b 1940 from Wales

minister and parliamentarian, was born in Porth Cawl, South Wales on 23 January 1940, the son of WS Rowlands and Hilda, née Weeks. He was educated at Rhondda and Wirral Grammar Schools and went to Kings College, London to study history. After working for the History of Parliament project and lecturing in the Welsh College of Advanced Technology he was elected Labour MP for Cardiff North in 1966. He later represented two other constituencies: Merthyr Tydfil 1972-1983 and Merthyr and Rhymney 1983-2001. His first government post was as parliamentary under-secretary at the Welsh Office.

296 In BA: John Shakespeare (British...
The FCO and the Falklands

Rowlands' involvement in Falklands affairs began with his appointment as parliamentary under-secretary of state in 1975 responsible to the foreign and commonwealth secretary, Jim CALLAGHAN. Callaghan told his new minister that he would be responsible for the 'dots' on the map, which had a habit of embarrassing or humiliating governments more than any of the major foreign policy issues. Rowlands became responsible for British relations with Central and South America, which included two dependent territories, the Falkland Islands and Belize, with fraught disputed relations with neighbouring states, Argentina and Guatemala. He remained in the FCO for four and a half years until the defeat of the Labour Government in May 1979.

Rowlands' 'baptism' in UK/Argentine relations centred upon Argentine reaction to Lord SHACKLETON's mission to the Islands. The FCO had not anticipated such a reaction. The successful arrival of the Shackleton team on the Islands in January 1976 precipitated the crisis, leading the Argentines to withdraw their Ambassador and to suggest that the British Ambassador be also withdrawn. This was quickly followed by an even more serious incident when, in February, an Argentine destroyer Admiral Storni accosted the RRS Shackleton (Captain WARNE), firing across her bows, though not eventually preventing her reaching Stanley. A hurriedly convened secret meeting between Rowlands and the new Argentine Foreign Secretary, Quijano, in New York temporarily defused the situation allowing the RRS Shackleton to leave Stanley.


'On the treadmill of...

The coup in Argentina, March 1976, presented a further challenge in UK/Argentine/Falklands relations, while, at home, the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, to be succeeded by Jim Callaghan, brought a new foreign secretary, Anthony Crosland. Rowlands was promoted to minister of state assuming new departmental responsibilities for Africa, including Rhodesia {Zimbabwe}, while maintaining responsibility for the Falkland Islands. The Argentine Junta appointed, as deputy foreign minister, a naval captain Allara who remained Rowlands' opposite number for the next three years. These changes prompted a major review within the FCO and Whitehall, from which emerged proposals to negotiate with the Argentines on economic sovereignty over the area's resources and on the dependencies, possibly linked to a long term leaseback arrangement covering the Islands.

In early February 1977 Foreign Secretary Crosland announced in a parliamentary statement the acceptance of some of Shackleton's recommendations for development within the Islands but asserted little could be done to exploit the area's resources except in collaboration with Argentina. It was, therefore, necessary to talk about the future with both the Islands and the Argentine authorities: to that end Rowlands would set off and hold discussions with both. His proposed visit was, however, preceded by mounting concern based upon intelligence, over a much more aggressive stance taken by elements within the Junta associated with Admiral Massera. Evidence of an Argentine encampment on the uninhabited island of Southern Thule, one of the South Sandwich Islands, led to a formal protest in January 1977.

Visits to the Islands and Argentina

Concern over Argentine intentions also prompted ministers and officials to review security arrangements. As it happened a Royal Naval task force including a submarine would be in the Atlantic. Rowlands sought permission from his ministerial colleague at the Ministry of Defence, John Gilbert, for the force to be diverted if necessary and agreement that it might be useful to let the Argentines know that a British task force including a nuclear submarine was in Atlantic waters.

Rowlands' five-day visit to the Islands was also heavily overshadowed by the knowledge that Foreign Secretary Crosland had suffered an extremely serious stroke. Rowlands was informed of the Foreign Secretary's condition on the morning of his departure and was deeply reluctant to embark on such a complex and potentially fraught mission in such a situation. It was eventually agreed that he could, if he wished, report directly to Prime Minister Callaghan. Rowlands was to receive confirmation of Anthony Crosland's death and the appointment of his successor, David OWEN, while staying at the home of one of the Islands senior councillors, Adrian MONK.

The visit to the Islands went off rather better than possibly could have been expected. Ted Rowlands established a rapport not only with the councillors in Stanley but directly with the Islanders, touring the woolsheds and the Camp. His message and plea to the Islanders echoed Crosland's statement to the Commons, that it was necessary to talk to the Argentines if further developments were to take place. Sovereignty issues would be included but covered by the 'sovereignty umbrella'* which would protect both sides' claims. Islanders, Rowlands maintained, would have nothing to lose by his exploring a way forward with the Argentines. He accepted that the Islanders would not wish to be present directly at the talks but assured councillors that they would be fully informed both personally and officially of any progress or outcomes. LegCo endorsed the minister's intention to try to establish a basis for negotiations with the government of Argentina.

At the end of the visit the ministerial team assisted in a mercy flight for a pregnant Islander, Valerie Clarke, to the mainland. Her daughter Rachel (now Rachel Bernstein) was delivered successfully and generously the family invited minister Rowlands to be godfather.

Discussions between Rowlands and Captain Allara in Buenos Aires proved difficult. The Argentines were suspicious of the new concept of treating the sovereignty over resources and the uninhabited islands differently from sovereignty over the inhabited islands. The two sides were not able to agree at the meetings a final set of terms of reference, and Rowlands challenged the Argentines over their actions on Southern Thule. Assurances were given that the Argentine scientific team would be leaving the Islands, and following further diplomatic exchanges the terms of reference for future talks were agreed.

Rowlands' visit to the Islands and his first meaningful encounter with his Argentine interlocutors influenced his own thinking. His personal contact with Islanders prompted him to believe that Whitehall and the FCO did not fully understand their character and nature. He had been surprised if not shocked by the internal isolation, for many in the Camp had never been to Stanley. Communication within the Islands was poor. He became a champion of a road building programme and the improvement of the airfield. However, he also became sceptical of some of Shackleton's more grandiose recommendations, which he felt would require an influx of people and the possible disruption of traditional communities. In many cases Islanders just wanted to be left alone, to maintain their traditional lifestyles.

His encounter with the Argentine negotiators unnerved him. Challenged on their occupation of Southern Thule his opposite number had at first denied it. Rowlands, nevertheless, felt that the UK government could not afford to press the issue further without destroying the nascent negotiating process and increasing the likelihood of an Argentine military intervention. These early exchanges coloured and shaped Rowlands' approach to any future talks. There was something of a Jekyll and Hyde character to the Junta, which had to be taken into account in any understandings or agreements reached. Mounting evidence of major human rights abuses by the regime against their own people offered little encouragement to allow the Argentine authorities control over Islanders' lives. While the Labour Party had been transfixed by human rights abuse in Pinochet's neighbouring Chile, Rowlands considered the Argentine situation to be as every bit as bad.

Talks at New York and the Working Groups

The run up to the first round of talks with the Argentines, fixed for December 1977 proved as fraught and intense as the earlier contacts. Intelligence emphasized the mercurial role played by Admiral Massera, impatient with the lack of progress in the negotiations and, seemingly, with his fellow Junta members. The incident involving the Admiral Storni in 1976 and the occupation of Southern Thule were attributed to him and the naval 'hawks'.

Following detailed discussions within the department and with the Ministry of Defence, Prime Minister Callaghan and Foreign Secretary Owen, all concerned agreed that a taskforce including a nuclear submarine should support the talks; if they went badly the Argentines would be told of the Force's presence. At the New York talks in December Rowlands tabled a paper expressing HMG's willingness to discuss fresh sovereignty arrangements in favour of Argentina in relation to the dependencies, and to explore cooperation to develop the continental shelf resources. However, the paper asserted that it was essential that sovereign rights in respect of the Falkland Islands should continue to rest with Britain, and that the present system of administration and government of the Islands should be maintained. Rowlands did not include in the discussions the other possible arrangement - leaseback - having been convinced that such a proposal would have been totally unacceptable to the Islanders. Fortunately, there was sufficient interest within the Argentine delegation in the novel proposals on sovereignty to agree a communiqué setting up two working parties - economic cooperation and political development. Rowlands remained in New York anxiously awaiting news of the Junta's reaction to this communiqué and only when it was favourable did he leave to brief the Islanders' deputation in Río. They accepted his exploring these proposals further.

1978 saw the first meetings of the working groups agreed between Allara and Rowlands, and, in December 1978, the last between the two ministers. Rowlands felt under less pressure from the Argentines, which, in retrospect, he partly attributed to the Argentines hosting the World Cup and partly to Argentine preoccupation with their other territorial dispute, the Beagle Channel dispute with Chile. This dispute, in fact, impacted upon the Anglo-Argentine exchanges in Lima when, surprisingly, the Argentines insisted that the Islands did not generate a continental shelf, a factor in the Beagle Channel issue. However, the much more vexed question of the Argentine scientific occupation of Southern Thule dominated British ministerial discussions in 1978 when it became clear that the initial Argentine withdrawal had been only temporary, caused by severe weather. The search for a diplomatic solution preoccupied Rowlands for most of the year. As he sought to explain to the Island Councillors in a letter in May the problem lay not with the nature of Argentine scientific activity but with their failure to consult and seek agreement rather than infringing British sovereign rights. He sought a new agreement under which UK/Argentine scientific cooperation would take place on a similar basis to that conducted under the Antarctic Treaty, avoiding sovereignty issues. At the meeting with Allara at Geneva in December 1978 an agreement was reached, though the Argentines refused a clause which would have prevented them from setting up another station,

Again, following the talks, Rowlands met the Island councillors in Río in early January 1979 to report the outcome. However, at a subsequent joint meeting of ExCo and LegCo councillors objected to the proposed terms and, particularly, feared that the Argentines would extend their activities to other parts of the dependencies. The UK government subsequently agreed not to sign the agreement but to pursue further exploratory talks.

Opposition and the 1982 Invasion

The fall of the Labour government on 3 May 1979 brought to an end Rowlands' detailed involvement in UK/Falklands relations. He remained only briefly as a shadow front bench spokesman for foreign and commonwealth affairs before transferring to shadow energy issues under the leadership of John Smith, the next leader of the Labour party.

Rowlands did, however, return to the fray after the traumatic Argentine invasion of the Islands in April 1982. During the emergency Saturday debate he intervened twice - first to challenge the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher's attempt to compare the occupation of Southern Thule to the Argentine invasion of the Falklands. There was, he claimed, 'a vast difference - a world of difference between the 1800 people now imprisoned by the Argentines and Southern Thule'. Later, in his own speech to the House, Rowlands spoke emotionally of his ties of friendship and acquaintanceship and of the Islanders' passionate belief in parliamentary democracy. 'They look to and watch everything we say and do in the House. It is one of their most remarkable characteristics...' Rowlands challenged the view that the Government could not have foreseen what was happening. 'Anyone who has dealt with these issues over the years will know that there are a number of tell tale signs'. He instanced the fact that the Argentine military authorities had repudiated the communiqué agreed with the Argentine deputy foreign minister after the February ministerial talks. 'Surely that was one of the most tell tale signs. That was the time to wake up and worry....'

Rowlands concluded by posing the question -

What should the House say to the Government?'

First it should remind the Government that successive Governments and successive Parliaments have upheld the principle that the wishes, interests, rights, security and safety of the Falkland Islanders are paramount.

Secondly we should charge both the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary to proceed as speedily as possible to restore to the Falkland Islanders their rights, safety and security..... However, if they could not - 'they should go....'

The Islanders have already paid a high price for the initial set of blunders. They have lost their freedom for the first time for 150 years. The guilty men should not go scot-free if we do not retrieve the Islands as quickly as possible...

Rowlands was later invited to give evidence to the Franks Committee, established to enquire into the events leading up to the Argentine invasion. Following the publication of the Committee's report in January 1983, he spoke in the subsequent parliamentary debate on 25th January 1983. He recalled that in the April debate he had called for action to free the Islanders, and was deeply glad and relieved that the action resulted in their freedom. More than two dozen of his constituents had gone to fight. He acknowledged the government's efforts to avoid war, but once these efforts had failed, given the principle and the issues it was right to fight. Rowlands emphasized that successive governments had endeavoured honourably 'to bridge the almost irreconcilable gap' between the UK and Argentine position and to avoid a 'Fortress Falklands' policy which would have led to immeasurable and unpredictable financial and military consequences. He referred to his own experience of four years on the treadmill of British/Argentine negotiations: 'It meant biting one's tongue, pulling one's punches and compromising one's instincts at times. One was negotiating with a pretty nasty bunch of people....'

However, Rowlands stuck to his claim that ministers had 'mismanaged the peace' in the weeks and months preceding the invasion. He disagreed with the Franks' conclusion that the circumstances leading up to the February 1982 talks were different from December 1977. The 'nightmare' he had feared in 1977 happened on 1 March 1982: 'It happened as vividly as anyone could imagine'. The Junta had disowned the talks and the agreed communiqué.

Rowlands took no further substantial part in the postwar Falklands debates, concentrating on his new role as shadow energy spokesman until 1987 when he left the front bench. He maintained personal contact, initially through his friendship with Councillor Adrian Monk and since through his goddaughter, Rachel Clarke (now Bernstein).

After thirty-four years in the Commons, Ted Rowlands decided to stand down at the 2001 elections, left Merthyr Tydfil to retire to his wife's home town, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire; tragically a retirement totally overshadowed by his wife Janice's sudden death in May 2004. In July 2004 he was recalled to Westminster as a working peer in the House of Lords, thus continuing a parliamentary career, which to date spans forty years and thirteen consecutive parliaments.


Ted Rowlands

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June 2019 Additional photograph added
September 2019 External link added