Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

Falkland Islands

Population: 2,955 (2,940 excluding military personnel)

GDP: $77.1 million (in 2004), GDP per head: $26, 125 (2004)

Key industries: Fisheries, livestock agriculture and tourism


478.  The Falkland Islands are an archipelago of around 700 islands in the South Atlantic, the largest being East Falkland and West Falkland. They are situated about 480 miles north-east of Cape Horn and 300 miles from the nearest point on the South American mainland. The Islands have a total land area of 4,700 square miles - more than half the size of Wales. Stanley, the capital (population 2,115 in 2006), is the only town. Elsewhere in Camp (the local term for the countryside), there are a number of smaller settlements.


479.  The first known landing was made in 1690 by a British naval captain who named the Islands after Viscount Falkland, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. French seal hunters, who were frequent visitors in the eighteenth century, called the Islands 'les Iles Malouines' after the port of St Malo, and it was from this that the Spanish designation, las Islas Malvinas, originated. In 1764, a small French colony, Port Louis, was established on East Falkland. Three years later this was handed over to Spain on payment of £24,000 and renamed Puerto de la Soledad. A British expedition reached West Falkland in 1765, and anchored in a harbour which it named Port Egmont. It took formal possession of West Falkland and of "all the neighbouring islands" for King George III. The following year, another British expedition established a settlement of about 100 people at Port Egmont, although this settlement was withdrawn on economic grounds in 1774. The Spanish settlement on East Falkland was withdrawn in 1811, leaving the Islands without inhabitants or any form of government.

480.  In November 1820, Colonel Daniel Jewett, an American national, claimed formal possession of the Islands in the name of the government of Buenos Aires, but only stayed on the Islands for a few days. At the time, the government of Buenos Aires, which had declared independence from Spain in 1816, was not recognised by Britain or any other foreign power. No act of occupation followed Jewett's visit and the Islands remained without effective government. On 10 June 1829, the Buenos Aires government issued a decree setting forth its rights, supposedly derived from the Spanish Viceroyalty of La Plata, and purported to place the Islands under the control of a political and military governor, Louis Vernet. Britain protested that the terms of the decree infringed British sovereignty over the Islands, which she had never relinquished.

481.  In 1831, a United States warship, the Lexington, destroyed the fort at Puerto de la Soledad as a reprisal for the arrest of three American vessels by Vernet, who was attempting to establish control over sealing in the Islands. The captain of the Lexington declared the Falklands free from all government and they remained once again without visible authority until September 1832, when the government of Buenos Aires appointed Juan Mestivier as Civil and Political Governor on an interim basis. The British Government once again protested to the Buenos Aires government that this appointment infringed British sovereignty over the Islands. Mestivier sailed to the Falklands at the end of 1832 and was murdered shortly after his arrival by his own soldiers. In January 1833, after receiving instructions to visit the Islands to exercise British rights of sovereignty, the British warship HMS Clio arrived at Puerto de la Soledad and requested that the Argentines leave. British occupation was therefore resumed and the Islands were administered by a naval officer.

482.  The United Nations Committee of 24 (see para 35, Chapter 2, Part One) began considering the question of the Falklands in 1964. Following its recommendations, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 2065 in 1965. This invited the British and Argentine governments to begin negotiations "with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the UN Charter and of […the Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (GAR 1514)] and the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)." During 1967 and 1968 Britain entered into negotiations with Argentina, but these foundered.

483.  The Falklands were invaded by Argentine military forces on 2 April 1982. A British task force was despatched immediately and, following a conflict in which over 900 British and Argentine lives were lost, the Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June 1982. Diplomatic relations were re-established in February 1990. The resumption of links followed a series of talks in Madrid, in which the two sides agreed a formula to protect their respective positions on sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Nonetheless, Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over the Falklands.

Constitutional status

484.  The present constitution dates from October 1985, and was amended by orders in 1997 and 1998. The constitution includes the Islanders' right of self-determination. The Governor presides over an Executive Council composed of five members: three elected and two ex-officio (the Chief Executive and the Financial Secretary). In addition, the Attorney General and the Commander of the British Forces in the Falkland Islands attend by invitation. The Legislative Council has eight elected members as well as the two ex-officio members of the Executive Council. It is chaired by a speaker. The Governor retains responsibility for external affairs and the public service, but the elected Councillors have a substantial measure of responsibility for the conduct of their Territory's affairs. The Governor is obliged to consult the Executive Council in the exercise of his functions (except in specified circumstances, for example on defence and security issues, where he must consult and follow the advice of the Commander of the British Forces in the Islands). Although he has the constitutional power to act against the advice of the Executive Council, he would be required, without delay, to report such a matter to the British Government with the reasons for his action. After wide public consultation, a select committee of the Falkland Islands Legislative Council published a report in May 2007 making a number of recommendations for constitutional change.[689]

Evidence received

485.  The Committee received four written submissions from the Falkland Islands, including two from the Falkland Islands Legislative Council.

486.  The Committee heard oral evidence from Councillor Summers of the Falkland Islands Legislative Council in December 2007.

487.  A delegation of the Committee visited the Falkland Islands in March 2008.

Key recommendations

  • We recommend that the FCO works with the Falklands Islands government and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the future air service allows the Islands to develop their tourism industry. We also recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO states clearly what, if any, it considers the UK's entitlement would be in respect of potential oil and gas revenue from the Falkland Islands and from other Overseas Territories. (para 322)
  • We conclude that there are a number of issues to be considered, including cost, practicability, safety and environmental impact, before a decision can be taken on whether to carry out de-mining in the Falkland Islands. We therefore welcome the Government's announcement that it has sought an extension of the deadline to meet the UK's obligations under the Ottawa Convention. We recommend that the Government should discuss the results of its recent feasibility study with Falkland Islanders before coming to any decision about landmine clearance. (para 328)
  • We agree with the Public Accounts Committee that the UK Government should not fund aviation regulation in Territories that are able to pay for this service. However, it must ensure that it responds to Territory government criticisms of the designated regulator before moving to charging for the service. (para 377)
  • We conclude that when the visit by President Kirchner to the UK is rearranged the Government must use this opportunity to raise issues of concern to the Falkland Islands. In particular we recommend that the Prime Minister call for an end to Argentina's obstruction in relation to use of its airspace and that he also highlight potential logistical issues if Argentine families are allowed to fly in to visit graves. We also recommend that the Prime Minister should press the Argentine President to agree to the establishment of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation for the South West Atlantic and reiterate the Islands' right to develop a hydrocarbon industry. (para 386)
  • We conclude that the Government was right to submit a claim to the UN Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf for the seabed around Ascension Island. We recommend that the Government should submit a similar claim for the continental shelf around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. We also recommend that the Government should in its response to this Report state its current policy on seabed claims in relation to the continental shelf around the British Antarctic Territory. (para 427)

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