§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
I made a Statement to this House on 19 January on airlinks between the Falklands and Argentina (Official Report col.WS39). I would like to report on developments since then.
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Rammell) travelled to Argentina on 16 to 17 February on a preplanned bilateral visit. He held talks on a wide range of international, regional and bilateral issues. The question of airlinks featured in talks with the Argentine Foreign Minister, Dr Rafael Bielsa. The talks were frank and constructive and they made some progress. Some proposals were discussed which they each agreed to look at further. These proposals primarily focussed on temporary arrangements for charter flights for 2004. Mr Rammell made clear that any arrangements would need to be acceptable to the Falkland Islanders.
Regrettably, shortly following the visit, an article appeared in an Argentine newspaper, giving details of the talks and wrongly asserting that a "deal" on airlinks had been agreed. As Mr Rammell has indicated, this was not the case.
Mr Rammell spoke subsequently to Falkland Councillors. They concluded that the proposals for temporary arrangements did not meet their concerns. However, they agreed that we should continue to discuss the issue with the Argentine Government with a view to securing a permanent solution to the question of charter flights rather than having further temporary arrangements.44WS
We are now taking this forward with the Argentine Government, with the full agreement of councillors. I will keep the House informed of progress.