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Commons Chamber

Volume 21: debated on Wednesday 7 April 1982

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 7 April 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Alexandra Park And Palace Bill (By Order)

London Transport (Liverpool Street) Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 22 April.

Greater London Council (General Powers) (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday 20 April.

Severn-Trent Water Authority Bill (By Order)

Tees And Hartlepool Port Authority Bill (By Order)

Feltham Station Area Redevelopment (Longford River) Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 22 April.

Oral Answers To Questions


Accident Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will give the latest figures for accidents involving pedestrians, motor vehicles and motor cycles.

Casualty figures are more useful than accident figures, because an accident can involve more than one type of vehicle. In the year ending September 1981 there were an estimated 61,800 pedestrian casualties—5 per cent. fewer than in the previous 12 months. There were 70,200 motor cyclist casualties and 168,500 casualties in other motor vehicles—a reduction of 2 per cent. in each case compared with the previous 12 months.

I welcome the reduction that my hon. Friend has announced. Does she agree that in 1981 rather more than 15,000 pedestrians were hit by cars or motor bikes during the hours of darkness? In those circumstances, what is she doing to initiate a campaign to persuade pedestrians, especially in country areas, to make themselves more visible at night by wearing either a white belt or light coloured garments?

There is at present no specific campaign, because of the pressure on resources for the "Think Bike" campaign and all the other safety campaigns. I am well aware how good reflective belts are, and I urge all pedestrians to wear them to reduce the number of accidents.

In view of the appalling and still rising number of motor cycle accidents and the importance of training motor cyclists, what plans do the Government have to replace the RAC-ACU training scheme in view of the introduction of the two-stage driving test system?

There is on the Order Paper another question on that subject. I shall be speaking on this matter tomorrow. I assure my hon. Friend that resources that would have gone to the RAC-ACU training scheme will be put to excellent use in furthering the training of young motor cyclists to reduce accidents.

In what percentage of the cases that the hon. Lady has cited was alcohol a factor? If she cannot give the figure off the top of her head, will she investigate the matter?

From the figures that are readily available, I understand that about 30 per cent. of the people involved in fatal accidents were suffering from an excess of alcohol above the permitted limit. I wish to examine the figures in greater detail than I have so far been able to do, and I shall take up the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Will the Under-Secretary confirm that during the last financial year the road construction budget was £100 million underspent? Does she agree that that money could have been spent on bypasses and a better road maintenance system?

I accept that less money than anticipated was spent because of lower tendering prices. Nevertheless, the Government have spent more money on more bypasses this year than at any time since roads of that type have been built.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You seem to have missed question No. 2.

Motor Coaches


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied with the provision made for the safety of motor coaches.

Coach travel is now one of the safest forms of passenger transport and new provisions are coming into force to make it even safer. Statutory annual testing of passenger service vehicles was introduced on 1 January this year, and higher standards for braking come into effect from 1 October. Many of the latest models of coach have stronger seats and roof constuction, and we are working to get these improvements incorporated into the relevant international regulations.

Does the Minister accept that although there has been much progress in coach hardware, the problem ultimately lies with the driver and the individual involved in the maintenance of the vehicle? Will she warn her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment of the effects of the removal of mandatory training in encouraging cowboy kerbside coach operators with the corresponding danger to life and limb?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but the new testing scheme for the vehicles will bring a greater uniformity of high standards. There is no intention by the Department to lower safety standards and vehicle testing, only to increase them. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern in the South-East that the traffic commissioners have inadequate staff and powers to enforce action against illegal coach operators who appear to be breaking the law? Will she look carefully into this as it seems difficult to get a satisfactory response from the traffic commissioners?

I am sorry to hear that. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give me details, as I would most certainly wish to look into the matter.

In the light the Minister's comments about her intention to increase the efficiency of motor coach examinations, is she aware that the entire motor coach industry disagrees with her and that all the evidence given to the Select Committee was against the denationalisation of the testing stations?

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that although there has been controversy about PSV and HGV testing, and the transfer to the private sector, this is now welcomed by some.

We have every intention of ensuring that the standards to be maintained under the authorisations granted by the Secretary of State will be at least as high as in the past.

Will the Minister name one person or company actually in favour of the transfer of HGV testing stations?

If I said that anyone was in favour, the House must forgive me, as it was an error. I intended to say that people had accepted the arrangements for HGV and PSV testing and were now working to ensure that safety standards, with which the original question was concerned, should be at least as high as they have been in the past.



asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his review of the construction and use regulations on tyre tread depths.

As I stated in reply to a question by my hon. Friend on 30 March, I intend to retain the existing minimum tyre tread depth requirement of 1 mm over three-quarters of the width, but to introduce regulations that will require the remaining quarter to have some visible tread pattern. I shall also require replacement tyres to meet the same international standards as original tyres fitted to new cars, and retreaded tyres to meet the criteria laid down in British standards.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Recognising my past and present interest in tyres and tyre safety, will she accept my sincere congratulations on the introduction of EC regulation 30, which will go a long way towards removing dangerous, downgraded killer tyres from our roads? Will she amplify by what regulation and means the visibility test on the remaining one-quarter of tread pattern will be, so as to prevent ambiguity for the police?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for EC regulation 30 on the extension of tyre safety. On the second part of his question, I shall have to investigate the details as this has not been finally decided. I should say, however, that it behoves every motorist to check his tyres regularly, because that is the way in which greater safety will be achieved.

What kind of scrutiny will take place at the ports to prevent the import of potentially highly dangerous tyres? We accept and welcome the regulation making them illegal, but does the Minister agree that there must be scrutiny to halt the import of such items? Is she aware that this country continually imports defective goods and equipment without any scrutiny at the ports?

There are already checks on motor equipment and accessories. Any particular curb on imports is a matter for my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, but I shall certainly investigate ways to ensure that such tyres do not reach the market. As I said before, however, it behoves every motorist to keep checking his tyres.

Bus Operators


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he remains satisfied with the working of the provisions relating to bus operators under the Transport Act 1980.

Yes, Sir. An object was to cut bureaucracy and remove barriers to the changes needed. Patronage of public transport had been declining and costs rising for a quarter of a century. The Act is giving the travelling public a better deal.

Will the Minister give specific examples of new services in rural areas? Has he obtained a report from the traffic commissioners on the ratio of new services in rural areas to closures caused by the 1980 Act?

We work continuously and closely with all the bodies concerned with the interests of rural dwellers, and they welcome the measures that we have taken, for example, on car-sharing freedom. In a number of the trial areas, interesting proposals are coming forward which I believe will yield considerable benefit.

I fully accept what my hon. Friend has said about the advantages of the 1980 Act, but is he aware that that message has, unfortunately, not got across to the public and to minibus operators? Will he try to get the message across to those who could operate minibus services in rural areas that they can now do that, as there is an inadequacy of minibus and general services in rural areas?

I am glad that my hon. Friend acknowledges the advantages to be obtained under the Act. I shall certainly do everything possible to draw extra attention to the proposals of the Act.

When will the Minister acknowledge that massive closures of bus services, especially in rural areas, have resulted from the 1980 Act? Will he publish a report from the traffic commissioners showing the number of operators who have withdrawn services for which road service licences have been issued, and contrast that with the miserably inadequate number of additional services that have resulted from the Act?

Adjustments are taking place, but new proposals are coming forward to deal with problem areas. I am pleased at the way in which bus operators, local authorities and voluntary organisations are meeting the needs of the travelling public more cost-effectively.

Is the Minister aware that, as a result of the appalling 1980 Act, five rural routes in my constituency have been lost? Will he undertake an inquiry into the number of cowboy operators under the 1980 Act who hire non-union labour?

Will he also find out by how much they undercut the national rates agreed in the transport industry?

Despite the hon. Gentleman's remarks, competition will bring better services and reduction in fares in those areas.

Rail Traffic (Scotland)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how freight and passenger rail traffic in Scotland for the most recent available three months compares with the equivalent three months of the preceding year.

I understand from the British Railways Board that the figures are 14·2 million passenger journeys and 2·841 million tonnes of freight for the 12 weeks ended 31 December 1981. The figures for 1980 are 14·1 million journeys and 2·884 million tonnes of freight.

Does the Minister realise that there is great concern in Scotland, where the railway is often the only lifeline during the bad winters that we have almost every year, about the effect of reductions in British Rail's finances? Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that it is not the Government's intention that any railway line in Scotland should close?

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the position. This year's grant on the PSO basis is £100 million more than originally claimed last year. That will give the resources to the railway to provide the services needed in the areas that he has mentioned.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the lines in Scotland should be kept open for strategic reasons? If the main East Coast line were closed north of Arbroath, the only alternative would be the present line between Montrose and Perth, which is scheduled for closure. That could have a dramatic effect at strategic times.

I appreciate the importance of the point that my hon. Friend makes. He knows that running the railways is a matter for the British Railways Board. It be assisted by the considerable grant that is being given to it this year.

Is the Minister aware that we had hoped that he would do better at his first Question Time than give the House misleading information? The cut in the PSO is £15 million in real terms. That will do great damage to the railways.

I must deny the hon. Gentleman's statement. Last year's claim was £644 million. At 1982 prices, that amounts to £704 million. This year's grant is £804 million. Therefore, that is £100 million more than was originally claimed last year.

Railways (London And South East)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will issue a statement defining the objectives that the Government will expect the British Railways Board to pursue in operating its London and South East services.

I wrote to Sir Peter Parker last November outlining my views on what the objectives should be. I am now discussing them with the board and will make a further statement when these discussions have been completed.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when he makes that further statement he will make it abundantly clear that British Rail must make significant improvements in punctuality, reliability and cleanliness? Unless it does that, it cannot hope to retain the present volume of passenger traffic, let alone increase it. Unless it can make those improvements, it will not be able to keep some jobs. Furthermore, will my right hon. Friend stress that those necessary improvements must be paid for not by fare increases that are greater than the rise in the cost of living, but by improvements in productivity that can easily be made?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission said that the quality of service in London and the South-East could be improved without an increase in costs. That is a relevant consideration.

Would the Secretary of State like to join me on the 8·24 from Forest Hill to London Bridge tomorrow morning to experience for himself the grotty conditions that British Rail have to offer their passengers because of his refusal to allow it the necessary capital investment to produce a railway system that would attract passengers?

I want to see higher quality and better rolling stock serving the commuter areas and the southern region. That can be done. The resources are available. There is a £150 million social grant to London and the South-East each year. I believe that the objectives that I put to Sir Peter Parker in November can be met. I shall make a further statement on them. I am afraid that the ASLEF industrial action has delayed matters with regard to the British Railways Board's work of updating essential information. If we can overcome the problem of the dispute, improved services can be given with the money available.

In principle, does my right hon. Friend agree that commuter railway services are part of the nation's transport infrastructure and are a social service towards the provision of passenger transport in many cities? Can my right hon. Friend name any major city in the world where the State or corporate railway system is able to operate a commuter passenger service as a profit centre?

As my hon. Friend will have heard, I have explained that the London and South-East region receives £150 million of grant, which is a substantial proportion of the total grant for British Rail. That is the basis on which an efficient commuter system can be run. I am glad to see that there are plans for changing and improving the management of the London commuter services and that the manager of the London commuter services is to be appointed director of the entire London and South-East sector. Improved management and the cutting of costs will give the reliability, punctuality and cleanliness that the commuter rightly wants.

Does the Secretary of State understand that the cut in the PSO of £15 million in real terms must mean a reduction or worsening in services, or an increase in fares?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have heard the figures that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave clearly in refuting the observations of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). Those observations turned out to be incorrect. An increase is proposed for the social grant this year of £100 million more than the originally accepted claim for 1981. It is true that an unprecedentedly large increase was granted to British Rail—a further £110 million for the large drop in passenger traffic in 1981. Nevertheless, the increase this year is £100 million more than was originally accepted. That is £200 million more than in 1977, a year in which the Labour Government made a more substantial cut than anything that is proposed now.

Transport Authority (Greater London)


asked the Secretary of State for transport what recent discussions he has held on the possibility of establishing a new transport authority for Greater London to cover all bus, train and underground services within the capital.

In my recent discussions with the GLC, London Transport and the unions I have asked each to consider the defects in their current relationships and how they will be improved. I put to the Select Committee on Transport a fortnight ago a number of points on wider organisational issues. I shall study very carefully any recommendations that it may make.

In the meantime, is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and many others in London are heartily sick of the antics of Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Wetzel? They are sick of the expensive advertisements and all the other gimmicks that are being used. Is not a new transport authority for London which is directly answerable to the Secretary of State now the only effective way of stopping the ratepayers and farepayers of London from being used as pawns in Labour's political games at County Hall?

My hon. Friend's feelings are widely shared. I have put to the GLC the requirement that it should produce a proper plan for the organisation of London Transport, using the resources available, so that an efficient and good service for Londoners is achieved. It is correct that if it is not able to do so, or if it refuses to fulfil its responsibilities, put its house in order and proceed in a sensible way, it may be necessary for the Government to impose their own solutions, as I told the Select Committee. The first task is for the GLC to put aside its politicking and get on with giving the London Transport system the context needed for a fair deal for London.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, notwithstanding views about politicising in London, the head of London Transport thoroughly agreed with the GLC's fare cutting policy? We might think in abstract terms of the new structuring of the running of London Transport, but immediately there are urgent problems to which the Secretary of State must address his mind so that he can assist those in charge at the moment to return as quickly as possible to a cheap fares policy.

The head of London Transport does not agree that the move towards low fares and increased efficiency should be financed by sky-high rates. He was wise not to agree to that. High rates on businesses in central London damage the City and undermine employment opportunities. Such a move is rightly rejected on all sides.

As well as taking responsibility for London Transport away from the GLC, which has proved manifestly incapable of dealing with it, why not go one better and get rid of the GLC?

My hon. Friend must not tempt me. That question raises issues wider than transport.

When will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the GLC's campaign for its low-fares policy had support that went much wider than the Labour Party? There was broad-based support for that campaign. When will the Secretary of State reconsider his previous decision not to legislate to deal with the Lords' decision? Will he give an answer to the House on that issue before the GLC is forced to jack up fares even higher or start to cut bus services or close Underground stations?

My decision, which I believe to be wholly correct, was not to accede to the right hon. Gentleman's pressures that there should be emergency legislation to put the clock back and allow a continuation of the low-fares policy financed by sky-high rates. That was a wholly correct view for the Government to take, and we were right to resist the right hon. Gentleman's pressures. As for the GLC campaign, I am only sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to condemn the conduct of that campaign with ratepayers' money, which I believe to be wholly reprehensible.

Vehicle Testing


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied that the standards of training and qualifications of garage mechanics is adequate enough to apply the standards required for motor vehicle testing.

All mechanics who carry out MOT tests must be accepted by the Department as qualified to do so. They must have had a minimum of four years' experience in motor repair work, must have taken a training course with the Department and have passed an examination at the end of it. The Department carries out periodic supervisory visits to all testing stations to check standards; it can, where necessary, disqualify a mechanic from testing and withdraw a garage's authority to test.

Will the Minister arrange for senior officials from her Department to visit MOTEC Livingston, the purpose-built centre with its fault simulators and paint shops for the training of apprentices—30 per cent. from Scotland and 70 per cent. from the North of England—before any decision is taken to close it on 13 April?

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said and I shall see what can be done to achieve it. I shall even go myself if I am able to.

Railway Hotels


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what conditions are being placed by British Railways on prospective purchasers of the railway hotels.

I am glad to say that the Railways Board is pressing forward to complete the agreed policy of transferring its hotels to the private sector, where what has been a loss-making business for BR will have a better opportunity to prosper. Six hotels have so far been privatised, and conditions of sale are a matter for normal commercial negotiation.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that prospective purchasers are being asked to accept current closed shop agreements with the National Union of Railwaymen? Does he not agree that that is an inappropriate union for hotels?

As my hon. Friend will know, the post-entry closed shop is a matter to be negotiated between the unions and the prospective purchasers of the hotels. While British Rail must ensure that the proper arrangements are made for its employees, it is not possible for British Rail to force conditions on a buyer in a free market, otherwise the buyer may well go elsewhere.

What conditions have been imposed to protect the security, conditions of service, pensions and so on of the staff presently employed in these hotels?

If the hon. Gentleman reflects on the answer that I have just given, he will see that proper provision has been made in that respect.

Do not any conditions, whether imposed by the British Railways Board or the unions, reduce the price that the purchaser will pay? In consequence, will not the taxpayer in the end be expected to increase his subsidy to make good that deficiency? Will the Minister ensure that neither British Rail nor the union is allowed to impose conditions that will reduce the attractiveness of the asset that is being sold?

When my hon. Friend looks at the facts in each case, I am sure he will appreciate that the sale price has not been adversely affected in the way that he has suggested. That is particularly so with regard to the sale of a hotel at Derby, which had been a bad loss-maker and where the factors mentioned by my hon. Friend were particularly relevant.

Rail Closures


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his policy towards major railway closures that require his consent.

I have frequently made it clear that I do not want to see substantial cuts in the passenger network. Against that background, I consider individual proposals on their merits.

The Secretary of State has always said that he would be opposed to major railway closures. Against that background, will he now reject any attempt by British Rail to close the Leeds-Keighley-Settle-Carlisle service? Will he also confirm that the diversion of the Nottingham-Glasgow service is not a backdoor method of closing the Settle-Carlisle railway, which is one of the most beautiful scenic routes in the country and a precious national asset? Will the right hon. Gentleman set his face against any reduction or closure of that route?

There are no proposals before me to close the routes mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Like other hon. Members, I have read the somewhat irresponsible scaremongering stories of threatened widespread closures, but no such proposals of the kind mentioned by the hon. Gentleman have come before me. As I have already said, if such proposals do come forward I must consider them individually on their merits. However, I repeat what I said earlier—I do not want to see a substantial cut in the passenger network.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his careful reply to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) represents a slight change in view from that of his predecessor, who tended to regard the present rail network as sacrosanct? While I welcome his reply, will he take steps to ensure that British Rail clearly states how much money is being lost on some of its lines, so that the House and the country can be sure that the vast amount of money going into the British Rail network is properly used for the best transport needs of the country?

The words that I used in reply to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) were the same as those used by my predecessor. My hon. Friend is right to be concerned—as I believe are British Rail and the taxpaying public—about the substantial sums that finance rising unit costs in the railway network. That is one reason why I have taken the decision to ask a member of Peat, Marwick and Mitchell to look at the finances and causes of rising unit costs on, the railways, and that is why both British Rail and the Government wish to see a review of the railways finances and objectives in order to safeguard both the performance of the railways and taxpayers' money.

In view of the delicate discussions that are now taking place with Lord McCarthy's tribunal, is it not inappropriate for the Government to announce major cuts and for the British Railways Board to talk about 3,000 white collar redundancies? Surely that is a delicate and sensitive point that does not help when these discussions are now taking place.

We are obliged to make clear the size of the social grant at the beginning of the financial year. We are obliged to do so under EEC regulations as well as for sensible accounting practice. That was, therefore, the right thing to do. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman of earlier exchanges at Question Time when it was made clear that, far from this being a cut, it is a substantial increase, bearing in mind the original claim last year. It is a judgment imposed by myself and is considerably lower than the even higher claim that British Rail put forward this year. It is £100 million more than the original claim put forward at the beginning of last year.

Nuclear Waste (Transportation)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will review the measures at present being taken to provide for the safety of the transportation of nuclear waste.

The measures for ensuring safety in the transport of radioactive materials, which are fully in accordance with the stringent safety requirements laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency, are already kept under review as a normal part of a continuing process.

Does the Minister accept that there is widespread and deep worry about the movement of nuclear waste—which, as we all know, is so deadly—as a result of several accidents that have occurred in built-up areas in the centre of large cities? Recently, such an accident occurred in Leeds, when a group of railway wagons were derailed at 8.30 in the morning after having travelled through the night. Fortunately, they were empty. Will the right hon. Gentleman review this matter, because it is quite clear that, irrespective of the safety precautions that are taken, they are inadequate, as such waste will remain toxic for a long time? The only proper safety course is the abandonment of the entire programme, because then there will be no nuclear waste.

I hope that it will reassure the hon. Gentleman if I emphasise that radioactive material is carried in accordance with stringent international safety requirements. The standards require flasks containing radioactive fuel to withstand extreme accident conditions. As to the minor incident mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I emphasise the excellent safety record in this area. There has been no significant accident nor any release of flask contents in more than 20 years' operating experience. All rail incidents are investigated, and any incident on a running line or which involves damage to a nuclear container is reported to the Department and investigated by us. If an inquiry is necessary, it will be promptly held.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the facts that he has just given about the safety record and the rigorous tests show that there is no danger in the transportation of nuclear waste and that it is highly irresponsible to raise public fears by asking the sort of question that has just been asked?

I appreciate the validity of my hon. Friend's point and I wish to emphasise the importance of our excellent safety record.

Will the Minister confirm that nuclear power stations actually exist in this country and that, because of their existence, it is necessary to transport waste to a place of safety? Does he agree that the best way to transport that nuclear waste is by rail, because in the real world, in which most of us live, we believe that that is the safest method of transportation?

The hon. Gentleman will know that a large quantity of the material is carried by rail. I remind him that the safety aspects of the movement of irradiated fuel were examined during the Windscale inquiry. The inspector said categorically that he was completely satisfied with the transport arrangements made.

Do the regulations include any restraint on taking nuclear waste through built-up or urban areas?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the stringent application of the international safety standards obviates the need for control of routeing.

National Parks (Heavy Lorries)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will take steps to restrict the use of heavier lorries on routes in national parks.

Local authorities already have extensive powers to control the movement of heavy lorries in national parks and elsewhere. I am providing them with further guidance on the use of those powers.

Is the Secretary of State aware that representatives of the Peak District national park are worried about any proposal to introduce even heavier lorries on to our roads? Will he ensure that, if that does happen, such lorries are not permitted to traverse national parks?

The concern about heavy lorries moving in areas of great beauty and national parks is before us anyway. The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about it. I propose to give further guidance to local authorities on how they should use their powers. I shall also ensure that, in accepting expenditure for transport supplementary grant, encouragement is given to those local authorities that tackle the problem of lorry routes. The problem must be grappled with, and it is one reason why we need a comprehensive approach to lorry controls generally.

In considering his guidance to local authorities, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that one problem with the national parks is that it is increasingly becoming more expensive for local people to continue to live in the areas where they were born? If he accedes to such proposals and makes recommendations as suggested, is he aware that that will exacerbate one problem faced by local people in the national parks?

I realise, as does my hon. Friend, that there is a balance to be struck between the impact on the environment of heavy commercial vehicles and the need for people to carry out their business in a sensible and restrained way. I shall take into account what my hon. Friend said.

M25 (A10-M11)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with progress on the construction of the A10 to M11 section of the M25.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is vital to my constituents that that section of the motorway should be completed on time and to schedule? Is she aware that my constituents are suffering considerable inconvenience from additional traffic because the construction of that section may be running late?

There is a minor slippage on one part of the three contracts let for that part of the route, but I assure my hon. Friend that the last of the three contracts will be completed in January 1984. There is evidence that there are now fewer heavy goods vehicles on the metropolitan roads through the shopping and residential areas about which he is concerned, and more on the A10, which can cope better.

Railways (Investment)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next plans to meet the chairman of British Railways to discuss investment in the railways.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to discuss with British Railways their future investment programme.

I meet the chairman regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the entire British Railways Board, without dissent or resignation, is prepared to stand up and fight for the only settlement that will justify future investment in the railways?

Both the chairman and the board of British Rail recognise the basic fact that they must secure higher productivity. If there is to be—as I wish to see—a modern, efficient and well-invested railway system, there must be a recognition that work practices must move on from 1919. I only wish that there was full support on both sides of the House for those inside the unions and the industry who are trying to press that view on the ASLEF workers, who appear to resist it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that if he pursues his present strategy towards the funding of British Rail there will be very little of it left by the time of the next general election, which his Government will lose? Is he aware that during the past few weeks, on the Carlisle-London line, hundreds of passengers have had to stand for the whole of the journey because of the insufficiency of funds made available by the Government to enable British Rail to carry out proper coach maintenance? When the Peat, Marwick and Mitchell inquiry takes place, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that it deals with the real issues and not the spurious issues put up by the Treasury?

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to earlier questions, he would have realised the inaccuracy of his remarks about funding. There has been a considerable increase granted over last year's original public service obligation claim. As to the real cause, I suggest that he combines with other hon. Members and those in the railway industry to bring home the need for higher productivity and modern work practices to those who have so far resisted them. Then we shall begin to see lower costs and more resources available for investment and maintenance, as the hon. Gentleman wishes.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to discuss with the chairman of British Rail the continually deteriorating standard of the catering facilities in both dining and buffet cars? Has he considered that perhaps private enterprise could do the job without making the same loss as British Rail and produce a much higher standard of service, similar to the Pullman service that used to exist?

I have discussed such issues with British Rail, which is always anxious to consider ways of improving the quality of its services. That is true in many areas, although my hon. Friend's specific point has not yet been identified. It is considering harnessing and making use of private capital as well as public finance in many areas, which I am sure is sensible.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the board and the railway industry in general are fed up with being sniped at about the state of its finances? Will he note that in his published statement of Government expenditure for 1982 to 1985 he suggests that British Rail should set up a joint review into its finances, with the Government, under an independent chairman? When will that inquiry be set up and when does the right hon. Gentleman expect to announce the name of the chairman?

Does the Secretary of State accept that, whatever the current arguments, the failure of the Government to back electrification shows them up as mean-minded, short-sighted Luddites? Does he agree that electrification would be of great assistance in achieving, a better railway system?

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The Government have committed themselves in principle to a 10-year rolling electrification programme. However, I am sure he will agree that before there is a commitment of major investment funds it must be clear that there will be higher productivity—it is no use having the equipment if it is not properly worked—and that the investment will be profitable. Those are sensible ways of achieving the right hon. Gentleman's objectives.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to those who are being difficult about productivity improvements in the railway system that they are wrecking the job prospects of many thousands who would be involved in electrifying the railways, not to mention the many more thousands involved in supplying export contracts, if it were possible to obtain them with such a narrow home base?

I have sought to make that clear, the railways management has sought to make it clear, and, indeed, the National Union of Railwaymen has sought to make it clear to some of its own members and ASLEF. The only group that does not seem to have sought to make it clear is the Opposition Front Bench.

Will the Secretary of State, for once, stop insulting the railwaymen and address himself to the real problem, graphically expressed yesterday by Sir Peter Parker, that even if the Government approved electrification proposals now, the financial position of British Rail is so serious that it probably could not proceed? Does that not make nonsense of cutting the PSO by 15 per cent. from the figure that the right hon. Gentleman gave in the middle of the year?

The hon. Gentleman would do better to express his concern to those within ASLEF who cling to 1919 practices. The British Railways Board is the first to recognise that these practices must be left behind and overcome if there is to be the modern, efficient railway that all want to see.

Is it not a fact that the British Railways Board has told the Railways Staff National Tribunal, in the clearest possible terms, that unless there is agreement to a rostering system that ensures greater utilisation of footplate staff it will be unable to ask the Government for more money for investment in the railways? Is this not bound to lead to a reduction in the total rail network?

I think that the British Railways Board has made clear to its employees and railway staff exactly what is at stake. It is widely recognised. We shall have to await the outcome of the tribunal's deliberations.

Lincoln (Relief Road)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when the result of the public inquiry into the Lincoln relief road is expected to be published.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the bypass is necessary, both to improve the quality of life of those who reside in Lincoln and to help industry, and thus the provision of jobs? Will she ensure that work starts as soon as the decision is made, so that the quality of life in Lincoln can be improved?

I fully accept that my hon. Friend has said. It is very important that this historic city should be relieved of through traffic at an early date. I am aware of the strong local support for the scheme and I hope that construction work will commence next year.

Civil Service

Services (Quality And Volume)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what studies have been made under the direction of Sir Derek Rayner of the opportunities for investment in improving the quality and volume of services offered by the Civil Service; and what recommendations have been made to that end.

All the studies carried out in association with Sir Derek Rayner have been concerned with improving the way in which work is done. In general, they have shown the need for streamlining procedures and cutting out unnecessary work and some of the studies have recommended investment in, for example, office accommodation and computerisation.

Does the Minister recognise the low morale that exists among many public employees, who are fed up with constant sniping and attacks from the Government side of the House and with further financial cuts at a time when an improvement of services is needed? Since improvements in services are just as important as cost efficiency, will he ensure that more emphasis is placed on improving the quality of working conditions and the services that are offered to the people?

I have indicated in my answer that Sir Derek Rayner, in his reviews, has always paid attention to the improvement of working conditions as well as to improved procedures. We want both efficiency and more effectiveness.

Will my hon. Friend recognise that many Conservative Members congratulate Sir Derek Rayner on the efforts that he has made and the considerable service that he has contributed to the country? Does he agree that, ultimately, an efficient and effective Civil Service is in the best interests of those working in the Civil Service?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that Sir Derek Rayner would be the first to acknowledge that the work that has been done and that is attached to his name has been carried out in the main by members of the Civil Service. It is their devotion and dedication to duty that has given the good results.

Efficiency And Effectiveness


asked the Minister for the Civil Service if she will make a statement on the response to the report of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee on efficiency and effectiveness in the Civil Service.


asked the Minister for the Civil Service is she will make a statement on the efficiency of the Civil Service central departments.

The Government are giving this wide-ranging report the closest attention. A full reply, including our response to the recommendations on the role of the central departments, will be made in due course.

Has my hon. Friend noted the reports that the Committee made about the MINIS arrangment, developed within the Department of the Environment? Has he also noticed that the Committee was completely unconvinced by evidence that it received from other Departments to the effect that the MINIS operation did not happen to be suitable for the particular Department, for one reason or another?

Yes, I have noted what the Committee had to say on the matter. I believe that every Department should have a management information system appropriate to the functions and needs of the Department concerned.

As a major employer with a branch in Northampton has been forced by the recession to reduce his labour force by 40 per cent. yet is still able to produce the same output as before, and as he is concerned about the overheads that he has to bear from central and local government, does my hon. Friend believe that a 40 per cent. reduction in Civil Service central departments would be a useful target? What does he believe we could achieve if we could do that?

The Prime Minister has set a target for reducing the size of the Civil Service to its lowest level since the end of the war. The target to be achieved is 630,000 by April 1984. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating all those concerned on seeing that we are absolutely on course for that target.

Does not the Select Committee recommendation that the Government should pay more attention to effectiveness than to the narrower issue of manpower numbers really put in another way what the Opposition have been saying since the Government came to office, that the cuts being made are often at the expense of essential services to the most needy groups in our society?

No. I presume that the Select Committee said what it meant to say. That interpretation cannot be read out of the recommendations that it made. It is necessary to increase efficiency, improve cost-effectiveness and give better value for money in the Civil Service.

As a contribution to improving the efficiency of the Civil Service, will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of including on the confidential report form a section that allows an assessment of an individual officer's effectiveness in conserving the use of public resources?

Changes are being made to the annual confidential report form. Managerial ability and concern about cost-effectiveness ought to be reflected in an individual's annual report.

Is not this reduction in the Civil Service being carried out in the manner of wielding a blunderbuss?

Is not the Minister ashamed that he has placed on the dole 26 civil servants working for the export film unit of the COI? This film unit has won international prizes. The reward is that its members are put on the dole by the Minister, due to the blunderbuss approach that he has chosen to use. Is the Minister aware that these civil servants do not fall within the terms that the Prime Minister has used and that they deserve better treatment? Will he institute an inquiry to see whether they are cost-effective, which they believe to be the case?

The hon. Gentleman, who, along with one of his hon. Friends, came with a deputation from the union concerned, knows, if he understands the facts of the matter, that what he says is not true. What is happening will be cost-effective. It will accord with good managerial considerations. I believe that the union concerned would be better employed in ceasing to misrepresent the facts of the matter.



asked the Minister for the Civil Service how recruitment to the lower-paid grades of the Civil Service in 1981 compares with the previous year.

The provisional figure for the number of new entrants in 1981 to the non-industrial Home Civil Service in grades at clerical officer, or equivalent, and below, was 29,500. This compares with 43,500 in 1980.

Is the Minister aware of a sense of injustice and a lowering of morale among the lower-paid grades of the Civil Service resulting from the higher percentage pay offer to higher-paid grades than to lower-paid grades? Will he ensure that the lower-paid grades, especially hard working staff in social security and unemployment benefit offices, get a much more substantial increase than will the mandarins in Whitehall?

The hon. Gentleman will know, as he follows these matters, that the issue has now gone to arbitration. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to comment upon it. My own experience of some of the lower grades in the Civil Service is that they are glad to have the security of a Civil Service job.

Does my hon. Friend agree that irrespective of recruitment to the lower-paid grades, there might be some vacancies soon—bearing in mind the present situation—among the higher grades?

The reductions taking place across the Civil Service are occurring at all levels. The open structure—the three most senior grades in the Civil Service—is bearing its share of the reductions.

In view of the critical situation in the Falklands, does the hon. Gentleman expect that we shall need more, or fewer, civil servants in the Ministry of Defence?

I presume that the hon. Gentleman is trying to pre-empt the debate that is to follow. I suggest that he waits for that debate.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

  • 1. Fire Service College Board (Abolition) Act 1982
  • 2. Reserve Forces Act 1982
  • 3. Coal Industry Act 1982
  • 4. St. Thomas' Burial Ground (Southwark) Act 1982.
  • Questions To Ministers

    Whilst in the Chair at Question Time I received notice of two points of order.

    I shall be brief, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance, and perhaps that of the House, on the rulings relating to open questions. We all appreciate and understand your wish to bring some order to our proceedings and perhaps to try to avoid the unruly way in which questions sometimes jump from subject to subject during Prime Minister's Question Time.

    I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to question No. 2 which fell foul of your ruling. I was advised by your office that I might not be called for a supplementary question as question No. 2 had been designated as an open question. There is in this situation a particular problem about the relationship between Ministers and the heads of nationalised industries. We are often ruled out of order by the Table Office if we table detailed questions on the activities of nationalised industries, because they are considered to involve managerial policy.

    Will you consider, Mr. Speaker, whether the relationship between a Secretary of State and the head of a nationalised industry could be excluded from your general ruling about open questions?

    I must advise the hon. Gentleman that if a question is out of order at an early stage it is also out of order at a later stage. I am determined to do my utmost to avoid open questions when the House cannot possibly have any idea of the supplementary questions that are likely to be asked.

    I wish to raise a point of order about the newly elevated Minister at the Foreign Office, who misled the House on 3 February 1982. During questions on the Common Market I asked a question about the $100 million of arms being sent to El Salvador. I called on the Foreign Office to condemn that. The right hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) replied:

    "The hon. Gentleman has not studied the statement on El Salvador put out by the Foreign Ministers of the Ten last year. If he had, he would not draw such violent conclusions about our policy."—[Official Report, 3 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 299.]
    I have now received a letter signed by the Minister in which he admits that he unintentionally misled me. However, he misled the House. He replied not only to me, but to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the whole House. He said that he now realised that
    "the text was not in fact published as a declaration by the Ten, as I had earlier understood. I remembered the text, but not the fact that in the end it was not used".
    Whether the Minister involved comes from the Foreign Office—with all the calamities that have recently ensued—or from any other Department, or whether he is a Minister at the Foreign Office who has just been upgraded when the rest of the Ministers have been sacked, he has a duty to tell you, Mr. Speaker, and the House from that Dispatch Box that he has made a mistake and has misled the House. I call on the Minister to apologise to the House.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for having given me notice of his point of order. As he said, he asked a supplementary question on 3 February, and in reply I referred to a statement by the Ten on El Salvador as a statement that had been made. As he correctly states, the statement was prepared but not made. As soon as I had discovered the error I wrote on my own initiative to the hon. Gentleman—

    Business Of The House

    Motion made and Question proposed,

    That, at this day's sitting, proceedings on the British Transport Docks Bill, set down for consideration at Seven o'clock by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, shall, instead of being considered at that hour, be considered at the conclusion of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House and, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House), may be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours after being entered upon.—[Mr. Budgen.]

    3.36 pm

    I refer briefly to the motion to place on record my concern—which I believe is shared by other hon. Members—about the arrangements made for the business later today. I understand that the purpose of the business motion is to enable the House to proceed, after the Falkland Islands debate, to a debate on the British Transport Docks Bill, which will begin at 11 pm and may continue until 2 am. In the Business Statement on Monday, a different Leader of the House from the present one said:

    "The business on Wednesday 7 April will now be a debate on the Falkland Islands, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House."—[Official Report, 5 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 691.]
    He came to a full stop and that was the end of his statement. At the time, most hon. Members assumed that there would be no other business that day and that private business would not be taken.

    It is open to the Chairman of Ways and Means to interrupt the debate on the Falkland Islands at 7 pm to take private business, but I am sure that he would not wish to do that. Indeed, the House would find it difficult to understand why such a Bill should interrupt the proceedings. However, the course chosen could have been avoided and I hope that it will be borne in mind that it would be more reasonable for the British Transport Docks Bill to be considered at a suitable time after the Easter Recess instead of at 11 pm tonight.

    I have no personal interest in the Bill. The main concern relates to the constituency of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) Knowing of his genuine concern about the issue, several hon. Members—at the request of his constituents—have taken it upon themselves to become interested in the provisions affecting the fishing industry. As I think the Chairman of Ways and Means and other hon. Members know, one of those hon. Members is in hospital. Various circumstances have been drawn to the attention of the authorities and they may provide a sufficient basis for deferring the Bill until the week after Easter.

    I cannot understand why the promoters of the Bill should have insisted on a debate on the Bill today when it could easily have been deferred. I still ask that that deferral should take place.

    The House knows that I cannot alter the Order Paper, but the hon. Gentleman has registered his point.

    3.39 pm

    The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. The motion is debatable. As he knows, the House is anxious to move on to other business, but he is within his rights to speak.

    Given the remarks made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I should have thought that at the very least the new Leader of the House should respond. It has always been a custom of the House that, if the Government have to change the business because of some national emergency, they will not try to cheat by piling on business halfway through the night. It is perfectly possible to postpone until after Easter the business that is now set down for discussion after 11 pm. We are at least owed an explanation why the Leader of the House feels unable to do that.

    3.40 pm

    The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
    (Mr. John Biffen)

    I perfectly understand the disappointment felt by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the present arrangements, but the Chairman of Ways and Means had set down opposed private business for today, 7 April. Originally that private business would have been taken at 7 pm, after the conclusion of the original Government business. With the change of business to the Falkland Islands debate, we had to consider whether to allow business to be interrupted at 7 pm for opposed private business. That would have been wholly out of keeping with the importance of today's parliamentary occasion.

    I realise that it is inconvenient to take the private business at 11 pm, but the situation is not without precedent. There are certain parliamentary occasions when such things have to happen.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Companies (Directors' Reports) (Employee Involvement)

    3.40 pm

    I beg to move,

    That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for annual reports by directors of certain companies to state what steps have been taken during the year to promote employee involvement; and for connected purposes.
    This is not the afternoon I would have chosen to introduce the Bill. However, our ability to defend our national interest depends, to a large extent, on the success of our industry and the unity of our people. In the past our industry has not performed as well as some of its international competitors because there has not been the necessary unity of approach. It is in the search for that greater unity that I bring forward the Bill.

    I believe that there is general acceptance that companies in which employees feel involved perform better than those where they do not, that people respond most willingly to the instructions that they give themselves or, at least, to those in the formulation of which they play a part and that motivation provides the cutting edge of effective competition.

    In the United States, research over a long period has found that companies with profit sharing achieve more than those without it and I have no doubt that recent moves to encourage profit sharing in this country will have the same result. It therefore seems only sensible to require directors of companies to spell out what they are doing to create a situation in which the success that flows from the commitment of the work force is most likely to be achieved.

    That requirement will have some obvious consequences. Not less than once a year, a board employing more than a given number of people will have to consider formally the state of its employee relations and put on the record a statement for which it may be held accountable by shareholders, the press and its employees or their representatives. It is clearly desirable that the statement should be written not in the language beloved of accountants, but in terms to which employees can respond and that they should each receive a copy.

    In the course of the board's discussions on what the statement should include, certain questions are likely to be asked, including "What are we doing to meet the requirements of the law and to meet our own objectives? Are those shared by our employees? What are they asking us to do? Are we sympathetic? If not, why not? What are other companies doing? Is this or that a good idea and should we investigate it? How does our record look? What have we done in the past 12 months? What do we intend to do in the next 12 months?"

    By no means every company goes through that process at present—certainly not at board level—and it is one of the areas in which non-executive directors can make a significant contribution. I believe that nothing but good can come from bringing it about in companies that do not go through that process.

    Let me deal with some of the other consequences that may flow from the Bill. One of the things that stood out at the time of the Bullock inquiry was the absence of any comprehensive corps of information about what was being done in the larger companies. The Bill would rectify that situation.

    Another revelation to some members of the Bullock committee was the diversity of company structure; and even more diverse than company structure is the way in which employees are now consulted.

    We should do all that we can to encourage initiatives that have proved successful, but before considering what framework to promote employee involvement could possibly accommodate such variety as exists in British industry it would be helpful to know how companies of all sorts provide employees with relevant financial and other information about their job, their work place and their company and what opportunities are provided for discussion with employees or their representatives about matters of legitimate concern.

    It would also be helpful to know how regularly meetings take place and who convenes them, what means have been developed for encouraging greater involvement by employees in the company's success, whether a profit-sharing scheme is in operation and what training is provided for employees to improve their contribution.

    I believe that if we have that information we shall find that, just as there is diversity of structure, so there is diversity of approach. However, we should not believe that any one model for bringing about greater involvement by employees in the affairs of their company—as, for instance, exists in some countries on the Continent—would be right for us at the present time.

    I believe that there is support on both sides of the House for the voluntary approach, but that does not mean that we should do nothing. I have little doubt that the House will at some time debate a code of practice to cover the points that I have raised and other matters. The Bill's sponsors and I believe that the House will produce a better code if it is well informed about what is being done across British industry to promote greater employee involvement and that that is more likely to happen if there is a reasonable record available.

    As the House knows, the European Parliament is considering these problems. It is essential that before it reaches final conclusions we should have worked out a system of employee involvement that suits our situation and not have thrust upon us a system that may not suit us. There is a need for action, but it must be well considered.

    There is an old military maxim that time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted. I believe that my modest Bill may, in time, provide valuable information for all those concerned to improve our industrial relations and a modest stimulus to those who are not giving sufficient thought to the need to do more in their own companies. In that spirit, I commend the Bill to the House.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Esmond Bulmer, Mr. Jocelyn Cadbury, Mr. Kenneth Carlisle, Mr. Anthony Grant, Mr. Nicholas Lyell, Mr. Hal Miller, Mr. Richard Needham, Sir David Price, Mr. Tim Renton, Mr. Michael Shersby and Mr. Fred Silvester.

    Companies (Directors' Reports) (Employee Involvement)

    MR. ESMOND BULMER accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for annual reports by directors of certain companies to state what steps have been taken during the year to promote employee involvement; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 May and to be printed. [Bill 104.]

    Falkland Islands

    Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Budgen]

    3.47 pm

    I come to the House to open this debate less than two days after becoming Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. I am deeply conscious of the heavy repsonsibilities that have been placed upon me and I shall discharge them to the very best of my abilities.

    My predecessor lifted high the reputation of Britain and British foreign policy. He made full use of his great skills and gifts and his especial flair. He registered some important achievements. He was a very fine Foreign Secretary, and the nation owes him its gratitude. He had under him a very fine diplomatic service, which has served us, and continues to serve us, well. I look forward to working with it.

    The circumstances of my predecessor's departure were most unfortunate and I come to my new post at a critical time in the history of the Falkland Islands. I shall bring to this task all the determination that I can command, and I approach it in a spirit of realism and, I hope, of calm—determination, because we intend to show Argentina and the whole world that Britain is resolved to succeed in this crisis; realism, because I shall proceed in full recognition of the major difficulties that lie ahead; and calm, because we must give the most careful consideration to the practical options open to us and reach the right decisions as we advance towards our objectives.

    The House knows what those objectives are. They were stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Saturday. We intend to see that the Falkland Islands are freed from occupation and returned to British administration at the earliest possible moment. To do that, we must look forward in confidence, and not backwards in anger.

    The whole House and the country is struck by the appalling nature of the aggressive action the Argentine regime has committed. As recently as the end of February, as the House is aware, we had held talks with Argentina about the Falkland Islands. The Argentine Government were fully aware of Britain's position: that is to say, total firmness on the right of the islanders to determine their own future; but, subject to that, willingness—indeed, desire—to deal with the Falkland Islands problem by means of fair negotiation.

    Why did Argentina's ruler suddenly decide in the last days of March to resort to arbitrary and brutal aggression? I suggest that part of the answer lies in the very brutality and unpopularity of the Argentine regime itself. Inflation is raging in Argentina, at the rate of 140 per cent. a year. The regime is notorious for its systematic contempt of all human rights. Since 1976, there have been thousands of arrests and killings, often described in a tragic and disgraceful euphemism as "disappearances". Only a few days before the invasion of the Falkland Islands there had been riots in Buenos Aires, and many people had been arrested. Harassed by political unrest at home, and beset by mounting economic difficulties, the regime turned desperately to a cynical attempt to arouse jingoism among its people. The Falkland Islanders have thus become the victims of the unprincipled opportunism of a morally bankrupt regime. Our purpose is to restore their rights.

    Since the debate on Saturday, there have been a number of developments, and I should bring the House up to date. The Governor of the Falkland Islands and the Marines from Port Stanley have been evacuated to this country. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to them.

    The governor, Mr. Hunt, conducted himself with courage and dignity amid the danger and confusion. He proved himself worthy of the trust which the British Government had placed in him and of the manifest respect which he had inspired among the islanders. The Royal Marines proved equally and characteristically valiant and trustworthy. They did all that could possibly have been expected of them. They gave the invaders a sharp taste of what even a very small detachment from the British Armed Services can do when attacked by overwhelming force.

    On Saturday, the Argentines occupied South Georgia. The small detachment of Royal Marines on that island put up a gallant and spirited resistance, but of course they could not stand up against overwhelming strength.

    The Argentines have also been consolidating their presence in the Falkland Islands themselves. We believe that they may now have a sizeable occupation force. While we have no reports of direct maltreatment of the islanders, it is quite obvious that the occupation force has no intention of treating them other than as a conquered population. Tight restrictions have been placed on their activities. It is essential, at the very least, that the Argentine authorities respect their international obligations to the civilian population.

    The House is aware that we have despatched a large task force towards the South Atlantic. We are confident that it will be fully adequate for any action that may be required in exercise of our undoubted right of self-defence under the United Nations' charter. While no formal state of war exists between this country and Argentina, we are fully entitled to take whatever measures may be necessary in the exercise of this right. This task force is an essential part of the means for attaining our objectives. It gives the strength from which to urge a settlement, and in the end it may only be strength that the regime in Argentina will understand.

    There will be time before the task force reaches the area to do everything possible to solve the problem without further fighting. We would much prefer a peaceful settlement. We will do all we can to get one, and we shall welcome and support all serious efforts to that end. The House and the country should be in no doubt about that. But if our efforts fail, the Argentine regime will know what to expect: Britain does not appease dictators.

    This is a tense and difficult period. We are using the interval immediately ahead for maximum diplomatic activity. The need is for all the world to bring pressure on Argentina to withdraw her Armed Forces from the islands. Britain herself has already taken various measures. We have broken diplomatic relations with Argentina. The British ambassador in Buenos Aires and most of his staff are being withdrawn. We have informed Argentina that its consulates in Liverpool and Hong Kong must now be closed. I might add here that we have increased our broadcasts in Spanish to Argentina and in English to the Falkland Islands.

    A small British interests section will continue to work in the Swiss embassy, and we are most grateful to the Government of Switzerland, who are most expert in these matters, for agreeing to this arrangement. We have been advising the many British subjects living in Argentina to depart, unless they have special reasons for remaining. We have frozen all Argentine financial assets in this country. We have stopped new credit cover for exports to Argentina. We have banned the exports of arms to Argentina, and, as the House was informed yesterday, we have imposed an embargo on the import of all goods from Argentina from midnight last night.

    The despatch of our naval force and the economic measures we have taken should show the Argentine regime quite clearly that we mean business. Yet, if we are to convince it that aggression does not pay, we shall also need the support of the world community and all who believe in freedom.

    The Security Council of the United Nations promptly and decisively endorsed the British view of the invasion of the islands. It adopted—the very day after the invasion—a resolution put forward by Britain. That resolution demands an immediate cessation of hostilities and an immediate withdrawal of all Argentine forces, and it calls on the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a diplomatic solution to their differences and to respect the United Nations charter. Britain immediately accepted the injunction to seek a diplomatic solution and observe the charter.

    But Argentina displayed her contempt for world opinion by coldly declaring that she would not comply with the resolution. The resolution is mandatory. It represents the expression of world opinion. It is binding in international law. I hope that the Argentine regime will be brought by the pressure of world opinion to fulfil its legal obligations.

    The whole world has an interest in the fulfilment of this resolution. There are many such territories across the world which are vulnerable to aggression from more powerful neighbours. The preservation of peace depends on the exercise of responsibility and restraint. It depends on the strong not taking the law into their own hands and imposing their rule on the weak. It depends on the international community supporting the principle of self-determination and punishing those who wilfully and forcibly violate that principle. It is the Falkland Islanders who today are being deprived of their right to live in accordance with their wishes. If the world does not oblige Argentina to restore their rights, tomorrow it will be someone else's turn to suffer aggression and occupation. The world will become an even more dangerous place.

    Since 4 April, the Government have been making these views known to a large number of countries across the world. We have urged them to take measures, similar to those that Britain has taken, to bring Argentina to her senses. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent a personal message to our partners in the European Community and also to other countries with which we have particularly close ties.

    Active discussion is now under way about measures by the European Community against Argentina. We have also been in close contact with the members of the Commonwealth, many of whom have responded with support, which bears witness to the strength and value of our Commonwealth links. All this diplomatic activity will continue.

    The case for other countries to follow Britain in taking economic measures is very strong. The Argentine economy depends greatly on export earnings and on raising finance to pay for imports and cover the external deficit. The scope for measures by our friends is extensive. About 40 per cent. of Argentina's exports go to our major partners, including the members of the Community. Argentina frequently tries to raise funds in the leading financial centres of the Western world.

    We are asking our friends to do everything they can to help us. They may not be able to take exactly the same measures as Britain herself. I do not think that precise similarity is necessarily the answer in this kind of situation, but the supply of arms and military equipment to Argentina must be stopped in present circumstances, and I hope that our friends and partners will encourage their banks to make no new loans to Argentina. I hope, too, that they will follow us in terminating official export credits. Above all, we are asking our friends and friendly countries to take measures against imports from Argentina. I ask also that they should announce what they are doing. This will impress Argentina, and encourage others to follow suit.

    We are confident of the support of the world community and in particular of our friends. With this support, we hope to make it clear to Argentina that withdrawal from the Falkland Islands and a negotiated settlement constitute the only legal and acceptable approach in the dispute and the only one which is in Argentina's own interests.

    The first responses to our approaches to friendly countries have been encouraging. Many countries across the world have condemned Argentina's aggression. Our friends in Europe and the United States were among the very first. New Zealand has severed diplomatic relations with Argentina. Canada has placed an immediate ban on military supplies. Canada and Australia have withdrawn their ambassadors from Buenos Aires. The Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany have taken action on arms sales. We hope that this list will soon grow much longer both in terms of action taken and the number of countries involved.

    Meanwhile, our naval task force is on its way to the South Atlantic. It is a formidable demonstration of our strength and of our strength of will. The challenges which it may be called upon to face may also be formidable. I have no doubt that it will be equal to it. I know that the House will join me in offering full support to those who are now embarked in defence of British territory and to protect the rights which we and the Falkland Islanders hold equally dear.

    It is intolerable that the peaceful people of the Falkland Islands, who are British by choice and by inheritance, should be the victims of unprovoked invasion by a powerful and covetous neighbour. It will be far from easy to reverse this situation. The difficulties speak for themselves. We shall spare no effort to reach a peaceful solution. The Falkland Islanders have reacted with courage and dignity to their rape of the islands. I assure them new that Britain will stand by them. We have always said that their wishes are paramount. We shall do all in our power to show that their confidence in us is justified.

    I know that our objective of liberating the islands is shared in all parts of this House. If we in this country are to achieve our objective as swiftly and as peacefully as possible, then we must all unite in our resolve to succeed. Of course, there has been criticism of the Government's handling of the matter before the invasion. We are acutely conscious of that. Yet I believe—certainly I hope—that I judge the mood of the House and the country rightly when I say that the Government have their support in the determined course we have taken to solve the problem.

    What we in Britain must now do, with the support and backing of all freedom-loving countries right across the world, is to see to it that Argentina's illegal and intolerable defiance of the international community and of the rule of law is not allowed to stand.

    4.4 pm

    I think that I should start by congratulating the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) on his new post and on the vigour of his speech. I believe that he always wanted to serve at the Foreign Office. Each of us may have his own views about how long he will hold his office and where he will go when he leaves it. Meanwhile, I think that he was right to say that he carries a heavy responsibility. Indeed, it is an awesome one, because he must guide our nation through the most dangerous crisis that it has faced for a quarter of a century—one for which not only Lord Carrington, his predecessor, who has resigned, but the Prime Minister, who remains in office, carry overwhelming responsibility.

    I do not propose to waste my time by asking for the right hon. Lady's resignation, although I am a little puzzled that she could applaud the sense of honour that led Lord Carrington to resign and remain oblivious of the fact that honour should indicate the same course for her.

    I shall not concentrate unduly on the inexplicable errors of action and judgment that led to the Government betraying their duties to the Falkland Islanders—except in so far as they are relevant to the future—but in view of the Prime Minister's performance yesterday I must draw the attention of the House to a sequence of events that raise questions which still demand an answer.

    In January, according to an American senator who spoke on the radio this morning, the American Government were given positive intelligence of the Argentine Government's intention to launch an assault on the Falkland Islands. At the same time, the leading Argentine paper, La Prensa, said that the Argentine Government would threaten military action against the Falklands in the near future.

    At the end of February the then Minister of State met the Argentine Deputy Foreign Minister to agree a framework for negotiations, but the agreement was never published in the Argentine. On the contrary, a day or two later statements were made by Argentine officials and by the Argentine press threatening unilateral action.

    On 3 March, when questioned by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) on that statement, the then Minister of State told the House that it had created grave concern in the Government, but no action was taken by the Government to follow up their concern.

    On 3 March the then Minister of State knew that, at that very time, a large NATO naval force, consisting of 30 ships, including a British submarine, a frigate and Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, was embarking on an exercise, which was to last until 18 March, in the Gulf of Mexico—not to deter aggression by the Argentine against the Falklands, but to frighten Cuba and Nicaragua, with neither of whom we had any dispute. Indeed, at that very time Her Majesty's Government, instead of taking action to counter the Argentine threats, were the only Government outside the United States in NATO, and the only Government in Europe, to join the Argentine in legitimising the elections in El Salvador.

    On 23 March the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who was then a Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made a statement to the House on the Argentine landings in South Georgia, but failed to disclose in his opening statement that the invaders had raised the Argentine flag and had arrived there in a naval vessel. That had to be brought out in subsequent questioning. There is now conclusive evidence that on 29 March—the Prime Minister almost admitted this yesterday—the Government received detailed intelligence of the assembly of a large Argentine naval force. But that very day the Secretary of State for Defence pooh-poohed a question from the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten) drawing attention to the danger. The Secretary of State said:
    "I do not intend to get involved in a debate about the Falkland Islands now."—[Official Report, 29 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 27.]
    The next day, on 30 March—

    I did not ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence a question.

    I should have said the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). The next day, on 30 March, the only concession that the Government would make to the deep and widespread concern on both sides of the House was that they would keep HMS "Endurance" in the area as long as necessary. Three days later, when the Argentine forces landed on the Falkland Islands, the Government knew nothing about it until hours after the rest of the British people had heard of it.

    I learnt from journalists that the Governor had no independent means of communication with the Government in London, although scores of amateur radio enthusiasts were sending messages every day. When the invasion was known to be imminent no steps were taken to crater the runway on the islands, and I am told that no explosives were available for that purpose.

    This history of indifference to an evident threat to a people for whom we are directly responsible is one of the most disgraceful episodes in British history. I do not believe that there was collusion between the Foreign Office and Argentina, as some people have said, but I believe that Her Majesty's Government's conduct over three months, if not longer, was seen by the Argentine Government as an open invitation to invasion.

    Perhaps the most distressing revelation in the past day or two was that following the now resigned Foreign Secretary's interview on Monday, in which it was indicated that the Foreign Office did not expect an invasion until the end of the year, when HMS "Endurance" would have left the South Atlantic. We know that if the Argentine Government had waited until 1984 half of the frigates and destroyers in the task force would have been sold to foreigners or would be in the scrapyards. HMS "Invincible" would already have been serving in the Australian Fleet and HMS "Hermes" would have been in the junkyard.

    If the British Government had behaved in that way on a vital British interest 200 years ago, the Prime Minister would have been impeached. The right hon. Lady has chosen to stay, but from this moment she has no moral or political rights whatever to ask the Opposition to give her a blank cheque. No responsible Opposition in this situation could surrender their freedom of thought and action to a Prime Minister who had demonstrated such a monumental lack of judgment. However, we have a duty to the nation and we shall fulfil it, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did on Saturday when he spoke for Britain as a whole and was praised for so doing by nearly everyone on the Government Back Benches.

    I now turn to the problems raised—the serious and difficult problems, as the Foreign Secretary said—following the despatch of the British task force to the South Atlantic. Some people have sought to see a precedent for the despatch of this force in what happened at Suez a quarter of a century ago. The argument in Suez was about property rights—that in the Falkland Islands is about human rights. At Suez a British Government violated the United Nations charter. In the Falkland Islands crisis the Argentine Government have violated the United Nations charter and the British position has won overwhelming endorsement from the Security Council. Suez offers no precedent here.

    Others say, as was said in 1938, that the Falkland Islands is a far-away country that is indefensible and that we must accept the geographical and strategic realities. However, I hope that the whole House supports the right of the Falkland Islanders to self-determination and to live in peace under a Government of their own choosing, as they have been able to do for the past 150 years.

    The right of self-determination is a fundamental human right that we are responsible for restoring, as the right hon. Gentleman told us. If we turn our backs on that responsibility the next thing we shall see is an invasion of Belize by the brutal dictatorship in Guatemala, a possible invasion of Nicaragua by her neighbours, an invasion of Grenada or Cuba by their neighbours, and, perhaps, the invasion of Guyana by Venezuela. Indeed, there could be threats to British overseas colonies such as Gibraltar and Hong Kong. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence, who is to reply, will give a firmer assurance than we have had heretofore that the Government have no intention of withdrawing British forces from Belize while the threat from Guatemala persists.

    I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the United Nations now has a duty to take action to prove that dictators cannot get away with the product of their aggression. If the United Nations is unable to take such action, the whole framework of world order will be under threat. On that I totally agree with the Foreign Secretary.

    Britain has a major responsibility to help the United Nations. She has the right to do so under article 51 of the United Nations Charter. However, I remind the House that the resolution to which the right hon. Gentleman referred commits Britain to seeking a diplomatic settlement of the crisis. That commitment was drafted by the British Government in presenting the resolution to the Security Council.

    We all know from bitter experience that it is impossible to negotiate with a military dictatorship except against a background of strength. A dictator will not concede in negotiation what he can keep by force. Therefore, the Opposition support the despatch of the task force to the area, but I must warn the House of the appallingly difficult and dangerous situation to which the Government have exposed the nation. The wrong use of that task force could lead to the unnecessary loss of life among our soldiers, sailors and marines in the task force and to appalling economic and political consequences. The Government must now tread a narrow path between two dangers. The first danger is surrender in a diplomatic settlement that sells the Falkland Islanders down the river and is totally inconsistent with the objectives that the right hon. Lady set herself on Saturday—to see the islands freed from occupation and returned to British administration.

    I understand that the Government are not insisting on British sovereignty as a result of the settlement that might be reached. I say that because the Prime Minister added on Saturday that if there is to be a change of sovereignty it must be with the consent of the islanders and with the approval of the House. The Prime Minister will know that under her own Administration the Foreign Office raised with the Argentine Government a couple of years ago the possibility of a transfer of sovereignty with a lease-back over 25 years.

    First, there is the danger of a settlement that is inconsistent with our responsibilities to the Falkland islanders. The other danger is that of a large-scale military conflict with Argentina in circumstances that cost us the support of the United Nations and world opinion. Even if we won such a conflict in those circumstances we would be thought to have acted inconsistently with the Security Council resolution and the situation of the islanders following our victory would be intolerable. They would be threatened permanently by a new invasion and, as we were told on Saturday, Britain could not conceivably give permanent protection against such an invasion.

    Perhaps the most dangerous enterprise of all—

    I am trying to follow the logic of my right hon. Friend's argument. I understand what he is trying to say and I understand the importance of avoiding what could be a major conflict in which thousands of lives could be lost. Let us suppose that the fleet sails to the Falkland Islands and diplomatic overtures have been made. The United Nations, and all that it represents, might ask to be part of the fleet and that request might be refused. That will mean that, in spite of diplomatic efforts, the fleet will be off the Falkland Islands. Is my right hon. Friend saying that in those circumstances the fleet should turn round and go home?

    I am coming to deal with the question and I shall do so in my own way and in my own time.

    I wish to put it to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".]—that perhaps the most dangerous scenario of all would be that of an all-out assault on the Falkland Islands at a time when we were dangerously weak in air power and when the Argentine forces would have had a further two or three weeks to build up their strength and their stores on the island, and would certainly outnumber the forces that we could mount against them. For that type of sea-borne assault a superiority of 3: 1 or 5:1 is normally reckoned to be required.

    I quote Colonel Jonathan Allford of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, who many hon. Members will know as a most respected strategist and who was a member of the British Army until recently. He has said that our task force is not designed or equipped for a major amphibious landing. Indeed, he said:
    "Trying to storm the beaches against that sort of opposition"—

    Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to question the credibility of our Armed Forces?

    No. The colonel continued:

    "would result in the Government fulfilling its pledge up to its neck in dead marines."
    It is not defeatism to say that. The Argentines can read that as well as I have read it to the House. What we need at this time of all times, as the Secretary of State has said, is realism and calm. I tell the Prime Minister that the hard facts of military reality cannot be swept away by flabby rhetoric or misquotations from Queen Elizabeth I.

    Worst of all, an opposed landing would inflict intolerable casualties on the Falkland Islanders, whom it is our duty to protect. They are not asking for the peace of the cemetery. Somehow—I am coming to answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) —between the extremes we must seek and find a diplomatic solution that the Falkland Islanders can accept and that is consistent with the commitment that we have made to the Security Council.

    The main purpose of our naval task force—I believe that the Government see it in this way—is to give us the strength with which to negotiate. I make the following point as someone who was Secretary of Defence for six years and someone who for most of the last world war was involved in combined operations in various parts of the Mediterranean. Too many people without experience of war see the choice as being between Armageddon and surrender. I hope that the principle of the economy of force will always be the key to the British use of armed forces in a situation that requires a diplomatic settlement. I refer to my experience as Secretary of State for Defence during the long war of confrontation with Indonesia. We rightly kept large air forces, including bomber forces, in Singapore as well as very large naval forces. However, I never allowed our bombers to drop one bomb and we won the war after four years—

    We made a peaceful agreement with Indonesia, and the people of Borneo and Indonesia have been living together harmoniously ever since. We lost fewer men in casualties during those four arduous years of jungle patrol and fighting than we lose on the roads on the average Bank Holiday weekend.

    We cannot guarantee that we shall not be involved either by the accident of war or through attacks by the Argentine forces in a much larger scale conflict than I would wish. However, that prospect must lead the United States Administration to use all its influence for a peaceful solution. The evidence that has been published so far is that the United States is now engaged in continuous activity to try to find a way of getting under way the process of reaching a diplomatic settlement. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can confirm that Vice-President Bush has been accepted by the Government at least as a sort of go-between by the United Kingdom and Argentine Governments. This may be the first step towards getting the process of a diplomatic settlement in motion.

    I hope that we shall also involve the United Nations at the first opportunity.

    No. I hope that we shall involve it in an active search for a solution, which has not so far happened. It is possible that, while negotiations proceed, the United Nations might provide an administrator for the island and perhaps a peacekeeping force after the withdrawal of the Argentine forces. I note that the Government propose secession of sovereignty with lease-back over 25 years, and there have been proposals for a condominium.

    Any solution that is reached between Britain and Argentina with help from the United Nations must be acceptable to the Falkland Islanders. They may take a different view of what is acceptable to them after the experience of the past few weeks, and even more so after the experience of the coming months.

    Our central concern, interest and responsibility at present—I think that the Foreign Secretary was emphasising this—must be the Falkland Islanders themselves, their rights and what they will accept. We must not allow any other consideration to impede the search for a solution that is acceptable to them.

    The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the lease-back solution. He will be aware, of course, that this was considered in the Falkland House of Assembly, which unanimously rejected it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not put that forward as any possible solution.

    I was not putting it forward. I was pointing out that the Government put forward the suggestion two years ago. It is not for the Opposition to make specific proposals for a settlement. I was merely pointing out that it is possible to envisage changes in the status of the islands. The problem always is to ensure that those changes are acceptable not only to the British and Argentine Governments but to the Falkland Islanders themselves. Their view of the situation is bound to have been affected both by their recent experience and their experience during the coming months.

    The Government must recognise that their record on this issue has not only faced our nation with difficult and dangerous choices, which I have attempted to put to the House, but has damaged their authority not just in Britain but throughout the world, as can be seen from the behaviour of the financial markets in the past few days.

    The problems have also put the Opposition in the difficult and unenviable position of supporting the nation's interest, even when that interest is represented abroad by a Cabinet that has lost its authority at home. Nevertheless, we shall support the Government's efforts to solve this crisis so long as we are satisfied that their activities are inspired by the desire for a diplomatic solution consistent with the wishes of the Falkland Islanders and the principles of the United Nations, and that their actions are well calculated to fulfil those principles. That is where our confidence has been badly shaken over recent weeks.

    The Opposition will watch the behaviour of the Government with unremitting vigilance over the coming weeks and months. We shall not hesitate to warn them when we feel that they are in danger of betraying the nation's interests. I hope that the Government will agree to the recall of Parliament if that appears desirable at any time during the Whitsun or Summer Recess.

    Last Saturday hon. Members in all parts of the House spoke to a united nation. We must continue to fulfil that honourable role as long as the present crisis persists. The Opposition will put the unity of the nation first. I call on the Government to do the same.

    Order. Before the debate continues I wish to tell the House that over 80 right hon. and hon. Members have already indicated their wish to catch my eye, including 14 Privy Councillors. It is already clear to me that they will not all be called. I hope, and I make this appeal to the House before continuing, that now that the House is aware of the facts nobody will come to the Chair during the debate seeking to canvass reasons why they should be called. This makes my life intolerable when I want to concentrate on the debate.

    I hope also that the House will bear in mind that what happened last Saturday has brought me an enormous correspondence. The country is watching anxiously how we debate these matters.

    I trust, Mr. Speaker, that you will bear in mind that there are some Privy Councillors who almost never speak in the House?

    The right hon. Gentleman has had years of experience of not speaking in the House.

    4.35 pm

    I am one of those Privy Councillors to whom the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) referred. Recently I announced my decision to leave this place and in those circumstances the urge to speak on every subject at great length has left me. However, today I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words about the position in which our country finds itself.

    Last Saturday's debate was a very sad occasion for all of us. It has not been made any the less sad since then by the departure of Lord Carrington from the Foreign Office. I am sure that today we are all bound together, as we were on Saturday, by feelings of sorrow, shame and anger.

    We feel sorrow for the people of the Falkland Islands, the framework of whose lives has been smashed; shame for ourselves that undertakings or assurances given, perhaps unwisely, by successive Governments to defend the islands to the best of our abilities, should, in the event, have meant so little; and anger at a piece of gross international misconduct.

    Sorrow, shame and anger may not be good counsellors now. They can easily drive us to take as little account of the unpalatable circumstances that now confront us as we apparently did of the growing and mounting dangers. I do not believe that it is either cowardice or defeatism to take note now of this formidable combination of difficulties that confronts us.

    First, there is the plain fact of geography—the difference between the 400 miles that separate the islands from their nearest neighbour—the Argentine—and the 8,000 miles that separate us from the islands. We have to face the fact also that we have no base in the South Atlantic. I do not wish now to raise the issue of Simonstown, but were we still enjoying use of that base it might be helpful to us now.

    One wonders what form of defence will ever be effective against a near neighbour. The 100 Royal Marines were not enough, but it is inconceivable in our country's present circumstances that we could mount and establish such a huge naval base as would render at all times the defence of the Falkland Islands beyond all doubt. It would involve not only an unacceptable cost but a huge and equally unacceptable diversion of forces from their main role. We have to face the fact that the Falkland Islands will inevitably depend for much of their sustenance on their nearest neighbour—the Argentine—for supplies, education services and medical requirements.

    We also have to face the fact that we are confronted with an entirely odious regime. One wonders what confidence it will ever be possible to place either in that regime or in any successor. We have to learn from its conduct towards its own political opponents at home, and we have to learn from the present international outrage for which it has been responsible. Whatever may happen, it is hard to believe that from this tragic episode there will not be a legacy of bitterness and mistrust which it will be extremely hard for the islanders to live with.

    We should take most careful note of the passage of time. As time passes, it is likely under such circumstances that the support, sympathy and understanding of friends will be eroded. It already appears from reports in the newspapers that the United States, the President and the Secretary of State have shifted somewhat to a neutral position. They have put themselves halfway between right and wrong.

    What defence arrangements will be made by those who have raped the islands? It seems that they will have an unlimited opportunity to prepare for defence. Undoubtedly, the islanders will have a special role in that defence as hostages. Some who are not our friends will undoubtedly use the opportunity to fish in troubled waters.

    Those people will judge the situation by yardsticks entirely different from those that they use to judge their own conduct in Afghanistan and Poland.

    Those considerations are likely to appear with increasing starkness in the coming weeks. So, too, will the advantages that are always enjoyed by bullies and thugs as opposed to the inhibition under which those who care for peace and justice always labour.

    The Government have acted with, I believe, the support of Parliament and the nation. Believing that both their honour and the nation's is involved, they have committed themselves to the recovery of the islands. I take the opportunity of wishing my right hon. Friend the new Foreign Secretary well. I congratulate him on his first speech at the Dispatch Box in his new capacity.

    We must also bear in mind that British forces are on their way to we know not what. It is clear that they must be assured of our support. The Government must know that to hold out hopes now which subsequent events that are now reasonably predictable could dash would make the situation worse. The Government must ally caution and wisdom to their courage and be prepared to move slowly. I am certain, too, that the Government will need to watch with care the sympathy and support of their friends, which in foul weather cannot be taken for granted.

    4.43 pm

    The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has made a sombre speech, with parts of which I agree. However, I cannot applaud the spirit in which he made it.

    It is correct to point out the difficulties with which the Royal Navy has been charged in the mission that the Government have given it. It is correct to ask questions about it. But there must be a spirit in which the House approaches the matter that makes it clear that the position of those living in the Falkland Islands must be protected and restored. Moreover, aggression that has been condemned by the United Nations must be repelled and set on one side. The right hon. Member for Yeovil is an old friend of mine, but his speech was rather defeatist.

    Since the House met last Saturday—I regret that I was not present—the fleet has sailed. That will alter the nature and temper of today's debate. The Navy has been given the task of restoring and re-establishing British administration—

    —or is it sovereignty? Which is it? The Foreign Secretary used the word "administration". To my recollection, the Prime Minister also said "administration" last Saturday. We should have an answer immediately, because it would clear up much misapprehension. I was half intending to interrupt the Foreign Secretary to ask whether there was a significant difference in the meanings of the two words. Will he tell us now whether by "administration" he means "sovereignty"?

    I was quoting my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She used the word "administration"—advisedly, I believe. Within two days I am not competent to make a precise definition of any difference that may exist there. The intention is to restore the rights of the people of the Falkland Islands. The words that we phrased, we believe, describe that accurately.

    The Prime Minister had no difficulty in muttering the word "sovereignty" when I put the question. She could put the matter beyond dispute if she will now make it clear that that is what she means.

    I shall quote from my speech on Saturday:

    "We have absolutely no doubt about our sovereignty, which has been continuous since 1833. Nor have we any doubt about the unequivocal wishes of the Falkland Islanders, who are British in stock and tradition"—[Official Report, 3 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 633–4.]
    I regard the Falkland Islands as being still British and us as still having sovereignty. I tried to make it clear in that speech that an invasion, an unprovoked aggression, has not altered and does not alter the fact and the law of British sovereignty over those islands.

    I am much obliged to the right hon. Lady, but I am not sure that she has cleared the matter up. British sovereignty, as she said in her speech on Saturday, has been clear and sustained by everyone for 150 years. But there is a difference between sovereignty and administration. It is not possible, as I understand it, to equate those words.

    For example, if the islands were handed back under some form of leasing arrangement—I understand that that has been discussed by the Foreign Office—and then leased back to Britain for our administration, would that solution satisfy the Prime Minister?

    I ask that question in no spirit of attempting to trap the right hon. Lady. I believe that the House wants to know what is the nation's objective in the matter on which we have sent the Royal Navy.

    It is the Falkland Islanders' wishes that are paramount. In every negotiation—if the right hon. Gentleman calls it that, and I have called it that—that we had, we had some of the Falkland Islands Council with us. They were with us in New York. It is their wishes that must be paramount.

    I do not press the Prime Minister further this afternoon. I do not regard her answers as satisfactory. I shall come later to ways in which I believe that these issues must be solved and worked out. We have embarked on a most difficult and dangerous exercise which carries very great risk.

    I have had a number of exchanges with the Conservative Front Bench. I think that I should try to get on, in view of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak.

    The world has shown a remarkable and, to me, rather surprising understanding of Britain's position. With resolution 502 at the United Nations, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Frnace and the European Commission all supported us in the position that we have taken. So far, so good. But when I hear Government spokesmen use the words "we are ahead on points", I must say that I feel a little squeamish. This is not a game of tennis. We are engaged on a most serious operation.

    This afternoon, I wish to look ahead, but before doing so I wish to have a retrospective look. If the right hon. Member for Yeovil is correct, as he was, in saying that there has been shame, sorrow and humiliation, and if, as he half suggested, we have to swallow that shame, sorrow and humiliation—[HON. MEMBERS: "And anger."]—and anger and outrage, it is not too much to ask whether we should ever have been here at all.

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I did not say that we had to swallow anger, shame and rage. I suggested that they could be bad counsellors.

    I agree absolutely. There is no need for a dispute between us on that.

    The prime Minister's defence is that she did not know and could not possibly know and, until Argentina had taken the decision to invade, she could not possibly take action, but that is not the real question. The real question is this. Was the available evidence of such a character that she should prudently have taken precautions at an earlier date? My answer to that question must be "Yes".

    It was the concern of the Government. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) asked a very important question on 3 March—a month before the invasion—in which he referred to the aggressive statements appearing from the Argentine and asked what steps were in hand to ensure the protection of the islands. The reply given conveyed the Government's anxieties. The then Minister, the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) said that the Government felt "deep concern" and that it caused "deep anxiety". If that was the feeling in the Foreign Office, I should have expected some precautions to be taken. It seems frivolous not to take precautions if there was deep concern and anxiety about the position.

    That is my first charge against the Government and particularly against the Prime Minister on this matter. Today our fleet is sailing towards hostilities that could have been prevented. That is my case. I shall not spend time on the fact that we are sending an aircraft carrier that has already been sold to meet cash limits from a port that is to be closed and with 500 sailors holding redundancy notices in their pockets. I find that humiliating, too, and I hope that other hon. Members feel the same.

    This, if it ever came to it, would be the unnecessary war—a war that need not have taken place and which yet, I trust, will not take place. In my view, the seeds of the present invasion were sown when our will to protect the people of the Falkland Islands seemed to be weakened in in the eyes of the Argentines by the announcement on 25 June 1981 that HMS "Endurance" was to be withdrawn. I know, and we all know, that we had a policy of high risk in relation to the Falklands. We always said that we would have the symbol of protection there as an earnest of our determination. That is what the deterrent is all about in that sphere, as in others. It is a symbol of our determination. I believe that it was that card that was thrown away at that time.

    The Government were warned time after time about this. For example, on 9 February, I asked the Prime Minister a question about the withdrawal of HMS "Endurance" and I warned that it could have serious consequences. The Prime Minister replied:
    "My right hon. Friend … felt that other claims on the defence budget should have greater priority."—[Official Report, 9 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 857.]

    I shall give way in a moment, but I wish to finish this point.

    I cannot conceive of a more naive invitation to a military dictator to invade than to say that there are other, higher claims on our defence budget. When I consider the cost that the present expedition will eventually bring home in bills, I can only say that we have wasted a great deal of funds and resources by not taking precautions at the time when we should have done.