Skip to main content


Volume 21: debated on Tuesday 6 April 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 6 April.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today.

Does my right hon. Friend accept, with regard to her action over the Falkland Islands issue, that she has the overwhelming support of the House and the nation? Can she confirm that our mission is to destroy the Argentine invasion fleet? If my right hon. Friend cannot confirm that, will she say whether she believes it either possible or desirable in the long term security interests of the Falkland Islands, and to protect the exposed southern flank of NATO, that a NATO base should be established in the Falkland Islands?

Our mission is to restore British sovereignty to the islands and to give the people what they want—the right to live under British rule and to owe allegiance to the British Crown. That is our task. I do not think that the idea of a NATO base in the Falkland Islands would be well received, because the islands are far out of the NATO area.

Has the right hon. Lady been able to study this morning the reports in many newspapers, such as The Daily Telegraph and The Times, that the information about the attack was known in London 10 days before the invasion? Is the right hon. Lady aware that this is claimed to be on unimpeachable sources and that, if that was true, it would have been possible for action of interception to have been taken? Will the right hon. Lady say whether that information is correct and, if it was received, what action was taken by the Government?

There are two points that need to be made. I told the House on Saturday that even if action had been taken—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Will the House let me answer the question in my own way, giving information that I am certain is accurate, as I try to do and try to check these matters?

As I told the House on Saturday, even if we had known at the time of 19 March, when there was the landing at South Georgia at Leith—which is a long time before the 11 days to which the right hon. Gentleman was referring—we could not have got ships of the Fleet there in time.

With regard to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I think that he will find a certain amount of confusion in the reports. I therefore stand by what I told the right hon. Gentleman on Saturday—that the first time we had precise information was on Wednesday. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at his copy of The Times he will see that there is a phrase to the effect that they knew there were ships but did not know their intent. [Interruption.] I am telling the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest possible accuracy, as information came to me.

The first information that I had was on Wednesday of last week, when we took action. Previously, we had been very worried about the situation in South Georgia, where HMS "Endurance" had been, and it was suggested that she take off the Argentines by force. We had understood that there were ships on the way for that and when we understood that we also took certain dispositions.

Will the right hon, Lady now answer the immediate point that I put to her? Questions of British intelligence are concerned in these matters and the House has the right to judge whether British intelligence was operating properly and if so what action was taken. Can the right hon. Lady now tell us whether the information stated in these reports was received? Whenever she may have been informed, surely she has had the chance to look at such accusations today and can tell the House and the country whether such information as this was received at the time stated.

I have tried to help the right hon. Gentleman. I think that, if he looks at the report on the front page of The Times he will find that it says that there were ships in the area but their intent was not known. [Hon. Members:"Oh".] That is what I understand The Times to say. We knew there were problems and of course we were dealing with them on South Georgia. The precise time that we had information that it was an invasion fleet and that it was on its way was Wednesday evening. We took action then. [Interruption.] I am trying to give the right hon. Gentleman accurate information. Previously, because of the situation in South Georgia, we had also made certain other dispositions.

If the right hon. Lady cannot give us and the country an accurate answer on the matter now, will she study the matter further and make another statement to the House tomorrow, as many of her Ministers have had to do before?

I have given the accurate information—[Interruption.]—that I myself know and the action that I myself took at the time when I received it.

Is not my right hon. Friend encouraged by the support that the country has received at the United Nations and throughout the free world for the stand that her Government have taken on the Falkland Islands?

Yes. There was a forceful resolution moved at the United Nations Security Council calling upon the Argentines to withdraw and we received support in the vote that was passed from the United States, France, Ireland, Japan, Zaire, Togo, Uganda, Guyana and Jordan. Those were the countries that voted for us. The Soviet Union, China, Poland and Spain abstained and Panama voted against.

Did the Prime Minister hear the interview at the weekend with the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) before he resigned as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office? In that he said quite clearly—and I heard the interview—that the Government had no warning of any attack or threat to the Falkland Islands until about a fortnight ago. A fortnight is a great difference from 48 hours or 24 hours. Will the right hon. Lady try to clear this matter up?

As I have been trying to indicate, there were problems, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, on South Georgia. The problems there were that if HMS "Endurance" proceeded to take off the 10 Argentines who had landed at Leith and who refused to leave although they did not have proper immigration papers—[Interruption.] We were in touch with Buenos Aires and we said that the men must go or get the proper clearance to be on our territory. We knew that there was a threat that if we took them off by force HMS "Endurance" might well have been stopped, and that there were ships about that could do the stopping.

The precise nature of the threat to Port Stanley and to that part of the Falkland Islands came to me, as I told the right hon. Gentleman, on Wednesday. I do not believe that there was a precise threat to Port Stanley as long before as the right hon. Gentleman indicated.

As the United Nations Security Council resolution on the Falkland Islands is mandatory and the Argentine Government have not complied with it, will my right hon. Friend consider tabling a further resolution enforcing economic sanctions against the Argentine Government?

I think that if we were to table a further resolution about economic sanctions we should not have quite such a successful conclusion as we had to the resolution that we have already tabled.

Will the Prime Minister consider the consequences of the Government's mishandling of the Falklands crisis for quite a number of my constituents? Is she aware that 50 per cent. of the trade with Argentina goes through Liverpool docks, and that that trade is likely to stop as a result of military action or sanctions., which I would support? If that trade is stopped, will the right hon. Lady make sure that Merseyside docks, which are already in a state of crisis, receive Government assistance to compensate, so that unemployment does not increase as a result of the mishandling of the Falklands crisis by this Government?

The extent of our exports to Argentina is, and has been, comparatively small in relation to our total exports. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer that he seeks. However, I can tell him, as a matter of information, that we have decided to impose an embargo on the imports of all goods from Argentina from midnight tonight.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the exceptional circumstances of a national crisis, as this undoubtedly is, may I ask you to give careful consideration to extending Prime Ministers Question Time, because it is the only way that hon. Members have——