From the onset of the Falklands crisis, my right hon. Friends and I have undertaken to keep the House as closely informed as possible about the situation.
Although my last report to hon. Members was only two days ago, such is the seriousness of this matter that my right hon. Friends and I were glad to agree to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that time should be found for a debate today—the fourth since the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands four weeks ago tomorrow.
During that period, the Government have taken every possible step that had a reasonable prospect of helping us to achieve our objectives—the withdrawal of the Argentine forces and the end of their illegal occupation of the islands, the restoration of British administration, and a long-term solution which is acceptable not only to the House but to the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands.
It is the Government's most earnest hope that we can achieve those objectives by a negotiated settlement. We have done everything that we can to encourage Mr. Haig's attempts to find a solution by diplomatic means. I shall have something more to say about that in a moment.
As the House knows, the Government have also taken military measures to strengthen our diplomatic efforts. Mr. Haig's initiative would never have got under way if the British Government had not sent the naval task force to the South Atlantic within four days of Argentina's aggression against the Falkland Islands.
What incentive would there have been for the Argentine junta to give Mr. Haig's ideas more than the most cursory glance if Britain had not under-pinned its search for a diplomatic settlement with the dispatch of the task force? Gentle persuasion will not make the Argentine Government give up what they have seized by force.
Our military response to the situation has been measured and controlled. On 12 April we declared a maritime exclusion zone. It has been enforced against Argentine warships and naval auxiliaries. It has been completely successful, and the Argentine forces on the Falkland Islands have been isolated by sea.
Eleven days later we warned the Argentine authorities that any approach by their warships or military aircraft which could amount to a threat to interfere with the mission of the British forces in the South Atlantic would encounter the appropriate response.
On 25 April, as I reported to the House on Monday, British forces recaptured South Georgia. The operation was conducted in exercise of our right of self-defence under article 51 of the United Nations charter. The minimum of force was used, consistent with achieving our objective, and no lives—Argentine or British—were lost in the operation, although, as was announced yesterday, we deeply regret that an Argentine prisoner lost his life in an incident on 26 April. That incident is now being urgently investigated by a board of inquiry in accordance with the terms of the relevant Geneva convention.
The latest of our military measures is the imposition of the total exclusion zone round the Falkland Islands of which we gave 48 hours notice yesterday. The new zone has the same geographical boundaries as the maritime exclusion zone which took effect on 12 April. It will apply from noon London time tomorrow to all ships and aircraft, whether military or civil, operating in support of the illegal occupation of the Falkland Islands. A complete blockade will be placed on all traffic supporting the occupation forces of Argentina. Maritime and aviation authorities have been informed of the imposition of the zone, in accordance with our international obligations.
We shall enforce the total exclusion zone as completely as we have done the maritime exclusion zone. The Argentine occupying forces will then be totally isolated—cut off by sea and air.
I turn now to the point that the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) raised during Question Time. I am grateful to him for leaving me to deal with the matter in my speech. On the diplomatic side, Mr. Haig has put formal American proposals to the Argentine Government and requested an early response. I stress the status of those proposals. They are official American proposals. Mr. Haig judged it right to ask Argentina to give its decision first, as the country to which Security Council resolution 502 is principally addressed. He saw Mr. Costa Mendez last night, but no conclusion was reached. Mr. Haig has also communicated to us the text of his proposals. It is difficult both for the House and for the Government that we are not able to say more about them publicly, especially as in our democratic system we need the interplay of opinions and ideas. But they are Mr. Haig's proposals, and we understand from him that it is his present intention to publish them in full. But he of course must judge the appropriate time.
The proposals are complex and difficult and inevitably bear all the hallmarks of compromise in both their substance and language. But they must be measured against the principles and objectives expressed so strongly in our debates in the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs remains in close touch with Mr. Haig. I very much regret that I am not in a position to say more today, but I stress that they are Mr. Haig's proposals and he has put them first to the Argentine Government. It was the Argentine invasion which started this crisis, and it is Argentine withdrawal that must put an end to it.
The world community will not condone Argentina's invasion. To do so would be to encourage further aggression. As the Commonwealth Secretary-General said on 27 April—a point that was alluded to during Question Time today—
In making a firm and unambiguous response to Argentine aggression, Britain is rendering a service to the international community as a whole".
As the situation has developed, and as the British Government have made every effort to find a solution, the House has broadly supported both the Government's objectives and their actions. But in the past few days it has been argued in some parts of the House, first, that we should not have resorted to the use of force and, secondly, that we should seek greater involvement by the United Nations.
With regard to the first argument, when the House debated the Falkland Islands on 14 April the Leader of the Opposition supported the dispatch of the task force. He said:
I support the dispatch of the task force. I support it because I beleve that it can have strong diplomatic results."—[Official Report, 14 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 1152.]
We agreed on that.
But it would be totally inconsistent to support the dispatch of the task force and yet to be opposed to its use. What is more, it would be highly dangerous to bluff in chat way. British Service men and ships would be exposed to hostile action. Argentina would doubt our determination and sense of purpose. The diplomatic pressure would be undermined. Is it really suggested that to use our task force in self-defence for the recapture of British territory is not a proper use of force?
As long as the Argentines refuse to comply with the Security Council resolution, we must continue to intensify the pressure on them. And we must not abandon our efforts to re-establish our authority over our own territory and to free our own people from the invader.
Let me turn now to the question of greater United Nations involvement. All our action has been based on a resolution of the United Nations. The Argentine invasion was carried out in defiance of an appeal issued by the President of the Security Council at our urgent request on 1 April. That solemn appeal was endorsed by the whole of the Security Council, but it was ignored. Immedately after the invasion we asked for another meeting of the Security Council. That meeting passed resolution 502. Since then our efforts and those of Mr. Haig and a large part of the international community have been directed to implementing that mandatory resolution.
That resolution calls for Argentine withdrawal and a negotiated solution to the dispute. Without Argentine withdrawal, we have no choice but to exercise our unquestionable right to self-defence under article 51 of the charter. Of course, if Argentina withdrew we should immediately cease hostilities and be ready to hold negotiations with a view to solving the underlying dispute. After all, we were negotiating only a few weeks before the invasion.
It is quite wrong to suggest that because the invader is not prepared to implement the resolution the principles of the United Nations require that we, the aggrieved party, should forfeit the right of self-defence. Such an argument has no validity in international law. It would be to condone and encourage aggression and to abandon our people.
The question that we must answer is, what could further recourse to the United Nations achieve at the present stage? We certainly need mediation, but we already have the most powerful and the most suitable mediator available, Mr. Haig, backed by all the authority and all the influence of the United States, working to implement a mandatory resolution of the Security Council. If anyone can succeed in mediation, it is Mr. Haig.
Of course, we support the United Nations and we believe that respect for the United Nations should form the basis of international conduct. But, alas, the United Nations does not have the power to enforce compliance with its resolutions, as a number of aggressors well know.
Those simple facts are perfectly well understood in the international community. Let me quote the Swedish Foreign Minister, because Sweden is a country second to none in its opposition to the use of force and its respect for the United Nations. The Swedish Foreign Minister said of the South Georgia operation:
We have no objection to Britain retaking British territory. Time and again one is forced to observe that the United Nations is weak and lacks the authority required to mediate.
That may not be desirable, but it is a fact of life and we must make our dispositions and judgments accordingly.
The recapture of South Georgia has not diminished international support. No country that was previously with us has turned against us. On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend was able to satisfy himself that the support of the European Community remained robust. The world has shown no inclination to condemn Britain's exercise of the right to self-defence.
In the Organisation of American States itself, Argentina was criticised for her use of force. Despite the claims of traditional Latin American solidarity, the only resolution passed clearly referred to Security Council resolution 502, and called on Argentina not to exacerbate the situation.
The truth is that we have been involved in constant activity at the United Nations. Our representative in New York has been in daily touch with the Secretary-General since the crisis began. He has discussed with him repeatedly and at length all possible ways in which the United Nations could play a constructive role in assisting Mr. Haig's mission and, if Mr. Haig fails, in securing implementation of resolution 502.
Sir Anthony Parsons has also discussed with Mr. Perez de Cuellar contingency planning about the part that the United Nations might be able to play in the longer term in negotiating and implementing a diplomatic settlement.
In the light of those discussions, our representative has advised us that, first, the Secretary-General is very conscious of the complexity of the problem and of the need for careful preparation of any initiative that he might take. Secondly, as the Security Council is already seized of the problem, it would be inappropriate for the Secretary-General to act under article 99 of the charter. Thirdly, the Secretary-General would not wish to take any initiative which he had not established in advance would be acceptable to both the parties. Fourthly, the Secretary-General would also require a clear mandate from the Security Council before taking any action.
Our representative has also reported that the Secretary-General has several times stated in public that he was not prepared to take action while Mr. Haig's mission was continuing.
On Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition suggested that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary should go to New York to discuss the crisis with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I have explained to the House already that our own permanent representative has been in communication daily with Mr. Perez de Cuellar. But if, at any time, either the Secretary-General or my right hon. Friend thought that a meeting between the two of them would be likely to assist in achieving an acceptable solution, then I say to the House that my right hon. Friend would of course go to New York straight away.
Although we have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich or British Antarctic Territory, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested that we refer the matter to the International Court of Justice. Since Argentina does not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the court, the issue cannot be referred for a binding decision without her agreement.
We have never sought a ruling on the Falkland Islands themselves from that court, but we have raised the question of the dependencies on three separate occasions—in 1947, 1949 and 1951. Each time Argentina refused to go to the court.
In 1955, the British Government applied unilaterally to the International Court of Justice against encroachments on British sovereignty in the dependencies by Argentina. Again, the court advised that it could not pursue the matter since it could act only if there was agreement between the parties recognising the court's jurisdiction.
In 1977, Argentina, having accepted the jurisdiction of an international court of arbitration on the Beagle Channel dispute with Chile, then refused to accept its results. It is difficult to believe in Argentina's good faith with that very recent example in mind.
There is no reason, given the history of this question, for Britain, which has sovereignty and is claiming nothing more, to make the first move. It is Argentina that is making a claim. If Argentina wanted to refer it to the International Court, we would consider the possibility very seriously. But in the light of past events it would be hard to have confidence that Argentina would respect a judgment that it did not like.
May I briefly recall the events that immediately preceded the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.
My right hon. Friend has observed that going to the International Court could be done only with the consent of the Argentine. Has she taken into account the provisions of article 53 of the statute of the court, and article 96 with regard to the Security Council asking for an advisory opinion?
Yes, Mr. Speaker; but my right hon. and learned Friend has just made the point—that is only an advisory opinion. Hitherto Argentina has not even respected the judgment of a court whose jurisdiction it accepted. We do not doubt our own sovereignty. There seems to be little point, therefore, in our taking the question to court.
I am sure that the right hon. Lady agrees that an arbitration is not quite the same thing as a decision of the International Court of Justice. In this case, an advisory opinion has a rather technical meaning. It has been requested in times past by the organs of the League of Nations and the United Nations in matters of great seriousness, and has never been refused by the International Court or the former Permanent Court of International Justice. The problem that we all face is why Britain is so reluctant to ask the Security Council to ask for such an opinion.
I have indicated that with regard to the dependencies—not the Falkland Islands themselves—we have on four occasions tried to go to the court. On each occasion we have been flouted because the Argentine withheld its consent. If we were to ask through the Security Council, the matter would have to go through either the General Assembly or the Security Council and they would have to agree to do it. In the end, the opinion would be only advisory. That is in accordance with article 96, which I have before me at the moment. The decision is only advisory. I took the precaution of being reasonably well prepared.
I shall return to the events that immediately preceded the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. Until the end of February, we were conducting negotiations with the Argentine Government. Our delegation was accompanied by representatives from the Islands councils. The negotiations took place in a constructive atmosphere, and produced an agreed communiqué, though the Argentine Government chose not to publish it.
On 20 March, the South Georgia incident began with the illegal landing of Argentine civilians. We sought to solve that problem by diplomatic means, and proposed that an emissary should travel to Buenos Aires to pursue negotiations over the problem as a matter of urgency.
It was Costa Mendez himself who on 1 April told us that the diplomatic channel was now closed. That same day, President Reagan's appeal was rebuffed by the President of Argentina. On Friday 2 April the Argentines invaded and the Falklands were occupied.
The following day the Security Council called for Argentine withdrawal. Since that mandatory instruction, the Government of Argentina have made no move to comply. On the contrary, they have poured in additional troops and equipment. There can be no doubt where the intransigence lies in this matter.
The key to peace is in the hands of the Argentine Government. The responsibility is theirs.
I thank the right hon. Lady for the Government's decision to arrange for this debate. We called for the debate on Monday of this week after the announcements that were made on that day. I am sure that it is right that the House should have constant debates on the subject.
In its editorial today, The Times said:
The House will have to exercise self-control".
I agree that the House must exercise self-control in this situation where many dangers and difficulties for British citizens and others are involved. But it is also necessary for the House to exercise control over the Executive, over the military machine and over the diplomatic process. It is essential that that control should be sustained from week to week and from day to day in the most detailed manner. I do not believe that the right hon. Lady will dissent from that view.
I shall make a brief reference to the past, although of course there are many aspects of past questions that have to be examined at some later stage. I do not propose to go into the references that the right hon. Lady made before the Argentine attack, but I shall refer to the origin of the dispute and underline afresh what I and others have said on every occasion when we have debated these matters. It is right that those matters should be understood properly throughout the world.
The origin of the crisis was a flagrant and unprovoked attack. Of course it is necessary that other countries should take a leading part in ensuring that such forms of aggression shall be stopped now and prohibited for the future. No one would dissent from that. It was also right, although some may not agree, that we should have taken the matter immediately to the United Nations as we did. That is the proper forum where we have agreed, as a country, that such questions should be decided. That was absolutely right, and I said so on the first morning when we discussed this matter, even before we knew what the verdict of the Security Council was likely to be.
I also agreed, and still agree, that it was right for the Government to make the arrangements for the dispatch of the task force. I say that for the same reasons as the right hon. Lady has emphasised again today and as I have emphasised in previous debates. If such action had not been taken by the British Government, there would not have been any disposition in the junta in the Argentine to negotiate in any way. I believe also that the support that this country could command, or expect to command, throughout the world would have been considerably less if such action had not been taken. Those were the decisions that were made, that I supported, and still support. I believe that they were right.
Another question relates to the article under which we operate. This is a matter of great importance. The right hon. Lady referred to it again today. Partly, we are acting because of the Security Council decision 502 but, partly, we are acting, as the Prime Minister said, under article 51 of the charter. But for article 51 of the charter, it would have been difficult for us to act in exactly this manner. Article 51 has been invoked on some previous occasions in this way. I carry the United Nations charter about with me, just as the right hon. Lady does. She will be able to see that there are rights under article 51.
There are, however, some other aspects of article 51, as I am sure the right hon. Lady knows. Under the article, we are expected to report to the Security Council and to the United Nations Organisation on the measures that we are taking. I had hoped that the right hon. Lady would give us some account of the reports that we are giving and will continue to give the Security Council on these matters. Article 51 does not give this or any other country operating under it an unlimited right to act as it wishes. It gives to those countries the possibility of acting in certain circumstances and also the possibility that they will have to take account of what the Security Council or other countries may say on the subject.
On some previous occasions when article 51 has been invoked, as, I believe, in the case of the Korean war, there were grave disputes on the serious matter whether the article was being carried further than it should have been. I hope that the right hon. Lady, or her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in his reply, will give a detailed account of the reports that have been sent already to the Security Council under article 51 and also of the reports that we propose to give in future.
I come now to another aspect of the matter to which the right hon. Lady has herself referred. She has remarked, in some previous debates, that time was running out and that no action had been taken by the Argentine Government to respond to the requirements of resolution 502. That is, a perfectly legitimate criticism. I believe, however, that there are many other measures that Britain could take, should take and should report to the House, that could help to fortify our case, and many other possibilities that should have been discussed. Some of these have been referred to by the Government but very little action has, I believe, been taken. Where decisions have been taken, they have been in some respects mistaken. I do not say that these are the major questions. I shall come to them in a moment. They are, nevertheless, important questions that may affect the whole outcome of the dispute.
The right hon. Lady mentioned a moment ago the issue of a reference to the International Court of Justice. I am not saying that this would be a solution to the problem. I do say that, in certain circumstances, it could assist the case that this country presents to the world. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has put the case, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I believe that the Government should consider this matter afresh. I do not believe that the answer that the right hon. Lady has given today is the final answer. I hope that she will look at what has been proposed as one possibility for assisting the position.
Proposals for some form of United Nations trusteeship for the Falkland Islands have been discussed in many quarters. I recognise that there are difficulties. There might be difficulties both from our point of view and also from the point of view of the Argentine Government—[Interruption.] I do not know why some hon. Members laugh. Some people are discussing these matters perfectly seriously even if those hon. Members are not capable of doing so. A lengthy discussion of this as a possible item in negotiations appeared in the Financial Times yesterday. I am not saying that it is the key to all the problems. I do believe that it could offer a possibility. In any case, the Government should examine it with the greatest care and give to hon. Members and the country their views on it. It might form an essential or possible element in getting a solution.
If the dispute were to be referred to the International Court of Justice, the proceedings, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, would be lengthy in the extreme, and it is unlikely that the matter would be heard for at least six months. What does he believe the population of the Falklands should undergo during that period? Should the status quo as it now exists be retained for a further six months while the dispute awaited a hearing?
That is another aspect of the matter. I shall come to these questions. I am putting to the Government what the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West and many others in public discussion have proposed as one possible element in the way that the Government might proceed. There is also the question that I have just been discussing about the possibility of United Nations trusteeship.
Other possibilities exist under the charter. The possibilities of action are not restricted to those that are involved in article 51. There is article 41 under which economic sanctions are possible. When hon. Members say that this is not something that can be examined, I would say that it is part of the approach that we could adopt. Since we are seeking, and, I am glad to say, we have successfully sought support from many other countries, this is also a possibility that should be examined.
If the hon. Gentleman will wait for a moment, he will see the context in which I am presenting some of these possibilities. All have been discussed by some hon. Members. But the Government have given no view or practically no view. Some of them are matters that enter into the negotiations. Some Conservative Members—I am not saying this is the Government attitude—do not seem to be interested in any further negotiations.
Is the right hon. Gentleman excluding from his thoughts the fact that we are dealing with a Fascist State where thousands of people have disappeared without trace in recent years? Does he think it right and proper that people of British stock who live in a small democracy should be left at the mercy of that State for one moment longer than is necessary?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the Fascist character of the regime in the Argentine. I have been as bitterly and as strongly—in some respects, more strongly—opposed to such regimes as Conservative Members. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson), who attends some of the special war Cabinets of the right hon. Lady, will speak on these matters. A few weeks or months ago he was toasting the regime in the Argentine. Certainly I have never been guilty of any such thing —[Interruption.] If some hon. Members will listen, they will discover the purpose of the argument.
The question of the possible interim administration also enters into any negotiations. The right hon. Lady and the Government have over this period had discussions of that nature. They have not fully considered, as we have done and as the nature of the case requires, the part that the United Nations could play in providing or assisting in providing a form of interim administration which could be acceptable to this country and acceptable eventually, I would hope, to the Argentine Government.
I have given way many times.
If all those matters are to be considered in negotiation the Government should be prepared to look at them. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) went to Washington a few days ago, one of the principal matters that he discussed with the Secretary-General of the United Nations was the very question of what part a United Nations organisation or people nominated by the Secretary-General could play in the form of interim administration.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that in her broadcast on "Panorama" on Monday night the Prime Minister did not exclude a United Nations force in the interim period to guarantee security, and that she actually mentioned it as a probability if a United States force was not considered satisfactory? So it was not excluded by the Prime Minister.
I agree that it was not excluded. These aspects of the matters will all come back for discussion, presuming that we get a peaceful approach to a settlement. The hon. Gentleman's interruption confirms that the Government will be prepared to discuss some form of interim administration. That emphasises my point.
The Government should be seeking to make progress on all those matters. I am not saying that they can all be accepted, but they can all make some contribution to the peaceful settlement that we require.
The right hon. Lady may ask what use is such a discussion because it is the Haig proposals that command the centre of the negotiating process? It is true that they have occupied it. I have not complained and do not complain now about the Government, the Secretary-General or anybody else concentrating first upon the success of the Haig proposals. I am interested to hear what the right hon. Lady has to say about them today. I understand the problems of publishing the proposals, although I would have thought that at some stage they should be presented for discussion in the House. I say to the right hon. Lady and to the Foreign Secretary that I can see that just at this moment it might be difficult. If it was the view of Mr. Haig or a mediator that it impaired the possibility of getting acceptance of some terms, or if one side found itself in difficulty because there was public discussion before it had decided what to do, of course we would not demand that the whole matter should be brought out before that end was reached.
Certainly before there was any grave escalation of the crisis those matters are fit matters to be discussed in the House and throughout the country. I am not saying that the right hon. Lady takes a view that is different from mine on that subject, but I hope very much that no military action will be taken which might jeopardise the success of those proposals. I or the right hon. Lady might not like some of the proposals. I presume that is one of the reasons why Mr. Haig went back to Buenos Aires and was able and willing to take up the matter afresh and why he was prepared to call them American proposals, which I gather is different from the previous position.
It may be that those proposals offer some hope of getting a peaceable settlement. In saying that, I am not giving any bland or blanket support to any proposals that we have not seen, nor can this House or anybody else. If people want to stop the bloodshed they have to treat that matter with the greatest care, as we do.
I come to the argument, which is not removed between the right hon. Lady and myself, on the United Nations. The right hon. Lady may ask, particularly in the light of what she has revealed to us today about the stage of the Haig proposals, what is the use of anybody thinking, if the Haig proposals do not succeed, that any other kind of proposals, mediation or negotiation would have any prospect. In a sense I think that is what the right hon. Lady said; I do not want to misquote her, but I believe that what she said came near to that. She said that if anyone had a chance of succeeding it was Mr. Haig with his proposals.
That sounds a common sense conclusion. I am not contesting it except that throughout the dispute we have emphasised, as my right hon. Friend has emphasised on many occasions in debates in the House, that there would have to be an eventual possibility of the matter being referred to the United Nations and to the Secretary-General if there were a breakdown in the Haig proposals, and if they were unsatisfactory. One of the reasons why that might offer greater hope is that in such circumstances the United States Government would have to declare themselves much more clearly on our side. That point has been put on many occasions.
If the Haig proposals break down, we must still be prepared to go back to the United Nations for further negotiation. I repeat that I hope we shall be careful to make them succeed if we can. There has been no difference in anything I have said about going back to the United Nations. I put it clearly in the debate on 14 April. I repeat it clearly again. It is precisely because the right hon. Lady did not seem to appreciate it that we got into the argument earlier in the week, which is not removed by the speech which she has made today.
We have reached a very serious stage the interconnection between the military and diplomatic aspects. I do not wish to be discourteous to the right hon. Lady, but she is saying that she has dismissed the idea of returning very soon to the United Nations. She has not ruled it out entirely, I am glad to say.
I should like to quote from the Financial Timesabout the stage that we have reached in this critical matter. I am quoting an authority to which I thought the House would listen. Certainly the country will if some Conservative Members will not. In its leading article today the Financial Timessays:
We doubt whether the military exercise, if undertaken to the full, will turn out to be quite as surgical or as easy as some commanders suggest. More than that, the political objective, which ought to lie behind any use of force is obscure. It is not at all clear what Britain would wish to do next even if an invasion of the islands were 100 per cent. successful.
Then it goes on a bit later:
Above all, however, we continue to believe that the use of force on the scale now available would be supportable only if the last possibilities of a negotiated solution have been demonstrably exhausted. That is not the case at present. Even if
—and this is exactly on the point we have been discussing—
the American mediation fails, the United Nations will remain.
It has been my view, as I have said all through. that if the Haig negotiations fail we must go to the United Nations afresh. That was why I was so concerned when the right hon. Lady seemed to push aside, as she did, the initiative that was taken by the Secretary-General on this matter. The right hon. Lady suggested it was not an initiative, or something of the sort; it was a statement issued by the Secretary-General at a time when the whole country, and the whole world maybe, were wondering what was going to happen after the recovery by Britain of South Georgia. It said:
In view of the further armed exchange between Argentine and British forces which has taken place over South Georgia island, it is imperative that the escalation of the situation be halted. In this critical situation the Secretary-General therefore appeals to both parties to comply immediately with the provisions of the Security Council Resolution 502"—
that was the one part of it that the right hon. Lady quoted yesterday. He goes on—
and to refrain from any action that would broaden yet further the conflict which threatens to have serious consequences for world peace.
In other words, as has been stated by Sir Anthony Parsons, when Sir Anthony made representations to, or had discussions with, the Secretary-General on this matter, he referred to resolution 502, but did not discuss either the beginning or the end of the statement. Or did he? If he did there has been no report on the subject to the House by the right hon. Lady and no report by our ambassador at the United Nations. In other words, when the Secretary-General of the United Nations said:
it is imperative that the escalation of the situation be halted
the British representative at the United Nations had not even discussed that matter with him. Or if he had, do we agree with it or not?
What I proposed earlier in the week—and I propose it again now—is that the Foreign Secretary should go to New York to discuss the matter with the United Nations. I believe that he should do so because we must use every possibility to escape from armed conflict. If the right hon. Lady and her Government were to proceed, brushing aside the statement and saying that they are not interested in appeals to stop the escalation or in appeals from the Secretary-General not to broaden the conflict, she would, as I said earlier in the week, inflict grievous injury on our national cause.
It so happens that there is considerable support for this view from the admiral in charge of operations. The right hon. Lady has said that the admiral has made various vivid statements. Whether he should make such statements or not I do not know, but I will tell the House what he said.
Yes, indeed he does. Let us see what the admiral who, according to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), knows more about it than I do, said:
I am not in any doubt that unless people say 'lets stop' it will be a long and bloody campaign. And in my mind it is absolutely fundamental to try to avoid it.
That is what I think, too. Then he goes on:
I do think that even at this late stage there is time for a diplomatic solution. I would be very distressed if I did not think that.
That is what I think, too. Then he continues, and the right hon. Lady and those who have interrupted me with questions about the time factor have made much play of this;. I understand about time factor, and so does the admiral:
There has to be a political wish to go on negotiating and that will entail our waiting in a ready posture, as ready as we can be, for quite a long period maybe.
That is what he said, and that is what I think, too. On all those matters, I say that the admiral on this occasion was talking more sense than the amateur warmongers present.
I suggest, therefore, that the right hon. Lady ought to take proper note of the warnings from her admiral, of the invitations from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and of the opinion of growing numbers throughout the country. The paramount interest of our country and of most other countries is that we should have a peaceful settlement of this dispute. I say that we have to try and try and try again to secure that peaceful settlement.
Despite some moments of rowdiness in the House, Members meet this afternoon in a sombre mood as the prospects of war loom before this country. There is no one in the House who is either a jingoist or a triumphalist, and I believe that we should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on having, in her opening remarks, so accurately caught the mood of the House. She was clear, analytical, constructive and moderate in her response to the remarks about the United Nations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, she did not agree with him entirely—there are not many Members on this side of the House who would, but she did leave the door open—and I am sorry that he did not reply in kind to her.
In the rowdiness that ensued, for which the Leader of the Opposition must take prime responsibility, the House lost sight of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had rightly stressed throughout her speech that we were still looking for a political solution, that we would still prefer a diplomatic solution to the use of force.
We are right to take that attitude, for two reasons. The first is the gravity of the issue. Human lives are at risk—British and Argentine lives. No one has a right to be bellicose when other people's lives are at risk.
Secondly, we should support the political initiative, because it is vital that we should be seen to be doing so if we are to retain the support of world public opinion. That will be crucial in the coming weeks. The Leader of the Opposition has constantly stressed that important factor. There must be no suspicion in the minds of the leaders of other countries that we are not sincerely and committedly working for peace. Let us remember that even if the fighting escalates, in the end we shall have to come to diplomatic discussions; we shall have to come to consultations; we shall have to try once again to substitute the weapons of peace for those of war.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) that it would not be appropriate or useful for the House to attempt to discuss in detail the tactics of our naval task force. That must be a matter for those on the spot. We in this House must show that we have confidence in it. The South Georgia episode surely shows that that confidence is fully justified. It is vital that nothing that we say makes the task of our forces more difficult. We should heed the words of Admiral Woodward when he declared that our forces could well face a long and bloody campaign.
What is desirable is that, as far as possible, the House should speak with a clear and united voice. Of course the decisions are for the Government and the responsibility is for the Government, but they are immensely strengthened in decisions that they are taking on behalf of the nation if they can show that the House is more united than divided. What I have to say is intended as a contribution to that consensus and to set out certain principles that I believe are widely supported in the House and outside.
First, the entire House is agreed on the strength of our moral and legal case. And why not? Our sovereign territory has been invaded. Our citizens have been deprived of their rights, and there has been a brutal and flagrant violation of international law. If we look back over the whole history of international disputes, it is difficult to find a situation in which the moral issue has been as clear and unclouded as it is in the present case.
Secondly, of course, we continue to seek a political solution. Military force must be the arm of politics and diplomacy, and not the other way round. That has been fully accepted by Admiral Woodward. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear again today, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet supported the dispatch of the task force, and continue to do so. But I must draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention the point made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that if one dispatches a task force, whilst it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that it should be used in the last resort rather than the first or in the middle of events, it is inconsistent with that attitude to rule out its use altogether. Indeed, if one did that one would render its dispatch nugatory.
Thirdly, we must constantly have in mind that our task force is on the high seas and at risk. Of course the political aims are paramount, but we must face the fact that we could well reach a point where the safety and well-being of the forces must modify that. That is the point being made with increasing urgency by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She is right to make it, because the nation would never forgive any Government who put our forces in jeopardy and then did not back them up and minimise the risks to them.
Many other hon. Members want to speak, and I have finished that point.
We should resolutely dismiss the anti-Americanism which has surfaced from time to time in our discussions and which we saw again at Prime Minister's Question Time today. There is no doubt about the massive support that this country is receiving from the American people. Like other hon. Members, I have recently been to the United States and I have seen that support for myself. In my view—other hon. Members may differ—it was wholly reasonable that at the first stage of the negotiations Mr. Haig should take an impartial stance. We should be grateful to him for his indefatigable efforts to preserve peace.
But situations alter. It is now my opinion that the chances of preserving peace would be enhanced if the United States threw its weight openly and unreservedly behind Britain. There is nothing inconsistent between those two statements. It is merely recognition of the fact that the situation has developed and altered.
I have two further points that I wish to make only briefly, but I believe that they will become increasingly important. I make them as one who knows Latin America directly. We must never forget that our quarrel is not with the Argentine people. It is with the Argentine junta. It is crucial to distinguish between the two—to distinguish between an odious and corrupt regime which has denied human rights, which has sent people to their deaths, which is reigning by terror, and a people with whom this country has had long and historic ties. The junta is unworthy of the people whom it claims to represent. The attitudes to the Argentine people which have been taken, not in the House, but in some sections of our press, are also unworthy. They are piling up trouble for the future.
British foreign policy in general, and Conservative foreign policy in particular, since the time of Castlereagh have been based not on the pursuit of abstract principles alone but on the protection of interests as well. What is the art of diplomacy but an attempt to decide possible conflicts between those two concepts?
Our first priority, of course, must be the well-being of the Falkland Islanders. They constitute a real community and they have rights of self-determination which are guaranteed by article 73 of the United Nations charter. I have my copy here as well. But there are other British interests in South America, and we must protect them. Countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Colombia have no sympathy with the Argentine, but if our views are expressed in a xenophobic fashion we shall drive them in that direction.
Let us always remember the context of the dispute. Latin America is the great continent of the future. It has immense resources and great potential, and its peoples are struggling endlessly for social justice and human rights. Let us not forget, either, that the Soviet Union is hovering, eager to get a foothold if it can for its programme of subversion and tyranny.
In resisting that threat Britain has a unique asset and that is our tradition of friendship with Latin American countries. I was delighted that the Prime Minister drew our attention to that in her opening remarks. After all, it was Canning, one of our greatest Prime Ministers, whose boast it was that he had called the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old.
I am not one of those who think that the House should not speak on these matters; that is what the House is for. I am not one of those who think that different views should not be expressed; it is right that they should. It would be absurd in a situation of this gravity, importance and complexity to suggest that there are not different views in the House, but I believe that underlying those differences of view there is basic unity and accord. I hope that the message that will go out from the debate is that once again the House of Commons is expressing the resolution and the will of a united nation.
I feel intense relief at the manner in which the debate has begun. I believe that that relief will be felt by many in the House and even more outside it. That is my response to the concluding remarks of the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas).
The right hon. Lady the Prime Minister spoke with restraint and put her case in a way that I found unexceptionable. Indeed, I support much of what she said. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made an important case for never using force if we can continue talking to get the right result. It would be wrong for any Conservative Member to try to assume or to say that that is not worthy of an Opposition. That is exactly what an Opposition should say and should be doing, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on at least sending nearly all of us scurrying back to study the charter of the United Nations in a way that we have not done for years.
There are three considerations that should govern our actions in this dispute. First, we are the aggrieved party in this aggression. We do not want war. We earnestly desire—I believe that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are working towards this—a negotiated settlement of the dispute.
Secondly, of the handful of direct invasions of one nation's territory by another since the Second World War, this one by Argentina is certainly the most flagrant and clear-cut defiance of the United Nations charter and its authority. For that reason it will weaken the United Nations even more if resolution 502 is not implemented by the withdrawal of Argentine troops in one form or another.
The third consideration that should govern our approach is that when the withdrawal of Argentine troops has taken place, or even if we are satisfied with the bona fides of the withdrawal, and while the process is continuing, Britain should be ready immediately, as the Prime Minister said, to resume negotiations leading to a settlement of the underlying dispute. I think that I quote the words that she used today.
It should be a settlement that will provide permanent security for the islanders as well as having full regard to their wishes and interests. That will cause much difficulty and it is not something for us to spell out this afternoon. However, we shall have to refine and define much more closely what we mean by the islanders' views and interests than we have done so far.
All our political and military decisions must be regulated by those three considerations. I do not underrate the difficulty of the decisions that face the Prime Minister, the country and the Government, both politically and militarily. They are as difficult as any Government have had to face in the past 25 years. I do not want to say anything or do anything that will weaken the right hon. Lady's hand.
Secretary Haig, as the Prime Minister told us, has put proposals to the junta and the British Government. I wish that I knew what they were, but I understand why we do not know, and for the moment I think that we must leave it there. The trouble is that we cannot—I do not know whether Secretary Haig can—make any rational calculation of what will be the response of an unelected, self-appointed military junta which is in no sense a Government, as we know it, that is accountable to us in the House of Commons. It may be too unstable, too unsure of its own authority and its members too mistrustful of one another to be able to reach the conclusions that will be in the best interests of its country and its own people. Even worse, it may be ready to sacrifice the lives of its own troops to save its own face.
When we are considering these matters coldly and rationally, as we are now, we must have in mind that we are not dealing with a Government who are considering these matters in the same way as ourselves. I do not know what the proposals are, but I imagine that they must involve sovereignty. That will be the stumbling block for the junta. It would be a bitter pill for it—I do not know whether it could survive—if it had to yield in any way to any other position than that it has exclusive sovereignty to the islands. If that is the stumbling block for it, it is the stumbling block for me, too. I speak only for myself.
If Secretary Haig had not said that we should not be in possession of the proposals, I should have hoped that we could discuss them. However, I repeat the urgent request of my right Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that if there is a desire to debate what is the most serious situation that has faced Britain for many years, when the proposals became known, the House of Commons should be able to offer its views. The Prime Minister might find an accretion of great strength in her bargaining and negotiating position if the House were in possession of the facts and were able to support them.
Secretary Haig is in the lead and I do not dissent from that. The United Nations has been willing to let him act, and that is realistic, because the United States is more likely to produce a negotiated result than the United Nations. That may be regrettable, but it is true. Nevertheless, the United Nations—I wish to support my right hon. Friend's hope—is still central to our case, even if we cannot envisage that if the United States is unable to produce a solution the United Nations will be able to secure adherence to its own resolution.
It is no disparagement of the United Nations to say that it does not have the means to compel Argentina to obey its injunction to withdraw. It can offer its good offices in further negotiations, but in the meantime the Secretary-General of the United Nations must understand that the aggressor retains the spoils. We must emphasise the difficulties that are facing us in proceeding. The question has been asked "What does 'proceeding' mean?" I shall come to that shortly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that we might have to be ready to put forward our own proposals, because someone else might do so in the meantime. However, until something tangible emerges from the United Nations, I do not rule out the prospect of the Foreign Secretary having discussions with Mr. Perez de Cuellar, the Secretary-General. If he does so—if he will allow me to put this to him—he should explain our position as follows: "Secretary-General, it is Argentina which is defying the United Nations by not withdrawing. Even worse, Secretary-General, the Argentines are compounding flagrantly their defiance by reinforcing their troops on the island day by day. We cannot accept this. Therefore, we shall proceed."
That brings us to what "proceeding" means. I hope that I shall say nothing to weaken any tactical objectives, but I think that we have a right, and perhaps a responsibility, to offer our views to the Government on the right way to proceed in these military circumstances. In my view, the proceedings should take the form of a blockade by air and sea and interdicting any attempt to cross the boundaries that we have laid down. We should take all measures to make that blockade effective. Can we do so? The Government have taken the decision and I fervently hope that the Government and the Armed Forces can sustain such a blockade.
I agree that those of us who will not be called upon to run the rigours of such a blockade should be reticent in expressing our views. However, there is some confusion in the minds of some of my hon. Friends, as well as in the newspapers, which has led to confusion generally on the difference between a blockading force and an assault force. I understand that we have a capability for both. We have ships that are capable, with, I trust, sufficient air power, to ensure a total exclusion. We also have troops available at some place in the South Atlantic who are capable of making an assault.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I labour this extremely important point. We must be ready to settle into a long blockade, if necessary for months, to undermine the morale of the garrison on the islands, using all possible means of harassment. We should prevent the islands from being reinforced and make the Argentine forces realise that they are beset, beleaguered, that they have no hope of rescue and no hope of return. I believe that that should be the approach to a blockade.
A blockade would involve some hardship to the islanders. Nevertheless, one cannot possibly resolve a dispute of this nature without hardship somewhere. However, this is a beginning and it is completely different from launching a frontal assault, which some of the newspapers have put into people's mind as being the next step. I can understand that being in the front of all our minds, but I believe that a frontal assault—I hope that I do not trespass beyond the bounds of what hon. Members think is right—would result in a heavy loss of life.
I do not know that the Government have taken such a decision. The newspapers lead us to believe that they have. I hope that the Government are still considering the matter and that they have reached no conclusion. There is still time for them to hold back. There is a difference between launching a bloody assault on the islands and imposing a blockade, as we have done time after time in history, and can do again. I have no doubt that, whatever the hardships involved, the sons of those who ran the convoys to Murmansk and Iceland in the last war can do as well as their fathers. If negotiations break down, I believe that they will.
My experience of the Chiefs of Staff and the defence planners is that they are cautious men. They do not readily risk the lives of those under their command. Of course, I do not know what advice they have given. The Cabinet will consult the Chiefs of Staff fully, but I hope that they will also consult, as widely as they can, the defence planners—I am sure that they must be doing this now—so that they get opinions from every level on the prospects of what an assault would mean.
I beg the Prime Minister—I want to be helpful—not to override the Chiefs of Staff if they counsel caution. I have no indication to the contrary, and I am sure she would not.
I agree with almost everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said. He referred to our history of blockades, but I find it difficult to recall an occasion when we have exercised a blockade that resulted in the near starvation of the population, as opposed to the economic type of blockade against trade. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the United Nations and world opinion would stay with us if we started a blockade that resulted in the starvation of the Falkland Islanders and of Argentine soldiers, who are unable to take the decision to surrender?
The matter must be considered as time goes on. We must use the United Nations during the blockade to bring continuing and ever-increasing pressure to bear on the Argentine to avoid such hardships. I do not know whether food would be the main problem. My main anxiety would be about health facilities.
I wish to see unity maintained in the House and in the country as far as possible. It is not, as I heard a BBC announcer say this morning, a bonus to the Government. It is an essential source of strength that the Government must not dissipate.
I hope that the right hon. Lady will listen when I say that, bearing in mind the background against which most of us approach this problem, I can see no case for having the chairman of the Conservative Party in the war Cabinet. This is not a party conflict. It is an attempt to restore the rule of law in the world and to give the Falkland Islanders the future that they demand. I say that without any animosity to the chairman of the Conservative Party.
I reassert that the aim of the House and the country must be to ensure the safety of our forces, the minimum risk to them, and a willingness, when the Argentine troops have been withdrawn, to negotiate on the underlying dispute and the future status of the islands, subject to the wishes and interests of the islanders themselves. As the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said, an attempt must be made to restore correct relations, if no better, with Argentina. It is not possible to envisage permanent hostility between the islanders and the Argentine Government and the mainland.
I conclude with one thought: how little is needed to deter, but how much to remedy.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) made a speech that has done much to restore the feeling of unity in the House. As a former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary he knows how vital it is, when dealing with these complex international negotiations and when lives are at stake, to feel that a united House of Commons and a united country are behind one.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East was firm in his belief that the decision to introduce a total exclusion zone to operate from tomorrow is correct, and I strongly support him. That is the next and logical escalation of the pressure on the Argentine junta. I believe that the maritime blockade has been well introduced, but it now needs to be reinforced by preventing the Argentines from continuing to reinforce the Falkland Islands. The rest of the world needs to know that over the past few weeks that is exactly what Argentina has been doing. It would be intolerable for the British Government to hold back when they have the capacity to prevent the continued reinforcement of the Falkland Islands which is being carried out in direct contravention of resolution 502.
On that we are fully agreed, and I take some comfort from the fact that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), although he did not specifically endorse it at least did not criticise or condemn the decision to have a total exclusion zone. It may be that we are now moving back into a sense of unity and I believe that that is a great help.
Let us be under no illusion. The critical moment in these negotiations is coming very close. As the Prime Minister said, the United States has put forward formal American proposals. She went on to describe them as "official" American proposals. I believe that Secretary Haig was right to say that it was now for the Argentines to respond. I hope that President Reagan has made it abundantly clear to the Argentines that if they reject the proposals there will be immediate application of United States sanctions, rapidly and fully, matching the sanctions imposed on the Argentines by the European Community. Nobody should disparage such a move. It would have a very powerful effect on the Argentines. I hope that the American people, who have been extremely loyal to this country in the past few weeks, will make it clear to the President that there must be no equivocation about this. If the proposals are rejected, there must be immediate implementation of economic sanctions.
The question that we may have to face is this. If the Argentines support the proposals, what will be the attitude of the British Government? The Prime Minister has made it clear that some of the proposals, as she put it, bear the hallmark of compromise, but she knows perfectly well that, whatever happens, the dispute will eventually have to be ended with a measure of compromise on all sides.
At this moment, when we are making grave decisions about the use of military force, we must cast our minds forward to the situation that may arise if we repossess the Falkland Islands. What would we then be doing in the next few months and years? I suggest that we would he trying to negotiate a settlement and to reach an honourable compromise and accommodation with the Argentines. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that we do not duck the reality of perhaps having to face difficult compromises before making a decision to repossess the Falkland Islands, before the loss of life.
I recognise that the Prime Minister feels unable to reveal the proposals now. While they are with the Argentine junta, it is obviously impossible, but I hope that it will be possible for the House to debate them. I say two things to the Prime Minister. I believe that it would be wrong to undertake a major escalation of our military commitment and to seek to repossess the Falkland Islands on the basis of the Government alone rejecting proposals put forward by the United States and accepted by the Argentines. I suppose that one has to say that there are circumstances in a very changing position in the Southern Atlantic that might force the Government to take military decisions before the recall of Parliament. If they are faced with that decision, I believe that there is an urgent responsibility to consult the parties and the leaders of the parties. That is a perfectly reasonable request to make before any military decision is taken in circumstances in which the Government were rejecting proposals put forward by the American Government and accepted by the Argentines.
It is right for us to give some indication of our views on the areas now involved in negotiations.
We are all united on the fact that the first phase must be withdrawal of the Argentines from the islands. It would then be reasonable to push the task force, say, to South Georgia, then back to Ascension Island, and only out of the Southern Atlantic area when the last Argentine soldier had left the islands. I believe that that is an agreed first phase, and there is very little difficulty on that.
On the interim administration there seems now to be some measure of understanding. I know that the small print is everything in these negotiations, but I do not believe that the House wishes to stand in the way of what has been described as the three flag arrangement, with the United States, the Argentine and the United Kingdom. I believe that many people who have held very firmly on this issue would consider that a not unacceptable compromise, provided that other aspects of administration in the islands safeguarded the views of the islanders.
The most difficult question is the third phase. All the evidence at present is that the Argentines are stipulating that they will not agree to anything that would involve accepting that their claim to sovereignty is negotiable. That is the crunch issue. If they will not accept that, I do not see how we can reach an agreement. Nevertheless, the Government are beholden to remind the Argentines that it was this Government and the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) when he was at the Foreign Office who put proposals to the Falkland Islanders which concerned the whole issue of sovereignty and the proposition of leaseback. That proposition was rejected by the Falkland Islanders, and many hon. Members did not like it, as has always been the case. The fact remains, however, that the Government were ready to discuss it. I am not asking them to commit themselves on it, but it would be unrealistic for any Conservative Member, or indeed for any Labour Member, given the decisions taken by the Labour Government—[HoN. MEMBERS: "And by the right hon. Gentleman"]—yes, and by me, to exclude negotiating and discussing the issue of sovereignty. It is right that that should be said. There are, of course, Members who believe that that issue is non-negotiable, but I believe that there is a cross-party majority that is ready to negotiate. It is not ready to commit itself in advance or to exclude the views of the Falkland Islanders, but it wishes to be in a position to negotiate and to reserve our rights overall to make a judgment.
How could the issue of sovereignty be put in a way that would save the face of the Argentines? In this sense, I believe that article 38·2 of the statute of the International Court of Justice should be considered. It says that nothing should
prejudice the power of the Court to decide a case ex aequo et bono if the parties agree thereto.
It has been said by the leading authority on the International Court of Justice that adjudication ex aequo et bono amounts to an avowed creation of new legal relations between the parties. If the court exercises its jurisdiction under this provision it would be legislating.
The attraction of this procedure is that the Argentines would not suffer any loss of face by agreeing to submit the issue to the court, as by agreeing to the adjudication they would not be admitting any possibility that their claim to sovereignty was not justified. I believe that we must look to mechanisms that will save face in this context. We should also not exclude the possibility of a strategic trust territory. Under articles 82 and 83, a strategic trust territory has great importance for us in this country because it would not be right for the strategic and military aspects and matters relating to law and order on the islands to be put to a trusteeship council in which we could be outvoted. The advantage of a strategic trust territory is that the Security Council would effectively govern those aspects, which would allow us to exercise the veto. The Argentines would also have some assurance that either the United States, if their relations with that country were good, or the Soviet Union might exercise the veto. As the administering authority, however, we could maintain the status quo and Britain would be the administering authority. Again, this would avoid either side having to reach a conclusion on sovereignty.
These proposals would be the third phase. There is no question or doubt but that the first and crucial phase is the readiness of the Argentines to withdraw their forces.
Therefore, if the House accepts, as I believe that there is a readiness to accept in the debate, the total exclusion zone, we must recognise that from noon on Friday our Armed Forces may, with no warning, have to take military action. We have to accept that, and we must accept that some of the decisions will have to be taken extremely rapidly. I recognise that the Government will need to take decisions at very short notice. I merely ask that if they have to take those major decisions they should do their best to talk to the parties in the House so that we may retain as much unanimity as possible.
Perhaps I am being too optimistic, although I am often optimistic, but it is conceivable that the Argentine junta will crack. It is possible that it will, under immense United States pressure, accept. If so, it will be also because the junta believes that the House and the country are ready to use force, ready, if we had to do so in the last resort, even to repossess the islands.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East that there has been slightly too automatic an assumption that the next phase in the escalation in military force, apart from the exclusion zone, has to be an assault on Port Stanley. There are a large number of unoccupied islands throughout the Falkland Islands. There are many different options open to the naval commander, although there is no need to say anything about the tactical stages.
The Royal Navy, because the Royal Marines are also in my constituency, is my favourite service. It is famous for being the Silent Service. The Royal Navy might take a leaf out of its own book and become again the Silent Service. There are many more steps in the gradation of force—such force is specifically and clearly in defence of our interests and clearly within article 51, but no one in the House should underestimate that the decision we are effectively taking today, and that we have endorsed, is to tighten the screw on the Argentine junta.
We must recognise that our diplomacy must be buttressed by force and, in the last analysis, the Government must remain free to take action. If they do so, then they alone can make that decision. They have at least the right to ask that whatever doubts we may have we shall give them the benefit of the doubt and that nothing that we say in this country—[Interruption.] If it is necessary for our Service men to take action, I hope that nothing that we say in this country will be taken as revealing a great political divide.
This is very different from Suez. Let us not make it like Suez. Let us not have what happened in 1956, when Service men went into Suez against a background of bitter party political debate. The onus is not only on the Opposition parties. The onus and the responsibility are as much on the Government and the Prime Minister. This debate has strengthened the chances of our retaining unity across the party divisions.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who have throughout the crisis maintained their belief in the unity of this nation at this critical moment.
The House meets at a particularly grave moment. We have at stake our Service men in the South Atlantic. We have at stake the Falkland Islanders, who are innocent victims of blatant, cruel and unprovoked aggression. We have at stake the credibility of the United Nations, which has been treated with cynical contempt by one of the parties to the dispute—the Argentine junta. We have also at stake the whole delicate fabric of international law, and, perhaps even more important than that, the crucial, unwritten conventions of civilised behaviour between nations in an increasingly dangerous world.
This is no time for inquisitions into what happened in the past. However, I wish to place on record my belief that the Government have consistently and honourably sought, as their predecessors did, a peaceful and fair solution to this long-standing and intractable problem. As the right hon. Members for Cardiff, South-East and Devonport have emphasised, we are not the aggressors. We did not break the peace. We have continued to seek a peaceful solution, even since the invasion.
I had the honour to serve for two years under Lord Carrington at the Foreign Office, including during the Lancaster House negotiations. I deeply regret that, man of honour as he is, he felt it necessary to resign over this issue. I remind the House of what Disraeli said on a similar occasion about a similar statesman:
Great services to the State should not be forgotten because of one misjudgment.
When inquiries are made, and the story is told, it will be revealed and emphasised that Lord Carrington negotiated throughout on behalf of this nation, in good faith, for a peaceful solution.
What is foreign policy about? It is about the preservation of our precious liberties in peace, which is not peace at any price. In honour and in all integrity, within the auspices of the United Nations, and with the full support of both sides of the House and of the nation, we pursued a solution. That process was ended by the blatant aggression of Argentina.
The Leader of the Opposition referred, rather vaguely, but at some length, to the role that could be played by the United Nations. As the House knows, I was a volunteer senior official to the United Nations, in the office of the Secretary-General, for four years. I emphasise one point about the role of the Secretary-General in a problem such as this. Under article 99 he has the right, which is rarely used—rightly—to call a special meeting of the Security Council. In the circumstances that we have faced in the past three weeks he could not have done so, for the simple reason that a party to the dispute was in breach not only of the United Nations charter, but of a mandatory resolution of the Security Council. It was impossible for the Secretary-General to take the action for which the Leader of the Opposition seemed to be pressing the other day.
The right hon. Member for Devonport talked of trusteeship. I should think that that will be one of the many options after the prime requirement is met. I take his point, but we must emphasise that we cannot reach the stage of options and negotiations as long as Argentina is in breach of resolution 502. Argentina is still an aggressor in the eyes of the international community.
As the right hon. Member for Devonport emphasised, this is no Suez. I was a young official of the House at the time of the Suez operations. Without going into that episode, one of the things that caused so much agony and anguish in the Conservative Party, as well as in other parties, was the uneasy feeling—which the late Alex Spearman, who died only three weeks ago, felt so intensely—that this nation, which stood for certain principles in international law, had not lived up to its high standards and position in the world.
That was not a view that I held at the time, and I do not hold it now. None the less, there were at that tame substantial doubts about the justice of our cause. There can be no doubt whatever, whether in international law, under the United Nations charter or anything else, about our position today. There are lessons to be learnt from what has happened over the past five years over the whole story. The time will come when the lessons will be fully learnt.
A remarkable feature of the situation today is that we have overwhelming national and international support. We have a feeling, supported by our friends in the Commonwealth and the EEC, and our allies, that on occasions such as this, which blessedly occur so seldom, when a major principle of international justice, law and humanity is involved, that the free nations and their friends must speak with one voice, just as this nation must. In the words of Chatham, we must
Be of one people. Forget everything for the public.
We can all be wise with hindsight. Both this Government and the Labour Government negotiated
peacefully and in good faith. We are not the aggressors. We are not the offenders against international law. One of my predecessors, once the Member for Cambridge, Lord Palmerston, said:
Our interests are eternal. They are the maintenance of peace, and the need to ensure that the name of England counts for something in the councils of the world.
Those truths are important, because they are complementary. A strong, unambiguous and determined Britain is the best guarantor of the maintenance of peace and security in the world.
Earlier this week the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said:
We are supposed to act under the authority of the United Nations. Indeed, it is the only authority under which we are supposed to act.
And again, that
we act in this matter only under the United Nations charter," —[Official Report,27 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 720–23.] In fact, that was also the purport of much of his speech this afternoon.
With the greatest possible respect, I doubt whether that definition by the right hon. Gentleman is correct. The right of self-defence—to repel aggression and to expel an invader from one's territory and one's people whom he has occupied and taken captive—is, as the Government have said, an inherent right. It is one which existed before the United Nations was dreamt of. True, it has been accommodated and given a definition in the United Nations charter. However, it is not under that authority that we exercise it: we exercise it as a right which is inherent in us. It is as such that both the British Government and, in large measure, the British people have resolved that we ought to place ourselves in a position to exercise that right, namely, by force, if necessary, to repel the aggression and to repossess our territory.
That resolve, which I believe is widespread not only in the House but outside it, carries with it some important implications. One is that having willed and approved that action we must, as a nation, be prepared to take the consequences. It is much easier to overestimate the ease than to overestimate the difficulty of any military operation. No course of armed action, however justly embarked upon, however necessarily embarked upon, can be foreseen in all its consequences and repercussions. When we took the decision which we did two or three weeks ago, and which we are following through now, it ought to be understood that we were accepting and expressing the will, if necessary, to maintain a long and difficult course of action in which there may be reverses and severe losses. We must not allow that to be misunderstood or played down outside the House.
There are two other grave implications of our having taken this action, of our having resolved that, if necessary, we will place the lives of our forces, as well as of other human beings, at risk. It has often been said in the last few weeks that, even if we repossess the Falkland Islands, that outcome is unstable because we cannot stay there, cannot maintain possession. If that were true, it would be highly irresponsible, if not absurd, for us to say that we are ready to face what we have willed and decided, with all its implications, in order to make good a right which we cannot thereafter maintain.
However, the proposition is unsound. The notion that if, by whatever means, we regain the administration of the Falkland Islands and reassert our sovereignty in practical terms it will be a mere passing phase is demonstrably false, it is false because if this Argentine adventure ends sooner or later in the fiasco that it deserves, it will be a long time before anyone will think of repeating it. It is wrong also because if we, the third naval power in the world, a country in the North Atlantic uniquely dependent for its existence upon the ability to command the seas and the air which are relevant to its defence, are unable, in defence of an island group hundreds of miles from the nearest continent, to maintain the necessary availability of strength, and the necessary command of the sea, so that our possession of the Falkland Islands is of a precarious character, we had better resign any notion that we might have had of being able to defend ourselves in our island home in the North Atlantic. The ocean is one, and the ability to command the ocean is one. The interests and the power of a maritime nation are wherever the sea is. Therefore, when we repossess the Falkland Islands—
Gibraltar is also under the lee of a continental land mass and effectively commanded by it. There is no serious comparison—perhaps I might stress the word "serious"—between the situation of a group of islands hundreds of miles from the nearest continent and those two other positions, which it is doubtful whether, if a major enemy seriously threatened them, we would be able physically in the last resort to defend.
We owe it to those whom we have involved by our decision—our governmental decision, our parliamentary decision, our national decision—to be clear with ourselves that the possession of the Falkland Islands is integral to our national defence and interests and that it is, if necessary, indefinitely sustainable.
The second implication concerns what follows after repossession. The expressions "diplomatic solution", "solution of the problem", "solution by negotiation" have frequently been used in these last few weeks. If those phrases mean that preferably diplomatic and other pressures should induce the aggressor to reverse his act, there would be no problem whatever raised by their use. However, that is not all there is to it. The House has become aware, perhaps belatedly, of the extent to which, in the months and years previous to the aggression at the beginning of April, negotiations had been engaged in on behalf of Britain in which the possibility was envisaged that our sovereignty and possession of the Falkland Islands might be compromised or even surrendered.
However, the House has at no time authorised, or been given the opportunity to authorise, any decision to compromise or part with our sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. It is true that from time to time the injudicious expressions of a junior Minister have allowed us to suspect what might perhaps be being carried on in our name; but there can be no dispute that the House has not authorised anyone, any Government or Minister, to engage in any way in compromising or in trading away our right to the possession of the Falkland Islands.
I repeat—and it is consistent with the hon. Gentleman's correct observation—that the House has never been invited to authorise, and has never authorised, any negotiating away or compromising of the present status of the Falkland Islands.
If the consequence of exerting our right—in the way in which we are prepared to exert it if necessary—is that the rightful repossession of the Falkland Islands is only a prelude to a course of action that in due course will place the aggressor in more or less the position that he wished to attain by means of his aggression—if we are exercising our inherent right to recover our own, only in order, thereafter, to trade our own away—how can we face the men whom we are asking to take part in that operation? If we support that operation, we owe it to them, as well as to ourselves, to make it clear that that which we regain if necessary by force—although we hope to regain it without force—will not be cast away, negotiated away or given away by this country.
The fact that we are resolved on exercising that ultimate, inherent right of ours implies that we cannot allow the power to exercise it to be whittled away by the passage of time; for if we allow it to be whittled away, that will be tantamount to renouncing the very exercise of the right upon which we are resolved. No hon. Member—except perhaps one or two right hon. Members on the Front Bench—has much notion of what is the true time factor in this critical process of whittling away of the power to exercise our right. However, somewhere—be it near or far—there is such a point at which our power to exercise that right begins to diminish and to be sacrificed. The Government, who have, on the whole, been supported by the House and the country thus far, have the right also to expect that they will be supported when they refuse to allow our ability to exert our right to be taken away from us by stealth and by the passage of time.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan), to whose authority—he being Royal Navy and I a mere "brown job"—I gladly defer, has marked out rightly for the House the different gradations of pressure and force that can be brought to bear in this situation. But over and above those gradations and the manner in which, subject to the support of the House, they might be used by the Government there lies the overriding duty on the Government not to allow the power that we have to enforce our right to be taken away from us.
I hope that the Government will make it clear that they remain resolved to retain the power to exercise that right. If they make that clear, I believe that the nation will support them.
The House has been privileged to listen this afternoon to speeches of outstanding quality. It is, therefore, with a natural and proper sense of diffidence that I rise to add mine. Those who are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, during debates on this serious and important matter owe a special duty to make their contributions as constructive and responsible as possible. I shall seek to comply with that duty.
I shall start with resolution 502, not because it provides the final solution—it certainly does not—but because compliance with it and the withdrawal of the Argentine troops is an absolute and indispensable condition precedent to finding a solution. It is the non-compliance by the Argentine with the clear terms of the resolution—and that alone—that has occasioned and justified Britain's resort to force or the threat of force.
For that reason, I, like other hon. Members, have supported the dispatch of the task force in the earnest hope that its function and contribution may be restricted to securing the withdrawal of Argentine troops, thus opening the way to solutions that have regard to the rule of law, to prescribed international and United Nations procedures and to the interests of the islanders. That role, with a limited reliance on force, is—in the context of this situation—not in breach of international law, but in conformity with it.
In his classic work on the legal effects of war, Lord McNair states:
Recourse to a limited degree of force has been accepted in international law as not necessarily giving rise to a state of war.
Recourse to armed force by way of reprisals is only considered lawful if the State against which armed force is used has committed a violation of international law; if, prior to recourse to reprisals, an attempt has been made to obtain redress from the State, and has failed; and if the armed forces used was proportional to the wrong which occasioned it.
Those three conditions are satisfied in our favour in this case. Argentina has committed a violation of international law. Attempts to obtain redress have so far failed, and any armed force reluctantly used would be no more than proportional.
However, the role of force, although justified in international law for those reasons, is only limited, temporary and subordinate. The issues, when once withdrawal of the troops is achieved, can and should be resolved by other more appropriate means. Of course, that approach is inherent in the charter. The authority in international law for the dispatch of troops or of a task force is article 51, which covers the inherent right of self-defence in the event of armed attack. However, the exercise of the right of individual action given by that article is intended only to be temporary and, as the article states,
until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.
Furthermore, article 51 is not to be taken in isolation. Like all other such instruments, the charter must be read as a whole. Indeed, article 51 states that action under the article
shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council.
The appropriate action is clearly specified in the charter. Under article 33 there is a duty to seek a solution by peaceful means, which are negotiation, arbitration and judicial settlement.
In my letter to The Times last week I identified four methods of resolving an international dispute—negotiation, arbitration, what Continental lawyers call the "amiable compositeur", and war. So far, negotiations with the aid of Secretary Haig as an honest broker have not succeeded and may not do so, much as we hope they will. There is little likelihood of an agreement to confer on him the additional powers of an amiable compositeur. That leaves only the stark alternatives of arbitration or war.
Resolution by war is the least acceptable alternative for obvious humanitarian and practical reasons. If, unfortunately, circumstances should require the engagement of our troops, they will carry with them the good wishes of us all in what Admiral Woodward has said would be a long and bloody campaign. Knowing the dangers and difficulties that they would face, our prayers would be with them. Those prayers would have greater efficacy if we have done all that is honourably possible to avoid putting them in that situation.
The case for arbitration is clear. Article 33 imposes a clear obligation to seek a solution by peaceful means which specifically include arbitration. Such arbitration is entrusted to the International Court which, by article 92, is constituted
the principal judicial organ of the United Nations
and the statute of which is annexed to the charter and described as an integral part of it.
By article 36 of the statute the jurisdiction of the court comprises all cases that the parties refer to it. Therefore, the dispute as to sovereignty, in its essence a matter of law, is appropriate for reference to the court. Under article 36(3) of the charter the Security Council is under a duty to take into consideration
that legal disputes should as a general rule be referred by parties to the International Court in accordance with the provisions of the Statute of the Court.
This dispute on the fundamental question of sovereignty is in essence a legal dispute and comes within the article.
In regard to sovereignty we are concerned with two conflicting bases of claim, which are the Argentine claim based on succession and deriving from the old Spanish position, and our claim based on prescription. Both those bases are considered appropriate bases in international law. An adjudication based on those conflicting claims, which are based on different concepts, is a matter for the court.
Prescription based on adverse possession, which is the essence of the British case, figures not only in international law but in every known system of national law, in property and the like. It applies in public international law. The principle has been stated in Professor O'Connell's authoritative work. He says:
A state which has actually exercised sovereignty over a territory should keep the territory, abstract titles notwithstanding. Provided the state of affairs exists long enough, the evidence in favour becomes overwhelming. As the arbitrators said in the Grisbadarna case 'it is a settled principle of law of nations that a state of things which actually exists, and has existed for a long time, should be changed as little as possible.'
There is no fixed period of prescription for the acquisition of sovereignty by adverse possession, but our period of about 150 years must constitute a strong foundation for the acquisition of sovereignty by prescriptive title. However, there are the two conflicting claims and there is a clear justiciable issue to decide between them. I warmly endorse the view of The Timesthat it is a matter for an agreed reference to the court at The Hague.
With the case for arbitration by the International Court so clear, it is odd that no reference or suggestion of reference has been made. I share the view of the Financial Times of 27 April, which states:
It remains to us surprising, for instance, that the Government has still not formally offered to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice described in Article 92 of the United Nations Charter as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Argentine might refuse. But it is still an offer that must be made.
I am coming to that point. With respect to my hon. and learned Friend, hon. Members making interventions often ask the Member who is addressing the House to deal with a point that he would come to in any event.
The parties—Argentine and ourselves—sharing a common interest to make the reference, remain inactive in this regard. Their posture reminds me of the famous lines on the battle of Walcheren:
Great Chatham with his sabre drawn stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;
Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em
Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham.
Why is there this hesitation? Why do not the British Government take the initiative to refer the matter? There is an impressive body of support for that. Respected organs of opinion support it—for example, The Times, the Financial Times, the Sunday Telegraphand Lord Mishcon, who is a Front Bench spokesman in the other place and a distinguished lawyer, in his authoritative letter to The Times. Many people, old and young, have written to me personally, including distinguished former diplomats, Members of Parliament and academics.
Everywhere support is expressed—I was going to say "except surprisingly on the Front Benches," but I must modify that having listened to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition and say "except on the Government Front Bench". That is surprising because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was trained in the law. The Leader of the Opposition, although not trained in the law, is the son and brother of distinguished lawyers whom I held and hold in great respect and affection.
The purported reason for non-reference is the alleged disinclination of the junta. However, how do we know that if the matter is not put to them? The last time a British Government raised the matter of reference to the court was in May 1955 when the Governments of Argentine and Chile refused to appear. However, Mr. Macmillan, who was then Foreign Secretary, expressed the hope that the Argentine would reconsider the matter and accept the jurisdiction of the court. Why not invite the Argentine to do that now? After all, 27 years is a long time.
In answer to my question, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Monday that
both parties have to agree to go to the International Court of Justice for it to adjudicate."—[Official Report, 26 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 612.]
My right hon. Friend repeated that today. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) took up that point. However, that statement overlooked two points. I do not take the point of the optional clause as it is sometimes called, article 36 conferring compulsory jurisdiction, because, as my right hon. Friend rightly said, the Argentine has not signed that, although we and other countries have. Two other provisions are highly material.
In earlier days I had the inestimable privilege of having my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) as my learned junior in cases, but the pupil soon overshot the master.
Article 53 of the statute of the International Court states:
Whenever one of the parties does not appear before the Court, or fails to defend its case, the other party may call upon the Court to decide in favour of its claim. The Court must, before doing so, satisfy itself, not only that it has jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 36 and 37, but also that the claim is well founded in … law.
We are not shut off from going to the court in those circumstances. We go to the court, Argentina does not appear, we make good our case in law—as I explained, it is a good one—and we get a declaratory judgment.
The other matter is the advisory opinion for which we may not ask direct. We must ask the Security Council to request the court to give it. It can do that under article 96 of the charter. For such an opinion and for such a request, no consent of the parties is required. No objection by one party can therefore defeat the jurisdiction of the court.
I think not. Bearing in mind the passage of time and the cautionary words that I have given, if and in so far as my hon. Friend's point is relevant, it is the one to which I am coming.
Early-day motion 429 asked the Government to make that request to the Security Council. I remind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that article 66 of the statute provides for representations to the court by interested states. Therefore, both parties can take advantage of it and make representations. An advisory opinion under article 96 by the court becomes, in effect, a judgment inter pares. In one way or another, therefore, the matter can and must be brought before the court.
I am not in the witness box. My hon. Friend is not cross-examining me. If he tried his hand, he might have a little to learn.
What I have suggested should be our second priority—second only to the withdrawal of Argentine troops in compliance with Security Council resolution 502. Of course, it is not the sole approach to a peaceful solution, given the withdrawal of troops. There remain the efforts of Secretary Haig and the possibility of his being offered the role of amiable compositeur at the eleventh hour. There also remains the possibility of economic sanctions under article 41 which in any case are a necessary prelude to military sanctions under article 42. It is also worth considering the possibility of an international trusteeship system under chapter 12 of the charter.
All those are peaceful approaches that are sanctioned by the charter and accepted under international law. We should pursue them with all zeal, dedication and statemanship as a greatly preferred alternative to the arbitrament of war and armed conflict. The prospect of war at a distance can have an intoxicating effect on some. However, the euphoria sometimes does not last for long.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will, I am sure, remember and recall to the British people the words of her great eighteenth century predecessor, Sir Robert Walpole:
They now ring the bells, but they will soon wring the ir hands.
Unhappily, Argentina's intransigence about the withdrawal of troops and its continuing breach of international law have made a show of force inevitable. It may also make the use of force inevitable. That would be an unhappy alternative, justified only by necessity, and a last resort. I urge the House to say that, if at all possible, it does not want to have to ask for whom the bell tolls. Let us do all that is within our power to secure a solution under the rule of law which reason can commend and principle support.
The atmosphere of the debate is in striking contrast to the reality of the British Fleet plunging through the high seas and the threat of armed conflict and talk of landings on the Falkland Islands. All the talk of law by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), all the logic that is being displayed and all the cool calm of apparently rational arguments do not seem to be at one with the fact that we are extremely close to the brink of war. That is the fact that the House should recognise.
It is right and proper that the House should unite when it is faced with aggression. Of course, we are bound to hold differences of opinion about how to approach the matter. Nevertheless, we are united in opposition to the unprovoked aggression of Argentina. That message should go out loud and clear from the House. However, there are clear and legitimate differences of opinion about how to proceed.
There is no disagreement about the House wanting a negotiated settlement. The question is what sort of pressure we should exert to achieve that settlement. Will the pressure be the sanction of world opinion and economic pressure from ourselves and our allies, or the pressure of military force? Our objective and prime concern should be to establish stability in the South Atlantic. But can we achieve that by military force? My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), a former Prime Minister, speaking with his great authority, suggested that the issue of repossessing the Falkland Islands seems to be being circulated by the newspapers. However, that has also been mentioned, or implied, by the Prime Minister. She said that time is running out. She is imposing the pressure and implying that we are about to indulge in the physical repossession of the Falkland Islands. The newspapers have added to that, but the Prime Minister is making the statements.
The escalation of the use of force is now a euphemism for war. When we speak of escalating force, we speak of war. We may win the war, but we must face the consequences of it. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is right to spell out that there will be consequences, although I hold diametrically opposed views of what those consequences will be.
One of the consequences of the war—if we go to war—is that we will probably kill or injure islanders, or provoke Argentine troops to do so. It is the islanders whom we are supposed to be saving. It would certainly kill our young men and those of the Argentine. The reality of war is that it is neither the junta nor the politicians who suffer and die. It is the young men of both sides. That is the cruel reality.
Another consequence would be the weakening of NATO by fighting 8,000 miles away from Britain. By fighting a war, we will impose strains on our alliance that have unforseeable consequences. I disagree with the view of the right hon. Member for Down, South that we must master the South Atlantic to be masters of the North Atlantic. That analysis is not correct. If we dissipate our energies, we shall damage our military credibility. We shall certainly weaken NATO.
A further consequence is that we shall lose the invaluable support of world opinion, which is vital to us. If we go to war, far from impressing the world, I believe that there would be a massive swing of world opinion against us. That would be very damaging to Britain and to our cause. We shall also unite all of Latin America against us. We shall make life-long enemies of the people of Latin America and leave a legacy of bitterness which will damage relationships for generations.
What could happen, and not for the first time, is that we could win the war but lose the peace. That is the danger of such action.
The aftermath of any war is always sad, but the aftermath of this possible war will show its tragic futility. Successive British Governments have tried to cede the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. It is an unpopular view in the House, but I believe that geography, and the fact that successive Governments have tried to cede sovereignty, means that we shall inevitably cede the Falkland Islands. If that happens in one, or two years, or in a decade, it means that every islander, or British soldier, sailor or airman who is killed in this possible war will have died in vain.
Sooner or later the House of Commons must recognise that we cannot perpetually defend the lives and the security of the 1,800 Falkland Islanders and simultaneously defend the security of 55 million people in the British Isles. We must recognise our priorities.
I am convinced that economic and diplomatic pressures are infinitely preferable to military pressure. It is best for Britain, the Falkland Islands and—I am not afraid to say it—for the ordinary people of Argentina. We should intensify world diplomatic pressures on Argentina and the already powerful economic sanctions. Above all, we must persuade the United States of America that its long-term interest lies in bringing its immense economic strength to bear. That would be a slower and a more complex method of proceeding, but it would avoid the bloodshed, the bitterness and the misery of war. If that method is pursued, it will lead to a stable and a more enduring solution to the Falkland Islands crisis.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). He represents an area very close to mine and I respect his views, although perhaps on this occasion he will understand if I disagree fundamentally with the conclusions that he has drawn to the attention of the House.
I speak as an officer of the all-party parliamentary Falkland Islands group and, in that capacity, inevitably I have been closely and regularly in touch with the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands and members of the council who visit the United Kingdom from time to time.
This afternoon we have heard one of the most outstanding, constructive and courageous speeches that I have ever heard during the almost 11 years that I have had the honour to serve here. I refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She spoke from the heart as well as from the head, and she spoke for the overwhelming majority of the people of Britain. In all her utterances this afternoon and in previous speeches she has put the backbone back into our nation. My right hon. Friend is not only uniquely standing up for the interests of our country and its people but is shouldering the burden of all civilised countries in standing up for the maintenance of international law. That has been highlighted before, and I hope that it will be highlighted again.
I accept the correction of my right hon. and learned Friend.
The Leader of the Opposition did no service in fluffing all the major issues that are now faced by the Government. He appeared to be as over-sensitive to the feelings of the junta in Argentina as he is so often to the feelings of the junta in the TUC, and as disinterested in the self-determination of the Falkland Islanders, who are British people, as he is to the desire of many members of the trade union movement for secret ballots.
Right is on our side, but not only right in trying to restore British administration to the Falkland Islands. The United Nations, the European Economic Community and the Commonwealth have all expressed wholehearted support for us. I do not often find myself in agreement with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, but only yesterday he made a superb speech expressing support for the Government in sending the task force to the South Atlantic and the use of force, if it proves necessary after diplomacy has failed, in order to restore British administration to the Falkland Islands.
Many hon. Members have emphasised the fact that the Falkland Islands have been illegally occupied by a vicious, totalitarian regime and its citizens subjected to an alien and harsh administration. I have visited the families of all of my constituents who are members of the task force now in the South Atlantic close to the Falkland Islands. Without exception—although two families were not at home when I called—while understandably being worried about the safety of their young men, those families fully supported the Government in their determination to reestablish British administration in the Falkland Islands, if necessary using military action, with all the risks that that involves.
I have also a Falkland Islands family in my constituency. At the moment, two members of that family are here in the United Kingdom and three of them are in the Falkland Islands. Despite the actions of the Argentine occupation forces, I can say from the views that have been expressed to me and from messages and information that are coming out of the Falkland Islands, that the islanders want the British back and, if force is necessary, they are prepared to take the risks that go with the use of that force.
The Falkland Islands Office with which I have been in contact indicates that the Falkland Islanders are resolute and prepared to stand firm. There are exceptions and we have heard from some of those exceptions. Naturally—and we would expect this—many islanders are frightened about what may happen.
I ask my hon. Friends and my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench not to underestimate the potential of the Falkland Islands and to understand, in addition, that the Falkland Islands form part of a much larger and important part of the world. No agreement can be reached on the Falkland Islands without discussing the other dependencies in that area—there are many of them but I shall not bore the House with their names—and also the Antarctic region.
We are living in serious times. The action of the British Government and people was a very unpleasant and unforeseeble consequence for the Argentine junta in Buenos Aires. Understandably, from immediate past history, all they expected by way of retaliation was a debate or two in the House of Commons and in the United Nations, possibly followed by some unrealisable resolution and then a gradually descending veil of oblivion over the whole affair.
But this time it was different. The 1,800 Falkland Islanders were proved to mean more to Britain than the 180,000 ex-Rhodesians of British descent or nationality. I refer of course to Zimbabwe. That was an unexpected consequence of the Argentine aggression, even to many nations which are indifferent to the state of AngloArgentine relations. Britain is well and truly alive and kicking.
The international implications are particularly serious because two Western nations have been brought into conflict with each other. The Soviet Union has not hesitated in trying to utilise the situation for its own insidious purposes and in assisting, as many of us know, the Argentine navy by spotting and reporting the movements of the British task force.
Moscow, strangely, has condemned Britain, presumably in the hope that the desperate Argentine governing junta will in time ally itself with the Eastern bloc and with Cuba. What an unholy alliance that is. The cheek and the impertinence of the Russians is so enormous that, in pure stunned astonishment, people are inclined to forget easily the Soviet rape of the Balkan States, the subjugation of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, the vicious slaughter of Afghan resistance fighters and the colonisation by the USSR of Angola, Mozambique and other nations. The list is long and growing. It is a piecemeal strategy which, sadly, does not appear to fail.
I wish to be brief because many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and other Members wish to contribute to the debate. As one nation after another is caught in the Soviet net in Southern Africa and elsewhere in the world, the West has proved incapable in the past of doing anything about it for lack of sufficient conventional clout. I refer to our conventional surface naval fleet. That was probably one of the main reasons for Zimbabwe being discarded in the manner that it was, and why there was an invasion of the Falkland Islands.
The Falkland Islands crisis at long last has brought home the lesson that conventional arms are essential for the quelling of localised aggression. That realisation could yet save many threatened countries and even break the Soviet hold on some Southern African nations and other nations throughout the world at little risk of nuclear retaliation by the Soviet Union. If that lesson has now been learnt, to some extent thanks to the Falkland Islanders and to the crisis there at the moment, we have reason to feel more optimistic about the future.
I am deeply concerned about the dangers that face the people of the Falkland Islands. I am also concerned about the safety of all those in the task force who are serving our nation so superbly. Perhaps it would not be an inappropriate time now to say what a splendid operation they mounted in South Georgia. Our interests are well safeguarded in the hands of our Armed Services. Our country has once again stood up for what is right.
Every Member should support the Government's action because right is on our side. We have a duty to restore to the islands, which have belonged to us for 149 years, British administration, which has been removed by the occupation. All the islanders wish to remain British. I say to the people of the Falkland Islands from this House that our thoughts are with them. We appreciate the dangers, but the Government are determined to do what is best in their interests.
As I do not wish to delay other hon. members who wish to speak, I shall not pursue the point made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), particularly the quite unnecessary slur on the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the Trades Union Congress.
Exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on 27 April and the Prime Minister's speech today show that the Prime Minister and the Government are hell-bent on the use of military force, completely contrary to Security Council resolution 502, which calls on the United Kingdom as well as the Argentine to refrain from the use or threat of force. Why? Is it in order to save the Prime Minister's face, irrespective of the lives that may be lost in the process? If so, it is the act of a desperate woman and, as such, she has no place in running our affairs in the United Kingdom.
It could be pointed out, of course, that that fact has already been established with regard to the social, economic and political policies that are pursued at home by the right hon. Lady and her Government. Not even the Falkland Islands crisis can drown within our press the fact that 4 million people—rising to 5 million in 1982–83—will be unemployed, that our standard of living continues to deteriorate and that there have been more riots in Toxteth during the past week as a consequence of the Government's failures on several social and economic fronts.
The Falkland Islands crisis must be realistically examined, not in terms of military adventures but in terms of what is morally justifiable. That the invasion of the Falklands by the Argentine Fascist junta was criminally wrong is obvious. Galtieri is under pressure from several groups in the Argentine and desperately needs, as does our Prime Minister, a diversion that could transfer concern from domestic plight to national pride—a questionable emotion at best. That the claim of Britain to the territory known as the Falkland Islands is of very doubtful substance is also clear. Possession based upon acquisition 149 years ago is a poor basis for claiming unquestioned sovereignty. That the people of the Falklands are entitled to some form of support from Britain is acceptable. But are the interests of Coalite Limited and the prospects of oil prospecting more in the minds of the class that rules in Britain than is the welfare of the people of the Falklands?
The Government have shown no great concern for the welfare of British people at home by their policies over the last three years. So how can we take seriously their claim to be concerned about the Falkland Islands people now? In any event, have the occupants of these islands the right to expect British lives to be sacrificed on their behalf? The debates that led to the passing of the British Nationality Act did not reflect that sort of commitment by the Government. By all means, let us seek to provide the Falkland Islands people with alternatives to life under the Argentine Fascist regime. It would not be difficult to assist those on the islands who wish to leave for Britain to settle here or to go to New Zealand, Australia or other parts of the world.
If there are those who wish to remain on the Falklands, they must be made aware of the possibility that they will be deemed, whether immediately or in the foreseeable future, to be living on an island scheduled to be returned to the Argentine at some future date. This appears to me to be inevitable.
The negotiations between the Argentine and Britain carried on apparently by Haig, Costa Mendez and our own Foreign Secretary have been doomed from the beginning. Both sides in the dispute made it clear that certain basic things, for example, sovereignty, were not negotiable. Be that as it may, it is the involvement of America's Haig as peace diplomat that baffles me. I turn to President Reagan's speech to the Organisation of American States in the Hall of the Americas, Washington DC, on 24 February 1982. President Reagan said:
I will ask Congress to provide increased security assistance to help friendly countries hold off those who would destroy their chances for economic and social progress and political democracy. Since 1947 the Rio Treaty has established reciprocal defence responsibilities linked to our common democratic ideals. Let our friends and our adversaries understand that we will do whatever is prudent and necessary to ensure the peace and security of the Caribbean area. I am aware that the United States has pursued good neighbour policies in the past and these policies did some good, but they are inadequate for today. I have always believed that this hemisphere was a special place with a special destiny. I believe that we are destined to be the beacon of hope for all mankind. With God's help we can make it so. We can create a peaceful free and prospering hemisphere based on our shared ideals and reaching from pole to pole of what we proudly call the new world.
Looking back, the first indication of the policy of the United States for the Caribbean, Central and Latin America under President Reagan was revealed with the publication of a document entitled "A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties for the Council for Inter-American Security" known locally as the Santa Fe document. Basically, the document says that Latin America is an essential basic component in the United States' super power, enabling it to counter efforts in Europe, Africa and Asia.
This policy has been reinforced by a United States charity called the Heritage Foundation set up in 1973 with the assistance of a number of arch-conservative organisations. It has a special role to play in formulating and carrying our United States Latin American policy. The main clients of this charity are the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA. Our own Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), Franz Josef Strauss, Pinochet of Chile, Weinberger, Haig and others are known to have links with this organisation. The question that arises is how the United States with such a foreign policy can do anything other than side with the Fascist junta of the Argentine. Its whole strategy in Latin America depends upon the OAS and the huge market for its multinational investment brokers.
The only solution in diplomatic terms—any sensible person today seeks such a form of solution to conflicts of interest between nations—is through the United Nations. The Prime Minister and the Government stand accused of failing to use to the fullest degree the effectiveness of the United Nations offices in this dispute. It is still not too late providing that no more military or naval moves are authorised by the Government. Only the death of many of those on the islands we are supposed to be acting to protect can emerge from an invasion by Britain. The House is entitled to know the Government's precise intentions.
I am convinced that the British people do not want war over the Falkland Islands. If there were time I would read one of several letters I received only today in which it is made apparent that the British people do not seek a war in the Falkland Islands or any other form of colonial territory to which we have no moral right. Who can accurately forecast where war with the Argentine would end? The protection of peace is the primary responsibility of this House. Article 51 does not justify a retaliation in the absence of a real effort by the Government through the United Nations. It is that effort that is required now.
I intervene only briefly to try to correct, if I can, two misapprehensions that have gained ground rather dangerously and been reflected in a number of speeches and a number of editorials. The first is the claim that the British Government had already surrendered sovereignty of the Falklands. The second is that, even if we wanted to, we could not afford to protect the islands.
From those two premises, which I hope to show are false, the conclusion has been drawn: why should we run the risk of resorting, if necessary, to arms to save something which we are fated to give up anyway? Both these claims are false and I want to try to put the record straight.
On the issue of sovereignty, which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) dealt with fairly, the United Nations invited us many years ago to negotiate with the Argentine to try to find a settlement of the conflicting claims which it and we had over the Falkland Islands. There were exploratory talks between officials and sometimes junior Ministers from both countries. They discussed the hypothesis of condominium or lease and other attempts to find compromises. But I understand, and I believe that the then Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who resigned recently, along with the Foreign Secretary, will confirm this, that in every discussion of this kind it was made clear to their Argentine opposite numbers that the proposals would require the approval of Parliament and that Parliament was unlikely to give its approval unless the islanders had themselves agreed to the proposals.
Several proposals were made under Conservative and Labour Governments. The islanders always insisted on the maintenance of full British sovereignty. Parliament was informed of the view of the islanders and as a result, to my knowledge, no decision was ever taken by any British Cabinet, let alone put to Parliament, so that nobody can say that Britain was in any way committed to a surrender of sovereignty; no more than you, Mr. Speaker, could say that you were committed to sell your house because an estate agent had discussed with a potential buyer the terms on which you might be prepared to sell. No one in the House can say what the position will be in the future. But I should be surprised if this House of Commons was prepared to cede to the Argentine aggressor what no previous House of Commons was prepared to cede at the end of peaceful negotiations.
The question of sovereignty is perhaps more important than has been reckoned. The Falkland Islands crisis has concentrated our minds wonderfully on the importance of the South Atlantic and the Antarctic regions, which we have to our shame neglected in the past. Besides the Falkland Islands, we have unchallenged title to the Falkland dependencies and we have long-standing claims to vast areas of the Antarctic continent. It may well be that this is an area, perhaps greater than space or any other, which can be developed in the future to the advantage of ourselves and mankind.
For this purpose we shall need a base from which to operate. I am talking not about a military base, but about a secure base from which our ships, communications and everything else can operate. The Falklands are really the only appropriate place. They may well prove to be to the Antarctic what Aberdeen is to North Sea oil.
In the precarious climate of Latin American policy, I venture to suggest that sovereignty over the islands offers the best and perhaps the only security of tenure. Therefore, we ought to maintain that sovereignty for that purpose as well.
The question has been asked: how do we defend the islands in the long run? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in trying to cover the unhappy landing for which we were not prepared, said that we could not have prevented it unless we had had a fleet in the area all the time, which obviously we cannot afford. That is not the issue. If the Argentines are forced to withdraw, hopefully by diplomacy, but if necessary by force, we can be sure that they will not return to the charge again for many years. They will have learnt a pretty severe lesson.
In any case, if we follow the advice of Lord Shackleton and extend the runway and build a proper airport, we could always reinforce at two or three days' notice, given proper intelligence of any threat from the Argentine. This, modest stockpiling and some air defence on the island would give us the security that we need.
I do not think that there is any need to make concessions to aggression, nor should I propose to offer that to the House. On the other hand, we have to be realistic. Whatever the outcome of this crisis—I am assuming that it will be favourable, whether by diplomatic means or otherwise—the Argentines will be humiliated and there may be considerable resentment in other parts of Latin America. The Falkland Islands will have to live with the Argentine, if not in friendship, at least in mural forbearance. We must see how we can best salve the wound to Latin American pride. This will call for imagination on the Government's part. I am not asking them to exercise it today. It may be too soon. But this is perhaps the time when some of us on the Back Benches should put forward ideas on this subject.
The answer is not to be found in sterile formulae of condominium or leasehold over the islands. When there is a collision of claims such as ours and those of the Argentine, the only hope is to raise the level of debate and broaden the political horizon. The possibility seems to exist.
We have in the North Atlantic a closely knit community. The seaways and airways are protected because on both sides of the ocean there are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Has the time perhaps come when we should consider the creation, not necessarily of a military alliance but of a South Atlantic or Southern Hemisphere community? It would have as its objective the protection of the sea and airways that use the South Atlantic, both round Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.
It could also turn its mind to co-operative work for the development of the resources of the South Atlantic and of the Antarctic itself. The natural membership would be the states bordering on the South Atlantic and on the Antarctic continent. Argentina and the United Kingdom, as the administering power in the Falkland Islands, could play an honourable part in this. I do not want to develop the idea in detail at this stage.
We can easily carry the strains on the North Atlantic Alliance in this operation. If we were to fail in the operation, diplomatically or militarily, the repercussions on the North Atlantic alliance would be much more serious than the failure to face the problem at all. But is the time perhaps coming when we should think of a South Atlantic or Southern Hemisphere community, dedicated to the protection of the sea routes and airways in the South Atlantic and the development of the resources of the Antarctic Continent?
If we could produce a proposal of that kind—and I am not saying that my right hon. Friends should produce it now, but they should have it in their minds—it might appeal to the imagination of the European Community and of the United States and secure not only their moral but their material backing. It might also offer a way out perhaps even to General Galtieri—and if not to him at least to his successors—from the dead end into which the junta has now led Argentine.
In 17 hours from now the total exclusions zone will come into effect. There is one test by which this debate may be judged: how much interest and relevance will today's debate have for those who will be pitchforked into battle? When I hear the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) talk about a South Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) deliver a speech that would be more appropriate for the naval cadets in Edwardian England, I wonder whether the House of Commons has applied its mind to the main area of responsibility which in some way—not directly, of course—it shares with the Government.
I was also alarmed to hear so many people say that in moments like this Parliament should, in effect, be shut down. The strength of our democracy is that we respond to crises by free discussion and we should not be told by The Daily Telegraph that this debate should, in effect, be just a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary; or to be told by others today that we should respond to this tremendously serious international situation by, in effect, saying nothing.
The reality is that there is unanimity in the House on the question of opposing the aggression of the junta. There is also unanimity on the right of self-defence against aggression. I deplore the odious hypocrisy of Tory Members who never argued for force when Ian Smith seized a British colony and ran it for 15 years against the Crown and against the interests of the African people there. I never remember the Tory Party saying then that we should exercise the right to use force. I am not reopening that debate and it may well not have been a practical proposition. But do not let Tory Members pretend that they have always stood for liberty and justice throughout the world. They have supported some of the most rotten dictatorships.
I wish to be brief and I shall not give way.
The question is: should we now go to war with the Argentine? That may be determined in less than 24 hours. The second question associated with it is: what are our objectives in war and how do we secure them other than by war? If one analyses the speech of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) very carefully—
I regarded the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South as an encrusted Edwardian lecture.
What I am asking the House to do is to face the reality of the situation and strongly support what the Leader of the Opposition said today: that the United Nations should be used; that it has been entirely ignored by the Foreign Secretary ever since resolution 502.
There are many people who are doubting now, and will doubt still further, whether it was wise to ask General Haig to be the man to handle peace negotiations. General Haig has a very powerful interest in the maintenance of American investment in and military links with the Argentine. The Argentine has been sending troops in to help pull America's irons out of the fire in El Salvador. I tell the Cabinet that the Foreign Secretary should have gone to the United Nations and not left it to General Haig. The Foreign Secretary has not gone—and everybody knows why he has not gone—to the General Assembly: the General Assembly would not support Britain on the question of sovereignty. That is also why General Haig will not go back to the General Assembly.
I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) most strongly, and so unanimously does the Labour Party, in saying that until the United Nations option is opened and discussed there should be no further escalation of military force. Let there be no doubt: any difference of emphasis that there may have been is over in the sense that the right hon. Gentleman speaks for the whole Labour Party in saying that.
I now come to the key question. Is it possible for the Government to suspend military action? I pay little attention to the admiral's public statements. First, he says that it will be a walk-over. Then he gets a message saying that that was too aggressive and it does not help us win world opinion. Then he gives another direct interview. Is the admiral saying what he thinks? Is he misunderstanding the situation? Every speech the admiral makes has to be vetted and approved by the Government. The Government probably told him, first, to frighten the Argentine. When he was too tough he was told to speak a bit softer to reinforce the idea that the Government wanted diplomacy.
The truth is that the discussions going on between the admiral, the Secretary of State for Defence and No. 10 are quite different in character. It does not require a great deal of imagination to understand what they are because the Prime Minister has outlined them word for word.
In the first instance the Prime Minister was in charge of the operations. She told the military, whether they wanted it or not, to assemble a fleet: 40 warships and 36 requisitioned merchantmen now in the South Atlantic. But by sending them there she lost control of the situation because those men—God knows how many there are, some of them living in the Canberra, some of them living in sleeping bags on the flight decks of the aircraft carriers with 40 ft waves, 70 ft winds and freezing decks—and the Government are now being told that they must go into action because the admiral cannot keep them in those conditions for much longer.
The reality is that the Prime Minister is no longer in charge. She is now a prisoner of her policies, a spectator of the tragedy that she is about to impose on the country.
If there is a war, it will I believe be because the Prime Minister has no time to wait. The Cabinet must be anxiously wondering for how long one can leave that fleet there doing nothing; for how long General Haig must be allowed to negotiate; and for how long they can wait to see what the United Nations might do.
The consequences of a war is now the dominant factor for us to consider. People say that we put lives at risk. We mean that people will be killed.
The hon. Gentleman can shout as much as he likes, but he had better listen to the argument.
The men and women in the task force are there because the Prime Minister sent them. The Government are responsible for the lives of the Service men and women and for the Falkland Islanders. If we are to represent those whom we are here to represent, many of whom are in the task force, we in this House must speak our minds about the consequences of Government action.
It does not require much imagination to realise that if the total exclusion zone means anything there will be shooting tomorrow, either against aircraft or against ships. The first thing that will happen is that British forces will be confronted by Argentine forces armed by Britain with British ships and missiles, with seamen trained in Britain. There is almost certain to be some serious loss of life.
I hope and believe, as all of us must, that such a loss will not occur, but, even if the House does not consider it, we may be sure that the military is considering it and that the Cabinet is considering it. If there is the loss of a major vessel the pressure will grow, if the loss has been caused by a Mirage or Skyhawk from an Argentine base, to bomb the mainland of the Argentine. All those screaming Conservative hon. Members who are jumping up and down with their "Boys' Own" outlook will then be shouting for an attack by Vulcan bombers of the "Invincible" on the mainland of the Argentine.
I ask the House to consider before we go much further along that imaginary journey of Victorian imperialism what will happen if that occurs. World opinion will not support us. There is no question but that the House, if it is not serious at this moment, could well help to land this country in a situation in which we should be wholly isolated. That would have consequences for our interests in the Argentine. Our economic interests are many and varied in terms of British people throughout Latin America. It would be a betrayal of a very wide interest.
Of course, the Government have another interest, brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne). That is why they have the chairman of the Conservative Party in their Cabinet now. They see in this a diversion from the issues of unemployment and the destruction of the Welfare State. It is not only General Galtieri for whom the Falklands war is a diversion from domestic failure. There is no doubt that this is in the minds of many people in this country. Why else concentrate the expenditure of £500 million or £1,000 million on the Falklands, which have been ignored for years—
The Cabinet knows, but will not tell us, that no real victory can come out of this enterprise. There can be no permanent victory. That is what the right hon. Member for Down, South senses. Once we return to the Falklands the first thing that will happen will be an attempt to get rid of the controversy by a transfer of sovereignty of some kind.
The reason is simple. I am surprised in a way that the Argentine Government, with their long claim, did not pursue another method. The Falklands are dependent on the Argentine. I read in the newspapers that 3,000 soldiers were being trained in Wales to be a permanent garrison, and the following thought occurred to me. Add to 1,800 Falkland Islanders, minus those who leave, a permanent garrison of 3,000, if there is a military victory in that sense, what happens afterwards? Is the Argentine to supply fuel, food, educational facilities, medical facilities and air facilities? Of course not. Those islands will have to be serviced for all those purposes by a permanent responsibility from London. It is an absurd illusion to suppose that even if the Falklands fell as bloodlessly as South Georgia that that would somehow resolve the problem.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, whose contributions are without doubt some of the most absurd that I have heard. As the hon. Gentleman's speeches are all in the Official Report, my words can be checked.
Let us invite the Government at this stage to define their objectives clearly. The first objective must be the safety and the future of the islanders.
I shall come to what they want. We must be concerned with their safety, their future and their right to be resettled. An amendment to the Tory British Nationality Act that would allow them to come here should be the first priority. I beg the Foreign Secretary not to mislead those 1,800 people into believing that in pursuit of their concept of self-determination there is a task force to be drawn from British ports at any time as far ahead as we can see to protect them. That cannot be the policy.
If China chose to take over Hong Kong, does anyone say that Admiral Woodward would be diverted into the Pacific to deal with 1,000 million Chinese? These are remnants of empire, outposts of empire, which we have neglected for years. If the public doubt the wisdom of war it is because they know that successive Governments would have loved to give them away if we could have done it without a humiliation imposed by Fleet Street or the local people. The House had better recognise that we have neither the means—
I am no apologist for the junta. I have opposed the supply of arms to Fascist dictatorships over the years, when we were in office and when we were out of office. [Interruption.] It was all public and on the record at the time.
It would be a gross act of self-deception to pretend to the British people that we have the power, the means or the will to defend outposts of empire that were left after the self-determination of the major colonies. Our interests in those people must now be redefined, associating ourselves with their interests as individuals. That has much more to do with our immigration rules than with the despatch of task forces.
When it comes to it, we shall have to make sovereignty negotiable, either by ceding it to the United Nations or arranging a transfer in some other way. The Foreign Secretary knows this better than most. He must have a file a foot thick listing attempts by the Foreign Office, under successive Governments, to get rid of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. The right hon. Gentleman knows it and the public sense it. Do not use that as an excuse for war. We cannot kill for flags today. It is time someone said so against the hysteria of the gutter press, which every day tries to speak as if a task force to restore the Union Jack is to be our purpose.
I believe that the Cabinet has lost control of the timetable. It has, in effect, been told "You must use the fleet or withdraw it", which is what some of us said from the outset. We said "If you are going to have doubts about using it, do not send it." We foresaw the almost inevitable consequence.
The Government are negotiating without 100 per cent. American support and time is running out. The British people would like to hear from this debate that a clear consensus is developing to prevent a war with Argentina, to put the United Nations in, in whatever form it might be, to protect lives and interests and to bring the fleet home. That is a message of hope that must and should emerge from the debate.
That was a 70 ft wind of a speech. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is an irrational man who believes that politics is a rational activity. None the less, it was a speech of courage. That is what the House of Commons is for; to hear opposing points of view. I shall be brief.
The problem of the Falkland Islands is that our honour has become enmeshed and entangled with our interests. Our honour demands the withdrawal of Argentine forces, while our interests demand that there is no long-term United Kingdom commitment to defend the Falkland Islands come what may. If it comes to that, we might have to share their defence with the United States. Clearly it is not a British interest indefinitely to station 3,000 troops and a naval force on the Falkland Islands.
If the Argentines do not withdraw of their own accord, they must be expelled. We hope for a negotiated settlement, but if we fail force becomes inevitable. This is all pretty routine and trite. More interesting is the following question: what lessons should be learnt from the affair? There is the strength of the Falkland lobby, both outside this place and inside it, and the strength of that lobby in resisting what is called the "Ridley" initiative of lease-back which, had it been successful, would have got us off this hook.
The second point to be made from this crisis is the weakness of the Whips' Office, which lost its nerve at the first whiff of high explosive from South-East Essex. There is a third lesson to be learnt of slightly more academic interest. What the Argentines have done in the Falklands is an example of a successful surprise attack. Surprise attacks succeed because evidence that they are about to happen is filtered through the preconceptions of those who watch. Any information or intelligence that supports the supposition that an invasion is unlikely is encouraged, and reverse intelligence information is unconsciously suppressed. I bore the House because I once wrote a book entitled "Warning and Response: A History of Surprise Attack in the 20th Century." One can still buy it. It is at this moment being remaindered on Waterloo station. Hurry, hurry while stocks last.
I make four final brief points. We have no complaint whatever against the Americans. The Anglo-American alliance was designed against Soviet ambition and not against Argentina. The Americans have been right to behave as honest brokers, and at the same time they have given us satellite information which has been of value. If negotiations were to fail and the clock stands at five minutes to midnight, we in this House would have every confidence in the skill, determination and courage of our Armed Forces, and the entire House would wish them well.
When we win there must be no unseemly exultation. Once the dust has settled we must not give a power of veto over British foreign policy to the Falkland Islanders. It must be for the House to decide the shape and detail of the eventual settlement.
In the debate on 14 April I said:
It is the essence of this Chamber and of parliamentary style that the Opposition seek to criticise the Government and work out a competing policy, not a joint policy…A statement is made and an attempt made to distinguish from it. We tend to drift into that situation whether we like it or not."—[Official Report, 14 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 1172.]
Although the basics remain unchanged, even in such a short time there has been an evident drift. There has been a pull-back in this debate, but only to a limited extent.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) made clear, the immediate and unequivocal support which the Social Democratic and Liberal Parties gave to the Government in their effort to free the Falkland Islanders from the unprovoked attack and occupation to which they were subject has been steadfastly maintained.
On the afternoon that the invasion was confirmed, 2 April, I said in a statement:
The Royal Navy should send to the Falklands a force strong enough to blockade the islands from the Argentine. That force must remain on station until the Argentines leave or until, if necessary, we can plan measures required to remove them.
That was the policy that was followed.
The Government have no reason to complain about our response to what is, without doubt, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), a former Prime Minister, said, a national crisis, or about the support that we have given to them in an intensely difficult and tense situation. However, it must be said that our forceful condemnation of the repressive nature of the Argentine regime did not find an especially receptive ear from many Conservative Members before 2 April.
We now have every right, with a real possibility of hostilities, perhaps hours away, to ask the Government to lay more cards on the table. We well understand the difficulties that the Prime Minister has in setting out Secretary Haig's proposals. Nevertheless, events have surely reached the stage at which the Government, especially if they are on the brink of action, must give some clear indication of their basic position and the ground from which in no circumstances they will shift. That has been said by several hon. Members over the past fortnight. For example, senior Members, such as the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), have called for quickly produced White Papers setting out the Government's basic position. Time is probably far too short for that now, but their position could be made clear by the Foreign Secretary tonight.
This afternoon the Prime Minister regretted the absence of the cross-play of opinions, which she said was normal in a democracy. That is part of the case for bringing party leaders into confidential talks. I have said that we understand her difficulty in setting out Secretary Haig's proposals. I am not seeking to be divisive in saying that we feel that we are in this situation because of the Government's misjudgment, which led to the Argentine invasion. The right hon. Lady must understand that. That has not been repeated today, but we should not forget it. For that reason we have some difficulty in offering the Government a blank cheque.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), the leader of the Liberal Party, said on 27 April:
If we have to make a choice between accepting a diplomatic compromise or committing our forces to a necessarily bloody battle, that is a choice on which, on Privy Council terms, the leaders of the other parties should be consulted in a round table discussion.
He was subject to some criticism. I myself wondered about the phrase "a necessarily bloody battle" since, as some hon. Members have said, we are not in a position to make detailed comments on what may or may not be done or what is or is not possible. I notice, however, that almost those very words were echoed by Admiral Woodward yesterday from the fleet off the Falklands.
What my right hon. Friend was saying, which is profoundly legitimate, is that we have now reached the point when, since we are willing to share responsibility and because we share objectives, we need to have much more information than we have been given. Without that it is impossible to make proper judgments. That is a reasonable, consistent and supportive position.
I conclude with five brief points. First, may we be told more about the increase in BBC broadcasts? An important part of our diplomatic pressure should be to tell the Argentine people what is happening. Are our broadcasts getting through effectively without any jamming? Can the Minister assure us on that point?
Secondly, during the previous debate hon. Members referred to the encouragement and support of the European Economic Community. There has been scant reference to it today. However, for example, Italy has a notable trade in leather with the Argentine and is putting itself to considerable financial embarrassment by co-operating with us. Hon. Members should reflect on the fact that if we were doing this for Italy many hon. Members would, I suspect, be making a considerable noise about it. We should express our considerable gratitude to the Italian people and Government, and to our other European colleagues, for the action that they have taken.
Thirdly, although I have no time to examine in detail the arguments on further referral to the United Nations that were advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, like him, and like the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South East, I am anxious to ensure that we make every effort to work through the United Nations against the background of resolution 502. One obvious extension is mandatory economic sanctions. Have the Government had any contact with the Soviet Union on that? Have they established what the Soviet Union's response to such a proposal might be? I see no reason why the Government should not ask them. It would be interesting to know what general contacts the Government have had with the Soviet Union during the crisis.
Fourthly, we fully support the extension of the blockade to the air. In referring to the naval blockade the right hon. Lady used the words "enforced against Argentine warships and naval auxiliaries". That phraseology suggests that contacts have been made. Have contacts been made?
Fifthly, although one is tempted by the speech of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South East (Mr. Benn), I do not want to embark at this hour on the argument about sovereignty. I am not a lawyer, least of all that rather more terrifying type of lawyer, a constitutional lawyer. However, surely we all know how arbitrarily borders have been drawn throughout the world and how capricious has been the movement of various peoples, the footloose, the adventurers or the persecuted. As a layman I cannot understand why, because an island is 400 miles from a country, it should inevitably be regarded as part of that country's territorial integrity. Anyway, few Argentines have ever shown the slightest enthusiasm for living there.
Nor, I will say to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), do I understand what conceivable moral basis there can be for arguing that an inoffensive people who have lived for six or seven generations on an island should be compelled to leave because it is thought to be inconvenient.
Our support for the Falkand Islanders remains. Our determination to see the Argentines leave remains. Our support for the Government in setting about achieving these aims, if possible without the use of force, also remains.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) was absolutely right to remind the House of the position of the Falkland Islanders. I agree with his references to them. They may be few in number, living many thousands of miles away, and some of us might regard them as a little eccentric for wanting to stay in their rather windswept islands, but the fact is they live on British territory and they want to remain there.
The central issue of this debate is that four weeks ago Argentine forces seized the land and homes of the islanders. Four weeks ago the Security Council, by mandatory resolution, called on the Argentine forces to withdraw. Nothing can change those two facts—certainly not the rhetoric of any right hon. Gentleman who pours scorn, as did the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), upon the tremendous diplomatic efforts that have been made through the Security Council and the United Nations, with the enormous help and assistance of Secretary Haig, to secure a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
I suppose that one of the prices that we must pay for living in a parliamentary democracy is that, on occasions, we have to listen to speeches that we do not like to hear.
Yes. That is a very small price to pay. The hon. Gentleman typifies what I am about to say. There are hon. Members, and they have shown themselves during the course of the debate, who will seize every opportunity to undermine the position of the Government, so long as it is the opposite party to their own. The hon. Gentleman is typical of them.
However, the fact is that the deployment of the task force has been an essential feature in the promotion of the diplomatic initiatives that have taken place. If the task force had not been deployed there is absolutely no doubt that the Argentines would not be paying any heed to the further approaches that are being made by Secretary Haig.
We must bear in mind that the task force has immense strike- capability for use on the sea, on land or in the air. It cannot be kept indefinitely in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands. Nor should we be expected to await indefinitely for a reply from the Argentines to the approaches submitted to them. Hon. Members will know that the Pope sought to intervene in the dispute between the Argentine and Chile. He called on both those countries to take certain action and acted as mediator in the dispute. About 14 months have passed and the Argentines have not yet replied.
Some Opposition Members suggest that the Government should turn to sources of mediation other than Secretary Haig. Their suggestions have concentrated on the United Nations. As of now, the Argentines have apparently not shown a very positive response to the efforts of Secretary Haig, although, as the representative of an enormously powerful State, he has behind him immense economic and military strength.
The United Nations has already entered into this through the medium of the Security Council resolution. That gives power to the position of the Secretary-General, but the power of the Secretary-General can have meaning and substance only if the countries called upon to act by a mandatory resolution of the Security Council actually respond. It is absolutely inescapable that in the negotiations and in any diplomatic discussions the British Government should maintain the position of strength given to them by the deployment of the task force so long as it appears that the Argentines adamantly refuse to withdraw their forces from the islands.
Today, four weeks after the start of these events, we face the reality that the Argentines are still in possession of the territories that they have seized, British people are still under alien military occupation and the occupying forces have not been withdrawn in accordance with the Security Council resolution. The British Government's position must be to be ready to move—with force, should the necessity arise—to retrieve British territory and to free British people.
I hope, as must every hon. Member, that even at this late stage some formula can be found which we can accept and which will bring the Argentine junta to withdraw its forces from the islands. I understand very well the points made about seeking methods by which to continue the negotiations and talks. Of course everyone hopes that the need to fight can be avoided. Nevertheless, this situation cannot continue indefinitely. There is one absolutely essential requirement, which I shall put to my right hon. Friends in Government who are responsible for these matters.
In all the discussions that have taken place so far, and in the Argentines' actions over the past weeks, it seems clear that it is not possible to trust the word of the junta. In those circumstances, I should be very cautious about accepting any verbal commitment to withdraw its forces in certain circumstances. I therefore hope that we shall not in any way weaken our position unless we have cast-iron evidence, supported by signatures on paper, that the junta's declaration of intent will be carried out. It is most important that we maintain our guard for as long as necessary. Equally, it is important that if we do not obtain the response that we should obtain, and which we ought by now to have received, we should not hesitate to use the immense striking power that we have marshalled and which is now approaching the Falkland Islands.
As I see it, our purpose is absolutely clear. Our cause is just. Let us now not hesitate to use every method and all means at our disposal to finish the job.
The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) accused some Opposition Members of being prepared to express any viewpoint provided that it embarrassed the Government. I hope that he will understand that that is not my motive today.
From the outset of the crisis I have taken the view that the Argentine invasion of the Falklands was completely unjustified. Accordingly, I believe that the Government were right to take the matter to the United Nations, which condemned the invasion, and to dispatch the task force to the South Atlantic. I did not arrive at that decision with any sense of exhilaration or glee, as I believe that the use of force is repugnant to all right-thinking people. I have been a consistent critic of many aspects of the Government's foreign policy and of their defence policy with its commitment to nuclear weapons, which I regard as utterly mistaken and contrary to the interests of the British people and the international community as a whole. I took the view, however, that the right of the people of the Falklands to self-determination was a basic internaional principle of importance not only for them but for many other peoples, right across the face of the earth, living in territories to which neighbouring countries lay claim. Even on the basis of the Argentine claims, to accept that any country has the right to alter by military force frontiers laid down for the past 150 years would be to accept a recipe for never-ending strife throughout the entire Third world.
Unfortunately, the world community, including British Governments of both parties, has not been very vocal about the principle of self-determination in a number of cases of armed aggression or removals of populations by superior force that have arisen in recent years. East Timor was invaded by Indonesia. Cyprus was invaded by Turkey. Angola was invaded by racist South Africa. One can only say that the stand taken by many countries, including Great Britain, has been half-hearted, or even non-existent. The people of another faraway island—Diego Garcia—were removed without their consent, and their rights are even today not being properly recognised and considered.
Whatever the reasons, therefore, I believe that it would have been mistaken for us, especially those of us who have spoken out about East Timor, Diego Garcia, Angola or Cyprus, not to support the Government in seeking to resist the takeover of the Falklands, because the principle of self-determination that I regard so highly was at stake. Therefore, I strongly support the stand that was taken by the Leader of the Opposition from the outset, condemning the invasion, seeking the support of the United Nations and sending the task force.
The position is underlined by the fact that not to have resisted would have been to accept the de facto incorporation of the community in the Falkland Islands, which has enjoyed free institutions, into a realm ruled by a Fascist junta which has imprisoned, tortured, ill-treated and murdered thousands of its political opponents over the past few years. I hope that the House will forgive me for saying, as one who has continually raised these issues, amid jeers from the Conservative Benches on some occasions, that rarely has there been such a mass conversion overnight—to the view that the Argentines are Fascists—since the Chinese general baptised his army with a hosepipe.
Nevertheless, all of us should rejoice when one sinner repenteth. In those circumstances, I am delighted to hear so many Conservative Members recognise the realities of the Argentine regime which they previously denied. I hope that Conservative Members will in future look with the same eyes at Indonesia, Turkey and many other countries that have similarly committed acts of aggression.
We should recognise, none the less, that although our cause is right, that does not automatically justify us in using any means that we have to achieve it. Furthermore, if we are taking a stand on the principle of national self-determination, we must equally take a stand in favour of the resolution of international disputes by peaceful means as far as possible and with the minimum use of force. We must seek to demonstrate this to the international community as fully and as openly as we can.
At this juncture, this does not mean that we should forthwith renounce the use of force as such—such a course of action would be mistaken, particularly having sent the task force—but we should make it clear that we shall explore every possible avenue for a peaceful resolution of the dispute in the first place, and we must not suddenly escalate the military action to a full-scale war. That would he the case if we embarked immediately on a full-scale invasion of the Falklands.
This is important, because we are involved not merely in a military struggle, but in an international political debate in which it is in our interests, in the interests of the Falklanders and in the interests of the principles that we are seeking to assert that we should strive to maintain and retain the support of world opinion for our cause. It is a just cause.
For this reason, I beg the Government to use the United Nations to the full and to demonstrate for all throughout the world to see that we are not acting in a precipitate fashion. If, in the last analysis, more force has to be used, it should be seen by everybody that we have explored every possible means of avoiding that solution.
In the meantime, certain things could be done to make a diplomatic and peaceful agreement more likely. The Government should make it crystal clear, despite the views of some of their Back Benchers, that, while the rights of the Falkland Islanders are not negotiable, we must be prepared to look seriously at all the other questions that have been raised in the way that previous Governments of both parties were prepared to look at them in the past. That is important, not only in the present position but so that we are able to give the Falklanders, I hope in the future, some sort of assurance that what has occurred on this occasion will never happen again.
The Government should also make it clear at this juncture to the United States that if its present diplomatic venture fails, as it has more or less failed, the United States should come off the fence. The maximum economic pressure will minimise the likelihood that force will have to be used. In these circumstances, if the United States stands genuinely for a peaceful solution, as it claims, it should give full backing at this stage to our economic sanctions or it will stand condemned for not being prepared to come out against a Fascist military junta in the region that it has regarded as its own sphere of influence.
If that should be the state of affairs, hon. Members on both sides of the House should consider carefully what that means in the future on such issues as cruise missiles being stationed in this country and how far we can rely on an ally who is not prepared to support us fully on this issue.
I appreciate that this is not the moment to discuss in full the background to the dispute. Despite what the Secretary of State for Defence said on Tuesday, this crisis raises fundamental issues over Government spending priorities, over the principle of supplying arms and training troops for totalitarian regimes such as that of Argentina, and over the Government's attitude to previous acts of aggression, as well as to many other issues. It is deplorable that in the present circumstances the Government, as I understood the Secretary of State for Defence to say on Tuesday, are refusing to recognise their mistakes. They are furthermore still withholding information on the arms sales and policies that helped to produce this crisis. British troops may have to face troops armed with equipment supplied by Britain.
We ought at least to have the information about what is happening elsewhere in the world. Questions designed to obtain this information are blocked by the Table Office. If we are talking about free government, we ought to know the terms on which these arms are being supplied to totalitarian regimes throughout the world. That is one thing that this crisis ought to underline for us.
The people of the Falklands may be few in number, and it may seem to some that a world crisis is out of all proportion to the issues raised, but it is not just a question of 1,800 people, important as their rights are. I do not believe that one discards people when there are only a few of them. We have to be concerned even if there are only a handful of them. It is the principle that is of supreme importance.
If we are successful in this venture to force the Argentines to withdraw their forces, it will be a lesson for all countries. They will note it, whether it is Guatemala, with its eyes on part of Belize, Venezuela, with its eyes on part of Guyana, or the United States with various ideas of supporting all sorts of adventures in the Caribbean region.
We must recognise that the principle of self-determination is sacrosanct. Unlike some of my hon. Friends, with whom I have agreed in the past on other issues, I believe that the Government and the country must stand firm behind that principle in the case of the Falkland Islands. None the less, if the crisis is viewed historically, I cannot believe that those who have pressed the Government not to surrender but to explore initially every avenue to resolve the issue peacefully, or with the minimum use of force, will be considered to have acted other than in the best long-term interests of the Falklanders, the British people and humanity as a whole.
It is important that the Government should listen carefully to the voices of Labour Members, because they express the points of view which must be taken into account if we are to be successful.
There is an overriding need to avoid the loss of life and suffering of both our people and the Argentines. That must be given the highest priority in our efforts to implement resolution 502, to succeed in achieving the complete withdrawal of the Argentine troops who have committed a flagrant act of aggression, so that the Falkland islanders may be given back their right to live under the system and in the manner that they wish.
This has been a serious debate and the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) has made a serious, courageous and important speech. I hope that it will not embarrass him when I say that I have heard him speak many times, but that I have agreed with him more on this occasion than I ever have before. If the hon. Gentleman feels that I do not deal with some of the points in his speech he may find that it dovetails in many ways with mine.
The main interest of those taking part in the debate should be to see that nothing is said which might make the lives of our Service men in the task force or the residents of the Falkland Islands more difficult or dangerous.
As you may know, Mr. Speaker, because you sent me away to it, I had to watch most of the developing crisis in the Falkland Islands from Easter until this morning from abroad. It was agonising for me, along with my colleagues from both sides of the House, to be in Lagos and away from home while the crisis was developing. However, we hope and feel that we were making our contribution to the service of Britain by calmly and clearly explaining, in the first instance, to the 81 nations attending the Inter Parliamentary Union spring conference at Lagos—will the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) please listen while I say nice things about his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare and my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall)—a British view on an all-party/ non-party basis. The hon. Member for Aberdare played a significant role in persuading people as to the real conflict in the Falkland Islands, as explained just now by the hon. Member for Harlow.
We were staggered by the unity and strength of support for the British action and the British line at the Lagos conference. Apart from the few Central and South American countries, there was almost complete support for us. Our hosts were the Nigerian Government and they were clear that naked aggression must not be seen to pay off. As the hon. Member for Harlow so clearly put it, so many countries in Africa and elsewhere around the world have border disputes. Once military action to take over disputed areas became the accepted thing, that could happen in 10, 20 or 30 places throughout the world, possibly starting next week. That point was particularly pungent.
There was no support for us from Latin America. There were one or two rather unhelpful speeches to the press, although not in the plenary session. There was no support for the Argentine action, but neither was their support for the British reaction.
In Nairobi, on my way home, I was impressed again by the unequivical and robust support from the Kenyan Government. That has been explained by various Government statements which have been reported in the press. The whole Commonwealth was extraordinarily strong in its support. That was confirmed by the words of Mr. Ramphal which were quoted by the Prime Minister this afternoon.
After a short visit to Britain I went on to Strasbourg. An emergency debate this morning on the Falkland issue, lasting three hours, followed the extremely successful speech and the brilliant answering of questions on the Falkland Islands in the Assembly yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Today's debate was on a resolution which was helpful and supportive of the British point of view. It talked about
solidarity with the aims of the British Government policy.
That was passed at 12.30 this afternoon by 150 votes in favour, two votes against and six abstentions. It was not a wishy-washy resolution. I only wish that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) had met some of the representatives of other countries because he said today that he thought that other countries' support was disappearing.
I am certain that the main reason for the unity and strength of the international support for our position is that all the political parties up to the last few days have had a united approach. However, it seems now as though the Opposition may be trying to back away. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) has just left his place. I happened to hear him at about 5 o'clock this morning on Canadian broadcasting. What he said was not too bad, but the reporter's introduction attempted to produce a confrontational attitude. However, most of us have experienced that from time to time.
If the parties in the House had not been united, the same unanimity of support would not have been attributed to us overseas. We must be grateful today for the speeches made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) and by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), which showed their solidarity. I beg the Opposition Front Bench—which is in some ways rather absent at present—to stop backing away and to stick to the position that it maintained 10 days ago. The least that the task force can expect is unanimity from the House today. We know that it will do its duty. The fleet expects us, this day, to do ours.
I appreciate the appeal made by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) for continuing unity, but I should point out that when the task force was dispatched I was unhappy, because it was not clear what it would do when it got to the Falkland Islands. Now that its intentions on arrival are clear, I am even more unhappy.
The spirit of unity of three weeks ago, when the task force was dispatched, was born of the fact that those of my Opposition Front Bench colleagues who spoke on that occasion supported the task force as a means of exerting pressure on the Argentines to reach a diplomatic solution. As the task force approaches the Falkland Islands, it becomes evident that, however effective it may be in putting pressure on the Argentines to reach a diplomatic solution, it is much more effective in putting pressure on ourselves to adopt a military solution.
Therefore, we meet at a time when we appear to be hovering on the brink of a major escalation and possibly on the brink of an opposed landing on the Falkland Islands. No hon. Member would deny that that would be a hazardous undertaking. We face considerable odds. According to the known figures, the other side has superiority in terms of the number of infantrymen. It certainly has superiority in air cover. We have superiority in naval vessels, but the other navy—although inferior in number—is formidably well armed. One reason for that is that we sold them most of their weapons before some hon. Members discovered that we were dealing with an aggressive, unpredictable Fascist dictatorship. I hope that lessons will be learnt for our future arms sales policy.
It is obvious from the odds that we cannot undertake any further escalation without facing grave risks. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke of being prepared to accept severe losses if we took such a step. In that he was perfectly correct and logically consistent. Therefore, we must ask ourselves whether we are justified in escalating a conflict with such risks. I do not shrink from the fact that in certain circumstances a State may be justified in applying military force. There may also be occasions when such risks must, inevitably, be accepted. However, to justify the use of such force there must be a major national interest at stake.
Before we commit ourselves to any escalation, we must make a cool assessment of the national interests involved in the conflict over the Falkland Islands. What could that major national interest be? It is certainly not an interest of strategic significance. The Falkland Islands have not been of strategic significance to Britain since we converted our Navy from coal in the first quarter of this century. Nor is it a matter of economic significance. I am not suggesting that if there were matters of economic significance we would be justified in shedding blood. However, without any disrespect to the state of development of the Falkland Islands, there is no significant economic interest that would justify the escalation of military conflict.
If there is a consideration that could lead the House to contemplate further military escalation, it relates to the interests of the Falkland Islanders. That brings us to the first major paradox. There is a stark contrast between the passionate commitment shown in the House since 2 April for the interests of the Falkland Islanders and the long history of indifference and neglect that preceded that date. Apparently, we are now prepared to use Vulcans to bomb Argentine runways to protect the Falkland Islanders. However, for the past decade we have not been prepared to build an international runway on the Falkland Islands and, indeed, we left the residents dependent on an airstrip that was provided by Argentina's military forces
We now say that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders are paramount. However, only last year, when we considered the British Nationality Bill, we rejected an application from the Falkland Islanders to give them British citizenship. More strikingly, we have in the past month committed two-thirds of our Navy to protect the Falkland Islanders, although the Secretary of State for Defence was not prepared, only last month, to find £2 million to preserve HMS "Endurance".
It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the enthusiasm that the Treasury Bench has discovered for the interests of the Falkland Islanders—an enthusiasm worthy of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine)—is born not so much of a commitment to the interests of the islanders as of an overwhelming desire to recover its reputation from the terrible humiliation that it encountered on 2 April. It would be tragic if the House were to confuse the Government's humiliation with national honour.
The hon. Gentleman has dealt with the national interest and with the Falkland Islanders. I have some sympathy with what he has said, given what successive Governments have tried and failed to do. However, does he have anything to say about the international interest so eloquently put by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens)? If action is not taken now—
If the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) is patient, I will try to say something about the international community before I conclude.
The Falkland Islanders have one clear, obvious and overwhelming need—to be freed of military occupation. Is a military escalation and a landing on the Falkland Islands the only way in which they can be freed from military occupation?
The Prime Minister declined to release-for under—standable reasons—the nature of the Haig proposals. However, that leaves us in an unsatisfactory position, because Britain hovers on the brink of war without the House knowing the details of the settlement on offer and what it is in them that is so unacceptable that we may be prompted to accept the military rather than the diplomatic option. Yet for the past three weeks it has been evident that it would be possible to achieve a diplomatic settlement that involved the withdrawal of Argentine forces if there was some recognition by the United Kingdom of Argentina' s claim for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.
That brings me to the second major paradox in the events of the past month. For the past two decades all British Governments have been willing to negotiate with the Argentines on their claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. Apparently, we are now preparing to go to war to deny the very claim that we have been negotiating for two decades. Only this morning I heard Lord Stewart of Fulham say on the radio that in negotiating on the question of sovereignty he had done nothing different from what had been done by every Government in the 1960s and 1970s.
I marvel even more at the speech made by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). When he was in power he was prepared to negotiate on the question of sovereignty. In addition, he said in the course of his speech that he would, in future, be willing to concede the issue of sovereignty. However, as of this moment, the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to go to war rather than accept a diplomatic solution that included the issue of sovereignty. That is not satisfactory. If we escalate the conflict on the issue of sovereignty, then logically we must be prepared, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) properly said, to sustain that claim for the indefinite future.
That leaves me with another series of questions relating to the Falkland Islanders. Hitherto they have resisted any attempt to concede sovereignty over the islands, but we do not know whether they would be prepared now to insist that we sustain our claim over sovereignty at the expense of an armed invasion of the Falkland Islands, which would put the islanders' lives at risk. I doubt even more whether they would be willing for us to mount a blockade of the Falkland Islands for several months, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) suggested, which would have incalculable consequences for them. Nor do we know whether they would have any confidence in our ability and political will to retain that sovereignty, having used military force and violence. What is taken by force will have to be sustained by force. Nor do we know how many islanders will choose to remain on the Falkland Islands in what will be virtually a state of siege. The Argentine Government are better placed to mount a blockade of the Falkland Islands than are we in the northern hemisphere.
For those reasons I conclude that not only would we not be justified in that further military escalation, but it would be reprehensible for us to do so when we have not fully exhausted the available means of finding a diplomatic solution. I entirely agree with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that it would be reprehensible if we were to conduct a major military escalation immediately after an appeal from the Secretary-General of the United Nations not to take that course.
We have enjoyed considerable international support over the past month, which has been the strength of our argument. However, if, in defiance of that appeal, we escalate military conflict and launch what would be perceived in many parts of the world as an aggressive attack on the Falkland Islands, we would sacrifice that international support and our strongest card to enforce our claim to the islands.
At the outset of this episode the Prime Minister quoted Queen Victoria saying that defeat was inconceivable. Queen Victoria made that remark with reference to the Boer war. She was right in the sense of military victory. We won. However, we did not win the Boer war until there had been a number of spectacular military disasters and over 30,000 civilian fatalities. Moreover, we found that the political reality was that within a decade of winning the war we had to concede independence over the territories over which we had fought bitterly for three years.
Those who started the Boer war are now remembered not as having vindicated the national honour but as having conducted an unnecessary war over a dubious principle. I fear that if the Prime Minister embarks on a major military escalation in the immediate future, the judgment of history will be that she incurred risks and losses of life out of all proportion to the issues at stake.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). As he said, we enjoy considerable international support. The Prime Minister's actions are measured and controlled. I hope that if, in the last resort, force has to be used, it will be the minimum use of force and with the full support of the House.
During the coming days and weeks the United States will play an important role. It is interesting to recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill:
We must also never allow, above all, I hold, the growing sense of unity and brotherhood between the United Kingdom and the United States and throughout the English-speaking world to be injured or retarded. Its maintenance, its stimulation and its fortifying is one of the first duties of every person who wishes to see peace in the world and wishes to see the survival of this country."—[Official Report, 1 March 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1905.]
It is extraordinary that 27 years later America should be neutral in this dispute. However, on the key issue it is not neutral and cannot be neutral. President Roosevelt, when he outlined the four great freedoms, spoke passionately in favour of freedom from fear of armed aggression. America supported United Nations Security Council resolution 502.
I put the case for American involvement on several different grounds. First, if General Galtieri or his successor agreed to remove Argentine soldiers and eventually reached an agreement that was acceptable to the islanders, ourselves and the Argentine, how do we know that he would keep that agreement? How can we be sure that a man who believes in making his political opponents disappear without trace can be trusted? How can we avoid a "Munich" in which an agreement can be broken as soon as our backs are turned? There may come a time when we do not wish to have a fleet in that part o f the world nor to station many thousands of soldiers there
. In those circumstances, if America is fully involved in an agreement and acts as guarantor it will be much more difficult for the Argentine to double-cross both Britain and the United States simultaneously because of the enormous economic and military strength of the United States.
I am sorry that I gave way. The hon. Gentleman made a cheap point. He knows full well that the Labour Government also sold arms to the Argentine. Experience is the the name that we give to our mistakes.
There is a second ground for American involvement. The United States has the resources and the capacity to deliver goods, food, materials and medical supplies to prevent starvation and illness. There is a role for the United States in the interim period. The Leader of the Opposition said that there was a role for the United Nations. That may be so.
We must accept, however, that the United States has the capacity to deliver medical supplies and necessary equipment. Once the aggression is resolved, as it must be, the islanders will have to be resettled. It sounds as though some of their houses have been taken down to provide firewood for freezing Argentine troops. It sounds also as though some of their food has been taken. I hope that in the process of resettlement the islanders will not be hustled and that their wishes, needs and interests will be fully taken into account.
No, I am talking about resettlement on the Falklands. My hon. Friend will appreciate that there are about 150 Falkland Islanders in Port Stanley—most have gone to the hinterland. Once the Argentine troops have left, I hope peacefully under pressure, there will be a period when the islanders will need to be resettled. In view of their appalling experiences, I hope that they will not be hustled too much.
Thirdly, the question of oil also affects the United States deeply. In the past, Britain, Argentina and the United States have been involved in seismic surveys. They have been carried out by British Petroleum, Texaco and the Argentine State Oil Company, YPF. I understand that the surveys have revealed probable oil reserves literally halfway between the Falklands and Argentina, the distance between the Falklands and Argentina being 350 miles. Instead of co-operating and sharing the resources along the median line, the Argentine acted greedily and without regard to the interests of the Falkland Islanders.
On 6 November 1980 YPF advertised in the International Herald Tribune, issuing a tender for oil drilling in an area that came to within 96 miles of the Falklands. Under international law the Argentines were not entitled to do that, just as they were not legally entitled to occupy Southern Thule. As a result of YPF's action, the British Government strongly discouraged British companies from exploiting potential reserves within the putative 200-mile limit around the Falklands in the hope that an agreement with the Argentine could be found.
If oil is exploited in due course, the Falkland Islanders should benefit through licence fees and the servicing of oil platforms. Here again, if the United States is a participant in an agreement between the Argentine and Britain, there is much more chance that the agreement will be kept.
A fourth reason for involving the Americans is that, like their predecessors, the Government have not fully implemented the recommendations of the Shackleton report, which made it clear that the British Exchequer benefits from tax on funds transferred to Britain and that that sum exceeds the value of United Kingdom grant aid to the Falkland Islands. With the help of the United States of America, there is scope for considerable economic development in the Falkland Islands.
I believe that the Americans will eventually come off their neutral stance, if necessary, and support us wholeheartedly. I hope that they will threaten and be prepared to use sanctions against Argentina. In New York, at the foot of the Rockefeller Foundation building, there is a tiny shop which is wholly out of place among the skyscrapers disappearing into the sky. It is explained that the owner was the little man who refused to be bought out and whose rights could not be overridden by even the most powerful and richest in America.
In exactly the same way, the Falkland Islanders have rights that cannot and must not be overridden by even the most powerful dictatorship in South America. I believe that the Americans will come out in our favour, because they are aware that hundreds of thousands of their countrymen fought so that, in Lincoln's words,
Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This afternoon the Prime Minister said that formal proposals were being made by Mr. Haig to the Argentines. If such proposals are now being made, surely it is utterly wrong to launch an attack on the Falkland Islands. It is incredibly wrong that we should attack while negotiations are taking place.
That is true and I do not defend the Argentine Government but if we do the same we are equally wrong. If we attack now it will be much harder to reach a settlement.
Today the Press Association tape in the House reports that an American official stated:
Both sides have agreed to a withdrawal of forces and to joint administration of the islands.
The differences were over the period of the joint administration. The Press Association is a fairly reliable body. It may be that it reported accurately, but that the American official was inaccurate. However, even if the report is untrue, it is clear to everyone in the House that diplomatic negotiations are taking place. I repeat that it is wrong to launch an assault in those circumstances.
I believe in negotiation, not war, and I would prefer the old Winston to the young Winston.
The old Winston talked about jaw being better than war, whereas the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) wishes to drop bombs on Buenos Aires. I do not know what he thinks that will do for peace and for British respectability in the world.
The Prime Minister said that the latest peace proposals
inevitably bear all the hallmarks of compromise".
That is true, but it is better to compromise than to fight a bloody war. We must compromise and I repeat the question that I put to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Lord Carrington himself said that "cordial negotiations" were going on with the Argentine. It is obvious that we cannot maintain such places indefinitely. Suppose that we have a war after all the blood
and tears have been shed. How can we maintain the sovereignty of the islands unless we are prepared to have a British fleet anchored there indefinitely?
Therefore, we are engaged on an impossible task. What is proposed is a completely different matter from taking the rocks of South Georgia. We are not going to take rocks; we are going to attack an island with over 10,000 heavily armed men on it. They are armed with Exocets.
They are armed also with homing torpedoes. Only one of those is needed to sink the "Invincible". Once a ship is sunk on either side, it will be far harder to reach peace.
My two right hon. Friends on the Front Bench have asked for the United Nations to intervene. They are right. Unlike the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), I do not claim to be a constitutional lawyer, but I have looked carefully at resolution 502. It is correct that resolution 502 condemns the invasion of the Argentine. Then it proceeds to condemn force by either Government. That is precisely what we shall do if we proceed along these lines.
As the hon. Gentleman is so keen on bringing in the United Nations, surely he recollects that in an earlier invasion by Turkey of Cyprus the United Nations was called in. There was a mandatory resolution which is almost identical to resolution 502. The United Nations is established in Cyprus as a peace-keeping force, and the invading troops are still there. Nothing is happening and they are not withdrawing.
That is true, but because the United Nations failed on that occasion it does not necessarily mean that it will fail this time.
The Prime Minister also said that "the islanders' wishes must be paramount". No one has asked them what those wishes are. The United Nations should send a team to ask them. Those who wish to retain their British nationality and be resettled in Scotland, Wales or New Zealand should be encouraged to do so, with financial grants from the Government.
A month ago, the islanders would have wanted to stay. But now if they stay, and their staying results in an assault, their families will be endangered in the cross-fire, the British Service men's lives will be endangered, the 17,000 British people working in the Argentine could be endangered, although I hope that they will not be, and, lastly, the Argentine conscripts, who after all are human beings, will also be endangered. Even if, after all this bloodshed, we won—the admiral says that it will not be a walkover—how long is the Navy to stay there? Is it to stay indefinitely? I see no other way of retaining for ever the sovereignty of those islands.
Conservative Members have argued that this is defence against aggression. Not one of them raised a little finger when America sent a million men to decimate Vietnam. It is hypocrisy. To talk about defence against aggression is a new-found policy on their part.
I hope that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) will forgive me if I do not take up his remarks.
I wish to refer to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition and to say how much I regret that he has departed from the very good line he took in the debate on Saturday 3 April. It is sad that, as a result of one pressure or another, he has found it necessary to fall away from the very firm line that he took on that occasion. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) referred to the possibility of establishing a blockade around the Falklands. I do not think that it is practicable in those waters. Not long ago we had a very ineffective blockade of Beira in relation to the UDI in Rhodesia. It was completely and utterly ineffective. We cannot expect a similar time scale in order to achieve a solution in the Falkland Islands.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) considered that it was a good idea—this was also suggested from the Opposition Benches—that we should go to the International Court at The Hague for justice. As with the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, the time element is against us. My right hon. and learned Friend never really said—and he did not allow my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) to intervene to ask him—what sort of time scale he envisaged for such a legal solution. It would be ideal if the time was available. In my view, it is not available. The Government have to continue to press on apace and firmly, as they have done so far.
One reason why I feel especially exasperated about the situation in the Falklands is that some of us, over a number of years, have initiated a succession of Adjournment debates warning what would happen if successive Governments did not take action. I warned my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in 1980 what was likely to happen if the Government's proposals were persisted with. Two years previously, also in an adjournment debate, I had warned the then Minister, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), that unless firm action was taken to end the improper and illegal occupation of Southern Thule—it never pays in this place to say "I told you so" —after it had been going on for three years the Argentine was likely to take other action and to continue its expansionist line. Other hon. Members agreed with me.
Nothing was done in 1978 by the then Labour Government. When in the 1980 debate I urged my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury to put into effect all the features that Lord Shackleton had included in the excellent report on the Falkland Islands that he produced in 1976, my hon. Friend merely pointed out that there was not enough money available to carry out the improvements which were needed. After his lengthy visit Lord Shackleton recommended the development of the fishery structure, the building of a meat factory for the canning of sheepmeat, the development of forestry, industry and tourism and the extension of the runway, among other plans. The only answer I got from my hon. Friend was that it would all cost too much. He said that the islanders were already subsidised by Her Majesty's Government to the tune of £850 per head per annum, more than many countries received as total income, and that in no way could the Government afford to expend more on the Falkland Islands.
We have all seen what has happened. It has been pointed out that receipts from the Falkland Islands up to the present have exceeded any subsidy that the country has been making. What a foolish policy we have followed. It has resulted in the massive expenditure in which we are now engaged in sending a fleet to the South Atlantic to retake the islands. Thereafter, as has been reported by other hon. Members, apparently we are contemplating a permanent garrison of 3,000. The cost involved previously in taking some interest in the Falkland Islands and their future would have been negligible compared with the massive expenditure which we have to face.
After the Argentines are cleared out—and time is not on our side—let us get the Shackleton report out and do some of the development which is needed. Let us make use of the tremendous fishing potential which Lord Shackleton found there. Let us make use of the valuable mineral resources which exist in Falkland Islands waters.
Let us also take a fresh look at the people in the Falkland Islands' section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It seems that there has been in the Foreign Office and in that section an element which has persisted through successive Governments which finds the Falkland Islands to be rather an embarrassment from imperialistic days. Let us clear them out. In the inquiry that follows let us put into that section in the Foreign Office young, enthusiastic people who believe that there is a future in the Falkland Islands and that the tremendous potential in all its forms should be unleashed. Let us provide them with the cash and expertise to carry out these plans so that the Falkland Islands' section will be a section of which the Foreign Office may be proud, instead of being one about which it tended not to be reminded until about three weeks ago.
I wish to make two points in conclusion. First, it is right that we should negotiate for a just and peaceful solution. The House must remember that it is futile to rely upon negotiations with dictators. We all hope that this incident will be ended by peaceful means and on peaceful terms, ,but, however it ends, the military junta in the Argentine must not be seen to have advanced its cause internationally one iota. If the junta has its cause advanced one iota internationally by aggression, it is transparent that aggression pays off.
Secondly, if a peaceful solution cannot be reached it is transparent that in the three weeks that the military junta has not moved our men have been at sea long enough. The depths of winter in the South Atlantic, in very treacherous waters indeed, are approaching. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her colleagues in the inner Cabinet who are guiding Government policies will bear in mind that it is impossible to maintain men at peak fighting fitness and efficiency in these conditions for too long, and that time is not on our side.
When I entered the Chamber this afternoon I thought that it might well be the last chance to debate the Falkland Islands before we were involved as a nation in a massive military conflict.
Having sat through the whole of this debate, there now seems to be a consensus emerging, of which I hope the Government will take note. It is that this weekend we should not embark on an invasion of the Falkland Islands because there seems to be a universal desire that there should be further negotiations and that we should seek a peaceful, diplomatic settlement of the conflict with Argentina.
There is no doubt that the whole House condemns this invasion by the Argentine Fascist junta. There is no difference between the two sides on that. What we deplore, without reservation, is the naked oppression of these islands. What we must consider in this debate are the circumstances that led up to the events resulting in the mishandling of the situation by the Government. l acquit the Foreign Secretary. He was not involved in the earlier events. We have had the resignation of the former Foreign Secretary. I do not think that it is only the Foreign Office that is involved. As I have said before, what is involved is the relationship between foreign affairs and defence, and the Prime Minister must accept responsibility for coordinating defence and foreign affairs.
The talk in the House over the last few months about the Falkland Islands could well have led Argentina to think that if it invaded it could get away with it. During the Trident debate on the Monday before the weekend of the invasion the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who was once the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy but was sacked, intervened to ask the Secretary of State for Defence why it was that we were prepared to spend £8 billion to £10 billion on Trident but were not prepared to spend £3 million on defending the Falkland Islands. That was a prophetic intervention by the hon. Member.
During the passage of the British Nationality Bill there was a tied vote in the House of Lords on whether the Falkland Islanders should be given British nationality and treated as if they were British. This House and the Lords decided in that Bill that on the Falkland Islands there should now be two types of citizen—British citizens and other designated citizens.
There was talk of withdrawing HMS "Endeavour", which had been in the area protecting the islands. That might well have been a sign that the Government were thinking of a new policy. That is why I believe that there should be an independent parliamentary inquiry into the events leading up to the invasion. We have former Prime Ministers here, two on the Conservative Benches and two on the Opposition Benches. They could constitute a high-powered committee to make a thorough investigation of the factors that led up to the present position. They should not report until the affair is out of the way, but we should have a serious inquiry then.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right to say that we must seriously consider the possibility of a diplomatic solution before we endanger the lives of the 1,000 people on the Falkland Islands, who could be involved; before we endanger the 19,000 British subjects in Argentina, who could also be involved; the 100,000 others living in Argentina who have some British connection; and the thousands of Service men in the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Marines. Of course we are concerned about the 1,800 people—now somewhat fewer—on the Falkland Islands, but there are more human lives on one of the ships. I am told that there are more Service men on the "Hermes" than there are people on the Falkland Islands.
It was Britain itself that went to the United Nations to get the Security Council to pass resolution 502. We kept on talking about that resolution, which calls for the
immediate withdrawal of all Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)".
There are other parts of that resolution. The first
Demands an immediate cessation of hostilities.
There are constitutional experts who say that that means that one side can go on until agreement is reached, but what people mean by a "cessation of hostilities" is stopping the danger of an escalation towards greater military effort.
The resolution also
Calls on the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a diplomatic solution to their differences and to respect fully the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
That is what this Government put forward.
Last week I told the Foreign Secretary that I was pleased that he was going to Washington to speak to Alexander Haig, but I said that while he was in the United States he should call on the United Nations. I think that he made a tactical mistake in not doing so. Having an ambassador at the United Nations is not enough. We have been to the United Nations. The whole of our action is presumably being carried out on a United Nations basis. It is important, therefore, that we should keep the United Nations informed and involved.
It may well have been a mistake for us to ask Alexander Haig to be the honest broker. While the United States is involved in NATO and is a friendly ally of this country, it is also very much involved in Central America. It is seeking all sorts of allies in South America to deal with the problems of Nicaragua, Guatemala and other areas. The Americans have been sitting on the fence.
The issue was raised at the Organisation of American States. The Prime Minister did not give the full story of the resolution there. The Argentine position was supported to a large extent by the American States. I think that there were 17 for the resolution and one against, and there were some abstentions.
Certainly the United States abstained. What I am saying is that nobody in the OAS was prepared to take our position.
When we talk of the Council of Europe and of Europe being with us, we should speak also of world opinion being very much with us. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) and myself both attend Inter-Parliamentary Union meetings. At the Easter meeting we spoke to parliamentarians throughout the world, who supported us to a large extent. Although world opinion was with us in condemning Fascist aggression, it will be quite another thing for world opinion if we are involved in a war where there will be massive loss of life.
It was wrong to have Haig as a negotiator, because the United States is sitting on the fence. A poll today showed that 83 per cent. of Americans want the United States to remain neutral. If we had not involved the United States as the honest broker, but gone straight to the United Nations, the Americans would have been free to operate economic sanctions. They would have had to decide whether to curry favour with Southern America, because of the problems there, or to take our position and that of the Commonwealth and European countries. A mistake has been made there.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has made an appeal to us and we must listen to it. It is no use our trying to get round that by saying that we received not a direct communication but a press release. We all know that the United Nations has to act in certain ways. When the Security Council makes a decision it can send an official communication, but when an officer of the United Nations is acting in a personal capacity, as previous Secretary-Generals have done to prevent the development of conditions leading to world war, we should take note of it.
We know that the Government are determined that the Americans should be the intermediaries. Alexander Haig and President Reagan are now calling on the Government to find a peaceful solution. The very people to whom we went are now asking us for a peaceful solution, and we must listen to them.
The crisis has been mishandled. The Pope has sent a message to Her Majesty the Queen, presumably as one head of state to another, calling for a peaceful solution to the problem. I understand that he has not even received a reply. If we are to have any influence with Catholic countries in South America, we should at least make a response. Our present stance will not win us friends or influence people and it is certainly not the way to keep world opinion on our side and win the peace.
Serious attempts must be made at negotiations. We should not insist on preconditions. It is no use insisting on certain preconditions that will prevent negotiations progressing. Our main aim should be to safeguard the interests and lives of the Falkland islanders. There is no point in getting involved in a massive military conflict if we find that those who have lived for generations on the islands are prematurely to be put in their graves on the islands.
We have obligations to the United Nations and to our Service men. Those of us who have been in the Services know what it is like being on troopships and we know what our Service men are suffering. We must ensure that that does not continue for long.
We must try to obtain a peaceful solution. What would be the sense of having a war with Argentina? After a massive loss of life we would have to negotiate a settlement. For the past 20 years we have been trying to arrive at a formula that will allow us to lose control of the Falkland Islands. We believe in self-determination, but we never thought that certain peoples would determine that they did not want to leave the influence of Britain. That is one of the problems of self-determination of which we never thought.
Even if we recover the Falkland Islands, we will remain 7,000 miles away from them. We are blockading the islands to prevent others reaching them, but we must recognise that if we get on to the islands there will be nothing to stop the Argentines from blockading us. If the Argentines insist on preconditions, we should consider the possibility of United Nations economic sanctions and a United Nations peace-keeping force.
If we get the Argentines off the islands, we shall have to provide the islanders with food and education facilities. At present these services come from Argentina.
The consensus of the House is that we should have a peaceful solution. We should continue through diplomatic efforts to solve the problem of the Falkland Islands for the benefit of the islanders and for the benefit of the world by retaining peace. I hope that the Government will pursue that aim and not enter into a military conflict and a massive loss of life.
I recognise the anxiety of the House and of some hon. Members especially that every possible diplomatic means should be used to arrive at a settlement with Argentina. Those who rely solely on the United Nations should have made their point earlier when the task force was dispatched.
They should have advanced that argument but I did not hear anything of that sort said at the time, least of all by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). The task force having been sent, it is quite wrong that they should now say that it should not be used in any circumstances.
We have so far relied upon our efforts and sanctions, together with the European Community, in providing trading sanctions and forbidding export credits to Argentina. However, there is one much greater sanction that should be brought into play as soon as the United States has concluded the negotiations for which it is now responsible. I hope, trust and believe that the moment the negotiations which the Americans have conducted are over the United States will come down firmly and unequivocally on our side. The moment that that is done they will be in a position to create greater pressure on Argentina than any of the other groups of countries have done so far.
Argentina owes about $32,000 million and to service its loan it needs about $7,000 million this year. With the help of the United States, the European Community and our banks, which are heavily committed, I am certain that sufficient pressure could be mounted upon Argentina to make it impossible for its economy to continue in anything like its present state, in which inflation is rising at 130 per cent. annually.
Immediately the negotiations are concluded and if, unhappily, they are unsuccessful, I hope that the Americans can be prevailed upon to enforce economic sanctions at once and to refuse to grant any further loans to Argentina.
This has been a useful debate and it may turn out to have been crucial in the history of this crisis.
The House will agree that the Government's most valuable asset through this difficult period since the Argentine aggression has been the exceptionally strong support from the House, the country, Europe, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. That is a priceless advantage. However, there were moments in the last few days when that support seemed to be in danger of crumbling. I hope that the Prime Minister will forgive me when I say that there have been times in the past day or two when she appeared to surrender to the feelings that she naturally enough felt after the brilliant success of our forces in reoccupying South Georgia. I know that the House will want to pay tribute to the professionalism of our forces which won them victory in so difficult an environment without the loss of a single life.
Some of the words used by the Prime Minister in the emotion of the moment, particularly in the House on Tuesday, suggested that she was in some danger of boxing herself in through the careless use of rhetoric. She led some people to believe that she might be tempted to use force, not as an instrument of negotiation but as a substitute for negotiation. Her speech this afternoon did much to set those fears at rest. She insisted again and again on the need for a diplomatic settlement, and she made it clear that minimum force must be used with maximum economy, always subject to our political objectives. While she sticks to that position I believe that she will keep the support of the great majority of the House, of the country and of the world.
I hope that the Government will never forget that the keystone of the support that they have had so far was their immediate resort to the United Nations after the Argentine aggression and the success of our mission in New York in getting a mandatory resolution from the Security Council demanding the withdrawal of the Argentine forces and a diplomatic solution. Again and again, as the Foreign Secretary travelled to Europe and other capitals in the past few weeks, it has been those dual objectives laid down by the Security Council on which the support of our friends and allies depended.
I agree, too, with the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) that we would not have received this support had we not proved our determination to assert our position by the dispatch of the task force and the prudence and skill with which it has been used in protecting the zone of exclusion and in reoccupying South Georgia. As my right hon. Friend said, quite apart from the folly of relying on General Galtieri's good nature, we could not have obtained Mr. Haig's good offices unless he had clearly understood that we were determined to take the aggression seriously and to see that the aggressor did not get away with it.
We have, rightly, reserved our right of individual self-defence while the invaders remain in possession of the islands—in fact, until the Argentine Government have fulfilled the first obligation under mandatory resolution 502 to withdraw its forces. That right of individual self-defence under article 51 requires us to use force in ways that are appropriate to the nature of the aggression and proportionate to its scale. I do not suppose that any hon. Member on the Conservative Benches believes that article 51 justifies us in dropping an atomic bomb on Buenos Aires. So far we have respected the limitations implicit in the right of individual self-defence under the charter.
It is notable that, immediately after the reoccupation of South Georgia, the Organisation of American States condemned the Argentine aggression by endorsing resolution 502 but did not call for action against the United Kingdom Government. It may well be necessary to use our armed strength again in the coming weeks, if the total exclusion zone is challenged, but it is vital that if we are required to use our Armed Forces for that purpose we should observe the same restraints that we have observed so far.
What struck me most in my conversations at the United Nations last Friday was that, so far, there has been no falling away of the support that the United Kingdom received at the very first meeting of the Security Council after the invasion. It was equally evident from what many representatives said to me, however, that if we were felt to be responsible for initiating an operation which led to a massive loss of life—still more, if we were responsible for initiating a long and bloody war, as our force commander put it—the support that we have so far enjoyed would melt away like snow in the sun. I believe that it would melt away not only in the world outside but within Britain, too. All the opinion polls so far taken have illustrated that.
It would be even worse if our military action were seen to depend on military co-operation with Chile. The House must agree that that regime is even more detestable than the regime in Buenos Aires. To seek or accept military help from Chile would involve a broadening of the conflict that could drag in Peru and Brazil and could engulf a whole subcontinent in war. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give an absolute assurance today that there is no truth in the newspaper reports of the past day or two about military co-operation between Britain and the Government of Chile.
The excessive use of force would not only lead to a loss of support from public opinion in Britain and the world. Some hon. Members might view that loss of support with equanimity and might even welcome it if it involved loss of support from that loathsome organisation, as they see it, the United Nations. But the excessive use of force would also jeopardise what I believe is a major objective of the present Government's policy and has been a central objective of the policy of all Governments involved with the Falkland Islands problem in the past 20 years. The central objective of all British Governments since the Argentines began to press their claim with vigour has been to reach a settlement of the Falkland Islands problem which would guarantee those living on the islands lasting security, free from the continuing fear of an Argentine invasion.
In our first debate after the invasion, the Prime Minister rightly stressed that no British Government could maintain continuously in the South Atlantic a force of the size required to guarantee the islands against the consequences of a bitter Argentine hostility. She was right to say that then, and it is as true now as it was a month ago. To reestablish control of the islands by means which redoubled the Argentine determination to occupy them would be counterproductive. There is no doubt that, if we used excessive force and inflicted a humiliating defeat on Argentina as a whole, the present military regime would probably be replaced by a Peronist regime far more nationalist and far more determined to secure revenge than those at present in power. The chances of achieving a lasting settlement, which the Prime Minister made clear today and a few weeks ago is her final objective, would then be far smaller even than they are now. I believe that this point is well understood by Conservative Members. It has been evident in speeches by Back-Benchers such as the hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) today and Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) earlier during this crisis. It is well understood by some Members on the Government Front Bench. At any rate, it must be well understood by the Foreign Secretary.
There is one problem that we now face—to get the Argentines out so that we can establish the basis for a lasting settlement through diplomatic negotiation. Those are the objectives that we set ourselves when we drafted resolution 502. As time passes, it becomes more and more difficult to see a solution to that problem that does not involve the United Nations in one way or another, and perhaps in more ways than one.
The Prime Minister this afternoon fairly summarised the present attitude of the Secretary-General. I did so myself before my visit to New York, and what I heard there confirmed my views. As the right hon. Lady said, the Secretary-General is considering a number of possible scenarios in which he and the United Nations can help to produce a settlement. It was good to hear from the Prime Minister that our able ambassador at the United Nations is in continuous touch with the Secretary-General on these problems.
On my return from New York I read a transcript of the Prime Minister's interview on "Panorama". Among the remarks that I should be in less agreement with, I welcome the Prime Minister's statement that she might get a United Nations force to guarantee the security of the islands after the withdrawal of Argentine troops. I hope that this means that there is no truth in the allegation that we are making a sticking point we should keep 3,000 British troops on the island for maintaining their security after the withdrawal of the Argentine forces. I am glad to see the Foreign Secretary shaking his head. He will know that this report appeared in a respected newspaper today under the by-line of a well-known and respected diplomatic correspondent.
On the basis of the discussions that I have had in New York, I believe that the United Nations would be glad to offer a temporary administration for the islands during what the Prime Minister called the "transitional period" between the withdrawal of the Argentine troops and the moment at which Britain and Argentine reached an agreement that it is possible to put to the islanders to ascertain their views. The Prime Minister must be aware of this. The Secretary-General would be glad to produce a police force to guarantee the security of the islands during this period and would be glad to offer a permanent or temporary United Nations trusteeship for the islands, but all on condition that Britain and the Argentine agree to ask him to perform this role.
I hope that the British Government on their side will not simply agree to such a proposal but will make it themselves. It seems to me that that is one of the ways in which we can avoid a bruising argument about sovereignty and being pushed into a solution of condominium in the temporary period. On the basis of what happened, for example, with the Vietnam Control Commission, one would find great difficulty in seeing that sort of system operating smoothly for any length of time.
The United Nations administration might offer the best political way out of this problem. The role of the United Nations as administrator, provider of a police force or trustee for the island for a short or long period would fit into the context of the negotiations now being pursued by Mr. Haig. As I understand it, there would be little difficulty in the United Nations agreeing to those roles, provided that it was at the request of the British and Argentine Governments.
We must face the possibility that Mr. Haig will come to the conclusion, perhaps even in the next few days, that there is no point in continuing his efforts. In that case, the British Government should immediately ask the Secretary-General to establish a good offices commission to take over the intermediary role and to ensure that the process of diplomatic negotiation continues without interruption.
I well understand the reluctance, which I think the Prime Minister hinted at this afternoon, to go again to the United Nations Security Council at this moment. I am not asking for that. However, if Mr. Haig decides to discontinue his efforts, unless we immediately go to the United Nations Security Council with proposals of our own, it is almost certain that some Government less experienced or less benevolent may take the initiative and demand a meeting with the Security Council to discuss a proposal which is far less agreeable to us and far less likely to achieve our objectives. It would be better for Britain to take the initiative at the start, as we did at the beginning of the crisis. We should prepare the ground for that now.
When I discussed the issues with our ambassador and others in New York, I was struck by the fact that we would never have succeeded in getting resolution 502 if we had not raised the possibility of needing such a resolution before the invasion took place. In case the Haig talks collapse and we are faced with the urgent need to go to the Security Council, we should be laying the groundwork now and the Government should have a proposal ready in case of need for a good offices commission to continue the intermediary role.
I will give way in a moment.
As I said in our last debate, that could have some advantage for us. It is certainly true that as an individual Secretary Haig probably wields more influence in London and Buenos Aires than any other individual at this time. However, his influence in Buenos Aires is limited inevitably by his role as an even-handed intermediary. There are many hon. Members who believe that we might be wise to welcome a situation in which the intermediary role is carried out by the United Nations and where the United States Administration is able to respond to what are clearly the wishes of the American people, to cease the pretence of neutrality between a democratic ally and a totalitarian regime, which in recent years has continually taken actions damaging to American policies. In my opinion, neutrality between the victim of aggression and the aggressor is not an agreeable role for the United States. It is desirable that a situation should exist in which the United States is able to exert its influence as soon as possible.
I will give way when I have finished this point.
In a throw-away line at the end of the impressive speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), he made a remark which has always been at the centre of my political thinking. He said "An ounce of deterrence is worth a ton of defence."
I do not want to explore the problem now, but there is no doubt that if the British Government had been able to deploy small forces in the South Atlantic before the aggression took place, it might well have deterred it altogether. There is a risk that the United States, by waiting too long before it exerts the full scope of its potential influence on Buenos Aires, may find itself facing a situation in which it is required to exert far more pressure at far more cost to its other diplomatic and economic interests.
The right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should now be preparing ourselves—if the Haig talks fail—to go back to the Security Council. What resolution could possibly be clearer, more unequivocal and more in favour of the right that is on our side than the present resolution that has been passed by the Security Council? Although the right hon. Gentleman goes on talking in expert, but academic, terms about continuing negotiations and all the procedures that he would like us to go through, he knows from his long experience in the Ministry of Defence that a time will come when the Government will have to say that negotiation is not enough. What will he do then?
The hon. Gentleman abused the way in which I deferred to him. However, I shall answer his central question. Of course, as a political framework for action, resolution 502 is fine. The trouble is that it does not commit the United Nations to doing anything about seeing that the mandate that it imposes is carried out. That is why the British Government are obliged to assume responsibility for assembling a task force in the South Atlantic to ensure that its diplomatic efforts in dealing with a dictator are supported by force. I suggest not that we should seek a new resolution which is even stronger than resolution 502 but that we should seek to get the Security Council to allow the Secretary-General to appoint a good offices commission, which would take over the process of negotiation. After all, the Prime Minister has refused to negotiate directly with the Argentine Government.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question, and his insistence on the beauty of resolution 502 is academic. It is important to get the United Nations, as an organisation, to do something to implement part of the mandatory instructions imposed by the resolution.
I shall not give way.
I must raise one point that puzzled me in the Prime Minister's speech, namely, the dog that did not bark in the night. When I returned to London on Wednesday morning I found that there had been quite a tizzy in the House the previous day about the Secretary-General's appeal to the British and Argentine Governments. However, in the whole of the right hon. Lady's speech there was no reference to that appeal. I hope that the reason for that uncharacteristic silence—after the articulate way in which she had answered questions on the appeal the previous day—means that the Government are now heartily ashamed of their initial reaction to the Secretary-General's appeal and wish to forget it. Following her contemptuous remarks about that appeal, there was heavy briefing by British officials—which was reported in The Daily Telegraph the next day—to the effect that the United Nations Secretary-General had apologised for his statement.
That turns out to be totally untrue. In today's edition of The Times the United Nations correspondent in New York tells a very different story. That article states:
The initial British response to the Perez de Cuellar appeal indicated nothing amiss. A spokesman for the British mission said that the appeal was 'impartial, neutral and an action to be expected from the Secretary-General'.
Obviously, instructions came from London later in the day to the effect that that was not enough. Later, Sir Anthony Parsons, the British representative, was sent to see the Secretary-General and, he having seen him, there was a briefing to the effect that he had apologised for the statement. A denial was issued yesterday, as reported in today's edition of The Times, not only by the United Nations but also by British spokesmen.
We all know that in a warlike situation truth can be the first casualty. However, I hope that, after the demonstration of the cackhanded and offensive way in which the Government dealt with a serious and important initiative by the Secretary-General, the Government will recognise that that is not the way to win friends and influence people. The Government must take the Secretary-General's appeal seriously. As the British spokesman said initially, it was impartial, neutral and to be expected. If the Government have any doubts about the meaning of some of the phrases, they must clear them up by direct consultation with the Secretary-General.
It is no secret to the House that the United Nations is not a perfect organisation. I have yet to meet one. Listening to what I heard about the difficulty of getting action in the United Nations in New York and drawing on my experiences, I suspect that the Security Council is almost as difficult to manage as a Tory Government or the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.
However, the fact is that with all its weaknesses the United Nations provides a better framework for world peace and order than previous generations have known. It provides the only framework at this time for world peace and order. It has served this country well in the crisis. We must now do our best to use all the opportunities that it offers to give it a wider role. If the Government can demonstrate their determination to use the United Nations' opportunities to the utmost, they will be able to rely on continuing support not only from the House but from the people of Britain and all their friends in the world.
This has been a thoughtful debate reflecting the gravity of the issues involved. It has also been of exceptional importance. I would not disagree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that it may turn out to have been crucial.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken of the significance of unity in the House, especially at times of crisis. I warmly agree with those sentiments. Their expression from both sides has well justified the Opposition's proposal that the debate should be held and the Government's agreement to it.
There have been dissentient voices—rightly so—but the sense of the House has been supportive and in broad agreement. I shall give one reason why that is important. As the debate began, I heard that reports had begun to appear in the press in the Argentine about the divisions of opinion—as it was alleged—in the House of Commons. The Argentines were trying to make good use of that allegation for their advantage. Today's debate has deprived them of any basis for such allegations. That is extremely important at the present juncture.
When I first spoke to the House as Foreign Secretary I said that I would approach my task over the Falkland Islands crisis in a spirit of determination and realism. The Government have tried to do that by applying all possible pressure with increasing intensity on the Argentine with the purpose of securing a negotiated settlement, if that is possible. We have applied and sustained a combination of pressures, all inter-related and growing in their effectiveness.
The first pressure that we applied immediately was diplomatic. Our first act after the invasion was to go to the United Nations, which has been an important element in the debate, where the Security Council responded to the aggression by passing resolution 502, which called, amongst other things, for immediate withdrawal from the Falkland Islands. That was a most important decision. Ever since, we and our friends around the world have lost no opportunity to press for its implementation and, wherever we can, to increase it.
The second type of pressure is economic. Our partners in the European Community and the Commonwealth—Australia, Canada and New Zealand—and also Norway joined us in banning imports from Argentina and taking other measures to show quite clearly that the whole world has an interest in reacting firmly to aggression. The pressure of those decisions is being maintained. The Assembly of the Council of Europe today passed, by an overwhelming majority, a resolution condemning Argentine aggression and expressing soli-darity with Britain.
The third type of pressure is military. The task force that we assembled with record speed has advanced steadily towards the area of the Falklands. The scale of it and the competence with which it was assembled was the clearest demonstration of the professionalism of our forces to which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East referred, and the resolve of our nation. Ever since, we have continued to strengthen the force in various ways. The military pressure is still being stepped up. As has already been announced, a total exclusion zone will come into effect tomorrow.
I remind the House that the Government have made clear from the beginning that the pressure exercised on Argentina by our military preparations depended directly on our visible determination to be prepared to use force if we had to. Obviously, our whole intention is to obtain a peaceful settlement if we can, and the Argentine must be in no doubt about our resolution.
If Argentina had gained any impression that we were not so determined, any interest that she had in negotiations would evaporate. She cannot possibly have gained such an impression. We have steadily built up that military pressure by successive steps.
Meanwhile, we have exerted ourselves in every way that we can think of to achieve a peaceful settlement. The House is aware of the herculean efforts of Mr. Haig to promote a negotiated settlement. He visited London twice and spent two periods in Buenos Aires. He has made and is continuing to make every possible attempt to bring about the implementation of resolution 502.
My visit to Washington on 22 and 23 April was a part of that process. In my detailed discussions with Mr. Haig, we covered all the elements that must be embodied in a settlement. We explored every possible angle, but the truth seems to be that, although Britain and America have been working flat out for peace, Argentina has so far shown no indication of working seriously for a negotiated settlement. On the contrary, she has sustained a military build-up of reinforcements. In my view, that is a further and flagrant abuse of resolution 502. It is not just that Argentina has shown no sign of withdrawing; she has taken the positive step of increasing and increasing her military build-up. That is a flagrant abuse of the resolution.
Argentina's public statements show an unaltered insistence on intransigent positions and, above all, that the sovereignty of the Falklands belongs to her. Sovereignty does not belong to her. That is the heart of the dispute. The immediate position is that Argentina has not responded to the United States proposal that was put to her by Mr. Haig on 27 April. While there is still some hope that Argentina might be willing to settle the crisis without the further use of force, I must tell the House that her current position is not encouraging.
I was greatly encouraged by the support for Britain that I encountered during my visit to the United States of America. The Americans are well aware that Argentina is the aggressor in this dispute and I imagine that they are greatly influenced by the ties of history and the shared ideals of freedom and democracy that link their country to ours. I have no doubt that those are some reasons why public opinion polls in America have shown such solid support for the United Kingdom. We are very grateful for it.
Mr. Eric S. Heller:
One of the great mysteries of this business has been precisely what was said, in relation to the proposals, by Mr. Haig, the British Government and the Argentine Government. We have heard about the shuttling back and forth, but no one has said officially what the proposals were and are. Both the House and the nation have a right to know precisely what has been discussed in order to know what our attitude towards the proposals should be.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that point in her speech. She explained to the House why she could say nothing more about it today. Many right hon. and hon. Members acknowledged that obviously it was not possible now to know anything more about the proposals, but hon. Members also expressed the hope that, in due course, when the proposals become public—which is Mr. Haig's intention—the matter can be discussed at an appropriate time. However, it is not sensible, with such difficult negotiations, to make them public now. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured by that.
After our re-taking of South Georgia by the carefully limited use of force—the minimum use of force is the present instruction and rules of engagement—Argentina surely abandoned any lingering doubts that Britain would exercise her right of self-defence. We shall certainly do so again if Argentina was so reckless as to violate the total exclusion zone. We are ready to do so if, unhappily, Argentina cannot be brought to accept a negotiated settlement. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) endorsed the creation of the total exclusion zone in the terms that they did and acknowledged that military action would almost certainly have to be used to enforce it. That is our view, and the Government are grateful for what they and others have said on that point.
In the circumstances that I have described, it is not merely permissible for us to use our right of self-defence; it would be irresponsible for us not to exercise it and thus give a proper response to aggression. It is in the interests of the whole free world that the rule of law should be upheld and that aggression should not prevail. It is not just a British interest; it is an international interest. The focus of attention is here because of the connection between Britain and the Falkland Islands. If we do not stand par excellence—which we do—for international law and order, and if other countries with the same interest in parliamentary democracy do not join us in this endeavour, the outlook for the world is bleak. It is precisely for that reason that our friends all round the world have supported us and why we expect that they will continue to do so.
I have made it clear throughout that it has been and is our intention, and we have carried it out, to increase the pressure all the time. That is what we have been doing. We have the right of self-defence to which I have just referred. Therefore, I would say to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) "Yes, indeed, it is." A total exclusion zone is a completely proper step to take in relation to self-defence because the Falkland Islands is a British possession and we intend to enforce a total exclusion zone. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be in favour of that.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition devoted some part of his speech to the possibilities of recourse to the United Nations. Like the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, he mentioned the press statement issued by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 26 April. The Secretary-General is absolutely right to call for the implementation of resolution 502. No one wants to achieve that more than we do. It is indeed central to all our efforts in the crisis, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said. But there cannot be any suggestion that Britain and Argentina are on the same footing—the victor and the aggressor;that cannot be right.
It is not we who have refused to implement resolution 502—quite obviously it is the Argentines. So long as Argentina refuses to withdraw and holds on to the islands, it is quite wrong for anyone to suggest that we should tie our hands and forgo in any way our inherent right of self-defence. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) emphasised that point strongly.
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman and the Government say about the middle part of the Secretary-General's statement concerning observance of resolution 502, but what is the Government's view, and what have the Government said to the Secretary-General, about the first part and the last part of the statement? The first part of that statement calls for no escalation and a halt to any escalation. The last part of the statement calls for no extension of the range of possibilities of action. What is the Government's view on those two matters? What have they said to the Secretary-General on it, and what do they propose to say? Even at this stage, will he not go to New York and discuss the matter with the Secretary-General? We believe that it is wrong for the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to proceed with action on these matters until they have had these discussions. If they think that they have a good case, why do they not go to New York and put it?
I was coming to that point later. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if I come to the conclusion that at any stage it would be appropriate, advantageous, helpful and useful, of course I am prepared to go. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that.
With regard to the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, rather accusingly and giving the impression, slightly, that in some way the Government are responsible for escalation and build-up, it is the Argentines who have been building up, in aggravation of their already inherent disobedience of resolution 502. In the interests of our self-defence, it is right for us to increase the pressure in the way that I have described. But I do not think that that compares with what the Argentines have been able to achieve in their build-up in the past three weeks. That must be taken into account. The basic point is that the resolution calls for Argentine withdrawal, and they are flouting it. It is in the interests of the whole world that they do the right thing and retire.
Only the fact that we have maintained our right of self-defence unimpaired has brought the Argentine to consider the American proposals at all. If we gave up that right, who could believe that negotiations could continue for a moment longer? How could that possibly advance the cause of peace or strengthen the authority of the United Nations? I do not see how it could.
The Leader of the Opposition asked whether we had fulfilled our obligation under article 51 of the charter to report to the Security Council the measures that we have taken in self-defence. He is right in saying that we have that obligation. We have done so scrupulously. Our permanent representative in New York has successively notified the President of the Security Council of our proclaiming of the maritime exclusion zone, of our recovery of South Georgia and, most recently, of our announcement of a total exclusion zone to come into force tomorrow. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, I have arranged for the text of these three notifications to be deposited in the Library of the House.
The Leader of the Opposition also suggested that we should have gone to the United Nations to get the Security Council to impose economic sanctions on Argentina as a means of enforcing Argentine compliance with resolution 502. I can assure him that we have considered that possibility. But we saw at once that the Soviet Union, in its search for ways of strengthening its influence in Argentina, would certainly veto any such resolution. We have it in mind that that shadow is over the events in the South Atlantic. That would have meant that we would not have succeeded in our aim of increasing pressure on Argentina to fulfil its legal obligations. What we would have done would be to provide the occasion for a tightening of links between the Soviet Union and Argentina, which is not only not in our interests or Argentina's but is not, I think, in anyone else's interests.
The Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East also advanced several ideas for involving the United Nations in a settlement of the Falkland Islands question. I have spent much time thinking about the various ways in which that might be done and the advantages and disadvantages of it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already covered in her opening speech the idea of recourse to the International Court of Justice. My right hon. Friend explained the history of it. She said—this is of course right—that we have not closed the door to this or, indeed, any option. I think, however, tonight that I shall not pursue this issue further. But it is one possibility that remains open.
There is also the idea of a United Nations role in the administration of the islands and the possibility of a United Nations trusteeship, mentioned by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). These options we have also considered, but they are, I think, for the longer term. Trusteeship is a complex business and takes a considerable time to work out. It has far-reaching implications. We for our part would be entirely prepared to look carefully at any ideas that would secure compliance with resolution 502 without doing violence to the principles that have been supported in this House. So far, however, we have had no indication that the idea of trusteeship would do the trick or have any acceptance whatever by the Argentines. So that that does not look very hopeful.
In short, we have considered a whole range of possible diplomatic options. We have always come back to the conclusion that it is Mr. Haig who has the best opportunity. I say again, however, to the Leader of the Opposition and to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East that my mind is not closed to this possibility. If I could see anything advantageous, fruitful or hopeful arising from such an approach or such a visit, I would, of course, take it.
I do not want to press the Foreign Secretary too much on this matter, but I should like to say again what I said in an earlier exchange with the right hon. Gentleman. Can he not accept that there is a difference between the concept of involving the United Nations in a trusteeship in the longer term, which is something that would only emerge from negotiations directly between Britain and the Argentine, and the idea of a temporary regime under United Nations administration that might provide the answer to what is known to be one of the most difficult issues, namely, how to put the issue of sovereignty on one side during the transitional period?
Yes; I have thought of that. I have discussed it with Mr. Haig in our consultations, along with many other ideas. I am ready and willing to go if that will be helpful.
The House has had the chance on several occasions to consider in these debates the essential principles on which the Government should approach the complex problem of settling the Falkland Islands difficulty. The ideas which we discussed with Mr. Haig and the proposals which he has put to the Government of Argentina have been measured against these principles. I am sure that the House is aware of the main elements which have evolved during these long talks. They are the arrangements for withdrawal, the arrangements for an interim administration and the arrangements under which the future status of the islands might be discussed and negotiations for a longterm settlement continued and perhaps hopefully concluded. I should like to say a little about each.
It goes without saying that there must be an immediate withdrawal of all Argentine forces as required by the basic resolution. Of course, the necessary time for that must be allowed. We for our part would be prepared to move British forces in parallel. At the same time, we have to ensure that there can be no change of heart or mind on the part of the Argentines during the process of withdrawal and, equally important, I suggest, that there should be no attempt or possibility of an attempt at reoccupation of the islands at some future date. We have the immediate problem of the withdrawal of forces now, but we also have to think beyond that to the circumstances that might subsequently arise.
On the interim arrangements, the British administration was illegally displaced from the islands by the Argentine invasion and must be restored. Withdrawal is the first priority and the British Government have to consider the practical arrangements that will follow after that withdrawal. It is not an easy matter. It is quite complicated, and much time in the discussions that have been going on in the last few weeks has been devoted to it. Provided that the principle of British administration is preserved, the Government are prepared to consider reasonable suggestions and ideas in this field. Indeed, I have been exploring them thoroughly with Mr. Haig.
Would my right hon. Friend be a little more explicit and forthcoming with the House on the interim arrangements? If the British forces are moving in in parallel as the Argentine forces are moving out, why is there a need for any interim arrangement at all?
I cannot go into further detail. I do not think that I have said anything particularly new, although I have tried to indicate that this is an area of great controversy. I am sorry that I cannot do more for my hon. Friend at the moment.
The third area is the discussion about the status of the islands in the future negotiations. Many hon. Members today and previously have rightly emphasised the principle of self-determination. Not only the Government and the House but also Congress and the people of the United States attach the highest importance to it. Our basic position is that Britain is ready to co-operate in any solution which the people of the Falkland Islands could accept and any framework of negotiation which does not predetermine and does not prejudice the eventual outcome. The prejudicing of that outcome is one of the sticking points of the Argentines which we cannot accept.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, it is extremely discouraging that the latest statements from the Foreign Minister of Argentina lay even more stress than before on Argentine determination not to yield an inch on the question of sovereignty. It seems that he does not depart one iota from the position that there must be prior agreement that any negotiation must end in sovereignty being transferred to Argentina, regardless of the views of the people of the Falkland Islands on this point. The Argentines know, of course, and Mr. Haig knows and has accepted, that this is a completely unacceptable position for us. That is perhaps the most fundamental issue of all that we face.
I should like to say a word or two about the islanders because I am sure that all hon. Members have their plight very much in mind at this difficult time. Everyone in Britain greatly admires their fortitude. They are the ones who are under the jackboot of the invader. They have now been subjected to new restrictions, which is perhaps not altogether surprising, including a curfew and a blackout. I imagine that they are living a pretty miserable life.
It is our present understanding that the majority of the islanders prefer to stay where they are, which is a remarkable testimony to their attachment to their island. I cannot pretend that the total exclusion zone which comes into effect tomorrow has no implications for their wellbeing. Clearly it has. But I have every confidence that they will see why we have acted as we have, because it is for the sake of our common purpose and their main interest—to get the invader out.
It is our hope in the meantime that the International Red Cross will be able to establish a presence on the islands, and that with its help, or by other means, we shall be able to arrange for the evacuation of any islanders who may still wish to depart. Transit through the total exclusion zone is possible with our permission. We shall control it, and if someone wanted to leave for any reason whatsoever with International Red Cross assistance we would do our best to make that possible.
Meanwhile, to enable the people on the island to be as well informed as possible—and it is not very easy—the BBC has further increased its broadcasting to them. That was the point raised by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). The programmes now take place daily. They carry such well-known voices to the islanders as the governor and the chief executive. They also receive the world service of the BBC, and it is believed that reception is reasonably good. The BBC is their only link with the outside world.
Then there was the capture of South Georgia. After that we were able to reassure ourselves that the personnel of the British Antarctic Survey—13 in number—and the two wildlife photographers had come to no harm. They are shortly to be evacuated by our forces from the island. It is our firm intention that their important scientific work shall be continued in the future. We shall attend to that in due course.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) raised some important long-term strategic issues in relation to the Antarctic which, without doubt, is a region of the utmost importance, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not comment further on that aspect tonight.
We are not interested in doing anything other than confining this "conflict" to removing the Argentines from the islands with our own forces.
I know that the House does not forget the members of the task force on board our ships. Our thoughts are very much with them. We are at the beginning of an Atlantic winter, and the task force will face increasingly severe weather on the high seas. But our fleet is designed to cope with harsh conditions similar to those in the North Atlantic which they know so well. Our forces are very experienced in cold and harsh conditions. As they go on their way to fulfil their duties, I know that the whole House has their safety and well-being very much in mind, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) so well pointed out.
Many hon. Members have asked what the Government will do if Argentina rejects Mr. Haig's proposals. Let me emphasise in reply that I very much hope that Argentina will take a reasonable view of her own interests and will not reject a negotiated settlement of the present crisis. If she did reject it, we would consider very carefully how to try to continue the negotiating process, but we have always made it clear that our objective is a settlement and the implementation of the mandatory United Nations resolution, and not the avoidance of hostilities at any price. If Argentina will not accept a negotiated solution, then reluctantly, and with the greatest possible restraint, we must use force. But we shall not relax for a moment in our efforts for a peaceful solution. It is encouraging that today the House has supported us so staunchly in all our views.