Falkland Islands

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 3rd April 1982.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East 1:19 pm, 3rd April 1982

This remarkable debate has been characterised by high-calibre speeches showing acute perception of the problem. Until my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Witney) spoke, I thought that the House was speaking with one voice in a moment of national crisis, warning the Government and expecting them to act. My hon. Friend is entitled to his view, but he seemed to be asking the Government to bear certain weighty considerations in mind with the object, no doubt, of pulling them back from any punitive action that they may wish to take to restore our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. However, I find it odd that my hon. Friend, who has served in Buenos Aires, should omit to mention the most important consideration of all. We are dealing here not with a democratic country that has some claim to the Falkland Islands—with which the matter could be thrashed out in a civilised way—but with a Fascist, corrupt and cruel regime.

I have spent the past few years in fruitless negotiations with the Argentine ambassador about women and mothers of young children who have been picked up by the secret police and who have been spirited away. They are now among the disappeared ones. They have not been arrested for any criminal offence. They have never been brought to trial. Indeed, they may no longer be alive. They were seized simply because they were related to people who stood in the way of Argentina's Fascist governors.

The very thought that our people, 1,800 people of British blood and bone, could be left in the hands of such criminals is enough to make any normal Englishman's blood—and the blood of Scotsmen and Welshmen—boil, too.

This is not a day for judgments to be made. True, it is a sad day, but not one for judgment yet. The Prime Minister was frank and open with the House. At present, none of us 'expects the Government to reveal the dispositions of our forces and any decisions that they may have taken. We do not expect that, but we do expect results. Unless firm and effective action is taken within a reasonable period of time to remove the invaders and to restore the islands to British sovereignty, the effect on the Government's standing will be dire. They will not be able to rely on my support. However, reading between the lines of the Prime Minister's remarks today, I venture to think that the right decisions have been taken. We must now wait upon events.

This crisis did not come upon us suddenly in the night. I stood at the Dispatch Box some 14 years ago and extracted a promise from the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Michael Stewart—now Lord Stewart of Fulham—that in no circumstances would there be a transfer of sovereignty unless the Falkland Islanders so wished. Since then, we have had weasel words from successive Foreign Office Ministers. One after the other has said the same thing, but they have acted in a way that has driven the Falkland Islanders into dependence on the Argentine for communication with the outside world. In other words, policy has not matched up to the assurances that have been given to Parliament. That sort of thing has happened before and may happen again. However, we must be on the qui vive. Such things happen too often. Parliament must be taken into the confidence of the Government of the day.

The time for weasel words has ended. I expect action from the Government; and I hope that we shall get it. However, let there be no misunderstanding. Unless the Falkland Islands are quickly restored to lawful British sovereignty, and unless their people are freed from the dreadful shadow under which they have lived for a decade or more, the effect on the Government will be dire.