich to the islands, we were also involved in a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference of a group of dependent territories, including the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Malta, the Channel Islands and St. Helena. I dare not let this debate go by without mentioning St. Helena, because the representative from that country effectively presented his case for an airstrip on the island.
Column 264I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will make note of that, and perhaps it will not be long before that little island has an airstrip, as it is totally cut off at present.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): My hon. Friend is wrong to say that St. Helena is totally cut off because it has the excellent services of the Royal Mail ship St. Helena which, I am proud to say, is operated from my constituency by the Curnow shipping company. St. Helena is not totally cut off, although the case for an airstrip is overwhelming.
Sir Andrew Bowden: I am delighted to hear that the ship is in operation. I believe that there were considerable troubles with it. That is in no way the responsibility of my hon. Friend or anyone in his constituency. There is also a need for an airstrip on the island.
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham): I support the hon. Gentleman because the Government have a role to play in the matter and they are not playing it. The St. Helenians wanted a shuttle ship from St. Helena to Ascension so that they could have a more frequent service than once every seven weeks. The Government killed that. They were looking for a service. They gave a lame excuse for not finding one and now nothing will be done for two years. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will press the Minister to do something about it and ensure that St. Helena has a little more communication with the outside world.
Sir Andrew Bowden: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment at the appropriate time on what the hon. Gentleman has said. I shall return, before I land myself in trouble with you, Madam Speaker, to the Falkland Islands.
The economy of the islands is making steady progress. The islands have been self-sufficient economically since 1983. That excludes defence. There have been massive improvements in the
infrastructure--airports and roads--in the past 10 years.
The fishing industry now brings the islands an income of £25 million a year. I was encouraged by the responsible way in which that fishing industry is run. Of that £25 million, between £4 million and £5 million goes on research and protection. Those who are issued with licences operate under strict terms and conditions. The islanders understand that they would be crazy to fish those waters out and, therefore, that the stocks must be carefully managed and husbanded. There are mixed feelings on the island about oil. Seismic testing has been done on an extensive basis. It is possible that test drilling will take place towards the end of this year or early in 1996. One can understand why the islanders are ambivalent about whether they want oil to be found or not. Clearly, if it is found in large quantities, it will bring massive wealth to the islands. But it will change them in a fundamental way. The type of living and society that they have had will inevitably be fundamentally changed. If oil is found we can safely say that their security will be protected in perpetuity.
Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford): Does my hon. Friend agree that if oil is found in the Falkland Islands, which is likely, it will bring a whole set of new pressures on the Falkland Islands in relation to Argentina? Does he accept that it is therefore to be wished that the relationship between Argentina and the Falkland Islands will be
Column 265normalised before oil is found so that Argentina might be able to have some hand in the exploration, but that that can be done only when the Argentine regime withdraws its claim to the Falkland Islands?
Sir Andrew Bowden: I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. As he is aware, there are contacts with the Argentine Government on both oil and fisheries. The islanders say that they do not want formal relations until the Argentines have accepted categorically that they have no case for sovereignty over the islands.
There is an exciting future for the islands, but they face many problems. Some colleagues may have read the memoirs of Admiral Sandy Woodward, who was the commander of the South Atlantic force. He used the following words:
"Those who die in battle always pay too high a price but in the South Atlantic as in so many other wars they died for the ideas we stand for."
The islanders are intensely loyal to the British Crown. They want only to live in peace and freedom in the country of their birth. 10.14 am
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge): I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Sir A. Bowden), who has told us this morning about his recent visit to the islands together with the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker). The House is indebted to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The debate should be a signal to our fellow British citizens in the Falkland Islands that, although they are far away, their interests are never far from our thoughts in the House.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown, I have visited the Falkland Islands. My first visit was with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 1981. I visited again after the conflict when the islands were celebrating 150 years of continuous British administration. I went there again two years ago at the invitation of the Falkland Islands Government. I know how important it is to Falkland islanders to see and hear their interests debated on the Floor of the House.
On this second wonderful day of our British spring, the signal should go out to the islanders, from Stanley in the east to Port Howard in the west, from Salvador to Goose Green and to the remotest parts of the great plain of Lafonia, that the House is thinking about the Falkland Islands and debating their interests today.
I speak in the debate as chairman of the Falkland Islands group of the CPA. I shall concentrate my remarks on future relations between the islands and the Argentine republic. I do so because I believe that good relations with Argentina are important to the future of the people of that country as well as to the islanders.
If I look ahead to the future--to the next century, which is such a short time away--I see Argentina as a major player on the world stage. It is a major trading partner with the United Kingdom and the European Union which desires to export its goods to Europe and import many important finished products from Europe. Those developments can take place successfully only if Argentina's preoccupation with the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is put on the back burner and preferably dropped altogether. If, instead of pursuing territorial
Column 266claims to a group of islanders, Argentina concentrates on good international relations and on trade and friendship, that will be the way forward for Argentina, the Falkland islanders and the British. I want to make some comments today which I hope will contribute to that process. Some of them are difficult, but they need to be said and said on the Floor of the House.
First, I hope that Argentina will recognise that there cannot be any basis for negotiations with the United Kingdom which will lead to the transfer of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands to Argentina. Much of the Argentine case for sovereignty rests on its claim that it inherited the rights which Spain abandoned. Those rights are held to be based on the papal grants of 1493 and 1494, in which Spain claimed dominion over all south America except parts occupied by Portugal. The sheer generality of such claims weakens their validity. When Spain withdrew its settlement on east Falkland in 1811, it left for all time. It has never assumed any on-going rights to the islands. A second argument that Argentina uses is based on geographical location. That would be valid only if the Falkland Islands were inhabited now or had been inhabited without continuous administration by a resident power.
In any event, mere proximity--in this case about 300 miles--would embarrass many countries, including the United Kingdom, if it were to be considered as the basis for ownership. Nor can it be argued that the islands are a symbol of British colonialism and that they should be decolonised, if that implies land taken from a native people, as that was never the case in the Falkland Islands and there was no indigenous population.
Moreover, any idea that the United Kingdom should agree to the effective transfer of sovereignty on the basis that the Falkland Islands would become an integral part of the Argentine republic, perhaps retaining its membership of the British Commonwealth, even with the supposed benefits of special status, cannot be a realistic proposition. That kind of on-going charm offensive, as it is called in the Falkland Islands, by Argentina is making it very difficult to make the progress that we all want in good relations with that huge country, which occupies so much of the south American continent. In some quarters, the suggestion of an autonomous status for the islands has been mooted, with special taxation and education regimes, with respect to special residence and property rights. Again I think that that is unrealistic. Any idea that may have taken root in Argentina of its flag flying in the Falkland Islands can lead only to further difficulties in what is a sensitive and difficult relationship and should not be pursued. From my knowledge of the islanders, they are not likely to give favourable consideration to any plans that Argentina may have for proposing financial compensation to each islander and property owner to persuade them to accept the transfer of sovereignty. Their sovereignty and British citizenship, which the House confirmed only a few years ago, are more valuable than any financial compensation that Argentina could offer and it is important for the Argentine Government to recognise that fact and give up their sovereignty claim, so that relations can develop and blossom in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect.
Column 267Argentina is a big country and has a big man as its president. I hope that President Carlos Menem, his Government and the citizens of Argentina, many of whom derive their origins from this country and notably from Wales, will be big enough to give up their claim and to pursue the huge advantages of trade, not only with the Falklands but with our country and the rest of the European Union.
Let there be no doubt about it, the House will never forget the people of the Falkland Islands--our fellow British citizens 8,000 miles away, many of whom I dare say are listening to my words at this very moment. They are the people not of an old-style British colony, but of a self-governing country, and they have the right to determine their future. They will do so in two ways: by maintaining their sturdy independence, and by developing good relations with their south American neighbours by pursuing joint exploration of hydrocarbon deposits and co-operation on activities such as fishing. I say to Argentina, "Make 1995 the year to be the big country that you are and forget the claim, based on understandable emotion and feeling but rooted in the past, which offers little hope for the future."
I share the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown for the young British service men and women involved in the task force operation, but I also think of the Argentine war cemetery on the Falkland Islands, which I have seen on a number of occasions. I think of their young men who gave their lives for what they believed at the time to be right. Five hundred young men are buried in the islands and our country and the Argentine republic owe them a debt. We have a responsibility to them to find a better way of resolving our differences of opinion and of working together and finding a new future, which will be to the benefit of both countries. I very much hope that that will be possible in 1995, and that any thoughts of a transfer of sovereignty by 2000 will be banished for ever. 10.25 am
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich): The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Sir A. Bowden) referred to the visit that he and I made as representatives of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and I should add that, although that was a long trip--an 18-hour journey in a TriStar with a slight delay at Ascension--it took place at the end of January and the delegate from St. Helena had to leave there on Christmas eve, which demonstrates the communication problems that that island suffers, so I endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I welcome the opportunity that this debate affords to put the Falkland Islands back on the public agenda. I hope that the debate will give some reassurance to the people of those islands. Many of the islanders whom I met considered it unfortunate that they have been viewed in some quarters as a Tory trophy and I hope that the debate will provide a different perspective.
I appreciate why the islanders feel insecure. Many were led to believe by the noises that they were hearing from British Ministers, even before the invasion in 1982, that Britain was prepared to negotiate with Argentina on sovereignty. That insecurity was undoubtedly heightened by the visit in 1980 of Mrs. Thatcher's most trusted ally, Nicholas Ridley. Many people in the islands believed that the signals given out at the time encouraged the Argentine invasion, or at least led Argentina to believe that British resistance would not be as robust as it was.
Column 268British Governments successively failed to ensure political or economic development and progress for the islands before the invasion. In 1975, under a Labour Government, my noble Friend Lord Callaghan asked Lord Shackleton to carry out an economic survey of the islands. Important though that survey was, regrettably little action was taken to implement the recommendations. Had they been implemented, it is at least conceivable, and I believe likely, that the Argentine invasion would not have taken place.
Dr. Marek: I hope that my hon. Friend will not forget that, under a Labour Government in the 1970s, when invasion was threatened the Foreign Office took immediate advance action and there was no invasion. It was only under the Conservative Government in 1982 that, because of cost cutting and efficiency savings, HMS Endurance was withdrawn, allowing the invasion to take place. Does he agree that some Governments have looked after the islands' safety and economic development?
Mr. Austin-Walker: My hon. Friend has a valid point. The concern shown by the Callaghan Government can be identified from the Shackleton report. Its recommendations involved changes in agriculture, including land ownership, the establishment of a fishing industry, to which the hon. Member for Kemptown referred, and investigations into hydrocarbon development and tourism. Shackleton also recommended, among other things, improving communications by building a suitable airport and facilities.
It is true that the islands never featured high on the British agenda and that there was a general impression abroad that Britain saw them as an economic drain. Ridley's visit in 1980 confirmed that view. Indeed, the Government deprived many Falkland islanders of their rights of access to British citizenship by introducing the British Nationality Act 1991. By the time that Argentina invaded in 1982, six years after Shackleton's report, hardly any of the recommendations had been implemented and the economy was in decline. The position was made much worse by the subsequent conflict, which destroyed much of the infrastructure of Stanley, including the power supply and sewerage system, but since the invasion and liberation, the islands' economy has been dramatically transformed. The Shackleton report was updated and most of its recommendations have been implemented.
Some people have referred to the Falkland Islands at that time not as a dependent territory but rather a private company characterised by absentee landlords. That was certainly the case before the invasion. One of the most beneficial changes post conflict has been the transfer of agricultural land from expatriate landlords to local ownership, and 99 per cent. of all farms are now in island ownership. It may be of interest to some of my hon. Friends to know that the Falkland Islands Government own a third of farm land, farmed through the publicly owned Falkland Landholdings company. Agriculture has been diversified, and there is now some meat production.
It is worth noting that, although British service personnel can visit Stanley or Camp and dine on superb local mutton, they cannot eat it on base as no abattoir meets European Union standards or Ministry of Defence requirements. The forces do not appear to have suffered ill effects from eating local produce off base, and I see no reason why the island cannot help to feed the forces on
Column 269base. Perhaps some investment in upgrading the abattoir would be of mutual benefit to the armed forces and the UK economy, as well as the islands' economy.
Perhaps the most significant change in the economy is the development of the fishing industry. The establishment of a 200-mile limit and the creation of a fisheries conservation zone and a licensing system to control the level of fishing and conserve stocks have been of enormous success, producing a net income of some £15 million a year. We should pay tribute to the Falkland Islands Government on their success in conserving fish stocks and their policy of protecting wildlife in general.
Other hon. Members have referred to major improvements in the infrastructure, not only the international airport at Mount Pleasant but the development of adequate power and water supplies and good educational and medical facilities, which did not exist before the invasion. I pay tribute to staff at the King Edward hospital in Stanley and was pleased to note their close links with the Queen Elizabeth military hospital in Woolwich.
Naturally, the islanders become nervous when Britain talks about the cost of maintaining the Falklands, but we do not take into account the millions of pounds that were repatriated from the islands to the United Kingdom by absentee landlords. Far from being a drain on our resources, the islands have been more than self-sufficient for most of their history. Since the conflict, great strides have been made in economic and political development and it is appropriate to pay tribute to the elected members of the legislative council. "Dependent territory" may be the Falklands' legal status, but the islands are effectively and essentially a self-governing and self-sufficient democracy. Not only is their economy in surplus but, by a policy of transferring revenue to the reserves, they now have reserve funds of some £67 million.
There are arguments about the cost of maintaining what has been termed "fortress Falklands" and the garrison. I have seen estimates of £60 million to £70 million but those figures do not take into account what it would cost to maintain that force anywhere else in the world. No one, on either Front Bench, would suggest that, if Britain withdrew from the Falklands, the services would be reduced by the size of the present garrison. It is there to protect and give security to the islands but also to serve Britain's wider strategic interest in the Antarctic and the southern Atlantic. The real additional cost of having forces in the Falklands rather than elsewhere in the world is probably nearer to £20 million, and the Falkland Islands Government already contribute to that cost in a number of ways, including by providing housing and recreational facilities and subsidised internal travel for the forces. However, so long as the Argentine Government maintain their bogus claim to sovereignty, the islanders will wish to have a continued British military presence. Discussions and negotiations must be held with Argentina. The Falkland islanders recognise their geographical location and their need for economic and political relations with their neighbours. They have developed such relationships with Chile, to their mutual advantage. The islanders need to talk to Argentina about fish stocks, conservation, possible oil exploration, and
Column 270economic co-operation in the region, but such talks cannot progress satisfactorily so long as Argentina claims sovereignty over the islands.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) set the historical claim in context. The Falkland islanders are not some oppressed and subject people under the heel of a military dictatorship; they are a free people who have openly declared their desire to move towards even greater self-government with the goal of secure independence. The islands are not some colonial territory where natives have been killed, expelled or oppressed. There was no indigenous population as the islands were uninhabited. Between the mid- 18th century and 1831, there were successive British, Spanish and French settlements but, as other hon. Members have said, since 1831 there has been continual British administration, with the exception of the invasion in 1982. The islands have never been part of Argentina and the current population is almost entirely of British descent, some of it eighth generation.
The fact that the Falklands did not have an indigenous population is in marked contrast to Argentina, where the original tribes were slaughtered by European settlers in an act of deliberate genocide. The islanders are right to query the Argentine philosophy, which suggests that killing the local population provides more secure territorial rights than settling empty islands. The right of self-determination for the Falkland islanders is a valid objective that deserves British and international support.
Finally, I shall raise some issues on which I may be at variance with the Falkland Islands Government. While I appreciate their desire to encourage tourism, I fear that the encouragement of tourism may serve to destroy the very thing that tourists will want to see: some of the most wonderful wildlife anywhere in the world. I am also concerned about oil exploration. I appreciate the islanders' nervousness about fish stocks and fluctuations in income from that source, but in addition to the two distinct squid stocks serving markets in Europe and the far east, they have an opportunity to develop the fin-fishing industry, with its own fishing fleets from the Falkland Islands, and possibly develop processing so that the islanders can benefit from added value.
Given the islanders' concerns about the fragility of fish stocks, the fall in wool prices, and defence costs, it is natural that they should regard oil as their salvation. I am concerned that further oil developments will threaten climate change. The burning of oil contributes 44 per cent. of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. The framework convention on climate change signed in 1992 by 160 Governments, which became law in the UK in 1994, commits Governments to reducing carbon dioxide to a level that does not threaten eco-systems or the viability of food supplies. The Spring ozone hole discovered in 1985 has continued to grow and is now a huge eclipse extending over the entire continent of Antarctica and the southern tip of south America.
Now is not the time to search for additional oil supplies in the world. Particular problems exist with oil exploration in the south Atlantic. The Falkland Islands are a major wildlife area with a rich variety of endemic species, flightless birds, seals, fish, whales and dolphins, all of which could be threatened by oil exploration activities, including seismic testing. Other problems are extreme weather and depth of water, stretching the limits of both technology and logistics. In such remote situations, operators will probably pay only lip service to
Column 271conservation measures and, because of climatic conditions, any oil spills or operational accidents will take decades to degrade and could wipe out sensitive species.
I realise that the islands are as far from the south pole as London is from the north pole and that the oil rigs off Shetland are much closer to the northern polar region than the Falkland Islands are to the Antarctic. But the Antarctic is the only unspoilt continent and although the Falklands and south America are outside the world park, does it make sense for oil rigs to mark the limits of that world park? I am aware that the wildlife of the islands is as much threatened by risks from oil tankers rounding the Horn, but we should look to other ways of progressing. With their wind and their ocean, targeted investment into research, and development of renewable energy supplies, the islands could become self-sufficient in energy and world leaders in creating a sustainable and affluent economy. Perhaps those countries that have oil reserves should be financed by the rest of the international community not to exploit those reserves.
Whether the Falkland Islands Government take my view on oil exploration or not; whether they opt to exploit that oil or not; they have the right to live at peace with their neighbours, to determine their own future and to determine and pursue their own democratic way of life.
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) and to congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Sir A. Bowden) on securing the debate. It is timely, because we have not had a debate on the Falklands for some while.
I remember vividly that Friday in April 1982 when the invasion took place. I was in the television studios of Grampian in Aberdeen when the news came through. At first, we could not believe it because it was so utterly incredible. At that time, I was foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal party, which was, in turn, in alliance with the Social Democrats. It was rather difficult being the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal party when the foreign affairs spokesman for the Social Democratic party was a certain doctor, who was known for what one might describe as a muscular approach to politics. Because of the somewhat spurious reason that he had previously been Foreign Secretary, he was always called about 15 times before me. That was one of the crosses one bore.
The House sat on the Saturday and it was a great occasion. I remember Michael Foot's brave, clear speech and the speeches of many others who struggled over the rights and wrongs involved and with their consciences. In the end, we all decided on the right path. It should not be forgotten that some people were not in favour of intervening in any way. If their argument had prevailed, the Falkland Islands would still be occupied by the Argentines and it is more than likely that the junta then in control would still be in control. Hon. Members who took that stand-back position should perhaps remember that.
It is also worth remembering that the junta's action was popular in Argentina--practically the most popular thing that the junta ever did. That is one of the difficulties that we must face. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who chairs the all-party committee that tries to keep some interest going and takes some care of the
Column 272interests of the Falkland Islands in the Houses of Parliament, touched upon that. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right about establishing good relations with Argentina, but to imagine that somehow one can change an emotional approach quickly is a mistake. It will take a lot of time, patience and persistence to establish good relations and there is no way round that. We must make it absolutely clear that it is not our intention to give up sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. Equally, we must talk to Argentina and remember that, sometimes, there is some honour in politics; although, given the way in which politics is written about these days, one would not imagine that that is so.
At the time of the invasion, I remember that The Guardian , of which I am a great admirer normally, was not in favour of Britain taking any action. It contrasted British trade with Argentina with the fact that there were just 1,200 islanders. It argued that it was not in British interests to endanger that considerable trade and possibly offend other south American countries. There were, however, big question marks over that argument even at that time.
Although the lady was not a lady whom I loved, she was right on that occasion. The strategy adopted was a high-risk one. Good heavens, one remembers the pictures of the Canberra, like a huge white whale in San Carlos water, which was such an easy target. That high-risk strategy, however, came off. A lot of people died and that was sad. All war is sad. I hope that we will stick by the results of that strategy.
I readily admit that there are islands and enclaves all over the world that are the debris of empire. The French, however, have somehow managed to treat the business rather better than us. The Minister may smile disarmingly and shake his head, but consider how Martinique, Re union and various places around the world are integrated into metropolitan France. That policy has been successful when applied to small French territories and it has been accepted by the populations involved. It should be stressed that we have a residual responsibility.
I am sure that the Minister will speak about fishing policy in the Falklands, which, as successive hon. Members have suggested, is of much more immediate importance than any speculation about hydrocarbon resources. Two species of squid are fished around the Falklands. One is more or less confined to the Falkland waters, as defined by the 200-mile limit, while the other species is also found in Argentine waters and so is more vulnerable. I understand that Sir Crispin Tickell's team said that it thought highly of the conservation measures adopted by the Falkland Islands Government. We know, of course, that the Falkland Government do not deal directly with the Argentine Government--that is done by the British Government. An observer from the Falklands has been appointed to the joint committee, but, essentially, it is an intergovernmental committee of Britain and the Argentine. I would like the Minister to tell us how that committee is operating. Is the atmosphere within it good? Is the co- operation reached good? How does he see its future?
The debate is a short one, so I shall not delay the House. I have said what I think. Like others, I believe that, few as the Falklanders are, they are the indigenous population. They have the right to determine their own future. In turn, we have a responsibility, inherited from history, to do all that we can to guarantee that future.
Column 27310.47 am
As long as the islanders wish to remain British, we should underwrite that and they should continue to be so, not least because Argentina's claim to the islands is based on dusty legal texts going back to the beginning of the last century. Those texts are ambiguous and unclear. Lawyers could, at great expense, debate for hours who has proper sovereignty over the islands, according to dusty documents.
We must consider the matter in the context of the Argentina of today. It is becoming successful in reclaiming its place as a nation of significance on the world stage. After all, it now has its second elected President, Carlos Menem, who has created a stable economy, which that country has not had for years. If one visited Argentina, one would discover a capital city, Buenos Aires, of maturity and culture, which makes it the greatest capital city of Latin America. It can rank with, and rival, Milan, Madrid or any of the other great cities of Latin Europe.
Argentina has got over its 50-year nightmare of populist Peronism--a populist Peronism that has done immense damage to that country since the second world war. Let us hope that the ghost of Peronism has been laid to rest at last. We should never forget that Argentina was considered to be the great white hope of the 1920s and 1930s, a country that was rapidly coming up to take its place in the world among the great players. Peronism destroyed Argentina's chance of taking what could be argued to be its rightful place in the world. Today, Argentina is retaking its place in the world. Its armed forces have served alongside ours in various United Nations activities in the Gulf and in Cyprus, and have acquitted themselves with honour and professionalism in so doing.
Argentina is once again showing maturity in general. What pains me, as a friend of Argentina, is that it has failed to do so in one specific way. I highlight the unwise claim of President Carlos Menem that Argentina should retake the islands, as he puts it, by the year 2000.
If Argentina claims parity of consideration in international affairs with a country such as Canada, it should consider the example of the Canadians, and the case of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Those islands have a population of about 6,000, three times that of the Falkland Islands, and are situated only a few miles off the coast of Newfoundland, in the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, yet they remain French territory. They are the only remaining territories that France holds as direct descendants of the extensive land holdings that France had in north America. Indeed, the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon have been a colony of France since 1816. The Canadians are not hung up about those islands. They have close relations with them. There are flights from those French islands in north America to Montreal and to various airports alongside in Newfoundland. Let us remember that those islands are only a few miles from sovereign Canadian territory, surrounded geographically by Canada, yet Canada has the maturity to live in peace alongside those people, who have a different cultural inheritance. Argentina should consider that case and learn the lessons.
Column 274If we were to follow the Argentine precept of saying that our territory extends 300 miles offshore, where would that leave us? Should we reclaim Calais and the dukedom of Normandy? Conversely, should the French claim the Channel Islands on the basis of geographical proximity? Should Venezuela claim Trinidad? Should Italy claim Malta? Should Malaysia claim Singapore? All those islands are much closer to the mainland than are the Falklands. I urge the Argentine Government to grow up and show maturity over that issue, just as they have over so many other issues in recent years. If Britain owes some obligation to the Falkland Islands to underwrite their entitlement to self-determination and security, surely the islanders owe an obligation to this country for the blood and treasure expended on their relief. They should do nothing to irritate the good relations between Britain and Argentina. We have long-standing relations with Argentina, those of trade and investment and indeed, those of blood ties between families in Argentina and this country. Any rhetoric from the Falklanders against Argentina, although understandable because of the wounds of the conflict, so few years ago, is extremely unhelpful. It is far better that we gradually rekindle relations between Argentina and the Falkland Islands. With other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), I have been involved in the Argentine-British conferences. There have been four such conferences, bringing together politicians, business men, journalists and the like. Two of the conferences were held in Argentina and two in the United Kingdom. The fifth such conference is due to take place in England in September.
I was at the last such conference in Mendoza, close to the Andes, in Argentina. I found it moving that Falklanders came to that conference. Because of the vagaries of politics, they had to enter via Chile, a friendly country, and cross the frontier to come down to Mendoza. I found it moving that Falklanders could speak to Argentines about the realities of life today. The conference was closed by an embrace between an Argentine senator, the chairman of the conference, and those visiting Falklanders.
In the foyer of the conference centre was a large, colourful exhibition mounted by the Falklanders about the wonders of the island. I almost winced at their forwardness in staging that exhibition, but I was touched by the way in which the Argentines looked at the exhibition and came to have greater understanding. I gather that, at this very moment, two leading Falklanders are carrying out what might be termed a lecture tour in Argentina to speak to people. They have been to Buenos Aires, to Co rdoba, to Mendoza and into Patagonia, where there are the Welsh communities in Puerto Madryn and Trelew. They have also visited Comodoro Rivadavia, the town which the Argentine air force used to provide the air link to the Falkland Islands. They are talking to the Argentines about the real Falkland Islands and the real opportunities for the future. I would, however, take issue with the comments of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker), because I regret the fact that British party politics were brought into the debate. I well remember the anti-Falklands rhetoric of the Labour party in the many years that have passed since the conflict. Members of the Labour party could not bring themselves to refer to the Falkland
Column 275Islands, and it was fashionable for Opposition Members to refer to them as the Malvinas. I thought that that was highly inappropriate, as did the islanders. Indeed, when the Labour spokesman for the islands first visited the islands, he was greeted with a vast piece of graffiti in 6 ft lettering painted on a hulk in Falkland sound, which, in earthy language that you would not allow me to repeat, Madam Speaker, told him to leave the islands somewhat abruptly. I do not think that there are party political marks to be scored on that matter. We want wounds to heal gradually.
Fishing and oil cannot develop properly in that region without Argentine- Falkland Islands co-operation. The illex squid are no respecters of international political boundaries. They move from the high seas to Argentine waters to Falkland Islands waters. Unless there is co-operation, those very large factory ships from Korea and Japan will continue to hoover up the illex, to the detriment of the environment, the fish stocks and the prosperity of the islands. They need control; they need co-operation.
The same goes for any oil that is discovered in those waters. For oil to be extracted properly, a large base is needed, for processing, for servicing the industry and for refining. If the Falkland Islands cares about its environment, it will not want those vast disfiguring industries on the islands. That is where Argentina, with its long coastline, its industry and so on could be of assistance. We want working together, co-operation and the gradual healing of wounds. That way lies the future prosperity of that important region. 10.58 am
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): I welcome the debate initiated by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Sir A. Bowden). Indeed, I was in the Falkland Islands at the same time as the hon. Member for Kemptown and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker), although I was not there for a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit.
I arrived, not after an 18-hour journey on a Tri-star aircraft, but in a luxury cruise liner called the Hanseatic. I must tell you, Madam Speaker, that envy is an ugly sight, especially when one confronts it on the faces of one's two colleagues. However, as I told the hon. Member for Kemptown, come the socialist millennium, we shall all ride around in Rollers and wear top hats and drink champagne, although of course it will start with me.
I should like to take the opportunity to record my thanks to the governor, David Tatham, and to the chief executive, Andrew Gurr, for their hospitality and for the information that they gave me. My two parliamentary colleagues stayed much longer--we were just, as it were, a ship that passed in the night, or during the day as it turned out--but I am sure that they received the same kindness and the courteous information that I found very valuable. We had an excellent working breakfast with the governor. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), I was not keeping a note of the cost so we shall not be reading about it in The House Magazine .
I have given the subject careful consideration and I agree with every speech that I have heard so far that Argentina's territorial claim to the Falkland Islands is weak and thoroughly unacceptable. I endorse the fact that
Column 276we need to continue to talk to the Argentine authorities and people. I am glad to hear that some people from the Falkland Islands are touring Argentina now and discussing matters. There seem to be many misconceptions, particularly on the part of Argentine nationals, about what is going on in the Falkland Islands.
I was told--I do not know whether it is true--that a number of Argentines seem to think that the Falkland Islands are full of Argentines, people of Spanish descent, who are being treated badly. If that is what they believe, the matter must be sorted out. One way to do that would be to allow a greater element of tourism from Argentina to the Falkland Islands. I see that some Conservative Members are shaking their heads, and I understand that that is the attitude of many Falkland islanders. The ship, the Hanseatic, could not put into the Falkland Islands on one of its previous visits, and decided to move on through, because there were too many Argentine nationals on board. That damaged the Falkland Islands economy. I can assure hon. Members that those on board the luxury liner were paying a lot of money to be there--all except myself. There is such a thing as a free lunch and I found it on the Hanseatic--I am nothing if not honest.
I must take issue with some of the points made by Conservative Members about the heroic way in which the Falkland Islands were recovered. Signals were sent out that could have led Galtieri and the Argentine Government to think that they could walk into the Falkland Islands and take them over, signals that were ignored by the Foreign Office and Ministers. It is reliably reported that the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Nicholas Ridley, said in the Falkland Islands that thought was being given to handing over the Falklands to Argentina. That caused much concern in the Falkland Islands and may have sent the wrong signals to Galtieri. We must never forget that 255 British service men and 1,200 Argentines died in a war that could have been avoided if the Ministers of the day had been listening to the signals sent to them from the Falkland Islands, including from the governor.
The signs of war are still present in the Falkland Islands. It was worrying to hear about kids being told where the minefields were. It is also worrying that bomb disposal personnel are still removing Argentine mines from the area. I hope that the Minister will say what further assistance is being given to the Falkland Islands authorities and what additional resources are being given to our military to continue to remove mines and make the place entirely safe.
Mr. Jacques Arnold: Did the hon. Gentleman notice that the minefields that have been wired off in the Falklands to stop humans or donkeys straying into the area are functioning as a good nature preserve because the penguins are breeding marvellously as men and other predators cannot get into those areas? The penguins are too light to fire off the mines.
Mr. Banks: The hon. Gentleman, as he knows, has touched me on my weakest point, but even in my most conservationist mood I would not suggest laying minefields around breeding colonies of penguins to protect them. I shall think about that suggestion, but I do not think that, even in my wildest moments, I would do so. That is merely a way of demonstrating that it is an ill wind that blows no good.
Column 277One aspect that grated on me slightly was the name of one of the roads, Thatcher drive. Frankly, the fact that the Conservative Government ignored the signs at the time and the way that their popularity in this country was plummeting--Mrs. Thatcher looked as though she would be a one-term Prime Minister--meant that Galtieri's invasion of the Falkland Islands saved the Conservative party's bacon. In tribute to Galtieri for that, Mrs. Thatcher should have named Downing street Galtieri street.
In the remaining moments of my speech I shall return to the subject of the Falkland Islands and their future. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich mentioned the enormous potential of the Falkland Islands in economic terms, especially for tourism. Wildlife, particularly sea mammals, abounds in the Falkland Islands. There are more than 20 species of great and small whales, as well as sea otters and seals. I saw penguin colonies further down in the Antarctic and the rockhopper, gentoo, magellanic and macaroni penguin populations of the Falkland Islands are prospering well--perhaps thanks to the Argentine land mines. I think that the flourishing wildlife has more to do with the sensitive conservation attitude of the Falkland Islands Government. There is the possibility of over-fishing in the area. We have heard much about the money earned--in 1994, £25 million--through the selling of licences by the Falkland Islands Government to various countries to fish there. Unfortunately, when I look at my pie chart I see that the greatest contributions come from Japan, Korea, Spain and Taiwan--perhaps four of the most unreliable and untrustworthy fishing nations on earth. That is why we should be careful.
The monitoring of fishing is carried out, under contract, for the Falkland Islands by Imperial college and the British Antarctic Survey. I have heard such stories before and I am not satisfied that people so far away can properly monitor what is happening in terms of the percentage of escapes. I do not find that convincing. I hope that when the Minister winds up he will say what additional resources he might be prepared--on behalf of the Government--to provide to the Falkland Islands to ensure that licences and quotas are adhered to and that illegal fishing in the area is restrained by all possible means.
I was worried when I heard the governor talking about the number of fur seals, particularly on South Georgia. We can see the situation developing as venal, greedy fishing fleets hoover up the sea, put pressure on the stocks and begin to destroy them. They then look round at the mammals and say that the seals are taking too much so they must wipe them out.
I have been delighted to participate in this morning's short debate. In conclusion, I send my greetings to the regulars at The Globe pub on Stanley harbour front. I hope to join them for another beer soon.
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I must be one of the few to speak in this morning's debate who has not yet had the opportunity of visiting the Falkland Islands. Had I done so, I might have had the same specialist wildlife knowledge as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks).
Column 278I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Sir A. Bowden) on securing the debate. For one reason or another the Falkland Islands have never been far from the news in the past 15 years. In the early 1980s the reasons for their prominence were sombre. Today, with our improved relationships with Argentina, we live in more optimistic times.
We welcome the opportunities presented by democracy in Argentina, especially since 1989. The junta that had ruled that country came to our national attention with the invasion of the Falklands in 1982, but the people of Argentina had already suffered for many years. Opposition Members have been vocal in opposing the human rights violations perpetrated by the right-wing dictatorship in the years preceding the Falklands conflict.
I live in hope that British Governments will be more consistent and vigorous in challenging human rights violations in other countries. Perhaps we will learn the lessons of history eventually, rather than allowing our arms manufacturers to trade with evil regimes only to see our own people suffer as a result at a later date.