Falkland Islands

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:33 pm on 13th May 1982.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 8:33 pm, 13th May 1982

We must constantly bear in mind during these debates that our action in the South Atlantic is the subject of intense international interest and concern. I am not for any military escalation in the conflict, but there should be no misunderstanding: the most effective way that Britian could be isolated over the Falkland crisis would be if we were to act recklessly, and escalate the war. Therefore, there is a great need for caution, and a tremendous need for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement.

Although in international law the Falklands is a possession of this country—there is no dispute about that in the House, in the country or in Western Europe—I accept, like most people, that we shall not remain in possession of the Falklands for ever and a day. This is not an opinion echoed by some Conservative Members, who are saying that the islands are a possession that they wish Britain to retain forever. They might want that. We know of negotiations taking place under successive Governments. Most of us recognise that the time when we can say that this should be permanent British territory has long gone by.

Let it be said in the House of Commons that one understands the widespread feeling throughout Argentina—certainly it is not confined to the junta—that what they call the Malvinas are theirs. One knows that this view is held not only in Argentina but throughout Latin America. The essence of the matter, however, is that territorial disputes should not be decided by force or aggression. That is why, like all my right hon. and hon. Friends, I condemn entirely the invasion and the aggression which was undoubtedly committed by the junta. Let no one misunderstand our views or where we stand.

As has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), as the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, what has happened in the Falklands could happen elsewhere if force is to be the decisive factor. No one should underestimate the seriousness of the issue, apart from the conflict over the use of arms and the possibility of escalation.

I do not accept, more or fess for the reasons that I have stated, that this is another Suez. Suez was a simple matter. Unfortunately, at Suez this country committed aggression. Obviously, I was not in the House of Commons at the time but I protested not far from here, in Trafalgar Square. I marched and felt deeply, like many other people not just in the Labour movement, about how the country was being humiliated by the Conservative Government at that time. It is interesting to note—and it should be said—that some Conservative Members who are so militant over this issue and who seem to be so concerned about aggression are the very people who found every reason to defend and justify what happened at Suez.

I do not believe, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) said earlier, that hon. Members on this side need any lectures about Fascism or military dictatorships. When we had a debate earlier this year about El Salvador hon. Members on this side of the House pointed out how bogus the election was and drew attention to the thousands who had been murdered by death squads. I said during that debate that not one Conservative Member found it possible to expose what was happening in El Salvador, although no doubt they had plenty to say about Poland. We are the last people to need lectures about the kind of Right-wing tyrannies and dictatorships that exist in Latin America.

I received a letter today from a lady not in my constituency who was shocked by the way in which the media were treating my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark. She said that surely the media must know that my right hon. Friend had often taken up the interests of refugees and other matters arising in Chile and under similar dictatorships in that part of the world.

Arms sales continue. One of the lessons that I hope will be learned, not only by the Conservative Government but by my party, is that we should not when in Government sell arms to juntas such as that in Argentina. If there had been no aggression and no invasion of the Falklands, and if there had been a debate about arms sales to dictatorships, I wonder how many Conservative Members would be on their feet protesting about arms being sold to Argentina. I imagine that there would be very few.

I do not want to see a political victory for the junta. If it were to win completely on this issue it could well consolidate its position. Undoubtedly there has been tremendous hysteria about the events of the last four or five weeks. We have seen, for example, the way in which the BBC has been the subject of constant pressure and, as I said at Question Time the other day, intimidation. I read in the press, because I am not allowed to attend such meetings, that at a meeting of a Tory Back-Bench committee the other day the chairman of the BBC was subject to many complaints and, quite likely, abuse. There are times when my hon. Friends may have reason to complain about the BBC on domestic issues.

If we were to take a poll of the most senior BBC executives to discover their private political views, I doubt whether there would be much of a majority for the Labour Party