Commons is united by suspicion of Ridley intentions on Falklands
By Hugh Noyes Parliamentary Correspondent Westminster
The House of Commons came together in total concord yesterday to voice its deep suspicion of the intentions of the Foreign Office and of Mr Nicholas Ridley, a Minister of State, for the future of the Falkland Islands and their relationship with the Argentine.
Seldom can a minister have had such a drubbing from all sides of the House, and Mr Ridley was left in no doubt that whatever Machiavellian intrigues he and the Foreign Office may be up to, they will come to nothing if they involve harming a hair on the heads of the islanders.
The minister was left stammering and confused as in vain he protested that nothing would be done and no arrangement would be agreed with Argentina that had not been first endorsed both by the islanders and by Parliament.
Mr Ridley, who has just returned from a visit to the Falklands, could, not have received a colder welcome.
MPs were quick to draw attention to the apparent contradiction between Mr Ridley's assertion that the British Government had no doubt about our sovereignty over the islands and his proposal to the islanders that a solution might be found if they would agree to exchange the title of sovereignty against a long lease-back to Britain.
Another solution might be found by some method of freezing the dispute for a period, Mr Ridley added. It was essential, he added, that the Government should be guided by the wishes of the islanders and any solution must preserve British administration, law and way of life, while releasing the potential of the Falkland's economy and maritime resources, which were at present blighted by the dispute.
Mr Peter Shore, the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, voiced the views of MPs of all parties when he told the minister that this was a worrying statement and that the proposal for a leasing arrangement was a major weakening of our long-held position on sovereignty in the islands.
To make that proposal in so specific and public a manner was likely only to harden Argentine policy and undermine the confidence of the islanders.
From the Conservative benches, Mr Julian Amery told the minister that his statement was profoundly disturbing. For years the Foreign Office had wanted to get rid of this commitment, although the islands had an important part to play in the future of the South Atlantic.
Angrily, Mr Ridley rejected the suggestion that he was merely acting as the errand boy of the Foreign Office.
Viscount Cranbourne, another Conservative MP, told Mr Ridley that his statement had caused disquiet among his supporters and that by merely entertaining the possibility of a surrender of sovereignty he was encouraging the islanders to think that they did not enjoy the support of their mother country.
From the Liberal benches, Mr Russell Johnston said that there was considerable doubt about Mr Ridley's intentions. Shameful schemes for getting rid of the islands had been festering in the Foreign Office for years. Mr Ridley again protested his innocence and his good intentions to loud shouts of 'no'.
A few moments later, Mr Ridley floundered into deeper water. when he was asked whether the Government would accept the views of the islanders if they opted for the maintenance of the status quo. The minister seemed to many to be dodging the issue when he replied: 'We shall have to wait to see how the situation develops'.
The one certainty of yesterday's exchanges for the Falkland Islanders was that if ever the 'festering plots' of the Foreign Office should reach the floor of the House of Commons, they will be given very short shrift.