Ridley and Leaseback

Extracts from the House of Commons debate of 2 December 1980 
(First published in the Falkland Islands Newsletter No.9, December 1980)

The background to the proposal by FCO Minister Nicholas Ridley that sovereignty of the Falkland Islands be transferred by the United Kingdom to Argentina, who would then lease back the Islands to the UK for an agreed period of time, can be found in 'A Brief History of the Falkland Islands' on this portal

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) 
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Falkland Islands. We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Islands. The Argentines, however, continue to press their claim. The dispute is causing continuing uncertainty, emigration and economic stagnation in the Islands. Following my exploratory talks with the Argentines in April, the Government have been considering possible ways of achieving a solution which would be acceptable to all the parties. In this the essential is that we should be guided by the wishes of the Islanders themselves. I therefore visited the Islands between 22 and 29 November in order to consult Islands councillors and subsequently, at their express request, all Islanders, on how we should proceed. Various possible bases for seeking a negotiated settlement were discussed. These included both a way of freezing the dispute for a period or exchanging the title of sovereignty against a long lease of the Islands back to Her Majesty's Government. The essential elements of any solution would be that it should preserve British administration, law and way of life for the Islanders while releasing the potential of the Islands' economy and of their maritime resources, at present blighted by the dispute. It is for the Islanders to advise on which, if any, option should be explored in negotiations with the Argentines. I have asked them to let me have their views in due course. Any eventual settlement would have to be endorsed by the Islanders, and by this House. 
[Editorial Note: A large majority of Islanders meeting with Mr Ridley expressed clear and consistent opposition to his 'leaseback' proposal]

Mr Peter Shore (Stepney and Poplar) 
This is a worrying statement. Will the Minister confirm that involved here are the rights and future of 1,800 people of British descent in a territory which was originally uninhabited - people who, above all, wish to preserve their present relationship with the United Kingdom? Will he reaffirm that there is no question of proceeding with any proposal contrary to the wishes of the Falkland Islanders? Their wishes are surely not just 'guidance' to the British Government. Surely they must be of paramount importance. Has he made that absolutely clear to the Argentine Government? Is not the Minister aware that proposals for a leasing arrangement represent a major weakening of our long-held position on sovereignty in the Falkland Islands, and that to make them in so specific and public a manner is likely only to harden Argentine policy and to undermine the confidence of the Falkland Islanders? Will he therefore make it clear that we shall uphold the rights of the Islanders to continue to make a genuinely free choice about their future, that we shall not abandon them and that, in spite of all the logistical difficulties, we shall continue to support and sustain them?

Mr Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) 
Is my Honourable Friend aware that his statement is profoundly disturbing? Is he also aware, certainly the Falkland Islanders are, that for years - and here I speak from some experience - his Department has wanted to get rid of this commitment? Is he further aware that it is almost always a great mistake to get rid of real estate for nothing, that the Falkland Islands may have an important part to play in the future of the South Atlantic and that admitting that the interests of the inhabitants and their wishes must be paramount, there is also a considerable British interest in maintaining this commitment, which is probably much cheaper to maintain than it is to lose? Will my Honourable Friend look back at the cost to us in terms of oil prices of the surrender of Aden and the Persian Gulf?

Mr Ridley 
I think my Right Honourable Friend knows me well enough to realise that I do not embrace schemes which are thrust upon me by my Department. The Government as a whole have taken the decision to take this initiative. It is of a political nature, and it is not the job of the Foreign Office to devise such an initiative. There is a great deal in what my Right Honourable Friend said about the need to watch the strategic and other interests in the South Atlantic. It is in order to ensure that these may be peacefully pursued, including the possibilities of oil around the Falklands, that there is a premium on trying to solve the dispute.

Mr Russell Johnston (Inverness) 
Is the Minister aware that his reception in the Falkland Islands left the Islanders' views in no doubt, although it left a considerable doubt about his good intentions? Is he further aware that there is no support at all in the Falkland Islands or in this House for the shameful schemes for getting rid of these Islands which have been festering in the Foreign Office for years? Will he take this opportunity to end speculation once and for all by declaring quite clearly that he disowns those schemes and that he will work to improve the economic and political links between the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands? Surely that is the way to end the emigration about which he talked earlier.

Mr Ridley 
Perhaps I am more aware of the reception that I received in the Islands than the Honourable Gentleman is. I hope that even those who did not like what I had to say were at least agreed upon my good intentions. I can assure the Honourable Gentleman that a large number of people felt that it was right that something should be done to settle the dispute.

Mr Douglas Jay (Battersea, North) 
It is clear that the Islanders, whatever else they may think, have no wish for a change of sovereignty. Why cannot the Foreign Office leave the matter alone?

Mr Ridley 
The Right Honourable Gentleman should have accompanied me on my visit; it would have been very pleasant. He may then have heard the views of the Islanders, a large number of whom believe that it would be to their advantage to settle the dispute. He must listen to the views in the Islands instead of preaching what he has always believed to be the case.

Mr David Lambie (Central Ayrshire) 
As one of the few Members to have visited the Falkland Islands, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware of the deeply felt suspicion of the Islanders of previous British Governments and British politicians, especially those representing the Foreign Office? Is he further aware that there was no need for today's statement, which will further heighten those suspicions?

The background to the proposal by FCO Minister Nicholas Ridley that sovereignty of the Falkland Islands be transferred by the United Kingdom to Argentina, who would then lease back the Islands to the UK for an agreed period of time, can be found in 'A Brief History of the Falkland Islands' on this portal

These Extracts from the House of Commons debate held on 2 December 1980 are taken from the Falkland Islands Newsletter, Edition 9, December 1980. The Falkland Islands Association is an independent organisation which brings together those who support the continuing freedom of the people of the Falkland Islands. Its Constitution states that its objectives are to assist the people of the Falkland Islands to decide their own future for themselves without being subjected to pressure direct or indirect from any quarter.


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