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Commons Chamber

Volume 23: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1982

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 4 May 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

New Writ

For Beaconsfield, in the room of Sir Ronald McMillan Bell, Knight, QC, deceased.— [Mr. Jopling.]

Private Business

Greater London Council (Money) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday.

Hong Kong And China Gas Company Limited Bill Lords

Thomas Brown And Sons, Limited Bill Lords

Read a Second time and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Employment

Pensioners (Cost Of Living Index)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what has been the increase in the pensioners cost of living index in the last 12 months.

The retail price index for one-person pensioner households increased by 10·9 per cent., and that for two-person pensioners by 11·2 per cent. over the year to the first quarter of 1982.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unfair that some pensioners have to spend up to 10 per cent. of their incomes paying standing charges for gas, electricity, water and telephone? Will he take steps to help? How is this factor weighted and calculated in the index?

My hon. Friend asks principally a question that is not for me to answer. Whether standing charges have a disproportionate effect on pensioners is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and others. Standing charges are reflected in the pensioner indices both in the price indicators and in the weights, which are based on the actual expenditure of low-income pensioner households, as reported in the family expenditure survey. Indeed, my hon. Friend might like to look back to a full description of the construction of these indices in the June 1969 edition of Employment Gazette.

Does the Secretary of State accept that standing charges are affected by the Government's policies, generally? Is he aware that the standing charges for gas have quadrupled in the two and a half years since the Government came to office, and that electricity standing charges have increased by two and a half times? Will the Secretary of State now accept some responsibility for initiating a review into the effect of the standing charges and other burdens on pensioners?

I thought that I had explained the position clearly to the House, but obviously the hon. Gentleman did not quite follow what I said. I suggest that he reads my answer in Hansard tomorrow.

In considering increases in the cost of living for pensioners, will my right hon. Friend recall that not so long ago Conservative policy was to increase pensions every six months, not every 12 months? Does he realise that at least two member States of the European Community find it possible to increase pensions every six months? If the reason for not doing so is purely administrative difficulty, could not the Government overcome it so that those who die during the last six months of the period have some benefit during the last few months of their lives?

My hon. Friend should consider two matters. First, inflation has been brought firmly under control since the idea was first mooted. It is now only just over 10 per cent. and falling. The prospect of long-term single figure inflation is within our grasp. The position is very different from that during the term of the previous Government. Secondly, by November, on the next uprating, the pension will have been increased by 68 per cent. since we came into office compared with an expected increase in prices over the same period of 65 per cent.

Temporary Short-Time Working Compensation Scheme

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were helped by the temporary short-time working compensation scheme in the last 12 months for which figures are available.

A precise figure is not available, but I estimate that almost 1·3 million people have shared short-time working under the scheme in Great Britain in the past 12 months.

Would my right hon. Friend like to elaborate on the actions that he has taken to deal with the present unemployment problems and compare those actions with what was done under the previous Government?

We have dramatically increased the amount spent on special employment measures. Indeed, at a time when Government expenditure as a whole is tending to decrease, expenditure on special employment measures this financial year has increased by 50 per cent. over the previous year.

Is the Minister aware that the recent decline in the number of textile and clothing workers covered by the short-time working compensation scheme has nothing to do with the alleged recovery in the economy, and that trading conditions in these industries remain seriously depressed? Will he look favourably at the two proposals from the trade unions and employers in the industries—that firms that have already used their full entitlement can reapply after a suitable time, and that firms that go back to full-time working before using their full entitlement can save the unused portion for later use if demand declines again?

I am ready to consider constructively any proposal to help the textile industry. I have recently received two deputations about the scheme from firms and groups in textile areas. The temporary short-time working compensation scheme is not a counter-cyclical measure to help the textile industry. It is designed to support jobs that are basically viable in the medium term.

Employment Bill

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is planning to hold meetings with members of trade unions to discuss aspects of the Employment Bill legislation.

As I have made quite clear, I am of course always ready to meet appropriate representatives of trade unions to discuss matters relating to the Employment Bill.

What is my right hon. Friend's estimate of the degree of support for the legislation among trade union members?

It is clearly very high, as has been shown for a long time by successive surveys by a large number of opinion survey companies, independent of the Government.

As the Engineering Employers Federation has come out against the Bill, is there not now the clear impression from both sides that it would lead to confrontation and disturbance in work places rather than to the reverse?

The right hon. Gentleman's question is based on a false presumption. At the Financial Times conference the director general of the Engineering Employers Federation stated:

"The Federation broadly supports the Government's step by step approach to the reform of industrial relations. The proposals now going through Parliament will introduce several valuable reforms for which the EEF pressed"
when responding to the Green Paper.

Is it not a matter of great regret that the TUC, while using £1 million of its members' money to conduct a leaflet war against the Bill, has failed to consult the Government on matters of detail within it? Even at this late stage will my right hon. Friend press trade union leaders to consult him on such matters as the definition of a political dispute to see whether the Bill can be further improved before Report?

My hon. Friend is correct. The trade unions have not even consulted their members or given them the choice about contributing lop a head to the campaign. I have certainly done what my hon. Friend asks. On the last occasion, as recently as 25 February, I stated in writing to Mr. Murray:

"I would like to repeat the offer I made in my letter of 23 December to discuss these and any other matters you may wish to raise with me."
That was referring to the issues in the Employment Bill. He has not accepted my invitation.

Has the Secretary of State not made it absolutely clear by his behaviour and that of his Ministers in the Standing Committee that concluded last week that he is not prepared to listen to reasonable argument? Can one wonder that the TUC is not prepared to waste time on a dialogue with the deaf? Is it not clear that the Engineering Employers Federation is not alone in having serious reservations about the consequences of the measure for industrial relations? It is joined by the General Council of British Shipping and the Institute of Personnel Management in expressing serious concern.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman chooses to continue on the Floor of the House his Committee filibuster. My invitation to Mr. Murray on 23 December to talk to me about the matter was brushed aside. It could not have been brushed aside because of our proceedings in Committee, as they had not then started. I entirely refute what the right hon. Gentleman says about our unwillingness to listen to reasoned argument. The problem was that there was not much reasoned argument.

Training Boards

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a further statement on the training boards.

We intend to lay orders winding up 16 boards and reducing the scope of three others in two batches. We hope to lay the first batch within the next few days and the second about a month later.

Before the axe falls on the Road Transport Industry Training Board's facility, the MOTEC at Livingston, will the Minister pay it a visit?

As I made clear to the hon. Gentleman when he came to see me, I have watched the matter of the Livingston MOTEC carefully. Its future is a matter for the Road Transport Industry Training Board.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear beyond peradventure that he will not lay an order before the House concerning a training board unless he is absolutely satisfied that the voluntary arrangements are satisfactory now and for the long term?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on numerous occasions that he will not lay an order to wind up a board until he is satisfied that the voluntary proposals are satisfactory.

Is the Minister not recklessly leaving industrial training to market forces? Are not his voluntary schemes so discredited that he has to give them an alias—"non-statutory"?

The Government's policy is to clear away unnecessary bureaucracy. I have great confidence in the employers organisations coming forward with perfectly satisfactory voluntary training arrangements.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the early years the training boards did a good job, but that, unfortunately, as time went on their performance varied, and while some still did a reasonable job others became bureaucratic and overstaffed?

I could not put it better. As time went on some of the boards lost the confidence of employers who were within their scope.

Did the Minister read in the Sunday Times the remarks of David Mitchell, the outgoing director of the Food, Drink and Tobacco Industry Training Board that the Minister was desperate to save his face and that he needed at least a piece of paper to show that the industry was capable of voluntary training or he would end up with egg on his face? Is he aware that he appears before us today metaphorically covered in yolk? What does he intend to do about it?

Since that report, for which of course I am not responsible, Mr. Mitchell has written to me stating that in many respects the voluntary arrangements are perfectly satisfactory.

Unemployment Statistics

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are registered unemployed in the United Kingdom; and what is his latest estimate of the number of unemployed who are not registered as such.

At 15 April the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 3,007,726. The latest information suggests that in 1979–80 about a third of a million people were seeking work but were not registered as unemployed.

Is the Secretary of State not ashamed of the fact that if one takes account of the unregistered unemployed and all those who are on short-time working and special employment schemes—some of which are of questionable value—the true figure for unemployment is over 4 million? Is it not about time that the Tory Party hired Saatchi & Saatchi to design a new poster showing an ever-increasing dole queue with a caption declaring that Thatcherism is not working?

The hon. Gentleman, like most of us, has, I fear, a liking for some subjective interpretations of highly selective statistics. He is aware, but does not care to recall, that in the past, when unemployment was admittedly lower, surveys showed that between 10 and 20 per cent. of the registered unemployed were not actively seeking work or were not concerned about being out of work. As there are about 10 million people of working age who are not at work he could just as well call that, instead of 4 million, the total of unemployed. We should stick to the form of statistics used for many years by successive Governments.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to blame the economic policies of the Government for unemployment? The stance of some trade union leaders, with restrictive practices, unreasonable wage demands and frivolous strikes, has in many cases priced us out of jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree, therefore, that blame for unemployment must be laid at the door of the trade union leaders?

Yes, indeed, and facts speak louder than words in many ways. In a firm such as the Jaguar motor car company wage restraint, increased productivity, better attention to quality, and greater consideration for the customer have meant that the company has increased its sales and is taking on more workers. The way ahead is to solve the problems of the past and to satisfy the customer.

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that it is best to keep to the method of compiling statistics used by previous Governments, why, after October, is his Department compiling unemployment statistics to include only those eligible to receive benefits and not those registered for work? In a letter to me from his Department he agreed that 65,000 women will be removed from the unemployment figures, not because they are not unemployed, but because they do not qualify for benefit. Why is he altering the method of collating statistics when he has just defended it?

The right hon. Lady knows the answer to that question. It is a consequence of, amongst other things, voluntary registration. Where there are any changes from the exact form—I use that expression to mean the general form of statistics that we should maintain—the statistics that are issued will be annotated—for example, in the way that the statistics that are issued now clearly show the estimate that is made of the effect on the total of unemployed by the special employment measures.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that that is a fiddle, because that is exactly what the Department did when he was a Minister.

Employment Act 1980

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Employment Act 1980; and if he will make a statement.

The Employment Act 1980 came into force just over one and a half years ago. It is still too soon to make any final judgment about its effectiveness, although it has clearly constituted a substantial first step in promoting much needed reforms. We have, of course, taken full account of the way in which the Act has operated in drawing up the measures contained in the Employment Bill.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the step-by-step approach in the Act to industrial relations has been vindicated by events? Will he resist all future approaches to depart from a cautious approach to industrial relations?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there has been complete justification of the step-by-step approach and the importance of not moving ahead of public opinion. We were very careful when framing the Employment Act 1980 to include only proposals that had massive support from every section of British industry.

Is the Minister aware that when the Act was introduced Tory Ministers said repeatedly that one reason for its introduction was to ensure that there would be a reduction in unemployment arising from the removal of alleged restrictive practices? Is he further aware that since that date there has been an increase in unemployment nearly every month, rising to nearly 4 million?

My recollection is that when the Act was introduced it was made abundantly plain that it was introduced to deal with easily identified abuses. This year's Bill has also been introduced to deal with abuses. The general public were calling upon us to make sure that they were dealt with.

Is it not a fact that management and unions are carefully operating the 1980 Act? Will my hon. and learned Friend draw to the attention of trade unions the fact that they should use the ballot procedures not just on whether there should or should not be industrial action, but on their rules and procedures?

Certainly it is a great disappointment that after public moneys have been made available the TUC should still be saying that unions should not take these moneys to increase democracy in the trade union movement. That is a shocking attitude, particularly when the unions are taking public moneys for the training of shop stewards. The unions must realise that unless they quickly reform their attitude public pressure will grow for further steps to be taken. I agree with my hon. Friend that the 1980 Act is being used sensibly. It has been used to give remedies to people who have lost their jobs through closed shops, secondary picketing and secondary action.

If the 1980 Act is so satisfactory, why are the Government introducing a second Bill and promising to introduce a third?

I thought that it was abundantly plain that new abuses had arisen since the passing of the 1980 Act.

Hon. Members may shout, but I should have thought that it was obvious that new abuses have occurred in closed shops and in union labour only clauses in contracts.

Training Boards

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment which statutory industrial training boards scheduled for abolition in 1982 he has visited; and if he will make a statement.

I met the chairman and a number of members of every industrial training board last year before the Government took decisions on their future. I have made it clear that as and when any issue arises, I am always ready to discuss it personally with the chairmen of training boards.

Does the Minister agree that it is wrong to abolish the statutory training boards in such industries as distribution, paper products, and food and drink? Is not the way in which the boards operate with insufficient budgets and staffing a horror story? Have not the TUC and the CBI expressed concern at the incompetent manner in which the Department is handling these matters?

Does my hon. Friend agree that where a single firm, such as Hoover at Perivale, is replaced after tragically folding, with several different types of concerns on the same site, industrial training boards do not have a direct application and that new mechanisms for training workers for the new jobs are required?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need a more flexible attitude towards training, and that is one of the principal elements in the new training initiative.

Is the Minister aware that there is general widespread unease about the proposed abolition of the training boards? Given the obvious lack of training in this country compared with our major competitors, will he please ensure that on the proposed voluntary arrangements we can establish what are the criteria and how the voluntary arrangements work on the basis of them, so that we can reverse his disastrous decision at the earliest opportunity?

I am not aware of the general unease, except from certain vested interests. I am aware that the Government have put training high on their list of priorities with the publication of the new training initiative, the backing to it and the £1,000 million a year given to the youth training scheme.

May I remind my hon. Friend that one of the training boards due for abolition relates to the footwear and leather industries. Is he aware that about 500 further redundancies in that industry were announced last weekend in Northamptonshire alone? Will he therefore give some indication on behalf of the Government that there is some confidence in the future of the industry? Many of my constituents are extremely concerned that, with the abolition of the training boards and the continued decline of the industry, the Government might be abandoning a traditional, hardworking and loyal industry?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government have no lack of confidence in the footwear industry and that the proposed abolition of the Footwear, Leather and Fur Skin Industry Training Board should not give that indication.

Unemployment Statistics

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the unemployment rates for the Northern region and the United Kingdom, respectively.

At 15 April the rates of unemployment in the Northern region and the United Kingdom were 16·3 per cent. and 12·6 per cent. respectively.

Are not those figures disgraceful, particularly in view of the fact that in the Northern region unemployment has increased every month since this Government came to power? Instead of giving the usual bland and complacent reply that we always get on these occasions, will the Minister take note, and recommend the implementation, of many of the practical proposals that are made regularly by Labour Members? How long is he prepared to tolerate this desperate situation in the North?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, like him, I share dismay at the persistently high level of unemployment in the Northern region, which goes back over many years and is partly due to the fact that its dependence on traditional industries, notably shipbuilding and steel, have made the region extremely vulnerable to the downturn. However, large sums of money indeed—£400 million in the latest financial year—are being spent to try to make prospects there better, and there are some signs that jobs are coming along.

Is the Minister aware that the unemployment rate in the North-East is about to take a further leap? If the closure of the British Rail engineering works in Shildon takes place, unemployment will increase by a further 2,500 in that small town of 14,000 people. Will he take note of the fact that those employees of British Rail Engineering have done everything that has been required of them? They have been co-operative, have cut their costs, and for many years industrial relations have been excellent. Will the Minister give his attention to this problem and say what he is prepared to do about it?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the British Rail Engineering Ltd. works at Shildon, Bishop Auckland. Both he and I can join together in hoping that productivity on British Rail will show some prospects of improving so that BR can expand.

Is the Minister aware that that was a complacent answer? In view of the appalling unemployment situation in the Northern region, which has doubled since the general election, is it not about time that the so-called Secretary of State for Employment got off his bottom and did something about it?

If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that the doubling in the level of unemployment since the general election has no connection whatever with the previous Government's appalling record of allowing pay and productivity to get out of step, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied that assessing unemployment on the basis of the jobless in travel-to-work areas is the most efficient method of determining unemployment statistics.

Yes, Sir. The purpose of the unemployment rates calculated by my Department is to measure an area's need for jobs. I am satisfied that travel-to-work areas, which are relatively self-contained labour markets, are the smallest areas for which such unemployment rates can usefully be calculated.

Does not the Minister agree that assessing the number of jobless, particularly in the regional city areas, produces a statistical nonsense? Is he aware that in Manchester the travel-to-work area embraces Moss Side and Wimslow; in Liverpool it embraces Toxteth and Allerton; and that in Birmingham it embraces Handsworth and Solihull? Surely areas such as those, which contain such wide social disparities, produce statistical nonsense if used to assess unemployment.

We know that great social problems are posed by high concentrations of unemployed persons in small areas. That is one of the reasons why we have an urban programme, from which Manchester and Oldham are benefiting. However, statistics that show unemployment in very small areas really prove nothing. The size of a travel-to-work area is determined by commuter patterns, so that one can discover what jobs are available to those who are able to travel to them.

I recognise that some parts of Manchester have high levels of unemployment, but is my hon. and learned Friend able to indicate the level of unemployment in Manchester generally compared with the North-West?

Nobody denies that the situation is serious, but unemployment in the Manchester travel-to-work area is 13·2 per cent., whereas it is 15·3 per cent. in the North-West as a whole.

Is the Minister prepared to review the boundaries of travel-to-work areas where there have been substantial changes in travel-to-work patterns in recent years?

We are always prepared to look at special cases, but the current travel-to-work area network was last reviewed in 1978 on the basis of the 1971 census. The network will be reviewed again when we have the complete figures of the 1981 census.

"Employers' Guide To Disabilities"

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will discuss with the Manpower Services Commission ways of bringing to the attention of employers the "Employers' Guide to Disabilities" published by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, of which he has received a copy.

The Manpower Services Commission is bringing the guide to the attention of employers through a variety of means, and in particular is planning to do so through the contacts its disablement resettlement officers have with individual employers. I am glad to have this opportunity warmly to welcome the guide, which will be a valuable aid to those concerned with the employment of disabled people.

Is my right hon. Friend and his Department aware that often a disabled person is a conscientious and dedicated worker, because a job means so much to his self-respect and to his acceptance among the able-bodied? Will he continue to ensure that employers at the highest level realise the enormous importance of taking their share of employment from among the disabled?

Yes. I particularly endorse and note my hon. Friend's concluding point. As to the quality of disabled people in work, there is no doubt that, having taken on disabled people, many employers discover that they have a premium in their dedication, commitment and reliability.

Is the Minister aware that, in addition to seeking to persuade employers, the Royal association is also in favour of retaining and strengthening the quota system, which has statutory backing?

Jobcentre (Ponders End)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with conditions for staff and applicants at Ponders End jobcentre.

The employment office at Ponders End is in premises shared with the unemployment benefit office. Both these offices are at present overcrowded and conditions for both staff and applicants are not satisfactory. The commission proposes to open a small jobcentre in Enfield, just over a mile away, to which some work will be transferred. This will relieve pressure on both the employment and benefit offices.

I recognise the inadequacy of the present premises, but does it really make sense to open a new centre that is both further away from jobs locally and a greater distance for many people to travel?

The employment office at Ponders End is well known to my right hon. Friend, who not long ago registered there for his national service. I know that the conditions there have been unsatisfactory, and it was necessary to make some changes. I am told that this jobcentre, close to but not in the main Enfield shopping centre, is in the area where most of the job-seeking clients live and shop.

New Training Initiative

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now make a further statement about the new training initiative.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of his plans for a new youth training scheme.

With permission Mr. Speaker, I shall answer questions 15 and 17 together, and I hope that the House will forgive a slightly longer reply on this important matter.

I have received from the Manpower Services Commission the report of the youth task group, which the commission published today. The commission has endorsed the report.

The task group puts forward proposals that are of significance for future training arrangements for young school leavers, both employed and unemployed. The Government will consider the recommendations carefully, with a view to an early decision this summer, so that preparations can be made for a new scheme to replace the youth opportunities programme in September 1983. I understand that the Select Committee on Employment will be considering the report and I shall be glad to take into account any views it forms.

Despite a number of significant differences between the task group proposals and those of the White Paper, there is much common ground. They share the objective of proper training. Both give priority to the unemployed, including a guarantee to unemployed 16-year-olds, and both would develop the youth opportunities programme this year to lead into new arrangements from September 1983.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are grounds for general satisfaction that the TUC, CBI and other organisations in the task group have been able to agree on proposals to submit to the Minister, and does he accept that this is a significant and welcome step forward on the already commendable White Paper that he presented to the House?

I am glad that all sides have been able to make an agreed report to me, and although at the moment I cannot say in advance of my consideration what my final conclusion will be, I welcome that agreed report and the fact that the employers' side has been willing to put in large sums of money, above what the Government have proposed putting in.

Will my right hon. Friend, as he develops his scheme, allow for continued expansion of the more worthwhile community service activities that are taking place at the moment? This is for two reasons: first, to expand the range of opportunities available to young people; and, secondly, to provide alternatives for those young people who find themselves in areas where the scheme that he is developing will not, unhappily, be able to develop quite as aptly as it will in other parts of the country.

I hope that alongside everything we do on the basis of this training scheme there will continue to be a substantial role for voluntary service generally.

Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the instances in East Anglia where the Manpower Services Commission is reluctant to finance training for work on allotments? In view of the substantial amount of land and the high incidence of unemployment, will the Minister perhaps, have a word with the MSC?

If the hon. Gentleman were willing to write to me about any particular problem—or perhaps, more effectively, to write to the chairman of the MSC, which has direct responsibility for these matters—I am sure that he would find that either the chairman or I would be helpful if we could be.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as well as creating over 5,000 redundancies at Shildon, Norwich and Swindon, the British Railways Board also intends to put into mothballs the apprentice training school at Swindon? Does he agree that this would be a disgraceful waste of excellent training facilities, and will he give me an assurance that he will do everything possible to make use of these facilities instead of closing them?

I am sure that the chances of making good use of such facilities would be enormously increased if the staff of British Rail were willing to make full and proper use of the capital investment made in British Rail and get on with increasing productivity and moving on to better and more flexible ways of working.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the MSC report excludes any element of compulsion for the youth training scheme? Will he accept that, so that we can have the maximum of speed and the maximum of support both throughout the industry and the House?

Should not the Secretary of State for Employment have been better briefed before coming to the Dispatch Box to reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart)? The workers in British Rail Engineering have contributed magnificently to productivity agreements, and over the past 10 years their record has been faultless.

I am sure that great strides have been made in increasing productivity in the engineering works. However, the engineering works do not exist in their own right, but as a support for running the railway. There is clearly a pressing need for greater productivity on that railway.

Training Boards

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of staff of industrial training boards, of all grades, made redundant up to 30 March 1982 on account of the winding up of 16 of the boards.

Between 16 November 1981 and 30 March 1982, 424 ITB staff had been made redundant as a result of the proposed winding-up of 16 industrial training boards.

What evidence does the Minister have that the work of these people is being replaced in any way by individual employers in private industry?

The majority of employers' organisations have come forward with voluntary proposals on a satisfactory basis. When the orders are laid before the House it will have an opportunity to debate them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the training that took place within industry was largely carried out by the companies themselves and that, in later years, the training boards had become a bureaucracy monitoring that training?

I agree that training in industry has been almost completely carried out by industry itself and that the boards concerned were monitoring that training. In some cases, at least, they had become rather over-bureaucratic.

The Minister will recall that last week, before the Select Committee, his right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to supply the Select Committee with information about the voluntary arrangements that were replacing the boards to be wound up, but refused to give an undertaking that that information would be made available to the House before we debated the winding-up of the boards? Will the Minister think again about that and recognise the importance of the House having the fullest information before it reaches this crucial decision?

I recall that my right hon. Friend made it clear last week before the Select Committee that he would provide the information to the Select Committee. He will also inform the House of the progress being made towards voluntary training arrangements.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 4 May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the right hon. Members for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). In addition to my duties in the House I shall have further meetings later today.

In view of the terrible loss of life in the South Atlantic and the rapidly escalating military confrontation, will the Prime Minister make a further effort today to reach a peaceful solution to the situation, involving probably the United Nations?

We all regret the loss of human life in the South Atlantic, but our first duty is to protect, and to minimise the danger to, our own forces in the South Atlantic, who are there because we all agreed that we should send a task force——

—because we all agreed that we must stop the invader, and because the vast majority of people in the House recognise that the best way to stop the trouble is to withdraw the forces from the Falkland Islands. Of course, the effort to seek a peaceful solution continues, and will continue vigorously. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will be reporting later on his visit to the United Nations. We shall pursue a peaceful settlement either there or through other means.

Will my right hon. Friend say over and over again that until the Argentine Government withdraw their troops from the Falkland Islands, every injury and fatality in the Southern Atlantic is absolutely due to the action of the Argentine junta?

Yes, it was the Argentines who broke the peace with unprovoked aggression. They are on British sovereign territory and there are British people under the heel of the junta. We sent the task force to rectify that situation. We hope to do so by all peaceful means and shall continue to try to do so. In the meantime, our first duty must be to protect our boys.

May I press the right hon. Lady on the question of the sinking of the cruiser and the tragic loss of life involved? We are all deeply concerned about it, just as we all are deeply aware that the origin of the crisis was the aggression by the Argentine. None the less, the Government have direct responsibilities in this matter, and the right hon. Lady especially so. Can she tell us what political control there was over this development, which was a major development? Can she say what calculations about the minimum use of force entered into those considerations?

Returning to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts), can the right hon. Lady tell us exactly what are the next steps that will be taken by the Government to try to deal with the situation? There is always the danger that such an event as the sinking of the ship will recur and that it can put our Service men in danger. We on the Labour side of the House are as determined to protect them as anybody in the country.

I wholly share the right hon. Gentleman's view that we must protect the lives of our own Service men, whose great skill and courage we applaud and admire. With regard to that particular event, and all events other than the mere tactical ones in the South Atlantic, the task force clearly is and was under political control. I want to make it perfectly clear that after the announcement of the maritime exclusion zone—I referred to the matter in the House last week—there was another announcement on 23 April, which was communicated to the Argentine Government and also to the United Nations. It may help if I read it in full:

"In announcing the establishment of a maritime exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands, Her Majesty's Government made it clear that this measure was without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom to take whatever additional measures may be needed in the exercise of its right of self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. In this connection, Her Majesty's Government now wishes to make clear that any approach on the part of Argentine warships, including submarines, naval auxiliaries, or military aircraft which could amount to a threat to interfere with the mission of the British forces in the South Atlantic will encounter the appropriate response".
The warning was given to the Argentine Government, I repeat, on 23 April. It was reported to the United Nations on 24 April.

All of us can understand the documents that have been put in the Library on this matter, but the right hon. Lady has not fully explained why such a development as this occurred in the circumstances in which it did occur, nor has she explained why the maximum amount—or, at any rate, a considerable amount—of force was used to carry it out. None of these things has been explained. They will need to be explained much more fully to the country and to others. Does the right hon. Lady appreciate that these are important matters for our own Service men, whom we wish to protect as much as anyone? They are also important for the support that this Government may command throughout the world in these matters. If the right hon. Lady and the Government do not appreciate that the sinking of the cruiser raises great questions of this kind, she does not understand the situation.

May I make it perfectly clear that the worry that I live with hourly is that attacking Argentine forces, either naval or air, may get through to ours and sink some of our ships. I am sure that that will also be in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. There was clear aggressive intent on the part of the Argentine fleet and Government. It could be seen first in their claims. They previously claimed that they had sunk HMS "Exeter", that they had damaged HMS "Hermes", leaving it inoperative and badly damaged, and that they had brought down 11 Harriers. That was clear evidence of Argentine aggressive intent. The right hon. Gentleman may also remember the persistent attacks throughout the whole of Saturday on our task force, which were repelled only by the supreme skill and courage of our people. He may also know, or will hear from my right hon. Friend, of the very heavy armaments that the cruiser carried, and, of course, the cruiser was accompanied by two destroyers, which were not attacked in any way.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, of all the uses to which the word has been put in the last weeks, the word "paramount" applies most of all now to the safety and lives of our Service men in the south Atlantic? Will she further agree that the House of Commons, having agreed to send the task force to back up our diplomacy, cannot now flinch from the consequences that may occur, however serious they are?

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. Our first duty is to our own forces, who are there on our orders and with our support. We must look after their safety. Our second duty is to see that we try to use minimum force. However, that cruiser and the asssociated destroyers—and, of course, there are other task forces of the Argentine Navy also at large in the South Atlantic, not far from the exclusion zone—posed a very obvious threat to the men in our task force. Had we left it any later it would have been too late and I might have had to come to the House with the news that some of our ships had been sunk.

Falkland Islands

Q2.

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

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and for Defence will be making full statements after questions on recent diplomatic and military developments respectively.

When the Prime Minister referred to political control, did she herself, personally and explicitly, authorise the firing of the torpedoes at the "General Belgrano"?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the task force is and was under full political control.

Would not some of the ignorant and irresponsible questions coming from the Opposition have been avoided if the Leader of the Opposition had done his duty to his party, to the country, and as a Privy Councillor, by availing himself of the invitation from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to acquaint him with matters to which we, who are not sworn of the Privy Council, do not wish to have access because we have confidence in her handling of this affair and in Her Majesty's Forces?

It is for the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he will avail himself of any offer to talk on Privy Councillor terms.

It is for the right hon. Gentleman to decide whether he will avail himself of the invitation.

Apart from that, it may concern right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on that side. He did not wish to do so. In the meantime, I beg him to have some regard for the practical considerations that affect our operations in the South Atlantic.

Would the right hon. Lady care to read to the House what she said about the matter of consultations on "Panorama" a few days ago? Will she also repeat to the House what I think she understood well before, namely, the attitude that has been taken by many Opposition leaders in previous times, who thought that they would be failing in their duty to the House of Commons if they were to gag themselves? If the leader of the Liberal Party wants to do it, he is perfectly entitled to do so. I should be very happy if the right hon. Lady would read to the House and country her own words on this subject.

I do not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's decision in any way. I made an offer available to him on the same basis as I did to the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal Party and to the leader of the SDP in this House. Whether he takes it up is a matter for him. I have been in a similar position. There have been times when I have taken the offer up and times when I have not.

On the subject of the cruiser, how can anyone maintain that such a ship, armed in that way, and accompanied by those destroyers, was not a threat to our forces? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that the first communiqué about the sinking from the Argentine side said that the ship was all right, except for damage to its steering? If that were true, does it not show that minimum force was then used?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The cruiser posed a real threat to our forces then, and would have continued to do so in the coming days.

In view of these events in the South Atlantic, has not the time now come for a fresh, direct approach by Her Majesty's Government to the junta proposing that the Argentines evacuate the Falkland Islands, so that negotiations can then be entered into directly between us? After all, we are still not at war with the Argentine.

At the moment we prefer to make our approaches through a third party. Mr. Haig did valiant work, and it is clear that he is still interested in trying to bring about a solution, both through his own efforts and, as the right hon. Gentleman may have read, through certain initiatives that are being undertaken by Mr. Haig through the Peruvian Government, and which we are pursuing vigorously. We have not gone through the junta itself. It is not easy to see with whom one would be negotiating, whether it would be the president, other members of the junta or the generals behind it. Throughout, that has been a very difficult problem.

Engagements

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 4 May.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that she still has massive support for her Government's policies on the Falkland Islands? Is she also aware that there are two former colonies in the world today with populations of fewer than 8,000 and about 20 countries which have; less land area than the Falkland Islands? Will she ensure; that Britain does not deviate from its determination to demonstrate that armed, unprovoked aggression must never pay?

I believe that what my hon. Friend says about there being small countries in the Commonwealth and countries with smaller areas than the Falkland Islands is correct. I entirely agree that unless Britain manages to stop and undo the Argentine aggression, many other small countries and territories will go in fear that they may suffer the same fate.

Falkland Islands

3.30 pm

Since we debated the Falklands crisis last Thursday, there have been some important military developments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will report on those in a few minutes. Meanwhile, I wish to pay tribute to the efficiency and courage of our forces. Our relief that British lives have not been lost is inevitably tempered by our deep regret at Argentine casualties. I know that the whole House would wish to be associated with these sentiments.

These military achievements have been in support of our overall strategy; they have not been, and will not become, a substitute for it. As the House knows, we are maintaining the maximum pressure on Argentina in the diplomatic, economic and military fields with the objective of securing Argentine withdrawal at the earliest possible moment and in compliance with the mandatory resolution of the United Nations Security Council.

The military pressure that we have exercised has been challenged despite our clear warnings and our desire to use the minimum force. Our response in the circumstances was as inevitable as it was right. However, I can assure the House that what we are seeking is not the military humiliation of Argentina but a victory for the rule of law in international affairs.

Since the House last met, I have visited Washington and New York to reinforce our diplomatic efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement as soon as possible. I had extensive talks with Secretary Haig. These covered the diplomatic, economic and military dimensions of the crisis.

On the diplomatic side, Mr. Haig made it clear that, just as we have not abandoned our diplomatic endeavours following Argentina's rejection of the earlier American proposals, nor has he. We discussed a range of ideas for a settlement. We are continuing our work with all urgency. As the House will be aware, other Governments have also been active in promoting a settlement. We welcome this and are in close touch with them. Therefore, we are working actively on various ideas, including those put forward by the President of Peru. I can assure the House that we are losing no time in developing our thoughts about them and communicating our constructive views to those concerned. The framework for a settlement remains as I have outlined it to the House.

Proposals are needed which cover the essential elements of resolution 502—withdrawal, and negotiations on the future, unprejudiced in any way. They must also address the interim arrangements and guarantees required.

On the economic front, Mr. Haig described the measures which the United States has recently announced. They are a tangible sign of American support for our cause. I know that the Americans have not closed their mind to additional steps.

On the military front, Mr. Haig and Mr. Weinberger confirmed that they are ready to provide material support for our forces and I welcomed this. We are following it up in detail and urgently.

In New York I discussed diplomatic possibilities with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and with the President of the Security Council. I made it clear to them that our immediate concern is the implementation of resolution 502, and that we are open to any ideas which would achieve this on a satisfactory basis, namely, an Argentine withdrawal followed by negotiations on the long-term solution without prejudice to basic principles.

We were able to consider together the various possible ways of involving the United Nations. We recognised that a solution will require not only the right ideas but the right timing and the right sequence of events. I know that the Secretary-General is in touch with the Argentine Government. The burden of compliance with what has already been decided, of course, rests squarely with them.

It must not be forgotten that we remain the victims of a totally unprovoked act of aggression in defiance of the United Nations charter. We are seeking to ensure that Argentina does not profit from aggression and to uphold the rule of law in international affairs. That is an interest which all members of the United Nations must share.

Our resolve should not be doubted, nor should our readiness to talk and our will for peace.

I shall not be drawn into discussing now the military operations of the weekend as the Secretary of State for Defence is about to make a statement on them, except to join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the courage and efficiency shown by our forces.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Haig, in announcing the shift in American policy on Friday, said that
"a purely military outcome cannot endure over time. There will have to be a negotiated solution. Otherwise we will all face unending hostility and insecurity in the South Atlantic."
I hope that Her Majesty's Government share those views, because they are shared unanimously by Labour Members.

There is deep concern among Labour Members and many of our allies in case certain types of military action—the attack on the cruiser "General Belgrano" may be such an instance—intended, as the Foreign Secretary said, to back up negotiations, may weaken or even destroy the possibility of negotiations for a long-term solution. He must be aware from telegrams that have been received in the Foreign Office this morning that the operations of the last few days have already cost us a great deal of support among our European allies.

On Friday Mr. Haig said that he had reason to hope that the United Kingdom would consider a settlement along the lines of his proposals. We understand from newspaper reports that Mr. Haig's proposals were put again, although perhaps in a modified form, by the Peruvian Government in the past two days.

Has not the time now come when the Foreign Secretary should tell us a little bit about those proposals as it is the Argentine failure to acceot them which has led to the military action over the past few days and the shift in American policy? The House has the right to that information at this time because it is now being made available to Governments in many other parts of the world.

Finally, may I ask the Foreign Secretary about his visit to the United Nations? I understand from newspaper reports that the Common Market Commission will put to the Council of Ministers this week the proposal that the continuing support of the Common Market for the British position over the Falkland Islands should depend on our asking the Secretary-General of the United Nations to provide his good offices. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the Argentine Foreign Minister, at a meeting last Friday, invited the Secretary-General to give his good offices. He will know that the Secretary-General is able to do so if we, as the other party to the dispute, ask him to do so. Has the Foreign Secretary asked Mr. Costa Mendez to take over the role of intermediary—[Interruption.] I am sorry; we all make mistakes of that nature, as did the Prime Minister a moment ago in Question Time. Has the right hon. Gentleman asked the United Nations Secretary-General to take over the role of intermediary at this time? If he has not, why not?

Over the weekend the Foreign Secretary said that it was Her Majesty's Government's intention to secure the withdrawal of Argentine forces by negotiation. The Government refuse to negotiate directly with the Argentine Government so long as Argentine troops are still on the Falkland Islands. If they are not prepared to negotiate directly, will they ask the United Nations to take over the role of intermediary?

I hope that there is no truth in the newspaper reports of the past two days that the only reason why the right hon. Gentleman visited the United Nations this weekend was to appease opinion in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We believe that the time has come when the United Nations must play the central role in securing the withdrawal of Argentine troops from the Falkland Islands and that it will have a very important role in implementing the ultimate settlement.

The right hon. Gentleman is less than fair when he suggests that what I have done during this weekend and in previous weeks is anything other than to do everything that I conceivably can to bring about "a negotiated settlement as soon as possible", the words that I used in my statement. We do not yet know whether that can be achieved, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in the end, whenever that is, there must be a negotiated settlement. The sooner that it comes, the better it will be. That is what my expedition was intended to try to further.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary-General is in touch with the Argentine Government and is talking with them in the same way that he is talking with me. He did not describe himself as an intermediary, but, as he is in touch with both Governments, I suppose that one could describe that as his position. I have had many talks with him about the various possibilities, but the essential point remains that the Argentines are already under a mandatory obligation to withdraw. One problem that the United Nations faces is how to ensure that that withdrawal is carried out. That must be a precondition for taking matters further. The other essential condition is that the Argentines must come off their hook of saying that the outcome of the negotiations should be predetermined in favour of Argentina. That clearly cannot be acceptable. It may be that the Argentines will move from both those positions, in which case we may make a real advance.

I visited not only the United Nations but Mr. Haig to explore all those matters. Although the United Nations is a possible forum and can help in many ways, there are other possibilities, and I referred in my statement to the work that is going on, based on ideas that originated with Peru. The original American proposals were rejected last week by the Argentines. We are now working on a new series of proposals. I shall make a constructive input to those proposals and I am already doing so. They are different in character, but they cover the same area that I mentioned in last week's debate—withdrawal, what happens in the interim, and the final negotiations. Whatever detail is discussed, it must cover those areas. That is what we are pursuing actively, constructively and positively, as I am sure the House wishes.

That is the present position. It is difficult in the United Nations at the moment for the simple reason that the mandatory resolution has not been fulfilled by the Argentines. The right hon. Gentleman is right in intimating that one member of the European Community raised a matter with the president of the Security Council today. There may be a meeting, but I do not yet know what specific proposal will be put to the Security Council. That is perhaps not as important as the search for the means by which we can achieve a negotiated settlement.

Another matter on which I must comment, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will come to it in a moment, is the military action, which is essentially directed to securing the total exclusion zone of which we gave due notice. We declared a maritime exclusion zone, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred, which was subsequently extended. The action that has been taken so far is wholly in accordance with the principles that we outlined and the warnings that we gave in advance.

The Foreign Secretary has made two important statements. First, he said that he believed that the word "intermediary" might be appropriate to de scribe the function that is now being carried out by the United Nations Secretary-General. Secondly—I am surprised that he did not tell the House this in his original statement—he said that a member of the European Community was already in touch with the United Nations Secretary-General with a view to calling a meeting of the Security Council.

The Foreign Secretary will be well aware that there is a defined procedure at the United Nations under which the Secretary-General can operate a good offices role, either personally or by appointing an individual or individuals, in order to bring hostile parties together to solve a problem. In the light of the information that the Foreign Secretary gave us about another possible meeting of the Security Council, it is now very urgent, in the interests of the United Kingdom, that, the Argentine Foreign Minister having already asked the Secretary-General to assume that role, we should do the same now so that no time is lost and the future is not prejudiced, as I warned the right hon. Gentleman in our debate last week it might be. by a decision of the Security Council which might be much more hostile to our interests than the present one.

The Security Council has already passed resolution 502, which requires the Argentines to withdraw. That is the basic position. British sovereign territory has been invaded and, during the past three weeks, the Argentine forces have been heavily reinforced. Clearly the first move must be an Argentine withdrawal from that territory. The Secretary-General is in touch with the Argentine Government, as I made clear in my statement, and one of his objectives is to ensure that resolution 502 is implemented.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's second point, I have had no direct communication from any member of the European Community. However, it is on the tapes and it has been made public knowledge that one member has taken certain action. I shall comment upon that and react to it when I hear from the member State what it intends. However, not only the Secretary-General but the President of the Security Council had consultations throughout yesterday—no doubt they continued today—with all the members of the Security Council. Therefore, the United Nations' work on this important crisis is very active.

Order. I propose to allow 20 minutes for questions on this statement, as I have allowed on previous statements. Another statement is to follow.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of the British public are behind the Government in their resolution against the naked aggression of the Argentines? Is it not regrettable that the right hon. Members for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) have recently made statements that have been used by the Argentine Government as propaganda to hoodwink the Argentine people? Is it not a disgrace that two Privy Councillors should make statements which can be used by the Argentine Government and which could extend hostilities and jeopardise British lives?

A number of right hon. and hon. Members would agree with my hon. Friend's remarks. The propaganda and the information put out by Argentina has been proved to be extremely inaccurate in many important respects—indeed deliberately misleading, no doubt for its own purposes. During my visit to America I gave an assurance that what we put out from our forces would be accurate and true. The Argentine junta is carrying on a misleading campaign of propaganda such as we have seen before which in the end does the country no good. However, it will be helpful if we speak with the greatest unity that we can possibly achieve.

In view of the Foreign Secretary's remark that there must be negotiation, does he agree that it would be helpful in that negotiation if there was now a truce on both sides so that the matter could now go to the United Nations without further loss of life?

There can be a truce, but Argentina must withdraw and there must be no prejudgment of the ultimate outcome of the negotiations in the longer term.

May I associate the SDP with the expressions of regret at the loss of life of the Argentinian Service men and also pay tribute to the courage and skill of the British Service men who have been operating in very difficult circumstances?

Will the Foreign Secretary say a little more about the initiative taken by the President of Peru? Is not Peru uniquely well placed to act in that way, as a friend of the Argentine and with close relations with the United States and friendly relations with Britain—quite apart from its association with the Secretary-General of the United Nations? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do about taking up that initiative? Is he ready to negotiate without precondition, and would such negotiations include the acceptance of a readiness to talk about the trusteeship council provision?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. The President of Peru formulated a series of proposals which he communicated to the United States and directly to the Argentines, who turned them down. With Mr. Haig, I am responding positively to the ideas contained in the proposal and I will communicate some ideas of my own which may lead to a possible basis. I should not like to raise undue hopes, but I will do everything that I can.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of negotiations without preconditions, but there must be the precondition of the withdrawal of Argentine forces, who have no right to be in the Falkland Islands and no prejudice to the ultimate negotiations. Then we could start talking. In the longer term, I hope sooner rather than later, when we sit round the table to discuss the longer-term solution there will be a range of possibilities that could and should be discussed. Our immediate worry and anxiety is to get into a position where we can start talking at the negotiating table.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the support that he has on the Back Benches for his untiring work in the United States to obtain a start to negotiations. Was the safety of the Falkland Islanders raised in any of his discussions? Is there any way that negotiations would provide for the temporary evacuation of the women and children of the Falkland Islands? Can my right hon. Friend give me any message for the many Falkland Islanders who now reside in my constituency?

I have had the islanders very much in my mind all the time and I appreciate the risks that they are incurring and the difficulties that they face. I have sent messages to them when I have had the opportunity to do so, and I have thought about the possibility of an evacuation. It would be difficult to arrange, but if the islanders want it and we could arrange it we would naturally provide a passage for them. However, I do not think that that would be easy now. I have thought about the possibility a great deal and have tried to involve the International Red Cross and to do whatever I can.

We must never forget that we are involved in this crisis and are taking the major steps that we are taking because of the people who live on British territory. It is for them that this started. They have been denied certain rights and the Argentines wish to impose on them a certain sort of rule which they may or may not want. We are there in the defence of those people's rights. That is why we got involved in the first place and we must never forget that.

Did the Secretary-General of the United Nations tell the Foreign Secretary what he had in mind about how resolution 502 could be implemented?

No, he did not. There is a very great difficulty for the United Nations over that. The Secretary-General did not put any specific suggestions to me. Naturally, in expressing and explaining the British point of view to him, I was anxious to hear what views and ideas he had. He had a number and we discussed them, but there was nothing specific. Similarly, the President of the Security Council had no specific proposal to put before me immediately, but we explored the area together and that was useful. We are in daily touch and more often than that through our ambassador.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to negotiations to take place after the repossession of the islands. Will he tell the House on what subjects it would be proper, in the Government's view, for those negotiations to take place?

The basis on which they should take place is the charter of the United Nations. As to the format, there are a number of possible ways in which it could be done; that has not yet been decided. There are a number of options and we have an open mind about them, but the most urgent requirement is to get into a position where those negotiations can take place.

My right hon. Friend speaks of a readiness to negotiate, but what does he have in mind that is negotiable? Surely if the Falkland Islanders are in his mind he cannot contemplate discussions over sovereignty, which would mean the handing over of the Falkland Islanders to a State which has almost the worst human rights record in the world. Is it the Government's intention at any time to raise with the United Nations the question of investigating the disappearance of thousands of Argentines, the use of torture and behaviour that puts that country completely outside the pale of civilisation?

The sovereignty question is the heart of the issue and dispute. For years we have been negotiating about the future status of the islands.

But that is a matter of history. That is what has been happening. We are not in any doubt about our title to the Falkland Islands, and we never have been. We have been governing, administering and having a British presence on the islands for the people there and we have always taken full account of their views. The Argentines assert that they have sovereignty and they now assert that they are not prepared to negotiate about it. That is not an acceptable position.

As to the long-term future of the islands, successive British Governments have taken the view that if the people there wished to have a different sort of Government or to organise their affairs in another way the British Government would not stand in their way. We are there as trustees for those people. That is the issue. We are not prepared to enter negotiations while Argentina remains so obdurate in upholding a claim which it believes is valid but which we are confident is not valid.

If the Security Council is faced with a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, will the United Kingdom veto it?

In so far as we are engaged in military operations, we are doing so in self-defence under the United Nations charter. The way that we have done it is by declaring—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Yes, on the conditions that I have just stated—that there is a withdrawal of forces and no prejudice to the ultimate solution. That is quite clear. In the meantime, in preserving British territory and British citizens, we have said that we will secure the total exclusion zone, and that is what we are engaged in doing.

Will my right hon. Friend lose no chance to point out that the responsibility for the tragic deaths in the South Atlantic lies fairly and squarely with President Galtieri and his junta? Will he also point out that any negotiations would become extremely difficult if British lives were lost or British ships sunk?

The truth is— and it cannot he said too often—that the Argentines started this trouble. They invaded the islands, which they had no right to dc. That was the cause of the whole trouble and that is where the blame lies. The condition for making any progress is that they withdraw. Any casualty suffered in the meantime, on whichever side, is a tradegy. That is one reason why we have a real incentive to achieve a negotiated settlement, but it requires two to do that and it is up to the Argentines to withdraw and to have no prejudice about the final settlement that may be achieved. Then we can get round the table in a civilised way and discuss the issue as it ought to be discussed.

Is it not the case that despite the right hon. Gentleman's vigorous diplomatic efforts, on which he is to be congratulated, the essence of his statement is "no progress"? Given that fact, why has not the right hon. Gentleman maintained the closest contact possible with our Community partners to prevent, for example, action by one member with the United Nations such as he mentioned in his response to the question of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).

It may seem that the essence of my statement is "no progress". Perhaps that is a fair description, but, given the data of the problem, the differences between the two sides, the intransigence of the Argentines and their unlawful occupation of British sovereign territory, it is hardly surprising that it would take some time to arrive at a negotiated settlement.

A week after I came to my present office, I went over to Brussels to keep our Community partners informed. I saw them last week and again kept them informed. I have had other contacts with them this week. This weekend I shall see the Foreign Ministers of the other countries in the Community, who are my opposite numbers. Therefore, I have kept in close touch with them. They have been supportive and helpful. I have had no communication direct from any member in any opposite sense. I referred earlier to a newsflash that I had seen on the tape before I came into the Chamber. There is close contact between me and the other countries, which I intend to maintain.

Has the Foreign Secretary's attention been drawn to the fact that in The Sunday Times a public opinion poll showed that six out of 10 people in Britain were not prepared to see one Service man's life or a Falkland islander's life put at risk and that such a majority in Britain will not be rejoicing with the Prime Minister at the loss of life when the ship—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] —was torpedoed without a declaration of war well outside the exclusion zone? Will the Foreign Secretary take account of the desire for peace in Britain by agreeing to a ceasefire and to the transfer at once to the United Nations of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and its administration pending a settlement under United Nations auspices?

In making those points and others that he makes from time to time, which may be controversial and with which many people disagree, it is disgraceful for the right hon. Gentleman to attribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the reaction that he has alleged. I believe that it is utterly wrong to impute such motives or thoughts when they are untrue. That spoils the validity of everything else that the right hon. Gentleman says.

Does my right hon. Friend regard it as indicative that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) should base himself and his argument upon one answer to a question in a popular opinion poll? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it seems to be the general pattern of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to put all sorts of sombre prophecies and suggestions into cold storage to be extracted perhaps one day to his own advantage at a moment of disadvantage to his country?

I think that a number of hon. Members would agree with my right hon. Friend. What the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has said this afternoon was disgraceful.

As the transfer of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands has been considered for 20 years or so, and as the Prime Minister has now had her skirmish in this atavistic and unnecessary exercise in the South Atlantic, which she and the chairman of the Conservative Party have launched, will the Government today order a suspension of hostilities before many more young men are unnecessarily killed and transfer the solution of the problem to where it should be, the United Nations, where eventually a negotiated settlement will have to be reached anyway?

I dissociate myself from the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Once withdrawal has taken place and there is no prejudice to the outcome of the long-term negotiations, of course there will be a ceasefire. This issue is already before the United Nations. We took it there right away. Opposition Members sometimes seem to forget that. The United Nations passed a resolution requiring the Argentines to withdraw. We want that to be fulfilled and then we can get down to proper long-term negotiations. The hon. Gentleman's deliberate misdescription of what we are doing is not helpful.

If, as has been suggested by the right hon. Members for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), and Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) and the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), negotiations take place while the Argentines are in occupation, will not that be accepting aggression, which will be regretted not only by the Labour Party but by many other countries?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. To take such a course would be to acknowledge that an act of aggression could pay the invader. That cannot be allowed. Incidentally, it would be in breach of the resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council. This is not just an argument between Britain and the Argentine. Its implications are wider. We are talking about international order and conducting the affairs of the world on the basis of law and in peace. That is what the United Nations is for. If we carry that through—we hope by peaceful settlement, but ultimately by a settlement-and if we right this wrong, I predict that the world, at any rate for a few years ahead, will be a more peaceful place than it was before. The re-establishment of international order on proper rules will bring an enormous amount of relief to an enormous number of countries and millions of individuals.

Falkland Islands

4.7 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about recent naval engagements in the South Atlantic, following the operation conducted by our forces to repossess the British sovereign territory of South Georgia.

In the House on 7 April I announced that our first naval action would be to deny the Argentine forces on the Falklands the means of sea reinforcement and resupply from the mainland. British submarines have achieved that objective. With the arrival of our task force on 30 April our next move was to stop reinforcement and resupply from the air, as well as by sea. Since the passing of resolution 502 the Argentines, instead of withdrawing, had continuously reinforced the islands. We gave two days' prior warning to the Argentine Government of the imposition of this total exclusion zone, and our task force is now enforcing it.

The task force was despatched to the South Atlantic with the support of the House and, I believe, of the country. Since its arrival in these waters our overriding duty has been to protect our task force against attack by Argentine forces.

We made it very clear to the Argentine Government and to the United Nations more than a week ago, on 23 April, that the Government would exercise their rights of self-defence to the full, including the use of force under article 51 of the United Nations charter if this proved necessary to protect our fleet.

I shall now describe the military sequence of events. Air attacks by Vulcan and Sea Harrier aircraft against Port Stanley airfield were launched early on 1 May. The runway was cratered and rendered unusable by transport aircraft from the Argentine mainland. A further sortie was made today to render the airstrip unusable for light supply, communications and ground attack aircraft operating within the Falkland Islands themselves. The other main airfield on East Falkland at Goose Green has also effectively been put out of action.

On 1 May the Argentines launched attacks on our ships, during most of the daylight hours. The attacks by Argentine Mirage and Canberra aircraft operating from the mainland were repulsed by British Sea Harriers. Had our Sea Harriers failed to repulse the attacks on the task force, our ships could have been severely damaged or sunk. In fact, one Argentine Canberra and one Mirage were shot down and others were damaged. We believe that another Mirage was brought down by Argentine anti-aircraft fire. One of our frigates suffered splinter damage as a result of the air attacks and there was one British casualty whose condition is now satisfactory. All our aircraft returned safely. On the same day our forces located and attacked what was believed to be an Argentine submarine which was clearly in a position to torpedo our ships. It is not known whether the submarine was hit.

The prolonged air attack on our ships, the presence of an Argentine submarine close by, and all other information available to us, left us in no doubt of the dangers to our task force from hostile action.

The next day, 2 May, at 8 pm London time, one of our submarines detected the Argentine cruiser, "General Belgrano", escorted by two destroyers. This heavily armed surface attack group was close to the total exclusion zone and was closing on elements of our task force, which was only hours away. We knew that the cruiser itself has substantial fire power, provided by 15 6in guns, with a range of 13 miles, and Seacat anti-aircraft missiles. Together with its escorting destroyers, which we believe were equipped with Exocet anti-ship missiles with a range of more than 20 miles, the threat to the task force was such that the task force commander could ignore it only at his peril.

The House will know that the attack by our submarine involved the capital ship only and not its escorting destroyers, so that they should have been able to go to the assistance of the damaged cruiser. We do not know whether they did so, but, in so doing, they would not have been engaged.

On 3 May, at about 4 am London time, a Sea King helicopter keeping watch against submarine attack around the task force was fired on by an Argentine ocean-going patrol craft. This vessel was then attacked and sunk by a Lynx helicopter. A second Lynx then came under attack from another Argentine vessel, which was itself attacked and damaged.

It must be a matter of deep concern to the House that there has been loss of life from these engagements including the sinking of the "General Belgrano", but our first duty must be the protection of our own ships and men. There may be further attacks on our forces and they must be allowed to act in self-defence. We cannot deny them that right. Nor must we forget that military action began by an attack on British marines and the forcible seizure of British territory. The way of stopping the fighting forthwith is for the Argentines to withdraw their garrison from the Falkland Islands in compliance with the United Nations resolution 502.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly said in his press conference last night that his policy was and would always be to use minimum force under strict political control to achieve a diplomatic solution. I confess that it is not always easy to achieve that in the stress of battle. Nevertheless, on the evidence that he has just given, it seems that he has successfully achieved that objective, first, in the reoccupation of South Georgia; secondly, in the attacks on the airfield; and military facilities on the Falkland Islands; and, thirdly, in the actions that he has just described within the total exclusion zone.

I shall address my questions entirely to the action against the Argentine cruiser "General Belgrano". The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government were concerned about the loss of life that had occurred. I understand that the action took place 36 miles outside the total exclusion zone. Although it appears now that there have not been 1,000 lives lost, as we feared earlier, the number must run into many hundreds. As I said in questions to the Foreign Secretary after his statement, the loss of life is already causing great concern among our friends and allies all over the world.

Almost two days after the event it should be possible for the Secretary of State to give the House more details than were in his statement. It is in both his and the Government's interest to do so if widespread international concern about the incident is to be allayed.

First, will the right hon. Gentleman say how far the Argentine ships were from the task force? He said that they were hours away. I hope that he will forgive me for saying that that phrase is far too ambiguous and uncertain. It makes a big difference whether they were 50, 100 or 300 miles away. Any of those distances could be described as "hours away".

Secondly, what were the two escorting destroyers? Were they by any chance the type 42 frigate that Britain sold to the Argentine?

Thirdly, if the attack was necessary to protect our forces, could not action have been taken to cripple rather than to sink the cruiser? With respect, if the Government have pledged themselves to the minimum use of force, they must issue instructions that ensure that minimum force is used. I accept that it is not easy for submarines that were designed for global war against a great power to exercise the use of minimum force in a police action against a minor power. There remains the question whether it was possible to cripple the cruiser rather than to sink it, as was done to the submarine off South Georgia. That question deserves to be answered.

Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Press Association reported earlier today that the "General Belgrano" had fired first and then later withdrew that statement as not being true?

I ask these questions in no carping spirit. If it is indeed the Government's intention at all times to use minimum force to achieve a political solution, they must avoid risking the lives of half of the population of the Falkland Islands in a single engagement.

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. I said at a press conference yesterday that it was our policy to use minimum force. The task force remains under the political control of the Government. It operates within a political framework. Nevertheless, in exercising minimum force it must bear in mind the overriding need not to endanger itself—our own men and our own ships.

We believe that the action took place just outside—about 35 miles—the total exclusion zone. However, as I said in my statement, the cruiser and the escorting destroyers were only hours' steaming time away. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many hours?] The right hon. Gentleman asked for the precise distance. I cannot give it, as I am not prepared to reveal the position of our task force. Nor can I give full details of the exact composition of the Argentine forces operating against us. The right hon. Gentleman will know, because he, too, has been Secretary of State for Defence, that communications are not necessarily received instantly by a submarine. It sometimes takes time for communications to be made, for reasons that have to do with the natural concealment of the submarine, but the group was hours away from our task force.

Only two torpedoes were fired at the cruiser. It is impossible to say whether that would have crippled the cruiser—that could not be predicted—but, having fired its torpedoes, the submarine clearly could not remain in the area without endangering itself. Therefore, in accordance with normal procedures, it fired the two torpedoes and then left the area. I have not heard of a report by Reuters or the Press Association about who fired first, but I can tell the House that in this case, due to the serious threat that the group of Argentine naval vessels posed to our task force, our submarine was ordered to fire some torpedoes at the cruiser.

With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman's answer about the distance between the task force and the Argentine forces is inadequate. First, the action took place nearly two days ago. No one could assume that our task force would still be in the position in which, according to the right hon. Gentleman, it was identified by the Argentine destroyers at that time.

Secondly, those of us who have had the right hon. Gentleman's and my experience in these matters know of the difficulties of communication with submarines. But I did not ask where the submarine was. I asked where the task force was. The task force is a surface force in continuous communication with the Ministry of Defence in London, as we know from the hourly press reports from correspondents aboard some of the ships.

I realise that the right hon. Gentleman asked where our task force was, but that is not information that I think it would be prudent to give to the House. As he will know, the task force is within the region of the Falkland Islands, around the area of the total exclusion zone, but I cannot be asked to give precise nautical miles in a case of this kind.

Order. I propose to allow 20 minutes on this statement and then to move on to a personal statement.

I join in the congratulations extended to our forces on the success of the operation so far.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the military policy remains as described by the Prime Minister in the debate last Thursday as being measured and controlled? The right hon. Gentleman presumably accepts that if the scale of loss of life already suffered by the Argentines were repeated against us in retaliation it would quickly equal the total population of the Falkland Islands. Will he therefore tell us whether there is a general directive to the fleet commander that all action must be taken only if it is totally unavoidable?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the skill of our men with the task force.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. The action of our fleet in the South Atlantic must at all times be measured and controlled. I wholly agree with him on that. I am sure that he will accept from me, however, that in the conditions in which our forces find themselves—repeated air attacks had been launched on them the previous day, we have reason to believe that there is a submarine or perhaps two operating in the area, and the Argentines themselves announced that they had sunk HMS "Exeter", brought down 11 of our aircraft and severely damaged HMS "Hermes", all of which is clear evidence that the orders of the Argentine fleet are to sink our ships—we must do nothing that endangers our task force, which went there and is there with, I believe, the consent of the majority of Members of the House.

Is it not absolutely clear that, despite all the efforts of British Ministers, there can be no negotiated settlement unless the Argentines agree to withdraw, and that if they do not repossession of the islands by military means is unavoidable? As it seems that the Argentines have so far rejected every opportunity to come to the negotiating table, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the British task force does not have to hang around for too long in inhospitable waters, but that any necessary military action to repossess our territory is taken with expedition and speed?

My right hon. Friend is correct. We require a negotiated settlement—a long-term peaceful solution to the problem—but that must come after withdrawal of the Argentine forces in accordance with resolution 502.

As my right hon. Friend says, the Argentines have so far rejected every opportunity to withdraw. I should not like to go into detail about the military options, such as repossession, that are open to us, but the best way of avoiding any further loss of life is for the Argentines not to challenge the total exclusion zone and not to pose a threat to our ships and men. The right way to ensure that there is no further loss of life is for the Argentines to withdraw their garrison from the Falkland Islands in accordance with resolution 502.

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he fully appreciates that the massive support that we have from the United States and Europe is conditional upon avoiding huge losses of life, British or Argentine? Is he aware that there is now a real danger that we shall lose the support of our friends and allies?

I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the support that we have so far received is based to a large extent on the belief that we shall not use more force than is necessary to persuade the Argentines to withdraw from the Falkland Islands. We are attempting to use the minimum force to achieve our objectives. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, however, that nothing that we do or say to our forces must put them in peril. We have no choice but to take as our overriding duty the protection of our own ships and men.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people in this country and certainly in the House will welcome his last statement? Is he aware that, above all, given the power, range and accuracy of the weaponry possessed by both the Argentine navy and air force, the House and the country would consider it a dereliction of duty if we did not take such action as was necessary to stop any attack?

The cruiser, although elderly, with its two destroyer escorts, posed a very considerable threat to our task force. All were heavily armed and the Exocet missile carried by the destroyer escorts is a potent and dangerous weapon for use against our task force. With a submarine in that area, we could not allow the Argentine group to go on threatening our ships and men, as it would have done if we had simply ignored it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Seacat missile on the "General Belgrano" would be of no significance in surface-to-surface engagements and that the dangerous armament—the Sea Dart or the Exocet—was with the destroyer escort? How does he propose to refute the suggestion that the attack was not aimed at using the minimum force to achieve the maximum military advantage, but that, on the contrary, it was aimed at producing the maximum casualties and psychological shock to the Argentines?

Obviously, I reject that charge utterly. On the specific points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, Seacat is not a surface-to-surface missile, and I never suggested that it was, but the Belgrano had 15 6in guns, which were a very considerable threat and have t very considerable range. What he said about the destroyers is, of course, correct as well.

It is correct that the guns are radar-controlled, that the cruiser carried substantial armour and that these ships would have been a significant threat to our task force had they been allowed to get through. Can my right hon. Friend tell us anything about the reports that the cruiser was afloat for some considerable time before it sank?

I cannot confirm the latter point. I understand that a report was issued by the Argentines initially that the cruiser was only damaged—that her propellor-shaft was damaged. If the evidence that we have had from Argentine sources is to be believed, the cruiser was crippled in the initial torpedo attack and did not sink immediately. But we cannot confirm that evidence. It comes from the Argentines.

The Secretary of State admits that the Exocet missiles on the destroyers represent a potent threat to the task force. Would not he and the Prime Minister have better met their stated objective of preserving the task force with minimum force if the submarine, if it had to be deployed, had confined its attention to the destroyers?

Had one of the destroyers been torpedoed instead of the cruiser and men had lost their lives, the House would have been just as deeply concerned about the loss of human life from the destroyer as about the loss of human life from the cruiser.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we share his view that ensuring the safety of our forces is the highest priority? Is he satisfied that the supply vessels and the troop carriers travelling between this country and the South Atlantic have adequate protection from Argentine surprise attacks?

I am very conscious of the need to provide adequate protection for the supply vessels and for troop reinforcements. It is, of course, a very important matter.

What will be the effect of the Falkland Islands affair on the future allocation of resources to defence?

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that this is quite the moment to discuss that issue.

Will the Secretary of State correct the statement by the Prime Minister and confirm that not all Members of the House supported the sending of the task force? Will he accept that it is reasonable for us all to believe that it has always been the intention of the Government to achieve a solution to this problem by military means, unless he can tell us, apart from putting forward one unacceptable precondition and a willingness to listen to other people's ideas, what specific proposals for a peaceful solution have been put forward on the initiative of the Government?

The Foreign Secretary devoted a large part of his statement to that latter matter. The House generally, I believe, supported the sending of the task force, although I am not for one moment claiming that every Member of the House did so. In the early stages of this affair, after the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, we had great difficulty in protecting HMS "Endurance" from the Argentines. It was only skill and to some extent good luck that prevented our losing a considerable number of the Royal Marines on HMS "Endurance" at the outset of this affair. When the Argentines first attacked Port Stanley they heavily mortared the marine barracks, believing that the Royal Marines were there. To suggest that we fired the first shot or that we are responsible for the hostilities—I know that the hon. Gentleman did not suggest this, but it is being suggested in some quarters—is a travesty of the truth.

Does my right hon. Friend begin to agree with the remarks attributed to Air Chief Marshal "Bomber" Harris yesterday, or the day before, when he suggested that too much publicity was given to the nitty-gritty of strategic and tactical decisions taken by the people on the high seas facing difficulties in protecting our interests and our troops? If he does agree, what steps does he think can be taken to rebut some of the nonsensical remarks by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite?

It would be of assistance to us if retired Service officers and others would not speculate so widely on all the military options that are open to us. It would also, naturally, be of help to us if the BBC and other media could have rather fewer programmes of this kind, because we are talking about lives, and the lives of our own Service men, and at the moment some of these programmes go rather too far.

Will the Minister confirm what the Prime Minister said earlier this afternoon, namely, that the decision to launch the torpedoes was a political decision—in other words, it was made by either the Prime Minister or the right hon. Gentleman, or both of them together? Or was it made by the admiral on the spot? It is extremely important that the country should know who is making decisions to kill in the South Atlantic.

Throughout this affair we have kept close control of the rules of engagement that go to the task force, and that must be obvious. The overall political control remains with the Government and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was, of course, confirming that. That must be the case. We did not fire the first shot, and the day before the "General Belgrano" was sunk there was launched upon our ships a substantial and dangerous air attack. It was only because of the superior skill and the better aircraft that we have available that our ships were not sunk the day before. I hope that the country understands that very clearly. We cannot allow Argentine naval or air assets to be left free to attack and sink our ships.

Did my right hon. Friend note last weekend the difference between the military dictatorship of Argentina telling lies to its people about alleged losses of British personnel and ships and their subsequent jamming of the BBC, and his duty to respond fully and truthfully in the House, as he has been doing this afternoon, in our democracy? Will he assure the world and the country that any figures given by his Ministry of losses will be absolutely true?

We will do our utmost, given the distances and the problem of immediate communications, to publish nothing but facts. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A great deal of propaganda and misinformation have been put out by Buenos Aires. There was no great sense of outrage when they announced that they had sunk HMS "Exeter", shot down 11 of our aircraft and severely damaged the "Hermes". Indeed, this was put out from Buenos Aires with great pleasure before we were able to deny it. There does not seem to be any predisposition on their part to hide the fact that they have been attempting to sink our ships and shoot down our aircraft.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman once more if he can give us more details about the distance between the opposing forces, because this is critical in establishing the necessity to attack the cruiser in self-defence? The right hon. Gentleman told the House a moment ago that the Argentine ships were closing on elements of our task force, so presumably they knew where it was, and, since two of them survived, presumably the Argentine Government knows. The Soviet Government certainly knows, because it has three spy satellites over the area. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us where the task force was 40 hours ago?

I have noted that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the Soviets know where our task force is. I rather doubt that that is the case. The "General Belgrano" was sunk about 30 miles south of the exclusion zone. I repeat that I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman where our task force was then or where it is now. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman's natural wish to know how close the forces were, given the delay in communications that can arise between London and a submarine, the fact that I have told him and the House that this group was only hours of steaming time away surely gives him sufficient information to appreciate that these ships were a threat to our fleet.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that at the start of the crisis the Government were criticised severely in several parts of the House for failing to anticipate the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina? Does he agree that it is ironic that some of those same elements should now be criticising the Government for meeting the threat on the high seas and thereby protecting the lives of our Service men?

Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that no one in the House in his senses wants to see the conflict escalate? Both sides have proved in crude terms that they can inflict substantial damage upon the other. I do not ask him to give the exact position that was under threat by the "General Belgrano" and the two destroyers, but will he say whether our forces were within or outside the 200-mile exclusion zone?

It would be so easy for me to give the hon. Gentleman the answer, but I am sure that it would be wrong for me to do so.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our attacks on the Falkland Islands airports will have caused heavy casualties among Argentine troops? It is these wounded Argentines and the other Argentines who need evacuation from the Falkland Islands, not the Falkland Islanders. Does he therefore agree that it might be worth while offering to the United Nations for its use the hospital ship "Uganda" to carry out this evacuation of wounded Argentines and any other Argentines who wish to leave? This may well provide the breakthrough in the negotiating position, where there is currently a stalemate. It would be an act of magnanimity and it might enable the Argentine people at home to see the real picture of what is happening on the Falkland Islands, rather than the counterfeit picture.

I assure my hon. Friend that if, for example, the Red Cross wants safe passage to collect Argentine wounded, we shall make sure that it has it. If we can recover wounded ourselves, we shall do so. We shall provide them with hospital and medical facilities in our ships. That would be part of the Royal Navy's normal conduct of affairs. However, there is sometimes a problem. For instance, in the case of the "General Belgrano", if we had attempted rescue ourselves we would have been within easy range of Argentine land-air attack. If we are to perform this humane function, we must do so without hazarding our own forces.

Personal Statement

4.43 pm

With your leave, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal statement.

I have already given notice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that at the conclusion of today's business I wish to be appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead—in other words, forthwith to resign my seat in the House. It is also my intention, however, as soon as the appointment has been effected, to relinquish it with a view to contesting a by-election in the constituency of Mitcham and Morden, which will result from my resignation. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), the Opposition Chief Whip, has agreed that he will move the writ for that by-election next Tuesday, 11 May so that the by-election can take place on 3 June. I am grateful to him for that.

The House will understand that a Member in my position has no control over the timing of a subsequent by-election. It may well wish in due course to consider whether that situation is satisfactory.

As most hon. Members will know, I announced en 10 December that I was leaving the Labour Party and joining the Social Democrats. I said then that it was my intention to resign from the House and to contest a by-election. This is not the occasion to discuss the reasons for my decision to leave the party to which I belonged for over 30 years. However, I should like briefly to place on record the reasons why I have felt it right to seek the endorsement of my constituents for my decision. I do not wish the action that I am taking to establish any precedent—[Interruption.]

Order. I remind the House that it is customary to hear a personal statement in silence.

—for other Members who may find that they can no longer support the policies adopted by the party under whose label they were elected. That would be to raise the party above the individual conscience and judgment of a Member of Parliament, whereas I think that it is the judgment of each individual Member of Parliament on what is in the public interest that should always be paramount.

There are many precedents of Members who have crossed the Floor of the House without resigning. Perhaps the late Sir Winston Churchill is the most famous example. Whether or not one accepts that such a fundamental change as crossing the Floor of the House involves an obligation to seek re-election, I believe that there is none upon hon. Members who consider that their views have not changed fundamentally but who personally feel that their parties have adopted a radically different position since the last general election. That is the position of my colleagues in the SDP.

My position is different, because I have given specific assurances to the Mitcham and Morden constituency Labour Party, which I have repeated at public meetings, that if ever I were to leave the Labour Party I should resign my seat and contest a by-election. That pledge was first given when my loyalty to the Labour Party was questioned following my criticism in the House of mass picketing at Grunwick in 1977. It has been repeated at public meetings. I do not think it necessary to adduce reasons for keeping one's promises, other than that one has made them.

I hope that I shall return to the House very soon, but whatever the outcome of my decision it has been a great honour to have served in the House.