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Falkland Islands

Volume 22: debated on Tuesday 27 April 1982

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asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the present position in the Falkland Islands.

Following my statement yesterday, I must emphasise again today that, while the Government remain determined to do everything possible to achieve a negotiated settlement, time is fast running out. I know that Mr. Haig understands this and that he has been in touch with the Argentine Government today.

The Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of American States are still meeting. As Mr. Haig told the meeting yesterday, treatment of the dispute within the framework of the Rio Treaty would be neither appropriate nor effective: UN Security Council resolution 502 provides the surest guide to a peaceful settlement.

British forces in South Georgia have contacted all the British Antarctic Survey personnel and the two wildlife photographers. All are reported safe and well, and food and other supplies are being delivered. Arrangements have now been made for them to leave shortly.

What did the Prime Minister say to the Secretary-General of the United Nations' earnest request not to escalate the problem?

I am very well aware of the Secretary-General's request and that the Security Council's resolution must be complied with. It is Argentina that has flagrantly failed to comply, and it is because of that failure that we must now be free to exercise our right to self-defence under article 51.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at a time when the House is rightly proud of the British forces in South Georgia and united in their support, it also firmly supports her efforts to achieve a diplomatic settlement of this dispute? Will she, even at this eleventh hour, consider a new step, namely, utilising the mediation services of the Holy See, which has unrivalled experience in such matters, particularly in Latin America?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As he knows, His Holiness is already mediating in a dispute between Argentina and Chile. His Holiness sent a telegram yesterday to Her Majesty the Queen urging the Government to make every effort to find a peaceful solution on the basis of justice and international law, and he hopes and wishes to believe that such a peaceful solution is still possible.

The right hon. Lady's reply on the subject of the appeal from the Secretary-General of the United Nations was insufficient and unsatisfactory. Does the right hon. Lady not appreciate that this is a new element in the situation? Is it not extraordinary that she did not include any comment on it in her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)?

Will the Prime Minister look at this matter in a much fuller context? Will she undertake to ensure that the Foreign Secretary goes to New York to discuss this matter with the Secretary-General? We are supposed to act under the authority of the United Nations. Indeed, it is the only authority under which we are supposed to act. The right hon. Lady has a duty to the House and to the nation to ensure that the fullest and most immediate response possible is made to the appeal of the Secretary-General.

We have an excellent ambassadorial representative at the United Nations, and he was there to receive this statement. In the second paragraph of that statement the Secretary-General said:

"In this critical situation, the Secretary-General therefore appeals to both parties to comply immediately with the provisions of Security Council resolution 502".
That is our wish, too, and unless and until—

I am perfectly prepared to read both the first paragraph and the next.

This is a mandatory resolution of the Security Council, which has the force of international law. No statement can overcome something that has the force of international law. Also, under the United Nations charter, until that resolution is complied with Great Britain has the right of self-defence under article 51. We have taken, and continue to take, the view that unless we bring military pressure to bear the Argentines are unlikely to withdraw from the Falklands.

I put it to the right hon. Lady again that her reply is entirely unsatisfactory and does not come anywhere near measuring up to the scale of events. Will she now tell us the answer that was given by our ambassador to the Secretary-General on this matter? Will she respond to my suggestion that the Foreign Secretary, who went to Washington to discuss these matters with Secretary Haig, should go to New York to discuss these matters with the Secretary-General, too, before any further escalation of violence occurs?

I think that our ambassador's reply is likely to have been—[Interruption.]—of the nature that the best way to comply is for the United Nations to bring pressure to bear on the Argentine to withdraw her forces. If she withdrew them there would be no problem whatsoever.

It seems from the right hon. Lady's reply that she does not even know what our ambassador said and was making the answer up as she went along. I say to the right hon. Lady, as straight as I can, that if she does not make a proper response to this appeal from the Secretary-General of the United Nations—who is entitled to make such an appeal under the constitution of the United Nations—along the lines that I have suggested, with either the Foreign Secretary or somebody else going to New York to discuss the matter—and I put it in a hypothetical manner—she will inflict a grievous blow to our country's cause. I hope that she will consider the matter properly.

I totally disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. If we were to refuse to take any further military action during this negotiation he would put many of our soldiers and sailors in jeopardy.

The responsibility in this matter rests with the right hon. Lady and with all hon. Members of the House of Commons. I ask the right hon. Lady not to take any further steps in the escalation of military matters and to give the House of Commons the chance of deciding what should be the proper response to the appeal of the Secretary-General. I ask her not to take any military action, but to take this diplomatic action after consulting the House of Commons.

I stand by the terms of the United Nations resolution and of the United Nations charter. Until the terms of that resolution are complied with and the Argentine forces withdraw we shall continue to exercise our rights under article 51. My reply to the Secretary-General is to urge him, as well as the right hon. Gentleman, to address his remarks to the junta in the Argentine.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House welcomes the emphasis that she continues to give to working to find a peaceful solution to the crisis? In view of Secretary of State Haig's declaration that the United States will do all that it can to resolve the differences between ourselves and Argentina without further conflict, can my right hon. Friend say what differences stand in the way of a peaceful and honourable settlement?

As I said in reply to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), Mr. Haig has been in touch with the Argentine Government today. We hope that that will be fruitful. The main stumbling block is that the Argentines have not withdrawn their forces, but have steadily reinforced their garrison. Throughout the whole of the period since the passage of the United Nations resolution they have continued to reinforce their forces on the Falkland Island with both men and materials.