Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

New Falklands constitution agreed

Port Stanley, Falklands
Argentina disputes the islands' status as a British overseas territory

A new constitution for the Falklands has been agreed which the UK government says will "enhance local democracy" for the south Atlantic islands' residents.

The constitution comes into force on 1 January 2009 and clarifies the division of powers between the executive council and the islands' governor.

It also incorporates provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.

UK minister Gillian Merron stresed that it did not "change the UK government's overall commitment to the islands".

The islands, 8,000 miles (12,800km) from the UK, have British overseas territory status although, more than 25 years after the Falklands War, that is still disputed by Argentina.

Transparency

Falklands Governor Alan Huckle is the Queen's representative on the islands.

The new constitution makes clear that he must abide by the advice of the executive council on domestic policies - although it enshrines a power for him not to act on its advice "in the interests of good governance" or in relation to issues including external affairs, defence and the administration of justice.

It also recognises the chief executive as head of the civil service, provides for a public accounts committee and a complaints commissioner to improve "transparency" and changes to who has Falklands Islands status - which determines the right to vote.

The Foreign Office said spouses and citizens of other British overseas territories would have to apply for Falkland Islands status, rather than get it automatically.

Ms Merron said: "The world has moved on since the previous Falkland Islands' constitution came in to operation in 1985, and the Falklands have developed considerably both economically and socially. The new constitution reflects this.

"It enhances local democracy, while retaining sufficient powers for the UK government to protect UK interests and to ensure the overall good governance of the territory."

But she added: "What it does not do is change the UK government's overall commitment to the Islands as an overseas territory. Nor does it change the right to self-determination, fundamental to our relationship with all of our overseas territories."

Falklands government spokesman Councillor Mike Summers said it "more accurately describes the relationship between the Falklands and United Kingdom, and formally establishes the degree of internal self-government".

Britain and Argentina have long disputed sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which are situated 350 miles (550 kilometres) from Argentina, but are populated almost entirely by people of British descent.

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