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Falkland Islands

Volume 22: debated on Monday 19 April 1982

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3.30 pm

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a brief statement on the Falkland Islands.

Our objectives remain as already stated to the House. However, I should provide an account of developments since the debate last Wednesday.

Mr. Haig is continuing in his efforts to persuade the Argentine Government to agree to the implementation of Security Council resolution No. 502. His mission provides the best hope of achieving that objective.

The position is still delicate and the House will not expect me to reveal details of the negotiations. I know that the House understands that. We remain grateful to Mr. Haig and will continue to co-operate fully with his efforts to secure the implementation of resolution No. 502.

Meanwhile, we are stepping up the military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Argentina. Our naval task force is steadily approaching the area of the Falklands, and we are continuing to strengthen its ability to carry out whatever tasks may be required of it.

I am glad to tell the House that Norway has today joined members of the European Community and certain important Commonwealth countries in banning imports from Argentina.

The 22 marines who were captured in South Georgia and the remaining seven from the Falklands, as well as 13 British scientists evacuated from South Georgia, have arrived safely in Montevideo. I am glad to say that they are now on their way back to Britain. Fifteen British scientists remain in South Georgia and we have their wellbeing and safety very much in mind. The latest report on 18 April confirmed that all were safe and well.

The three British journalists arrested last week in Argentina are expected to appear before a judge today. The British interests section of the Swiss embassy in Buenos Aires is keeping us informed of developments.

Argentina must have no doubts about our resolve to exercise our rights to the full if this should prove necessary. However, I can assure the House that we are making every possible effort to get a satisfactory solution to this dispute by peaceful means. The Government will continue to keep the House informed.

First, I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I hope that he will take similar opportunities to keep the House informed as affairs develop. The Opposition welcome the Norwegian Government's decision to join the Community in sanctions against the Argentine.

The Opposition share the Government's objectives, which include securing the withdrawal of all Argentine troops and other persons from the Falkland Islands before Britain engages in direct negotiations with Argentina for a peaceful settlement of the status of the Islands.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—as I think all Labour Members would—that Mr. Haig's mission provides the best hope of a peaceful settlement. I hope that we shall all do everything that we can to assist him to succeed. If no immediate agreement on sovereignty can be reached after an Argentine withdrawal—that seems to be the stumbling block at the moment, according to Mr. Secretary Haig's statements—will the Government consider asking the Secretary-General of the United Nations to provide a temporary administrator for the Islands after the Argentine forces have left, so that the sovereignty issue can be put on one side for direct negotiation between Britain and the Argentine? I think that that is the desire of both sides of the House.

I apologise for putting a more hypothetical question to the right hon. Gentleman, but the issue may arise before he next has an opportunity to make a statement to the House. If Mr. Haig should finally decide—as he seemed on the point of doing twice in the last week—that he can contribute nothing more as an "honest broker", will the Government consider asking the Secretary-General of the United Nations to undertake that role, thus freeing he United States Administration to express the views of the American people that America should not behave as neutral between the aggressor and his victim or between a democratic ally and a dictatorship whose actions have often been hostile to the United States in recent years'?

May I finally ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer a question which I put to him in our first debate a fortnight ago? Can he assure the House that the Government will not reduce the forces at present available for the defence of Belize so long as a threat from Guatemala persists?

First, we are grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his intervention and for the shared objectives and the support that he has given the Government and Mr. Haig in what they are trying to achieve.

The first vital step is to secure the Argentine withdrawal in accordance with Security Council resolution No. 502. The methods are open to discussion, but that must be the first objective. It would be wrong at the present time to consider what might happen in the very unfortunate event of that mission not proving successful. It would be wrong to go beyond that. As I said in my statement, I know that the right hon. Gentleman supports that. At the moment, the hope and the effort must be to do everything possible to make the mission successful.

It has always seemed to me that while Mr. Haig and the United States Administration are trying to achieve the implementation of the resolution by peaceful means it would be inappropriate for them to be in any position other than a reasonably evenhanded one. That is a fair statement of the position. That must continue at the moment.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that no date has been fixed for any change in the situation in Belize. We have the situation in Central America very much in mind at the present time. No change is envisaged in the foreseeable future in our military situation there.

May I correct what I thought was a misunderstanding by the right hon. Gentleman of the suggestion that I put to him regarding the Secretary-General of the United Nations being asked to provide an administrator? The suggestion that I made in the House last week, and which I have repeated since, was that if, as appears to be the case, the impediment to an Argentine agreement to the withdrawal of its forces is the nature of the administration on the islands thereafter, during the period when negotiations between Britain and the Argentine on a permanent settlement must proceed, will the Government consider trying to take the sovereignty issue out of the immediate argument by inviting the United Nations to provide an administrator purely for the period between the withdrawal of the Argentine forces and the agreement of a permanent settlement?

We have never disguised from the House that the negotiations are clearly difficult and that there are a number of obstacles. A great many proposals and ideas have been brought forward to try to resolve those difficulties. That is what the negotiations are about. As the House was generous enough to understand last week, and as I am sure it will now, while those negotiations are going on, one hopes with a successful outcome, it would be wrong to go into the details of those negotiations. It would certainly be wrong at the moment to project our comments in public beyond this particular stage. It must remain our objective to hope, and to do everything that we can to ensure, that the Haig mission is successful.

Order. As it is clear that we shall return to this subject more than once in the near future, I propose to limit questions this afternoon to 20 minutes. That is a good run and might, indeed, be a bit too long to suit the House.

In view of the Government's repeated assurance that no agreement affecting the future status of the Falkland Islands will be made without the consent of the House and the Falkland Islanders, is it not clear that the withdrawal of Argentine forces from the islands cannot be conditional either upon such an agreement or upon the possibility of such an agreement?

We have made our position about the status of the islands and the importance that we have always attached to the wishes of the islanders clear from the outset. We have described those wishes as being of paramount importance. Of course, the Argentines have a different point of view about these matters and that is why the negotiations are so difficult and protracted. We are doing everything that we can to ensure that they are successful. The principles upon which we have based our case have been made very clear to the House.

Whatever may be discussed in subsequent negotiations, will my right hon. Friend confirm that if we are to uphold the vital principle that unprovoked aggression must not be seen to pay, Argentine withdrawal from the Falkland Islands must be total and unconditional, without any Argentine flags or administrators being left behind?

My right hon. Friend will agree that the rapid passing of resolution No. 502 in the United Nations was a substantial achievement. It specifically refers to that point. This matter is not only of the utmost importance to Britain but of importance to all freedom-loving countries all round the world. They have just as great an interest in ensuring that withdrawal takes place as we have.

If it is true that the British Government rightly refuse to surrender sovereignty under duress and in the face of unwarranted armed aggression, but that they are prepared to negotiate sovereignty later, are not both countries getting the whole issue out of perspective? Argentina is doing so by its statement that its soldiers will stay, dead or alive, on the Falkland Islands, and Britain by its declaration that it will shoot first when the task force arrives. Is that still our position?

I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right about shooting first. The Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands when we—like previous Governments—were negotiating with them about the future of the Falkland Islands. In the course of those negotiations we gave due weight to the wishes of the islanders, which was not always to the satisfaction of the Argentines. However, those negotiations were going on. Without any notice, and without telling us of their intentions, the Argentines invaded these islands, and that position cannot be allowed to stand.

Some people may take the right hon. Gentleman's view that the Argentines and the British are getting the issue out of proportion, but the principle of one large country taking another country by invasion and military force cannot be allowed to stand. That is what the issue is all about. The Argentines have acted completely unreasonably. They are now in breach of a mandatory United Nations resolution. All members of the United Nations have an interest in seeing that they fulfil their mandatory obligations.

Is it not true that while the task force proceeds towards the Falkland Islands war zone the Government are pushing ahead with proposals to reduce the allowances paid to Service men in that fleet? Is it not bad enough that the Navy has to operate under the shadow of cuts in the fleet, without adding insult to injury?

The hon. Gentleman must not believe all that he reads in the newspapers. That matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and he has made his proposals public. They are fair and reasonable, and the hon. Gentleman can question him about them.

Will my right hon, Friend keep an open mind about the suggestion of a United Nations presence? If that were offered by the United Nations, it might be the very factor to induce the Argentines to withdraw peaceably. With a United Nations presence, a referendum of the Falkland Islanders could take place, and we all know the probable result of that. That would be a good interim measure.

I note that suggestion. During the negotiations, I should not wish to close any options beyond the objectives and principles that we have stated. However, in the course of these long talks we have explored a great many options and there are difficulties about most of them. Therefore, that is not necessarily a way ahead. At present, we must just hope that the present negotiations will, in one way or another, be successful.

Given the point made by right right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), do the published views of the British ambassador in the United States of America represent the Government's position on the attitude of the United States of America? Can the rght hon. Gentleman say anything more about the Soviet attitude or about its activities?

I have made clear our position about the attitude of the United States Government. At present they are involving themselves in negotiations with us and with Argentina. That is how that matter must rest. It is true that the Soviet Union is involving itself more with Argentina. Our ambassador in Washinton answered several questions about that in a recent interview and that is, broadly speaking, the position.

May I repeat a question that was put to the Prime Minister in the first emergency debate, to which she replied that we had many friends? Who are these friends in South America? Are not South Americans, Right, Left and Centre, right across the political spectrum—even among those who have suffered from Right-wing Governments—against us on this issue? Are we not antagonising the entire Hispanic world—[Interruption]—even among those who have suffered from Right-wing Governments? Is it not an illusion to think that the Americans will be less than evenhanded when an American President, based in California, is aware of the Hispanic speaking section of the American population in New Mexico, Arizona and California?

It is fair to say that the majority of the South American States have expressed their deep concern over the action taken by the Argentine. They may have a certain sympathy with the Argentine's claims, but they do not have any sympathy with the methods used to try to secure them. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Organisation of American States did not support the Argentine invasion, and Peru, for example, has proposed a 72-hour truce. Other suggestions are being made. Although the South American countries may express a certain sympathy with the Argentine's ideas, most of them do not approve of the way in which they have been put into effect.

We all appreciate Secretary Haig's tireless efforts, but has my right hon. Friend explained to him that, irrespective of the issue of sovereignty, the islanders' right to self-determination is enshrined in the United Nations charter and that, unlike the Argentines, they possess a freely elected legislature or Parliament of their own, which cannot function properly as long as the islanders are menaced by foreign invades with guns? Did my right hon. Friend make it plain to Secretary Haig that there can be no preconditions about sovereignty or anything else as long as Argentine soldiers remain on British soil?

There is no question but that the principle of self-determination is part of the United Nations charter. We have paid very careful attention to that. One of the issues is what the Falkland Islanders will want for the future. Before this traumatic experience they had a clear view, and we supported them in that. We do not know what their view will be. That is for the future. However, it is impossible to ascertain those views until the Argentines have withdrawn completely.

Is it not time that the Government informed the House, by way of a report, of the views that have been obtained from the Falkland Islanders? Is it not a fact that a variety of views have been expressed to official sources by those leaving the Falkland Islands and that there are families of Falkland Islanders in Britain who could be approached for guidance about the Government's political actions? Should not such action be undertaken even now, before the Haig discussions are completed, and regardless of whether they are successful?

It is impossible at the moment to claim a general view of what the Falkland Islanders' wishes are while they are under duress. Of course views have been expressed, and we have heard from those who have returned from the Falklands what the islanders' views are, but so long as the islands are under military rule from Argentina it is impossible to know exactly what the islanders think. I have told the House what I expect they would think—that they would want to be more British even than they were before the invasion, if that were possible. That is speculation. We should not anticipate that. The object remains to secure Argentine withdrawal. There is no other first step that can be taken.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that whatever negotiations may be necessary about sovereignty now or in future they should start from the basis that, legally, sovereignty is in British hands and that it cannot, for mere convenience, be put into abeyance, as it were, under the United Nations or any other organisation?

We start from the clear view that my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) is right. We are in no doubt about our sovereignty position. The Argentine challenges that and makes a separate claim of its own. It is entitled to make that claim, and there are various ways of settling it. The only means that we shall not accept as a method of settling it is the use of force.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not reasonable to expect people overseas to continue with sanctions if those in the City of London and members of Lloyd's syndicates rat on sanctions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that members of Lloyd's syndicates, who are well represented on the Conservative Benches behind him, today gave further insurance cover to Argentine Airlines and are already making arrangments to renew an Argentine Airlines' insurance contract, which expires on 1 May, through Swiss banks if necessary, so that the premiums will not have to come into Britain? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the City puts Britain before its own commercial interests?

I cannot comment on those allegations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, many of our friends have taken economic measures against Argentina. No new loans are being authorised or made to the Argentine by the City of London. I cannot comment of the allegation that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Argentine junta is still unwilling to allow the key question of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands to be determined by the International Court at the Hague, which I understand, would be the correct United Nations solution to this type of problem?

That has always been the junta's position. The Argentines see sovereignty as the critical issue and I have no reason to suppose that they have changed their attitude—their objection—to allowing the issue to go to the International Court of Justice. My hon. Friend has referred to an issue which is central to the talks that arc now taking place. Therefore, it would not be right to say anything more at present.

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the malignant truism uttered by the United States ambassadress to the United Nations who said that if the territory in question—the Falklands—was Argentine territory, the Argentine had clearly not invaded anyone else's territory? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider stating the opposite case and putting our case to the International Court of Justice? If that Court turns it down solely on the ground that the Argentine Government will not accept the case being heard by the International Court of Justice, the right hon. Gentleman must surely realise that that fact alone will weigh in the United States more than many other considerations.

That is a possibility, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman that we have never been in any doubt about our title to the Falkland Islands. Without doubt, the Argentines have invaded the islands. The Argentines have a claim that we have been discussing and arguing about for many years. There has been no movement on the issue under previous Governments, but that does not justify the actions that the Argentines have taken. This is a major international event that no country can afford to neglect.

I agree with the expressions of gratitude to Secretary Haig, but will my right hon. Friend communicate to Washington the profound misgivings that are felt on both sides of the House about the ambivalent sound and signals coming from the United States' Administration on this issue? In particular, will he consider making a protest about the statements made by the United States ambassador to the United Nations? If such statements are not checked, they could damage the future of the Anglo-American alliance.

It is clear that Britain has a great deal of public support in the United States. It is our view that the best achievement for us all would be for Mr. Haig's mission to succeed and for Resolution No. 502 to be implemented. While that process is in hand, it seems inappropriate in the circumstances for the United States Government to align themselves. I am conscious of the fact that among the public in the United States there is a wide measure of support for Britain's case, which they understand very well.

Are the Falkland Islanders free to leave the islands if they wish to do so? Are they free in practice to do so, as opposed to what the Argentines say about this? If they are, would it not be right for the British Government to say at this stage that if they do leave temporarily they will assist them to do so, so that they can get out of the combat zone?

There is no evidence that Falkland Islanders who wish to leave the islands are being prevented from doing so by Argentina. The hon. Gentleman's second point is one that we are considering sympathetically.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Royal Navy and the shore support facilities have performed magnificently? May I put it to him, in the presence of Ministers who have more specific defence responsibilities, that when calm has been restored we should look again at the shape of the Royal Navy and of the shore support facilities to see whether they are best suited to guard our vital interests, both inside and outside NATO, and that meanwhile we should not continue with any steps that would weaken the shore support facilities?

The whole House will join my hon. Friend in admiring the way in which the Royal Navy has conducted itself. The impressive way and the speed with which the Royal Navy assembled the fleet and set sail indicates that it is in pretty good shape. After this story is over various views will be expressed, but the fact that we could react so swiftly and competently showed that the Royal Navy is in very good shape indeed.

Order. I shall call one more Member from each side. That must be our lot for today.

In view of the statement made by the American ambassador to the United Nations, is the right hon. Gentleman convinced that in the end President Reagan will be on our side?

I cannot go further on that. I am sure that President Reagan would like to be, but the Americans are acting as negotiators. That is a position that should be respected.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the media have a grave responsibility? Are the Government concerned about the fact that some of the information given on television—for example, about Vulcan and Harrier use and training—seems extremely generous in the circumstances, and perhaps might be examined with more caution in future?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I should not wish to be critical of the way in which the issue has been presented on television. I sometimes wish that pictures and film extracts of the Argentine forces had a caption indicating their source, rather than a picture merely showing that something was happening. It is also fair to say that the correspondents who are with the carrier task force are reporting in a way that people find acceptable. I should not wish to criticise the media, but they have an extremely important role to play now and in the future. I am sure that the media will do their best to fulfil that role honourably.

Taking Of Hostages Bill Lords


That the Taking of Hostages Bill [Lords] be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Mr. Cope.]

Merchant Shipping (Liner Conferences) Bill


That the Merchant Shipping (Liner Conferences) Bill be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Mr. Cope.]

Statutory Instruments, &C


That the Fish Producers' Organizations (Formation Grants) Scheme 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 498) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Cope.]