In an attempt at fairness, I propose to call only those Back Benchers who are on the list of those who were unable to catch my eye during the previous four debates. That does not apply to Privy Councillors—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that they will exercise the necessary self-discipline.
Over the past two days, the Opposition have put a number of requests to us about the Falkland Islands. Those which seemed to put in question the responsibility of the Government to govern were firmly answered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her reply to the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday, and again today. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that her replies were entirely in accordance with our parliamentary practice and procedure, and I have nothing more to say about that.
The request for a debate was in a different category. Although this is the fifth debate on the Falklands crisis since the beginning of April, we have willingly agreed. The Government have throughout the crisis taken every opportunity to keep the House informed of developments; and, although on this occasion there is not very much new that I can report, I welcome this further opportunity for debate on the very important issues that are involved. I say that despite the fact that the negotiations now in progress in New York are in an important and delicate phase.
I would also like to put on record the Government's gratitude, and my personal thanks, both for the support and co-operation that we have received from the House and for the resolute support that the British people have given us. This has been vital to the maintenance of our resolute stand.
The Government's position has remained clear and consistent throughout. Our objectives and our strategy are unchanging. We have of course adapted our tactics in the light of the evolving diplomatic and military circumstances. As the House knows, we have moved through different stages of negotiations: the first with Mr. Haig in London and in Washington; then in reacting to the ideas first launched by the President of Peru and subsequently developed in discussion by him with the United States; and now the talks with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Through all those stages and throughout this procedure we have shown a careful balance of firmness on the essential principles, tempered by the necessary measure of readiness to negotiate on issues where negotiation is possible. However, in all this negotiation our determination has never wavered—our determination and resolve to end Argentina's illegal occupation and to uphold the rights of the Falkland Islanders.
The House has been most tolerant and understanding about our inability to disclose our detailed position at any stage. But no such inhibitions apply to explaining the broad lines of strategy, and this I should like to do again this afternoon.
From the beginning of this crisis, the Government have been trying, as the House well knows, to build up the pressures on Argentina steadily, progressively and remorselessly. Our aim has been to make it withdraw, through a negotiated arrangement if that can be achieved. The pressures we have applied have been of three kinds— diplomatic, economic and military.
The diplomatic pressures bring to bear the moral weight of world opinion upon Argentina and its act of aggression. Just as Security Council resolution 502 was clear and firm in its condemnation of aggression and its demands for Argentine withdrawal, so have the statements of our friends and allies in the ensuing weeks continued to demonstrate the world's expectation that Argentina will end its occupation of the islands.
Last weekend I had full talks in private with the Foreign Ministers of the Ten. I was once again heartened by the expressions of solidarity and support I received. Europe remains on our side. Further evidence of that was provided by the European Parliament yesterday. It passed a resolution recognising that the loss of life in the South Atlantic—which we all regret—is due to the failure of the Argentines to comply with resolution 502. It also reaffirmed its previous tough resolution in our support and called on the Foreign Ministers to renew the import embargo on 17 May.
We have found no inclination among the leaders of the free world to blur the distinction between legitimacy and illegality, between self-defence and aggression, between right and wrong, and between truth and falsehood. The world knows that the international rule of law would be dangerously undermined if Argentine aggression were allowed to stand, and that it is on that international rule of law and its upholding, that the prospects for stability and prosperity for people depend.
International support for us remains firm. We continue to receive messages of support from Governments all around the world. The Commonwealth remains steadfast and resolute in its backing of our stand.
Perhaps I may be permitted to continue?
The diplomatic pressure remains strong and sustained. So also does the economic pressure. That too has been maintained and increased—
The economic measures taken by many of Britain's closest friends are a further demonstration of the international support that we enjoy. I think here in particular of our partners in the Community, and of those who have done likewise—Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Norway, to name but a few.
The suspension of imports, the denial of credit, the bans on arms sales—all those continue to have a real and biting effect on an Argentine economy already in disarray.
It was estimated earlier this year that Argentina would need to raise some $3 billion in net new loans in 1982. World repugnance at its recent actions has meant that—so far as we can tell—not a single new public sector loan has been agreed since 2 April.
The Argentine peso has been under heavy pressure. Besides expectations of increased inflation and general loss of confidence, the markets of the world have indicated clearly what they think of the Argentine currency: while the official rate remains at 14,000 pesos to the American dollar, even across the River Plate in Montevideo the free market is demanding 20,000 pesos for the dollar.
Those who have given us economic support should not doubt that the consequence of this support has been extremely valuable in concentrating pressure on Argentina to comply with resolution 502. It is, in fact, an essential part of the pressure that we are applying in order to achieve an early negotiated solution.
The third element of our strategy is military. As the House knows we continue to tighten the military screw. British Service men are experiencing danger and hardship 8,000 miles away. Their presence and their activity are making it increasingly hard and costly for Argentina to sustain its occupation of the Falkland Islands.
We all grieve over British losses. We take no satisfaction at the losses inflicted on Argentina. We regret them, too. As the net closes round the islands military incidents may occur with increasing frequency. That may be inevitable in the circumstances. But we must never forget who is the aggressor, who invaded whom, who embarked on an unlawful and dangerous course, who first took up arms and thus put lives at risk, who fired the first shot. Argentina knows how to avoid further military conflict. It can begin its withdrawal—now.
The whole House and the country know our clear and decisive preference for a negotiated settlement. However, military pressure is necessary to bring Argentina to negotiate seriously and at the same time to strengthen our negotiating hand. I do not doubt that it is having this effect. There are signs that the message is beginning to get through.
We have been and remain indefatigable in the search for that negotiated settlement. I shall not recall now the long and strenuous efforts that we made in co-operation with Mr. Haig, ending in failure because of Argentina's intransigence.
But it is interesting that, in spite of Argentina's rejection then, the elements of an agreement about which I first spoke to the House as long ago as 21 April have remained as elements in subsequent negotiations. In that statement I told the House that they were the arrangements for the Argentine withdrawal, the nature of any interim administration of the islands and the framework for the negotiation for a long-term solution. That is still the case today.
When I spoke in the House last Friday, I outlined the main elements of an agreement, worked out in cooperation with Peru and the United States of America, which Britain would have been willing to accept and which would have led to an early ceasefire.
I spoke of complete and supervised withdrawal of Argentine forces, an immediate ceasefire, an interim administration involving a small group of countries acceptable to both sides, and the suspension of the existing exclusion zones and the lifting of economic measures. Since those elements continue to be relevant to the negotiations now under way in New York, it would not be right for me to go into greater detail now than I did on 7 May.
I find that press accounts about it have been misleading to a greater or lesser degree, but I can assure the House that we have at no stage lost sight of our declared objectives and principles.
Certainly I can give that assurance. Like the previous proposals that were turned down, they were turned down and that is the end of them. I think that is the assurance that my right hon. Friend asks for.
The negotiations are now going on under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Senor Perez de Cuellar has shown great determination and diplomatic ability in his lengthy and frequent talks in recent days with the British representative, Sir Anthony Parsons. They have met at least once every day and sometimes more often. On Tuesday, those talks seemed to make a little progress. Yesterday, things went less well. Hopes have been raised before, only to be dashed, and many very serious difficulties remain. It would be quite wrong for me not to indicate that to the House.
My right hon. Friend spoke of administration by a small group of nations. Does that imply the return of British troops and a British element among those nations?
I shall come to that in a moment.
I hope that more progress will be made—and quickly. If it is not, it will not be for lack of effort and readiness on our part to reach a negotiated solution. Nor have our efforts to this end in any way prejudiced or hindered the necessary build up of military pressure. I want to assure the House that they have not closed off any military option, or affected our military options in any way.
It is not, of course, easy to negotiate with the Argentine authorities. While their representative in New York has appeared to be prepared to recognise many of the realities of the situation, there have been—even within the last two days—a number of unhelpful statements by other Argentine public figures, made in public.
On different occasions the Foreign Minister, one of his senior officials, a general and a junior Minister in another department have all referred to the process of negotiation as if this was designed solely to lead up to a handover of sovereignty to Argentina. That attitude is, I repeat, quite unacceptable to us and we must be absolutely sure that Argentina does not adhere to it, privately or publicly, if a negotiated settlement is to be possible.
No doubt the Foreign Secretary will have had his attention drawn to the statement alleged to have been made by the former Argentine ambassador to Great Britain who was here for five years. He said that the Argentines had negotiated an agreement, in 1970 or thereabouts, giving them what they wanted. Can the Foreign Secretary, reply to that allegation—if not now, later—because our side of the story should be stated? It is alleged that Lord George-Brown had an agreement that was awaiting settlement? This should be made clear.
I think it might have been better had I not given way because I shall be coming to some of these points.
It would perhaps be helpful if once again I emphasise those basic requirements in our strategy which must be understood by Argentines as they have been understood by all reasonable people across the world. If Argentina now recognises that there are issues on which we remain wholly justifiably immovable, we may be able to make greater progress in other areas where some flexibility is possible.
The first absolutely fundamental requirement is the need for the withdrawal of the whole Argentine invasion force and civil personnel. We insist on this and until Argentina is committed to such a withdrawal, and is willing to commence it, we cannot commit ourselves to a ceasefire. When it demonstrates that that readiness to withdraw is a reality, we shall feel able and willing to match this—in ways yet to be determined—by standing our own forces off from the area of conflict.
The timings and the distances of mutual withdrawal are things which need to be settled and on which we are keen to make progress in negotiation. And the House will understand that we must be absolutely certain about arrangements for verification. After all, after the invasion, we cannot be expected to have faith in Argentine good intentions.
The second fundamental requirement, on which we are absolutely firm, is that the outcome of long-term negotiations about the future of the Islands must not be prejudged in advance in any way.
Perhaps my hon. Friends will allow me to continue.
That is a reasonable position and one on which we shall not compromise. It has been a fundamental issue throughout all the negotiations and a major problem in the negotiations. From the outset we have made our position entirely and unmistakably clear. Nevertheless, even at this point in time it is necessary for me to repeat it, because it is our immutable objective.
There is a slight discrepancy between what my right hon. Friend said and an answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during Question Time a few moments ago. I understood, and I believe the House understood, that she asserted that withdrawal of our task force would not commence until the Argentine withdrawal was itself completed.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may have said that, although I did not hear it. I am informing the House that the precise arrangements on each side remain to be settled. It is a difficult and important area, but it is not settled at present and therefore, it is an issue in the present negotiations
My right hon. Friend said a moment ago that there was no reason, and he is right, to trust Argentine intentions. He earlier referred to the possibility of an interim administration in which a number of powers would be associated. Will he assure the House that Argentina would be excluded from that interim administration?
I shall come to that point in a moment.
Argentine withdrawal from the Falkland Islands, once agreed, should be carried out within a fixed number of days. Negotiations about the long-term future of the islands will, of necessity, take a matter of months. It follows from this—as I said in this House many days ago, on 21 April, and again in more detail on 7 May—that some interim arrangements will be necessary on the Islands. That was my hon. Friend's point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I think it is obvious that it will be necessary. I have already made clear on two previous occasions that we do not debar involvement of third parties in these arrangements. It may or may not be the case that the United Nations will have a role to play. But we could not, of course, agree to a structure, however temporary, which ignored the past and disregarded the administrative experience of the British inhabitants of the islands. They know how to run their affairs in a democratic way.
There are officials and administrators who know their jobs; there are democratically elected members of the councils who know the feelings of their fellow islanders. They must be fitted in to whatever is agreed if the islands are to be run fairly and efficiently during whatever interim period proves necessary.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.
If we get an agreement, long-term negotiations may begin quite soon. I want to make it clear to the House that we have no doubt whatever about the British title to sovereignty. All British Governments have taken the same view. However, we did not, before the invasion, rule out discussion of sovereignty in negotiations with Argentina. Again, successive Governments of both parties have taken the same position. We still remain willing to discuss it as one of the factors in negotiations about the long-term future. We have already begun—
If the islands are to be run efficiently, where will they get services from as neither Uruguay nor Brazil will act as a substitute to supply the services that they previously obtained from Buenos Aires? What is the long-term servicing, medical supply and victualling position?
All our efforts are designed to reach a position in which we can rationally and sensibly discuss the long-term future when the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised will become relevant. In the short-term they are also relevant, but it is a difficult area and different parties have different views. These issues have to be considered in the negotiations that are now taking place. We have views about them, and strong views at that. Already we have begun, as I believe it is right for us to do, to think about the many possible arrangements that might conceivably result from long-term negotiations. After the terrible traumas of this crisis, the islanders will need time to consider their position. Their wishes for the future may or may not then be the same as before.
My hon. Friend says that they will be. Perhaps they will, but that remains to be seen. The islanders will wish to consider, after a period of respite and recuperation, how their prosperity and the economic development of the islands can best be furthered, how their security can best be protected and how their links with the outside world can best be organised. These question at present are some way ahead and the Government retain an open mind.
No, I will not give way. We are conscious of the importance of these questions and we are thinking about them, although we are far from reaching any conclusions. In any event, we could not do so without thinking of those on the islands.
Present negotiations in New York are at an important point. Our resolve has not wavered. There have been some indications—actually the first since the crisis began—of genuine Argentine willingness to negotiate on some of the important points. There will have to be more if we are to succeed.
The Government remain determined to see the implementation of the mandatory resolution of the Security Council. As before, we infinitely prefer to achieve this by negotiation, and we are bending our most strenuous efforts to this end. At the same time our military presence in the South Atlantic continues to become stronger.
If, in the end, Argentine intransigence prevents success in negotiation, Argentina will know that the alternative is another kind of ending to the crisis. We do not want that, but we are ready for it. As it has been throughout this crisis, the choice lies with those who rule Argentina.
This is the fifth debate that the House has held since the crisis began, and I think that the nation has gained greatly by the opportunity that we have had to express our views. Much has hammed since the previous debate. I have in mind the failure of the Haig mission, the failure of the Peruvian initiative the sinking of the "General Belgrano" and HMS "Sheffield", and something which at least the Opposition welcome—the intervention of the United Nations Secretary-General as an intermediary in the negotiations.
I think that at a later stage the House will want to discuss some of the broader issues which have been raised by recent events, especially the danger of unlimited arms sales to the Third world and the difficulty of reducing that danger without international agreement. I think that today the House will want to concentrate on the United Nations' negotiations, which are now at a critical stage.
I do not blame the Foreign Secretary for his inability at this stage to give us more information about what is going on, but I think that the House has the right to contribute its views, and on behalf of the Labour Opposition I shall give mine.
The foundation of the negotiations now proceeding in New York is resolution 502 of the Security Council, which links the withdrawal of Argentine forces from the Falklands with a diplomatic settlement. Meanwhile, it leaves the United Kingdom free to use military force in self-defence under article 51 of the charter. I think that it is clear to the House that minimum force is required to be used—it must never be disproportionate to the issue at stake—and the Secretary of State for Defence has rightly added the two other criteria that force should be used under political control, and as a back-up to diplomatic negotiation. Force should never be used in such a way as to jeopardise the negotiations, and still less should it be used as a substitute for negotiations.
The Opposition have supported all military actions taken by the task force so far, although I raised a question on the sinking of the "General Belgrano", which was fully justified if it was necessary to defend our forces, even if it did—indeed it did—have a damaging effect on one arm of our diplomatic approach to the problem. When the right hon. Gentleman replies to the debate I hope that he will be able to reassure the House by telling us precisely how urgent a threat to the task force the "General Belgrano" represented, and in particular how far away the task force was from the "General Belgrano", so that we can judge whether it was necessary to sink it, and to do so 35 miles outside the total exclusion zone.
We shall continue to support the use of the task force within the guidelines laid down by the Secretary of State. I believe, and I think that the House believes, that negotiations would not have proceeded at all, still less reached a stage at which an agreement is at least conceivable, if not in sight, had the task force not been sent on its mission. There would have been no point in sending the task force unless we were prepared in some circumstances to use it. To withdraw the task force now, as some have asked as part of an unconditional ceasefire, would nullify all the efforts of the Secretary-General to get the withdrawal of Argentine troops, as required under mandatory resolution 502, and hand the Falklands to General Galtieri on a platter. It would encourage other Governments to use force to create a fait accompli.
The reality of this danger was shown by yesterday's report that Venezuelan troops had entered the Essequibo region of Guyana. The House would be unwise to ignore the consequences of allowing the Argentine Government to get away with the consequences of their aggression with impunity.
The Government clearly intend to limit hostilities with Argentina in this crisis, and they are right to do so. They have made no declaration of war and they have been 100 per cent. right to reject calls from some of their Back Benchers to extend the fighting to the mainland. So to extend it would broaden the conflict in ways in which the Secretary-General specifically asked us not to do a week ago, and it would certainly lose us the support of the United States.
Mr. Haig is reported in today's New York Times as saying that to extend the conflict to the mainland would be
the worst thing that could happen because what was now simmering resentment in South America of most English speaking countries might well become a volatile anti-American and anti-British movement.
That is a risk that the House must not lose sight of.
It would also risk pushing Argentina into the arms of the Soviet Union. We must never lose sight of this element in the problem. I must confess that I was a little surprised the other day to hear the Foreign Secretary—I think in a press interview outside No. 10 Downing Street—say that he was indifferent to the fate of the Argentine Government. I well understand the emotion that may have led him to use those words. Indeed, General Galtieri is bad enough. His regime has an appalling record on human rights as well as being guilty of unprovoked aggression against the Falkland Islands.
I am glad that the Government have responded to the request of the French and Swedish Governments to delay the handing over of Captain Astiz, who is suspected of involvement in the disappearance of two French nuns and a Swedish girl. I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to tell us whether it will be possible, under the Hague convention, for Captain Astiz to be interrogated either by us or by representatives of the French and Swedish Governments about the crimes in which he is suspected of being involved.
The present junta is bad enough, but we must recognise that the fall of the present regime is more likely to produce a worse regime than a better one. We could very likely be faced with a Peronist dictatorship, which sought active cooperation with the Soviet Union and Cuba. Any successor regime would be dedicated to recover the Falkland Islands by force at the earliest opportunity.
In recent years we in Britain have justifiably taken pride in our ability to see issues in a broader perspective than some of our allies, to relate local to regional and global considerations and to relate the short term to the long term. I believe that the House as a whole has welcomed signs by our Ministers of this longer and broader perspective, as shown, for example, by our attitude to the problems in the Middle East, in Southern Africa, and, on occasion in Central America as well.
I hope that we shall not lose that perspective on this issue, because we cannot afford to divorce the way in which we conduct ourselves in our conflict over the Falkland Islands with the Argentines from our policy towards Latin America as a whole. Nor can we afford to seek a short-term solution by military force if that excludes the chance of an agreement with Argentina that gives long-term security to those living on the islands.
The need to relate our short-term policy on the Falklands to our broader interest in the world and the longer-term interest of the islanders' security has been, and must remain, central to our approach to this problem. For this reason a negotiated settlement must remain our overriding objective. By far the best hope of that lies in the current efforts by the United Nations Secretary-General, who has shown exemplary patience and discretion in conducting his talks.
I confess that that discretion is as frustrating to me as it clearly is to some hon. Members below the Gangway on the Government Benches. However, I think that it is essential if we are to succeed in producing a settlement.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some valid points. Patience is important, but will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there must come a time when, in the interests of our forces, talking has to stop and it has to be pointed out to the Argentines that while we are perfectly prepared to be patient and talk realistically, we cannot do it forever and put our own men in jeopardy at sea?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I shall come to that point later, and I really shall come to it—unlike many speakers who say that they will do that but never arrive.
The starting point in the efforts of the Secretary-General, as the Foreign Secretary made clear last Friday, was the Peruvian proposals, which Her Majesty's Government accepted. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Secretary-General's proposals have a similar basis to the Peruvian proposals and that we have accepted his general approach. I do not seek to push that any further than the words that he used.
It is clear that the Peruvian proposals, which we have accepted, and some of the suggestions being made by the Secretary-General, have involved the Government in making some important concessions, some of which the Opposition are as reluctant to make as the Government. However, in as far as we understand them, we think that the Government were right to make those concessions.
For some of the changes in Government policy, the Opposition have 100 per cent. enthusiasm. These include the readiness to accept the United Nations Secretary-General as an intermediary, the readiness to consider a United Nations administration as the interim regime and the readiness to consider United Nations trusteeship in the longer term, all of which the right hon. Gentleman has said, at different times, he does not rule out.
Much less welcome to us and, I know, to Members on the Conservative Benches, are the agreement to negotiate before the withdrawal of Argentine forces, our readiness to accept the ceasefire before the withdrawal is completed and the qualification in the Government's initial position, which appeared to give the Falkland Islanders an unconditional veto on any ultimate settlement. Nevertheless, the Government were right to make these concessions in the interests of agreement.
The Government are right to seek agreement, even if it means concessions on our side. They must not be put off by strident voices from the militarist tendency on the Conservative Back Benches.
I believe that there is still a chance that the Argentines will move on the demands that we consider essential if an agreement is to be reached. I gather that there are some signs that the junta has established its authority over other senior officers in the Argentine— or at least more completely than was the case when Mr. Haig was negotiating in Buenos Aires some weeks ago.
Would the right lion. Gentleman be willing to repudiate the extremely damaging remarks, particularly at this time of the negotiations, that have been made by a right hon. Member of the House journeying to America today, suggesting that he has the major support of the British people for a ceasefire and withdrawal of British troops? That, coming from a right hon. Gentleman who has been a senior Minister, mug t be taken as damaging and as support for the Argentines.
I have also heard some astounding and extremely damaging remarks made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative Benches. I should not care to make the distinction that Dr. Johnson, on one occasion, refused to make. Hon. Members can look that up later.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary that there are two fundamental conditions which the Argentine Government must meet if there is to be an agreement. First, there can be no ceasefire without agreement on Argentine withdrawal over a defined and limited period, under proper monitoring. Secondly, the Argentine Government cannot be allowed to set preconditions on the outcome of the negotiations. On that we are agreed.
No, I have given way a good deal.
To insist on an unconditional ceasefire now, at the most crucial moment in the negotiations, would not only destroy all hope of achieving those conditions but would undermine the whole basis of United Nations intervention in the crisis, which is resolution 502. It is possible. I gather, that the Secretary-General will make his own proposals at some time and put them to both Governments. We do not know whether that will be the case, but it is possible. In that case, the Goverment should reconsider their refusal to allow the House to have a chance to consider these proposals before they make their final response.
On the other hand, if the Argentine Government are responsible for the breakdown of the Secretary-General's initiative or for the rejection of his proposals, the task force will be obliged to continue playing its military role, but, I insist, subject to the conditions that the Defence Secretary has set, and directed to the same objective of creating conditions for successful negotiations at a later stage.
I repeat what I have said so often in these debates: to attempt to resolve this problem by force alone can produce no permanent solution. I repeat the words of Mr. Haig, which I have quoted before in the House, that a purely military outcome could not endure over time. Moreover, if we attempted to secure a purely military solution of the conflict we would lose the support of our European partners, as the right hon. Gentleman must know. We would find it difficult to keep the support of the United States Administration, and we would have no chance whatever of a majority in any organ of the United Nations.
This is neither the place nor the time to discuss the military options which might in such a situation be open to the Government. In any case, we on the Opposition Benches lack the secret military information that would be necessary for a sensible judgment. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State for Defence make it clear on television last Sunday that many options are open besides an all-out direct assault on Port Stanley, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly described the other day as a monstrous gamble.
The Secretary of State for Defence confirmed what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said in the last debate, that a prolonged blockade, which my right hon. Friend favoured, would be feasible and would face the Argentine troops on the Falklands with what he described as horrendous problems. There is some indication that the Argentine Government share that view, according to a report from Buenos Aires in today's issue of The Times
There has been an extraordinary congruence of attitude between political extremes in the House over this crisis, in that both extremes seem to believe that there is no alternative between surrender and Armageddon. There are many options. It is the Government's job to select those options which are most calculated to maintain the international support which they have had so far and to lead the Argentines, however unwillingly, ultimately towards a negotiated settlement which the House and the country can accept as honourable.
If the Government choose options which lead to a more or less prolonged conflict, it is vital that we seek more support for economic sanctions than we have been promised so far even from our friends in Europe, never mind our American ally. If there is any question of this crisis continuing, the economic measures will have a chance to bite, and it is important that they should be maximised so that they bite as hard and as soon as possible.
Even if the Secretary-General finally decides that he has nothing more to contribute at this stage—I think that the overwhelming majority of us hope that that time will not come—that will not be the end of the role and involvement of the United Nations in the dispute. Far from it. So far the Secretary-General has been operating on his own initiative a procedure which is known to be unwelcome to some important members of the Security Council. The Security Council has not held a formal meeting since it passed resolution 502.
If the Secretary-General were to give up or suspend his efforts, the Security Council itself would be bound to hold a substantive meeting to decide how to carry matters forward. Any hope of Britain maintaining then the support in the Security Council which it achieved on 3 April will depend critically on our observing the limitations on the use of force which are implicit in the right of self-defence under article 51 of the charter.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. If the Security Council intervenes directly in the conflict, I fear that Britain's situation will be a good deal more difficult than it is now. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government and the House have every interest in giving the Secretary-General the time that he considers necessary, so long as he feels that he has a chance of success. He has made it clear that he has no more intention than hon. Members below the Gangway opposite or the Government or this side of the House of allowing the negotiations to drag on indefinitely, like the negotiations, for example, over the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. So long as he believes that there is a reasonable chance of success it is overwhelmingly in the Goverment's and the country's interest that he should be allowed by us the time that he feels necessary, and provided that the Government give him that time they will get unanimous support from this side of the House.
I hope that the few words I propose to address to the House may be the more acceptable in that it is the first time I have taken part in a debate on the Falkland Islands and I am not in any way claiming my right as a Privy Councillor.
I want to give wholehearted support to the Prime Minister, to the Foreign Secretary and to the Government for the strategy which they have followed since the occupation of the Falkland Islands. In particular, I want to say how much I agree with what the Foreign Secretary has said today in his account of the negotiations so far, the negotiating position he has taken up and the considerations of which he believes he ought to take account.
I do not propose to devote time to the military problems or to the Services. The response of the Services in this situation has been everything which one would expect of them. Some perhaps may be tempted to take this for granted. That is understandable because the response has been speedy and efficient. Whatever the Forces may be asked to do, in however difficult circumstances in the future, we know that they will perform those responsibilities in every way to the best of their ability.
I wish to deal with the negotiations which are being carried on at this moment. If I may say so, it is wise for the Leader of the House to have arranged this debate today. It is just as essential to carry opinion in the House on negotiations as it is to keep the House informed of military developments. It is also equally important from the point of view of world opinion.
This is perhaps the first thing I would ask of the Foreign Secretary. He is absolutely right to pay attention to world opinion and to those critics in the press or in the House who are urging him to ignore it and treat it with contempt. I would say they are completely wrong. If anything, that is particularly important in this case because of the question of sovereignty.
The whole of Latin America as an area believes that Argentina has a justifiable claim to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. The reason those countries are supporting us is that they are opposed to the use of aggression to enforce that right. We must therefore carry public opinion with us, particularly in the whole of Latin America, on the fact that we are acting against aggression. That is why those countries supported the United Nations resolution. Therefore, the Foreign Secretary and the Government are absolutely right to take account of world opinion and the need to carry it with us and not to give way to the smears of the commentators.
United Nations resolution 502 consists of three parts. It is well that we should always remember that. The first demands an immediate cessation of hostilities; the second demands an immediate withdrawal of all Argentine forces; and the third calls on the Governments of the Argentine and the United Kingdom to seek a diplomatic solution to their differences. One either takes those in the order in which they are stated, in which case it is not a particularly practical proposition to have a ceasefire before withdrawal—they must obviously be arranged together—or one takes the three points together, in which case they are a package. Therefore, the Government have an equal responsibility to carry on these diplomatic negotiations to settle what is described as "their differences". A diplomatic solution is requested.
It cannot possibly be denied that there are differences and a dispute. As the Foreign Secretary has said, successive Governments have accepted these facts for many years, and, indeed, have tried to find a solution to them. That solution has always involved a discussion of sovereignty. Various measures of success have been achieved. In 1972, the then Foreign Secretary was able to agree with the Argentine a variety of developments to help the islanders. For example, the Argentine would provide air transport and we would provide sea transport. Private education would be made available to the islanders in Buenos Aires free of cost, because they paid no Argentine taxes. Jointly we constructed the airfield in the Falklands.
That was the stage when the President of the Argentine was moving towards constitutional government and we were able to make deliberate progress in the interests of the islanders. That, therefore, is not impossible, but in the present cirucumstances specific items must be settled before progress of that kind can be made.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly and constantly emphasised, as has the Prime Minister, that the purpose of the task force is to back up diplomacy. Again, that is something that we must always remember. I believe that it has done -so. From such information as is available, I do not believe that the junta expected anyone to take action when it took over the Falkland Islands. Therefore, it has had to give considerable thought to the situation and must continually decide how it will react.
As to negotiations, a tribute has always been paid to the late President Kennedy over the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. When confrontation was near, he gave Mr. Kruschev a way out. Mr. Kruschev and his associates in the Politburo were sensible enough to take it. When one is dealing with an opponent—I say this having been involved in many negotiations—it is wise to look over the hill and to see what his position is. We must recognise that it is sometimes prudent and wise—quite apart from being magnanimous, as Churchill said—at any rate to offer some way out if the opponent is sensible enough to take it.
I do not propose to suggest to the Foreign Secretary what that way out is. That is for him to decide in the whole balance of the negotiations. But I am sure that he will not forget for one moment that to avoid open warfare and to achieve the withdrawal of the forces from the Falkland Islands, there must be some way out for those who by their error of judgment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Yes, very much by an error of judgment—and their own malice have invaded these islands.
As to sovereignty, obviously we cannot accept a situation in which the Argentine insists upon an agreement in which it maintains sovereignty. On the other hand, as sovereignty is in dispute, it must remain an open question. That cannot be doubted. Perhaps the Minister who is to reply will enlighten the House on the Peruvian proposals. The Foreign Secretary has mentioned them and they have now been published by the Peruvian Foreign Ministry. Accompanying them are three amendments which, according to the Peruvian Government, have been put forward by the Argentine. Looking at the amendments, I find it difficult to see what they contain that was not acceptable to us, particularly if the Peruvian proposals were acceptable.
The one point that might have jarred was the statement that the two Governments should acknowledge the motions that have already been passed in the United Nations and that
the resolutions of different international organisations concerning the islands' fate be recalled.
"Recall" is a neutral word that does not commit anyone to anything. The resolutions are there, and everyone who has dealt with these matters knows about them. Perhaps the Minister will explain the precise problems about the Peruvian proposals as amended by the Argentine and published by the Peruvian Government.
Another major point is the future of the islanders. Now that this invasion has taken place and the islands have been occupied, when the Argentine troops leave—be they withdrawn or forced out—the position can never be the same again. We in this country must recognise that fact as much as the islanders. This dispute has thrown into question the whole of our defence policy and, from the point of view of the islanders, has shown them that a threat of occupation can be carried out successfully. Can one imagine an islander settling down in the Falklands in the future and not asking himself, "Will I at any moment again be invaded?"? From that point of view, the situation can never be the same again.
Therefore, in continuing these negotiations, the Foreign Secretary is right to say that the wishes of those in the Falkland Islands must be given full consideration but not to resume our previous position, which was certainly adopted by the Government of 1970 to 1974, that they could veto any solution that was put forward. I have said that publicly before, but I think that it is right.
The implications for this country of accepting that veto are so great in every respect that I do not believe that the Government are any longer justified in taking up that position.
I am now talking about those observers who are there to see that the withdrawal takes place satisfactorily. If it is agreeable in negotiations that both British and Argentines take part, very well. That is what negotiation is about. That is the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary. He must see what can be acceptable to both sides.
Would my right hon. Friend say that the principle of self-determination, which is one of the major principles of the United Nations charter, should not apply to the Falklands?
Yes, we have said that before. In a dispute about the group of islands, a solution must be negotiated. We have all said that the interests of the Falkland Islanders must be taken into account. There is a variety of ways of dealing with those interests. The point is connected with that of world opinion. Britain has immense interests in Latin America as well as in the Falkland Islands. We should not forget that. The responsibility for safeguarding those interests rests on the Government in their negotiations. There was a time when the world thought that we were rather astute at looking after our interests wherever they were. We must do that. They are widespread.
Quite apart from the question of self-determination which, as has already been pointed out, is enshrined in the charter, there is no need to speculate what the Falkland Islanders will do. Both in letters from the islands before the invasion and in letters since then and also in statements by their elected representatives here in Britain and in the House, it is clear that they will not live under any form of Argentine rule. If that is known in advance, the pass is already sold according to my right hon. Friend.
I often wish that I had the certainty and confidence of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). I should have thought that that is another matter that has to come out of negotiations. If asked, I do not believe that the Falkland Islanders who remain there would say that they should be the determining factor of the whole of British naval strategy in the South Atlantic.
I am sorry if my hon. Friend believes that, if he goes to the Falkland Islands, the islanders will tell him that they are happy to return to the original arrangement when only HMS "Endurance" was there on occasions. He is gravely mistaken. If my hon. Friend suggests that we should alter the entire defence strategy, very well, he can discuss that with the Secretary of State for Defence, who will explain to him what it is all about.
The House is grateful for the advice of the former Prime Minister. Has he any advice to offer the present Prime Minister in her exchanges with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, about the manner in which, when the Government's position is rounded out, it should be brought to the House of Commons first?
The Prime Minister is quite right to emphasise that the military forces are under political control. They must remain so. From all I know of the chiefs of staff, that is what they want. They do not want any military control. Any suggestion that they do is quite wrong. That means that the Government should not pay attention to the critics who say that the task force has been sent to the South Atlantic and could not possibly be brought back without action. That appears in the press leaders today.
I ask the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to pay no attention to that. Their action was fully justified and is justified by the fact that they have sent the task force to back up diplomacy. If diplomacy is successful, the task force has achieved its purpose with, thank God, less loss of life. I ask them not to be moved in any way by that opinion. I ask the Foreign Secretary not to be moved in any way by the frequent cries of "sell-out". He must justify to the House a complete negotiated position. The House will then be able to give its judgment upon it.
Nor are we taking action because the Argentine Government can be described as Fascist or as one that has a disgraceful record of human rights. I sometimes feel that the attitude of some Opposition Members is motivated or coloured by that. We are dealing with this because there has been aggression against the Falkland Islands. If other types of Government had done that, we would have been in exactly the same position.
Fascism or a disgraceful record on human rights should not be allowed to colour the issue. We did not fight Hitler or Mussolini because they were dictators or because of their internal policies. We fought them because they had reached such a state of power that they were a menace to vital British interests. We must always consider vital British interests.
That is a matter for the Government to decide.
When one takes account of vital British interests, one must also take account of the long-term position with regard to what will happen afterwards, however the matter is resolved. That will be of vital importance to us. Quite apart from our interests in Latin America, the future of Antarctica may prove to be of immense value to the countries that have established rights there.
I ask the Government to continue strenuously with their efforts to reach a negotiated solution. I ask them to recognise that people who are in the wrong often have to be given some way out to enable them to reach an agreement because they also have to pay a price—a considerable one—on the United Nations resolution. I urge the Foreign Secretary to stand firm against all the criticisms that are now being made in the press of him and the Government, that they are taking time carrying on negotiations. They are trying to take the House of Commons with them—which, on the whole, they are doing successfully—and are trying to carry European, Commonwealth and world opinion with them also. I urge them to continue strenuously in this, to resist and ignore the criticisms and to do their utmost to secure a negotiated settlement. If, finally, that becomes impossible, the House, the country and the Government must face the fact that alternative action will have to be taken.
You have made an appeal for brevity from Privy Councillors, Mr. Speaker. I do not doubt that the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) would have been much briefer had he not been interrupted so frequently. I spoke in the second debate on the crisis and I shall therefore follow your injunction to be brief. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not give way as readily as the right hon. Member for Sidcup.
Continued public discussion and parliamentary debate of the issue is vital. I agree with the Prime Minister on one essential point. She made it a few days ago and again today. It is that the Government must decide on the negotiations and conduct them. It is not acceptable that the Secretary-General of the United Nations or anyone else has running negotiations with the House. That is impossible.
I dissent from the line that the Front Bench of the official Opposition has taken on the matter. Opposition parties must, of course, be free to criticise, to question and to express their views. I recall that at the time of the negotiations with the illegal regime in Rhodesia the then Labour Administration conducted negotiations on their own. The House of Commons was not consulted on their course. We were invited to reflect on them and debates were held on them after they had been concluded and published in the form of papers. There was never any suggestion then that the House of Commons as a whole should be regularly involved in the discussions.
That is why I very much welcomed the Prime Minister's response to the suggestion that there should be talks with the party leaders. I believe that that is desirable. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) will not conduct a running conversation directly in front of me. It is impossible to make a speech if they continue to conduct a conversation under the same microphone.
Order. Before taking the hon. Gentleman's point of order, I shall say that it is difficult when the same microphone is involved. I should not like it, and I have noticed that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) does not like it when others interrupt him. All of us are entitled to be heard in the House. This matter is far too grave and serious to try to prevent any view from being heard.
First, I have not made any complaint when hon. Members have heckled or intervened in my speeches. Indeed, it has been argued by some that I positively enjoy it. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman's speech did not represent anything to me in terms of the debate. I am not that keen on listening to him, and if I happen—
My objection was not to the hon. gentleman conducting a conversation, but to the fact that it was immediately in front of me and under the same microphone, making it impossible for me to make my speech.
Order. If the hon. Member for Bolsover will not keep quite, I shall have no recourse but to ask him to leave the Chamber, because I am determined that free speech shall continue in this Chamber.
As I was saying, private discussions between the leaders of the parties on this issue are important. The Prime Minister's discussions with my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and myself have in no way compromised our right to speak in the House and to say what we wish about the Government's policy. If the leaders of the official Opposition availed themselves of the same opportunity, they would find themselves free to ask any questions that they wished on the diplomatic initiatives and on the military situation.
In my view it is not right for the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to come to the House and ask about the position of ships or the exact stage of negotiations. It would be helpful for the conduct of these debates in the future if the official Opposition aw. fled themselves of the opportunity that the Prime Minister has offered. [Interruption.] It is a very strange principle of parliamentary democracy that an Opposition should be free through ignorance to talk nonsense.
On the substance of the negotiations at present, I believe that the Government's attitude is correct. They are right to maintain their insistence that there can be no substantial negotiations on the issues themselves until there is a verified withdrawal of the Argentine troops. We fully support that.
On the other three main issues, the Government were right to make adjustments in their original stance before the House. They are right to accept that the interim administration that may follow the withdrawal of the Argentines may be an international rather than a British one. That represents some change in the Government's position, but, as the right hon. Member for Sidcup has said, it is a sensible measure of flexibility.
Secondly, when the Prime Minister says that sovereignty may be negotiable, she is not saying anything new. Attempts to discuss the title of sovereignty, to use the phrase reported to the House in December 1980, have always been part of all Governments' policies. Once normality is restored to the Falkland Islands, it is right that that should be negotiated in an amicable way in the interests of the islanders themselves and of the continued development of the islands.
Thirdly, the Government are right to be talking now in terms of the vital importance of the interests and wishes of the islanders. Like the right hon. Member for Sidcup, I believe that it was a mistake earlier to refer to their views as being somehow paramount over any other consideration.
The importance of external opinion should not be underrated. European opinion, not only European Governments but the European Parliament, which has twice passed resolutions on this—I am glad to say that this was on the initiative of the Liberal group—is in full support of resolution 502 and in full condemnation of the Argentine position. It is important that European Governments support us, particularly on the economic front. When one considers that 40 per cent. of the Argentine population are of Italian descent, one realises the enormous significance of the support that the Italian Government have given us, as have others. The Government are right to stress the solidarity of European opinion.
With regard to public opinion in this country, I hope that we shall always retain the right, both as Members of Parliament and as members of the public, to criticise programmes put out by the BBC or the IBA. I did not see the "Panorama" programme, but many whose views I respect did not like it. It is quite another matter, however, to conduct a hysterical war against the authority of the BBC and the independence of its reporting and to suggest that it is somehow full of traitors.
Like the right hon. Member for Sidcup, I believe that the Government should ignore completely hysterical newspapers which now feel that they must react as though they were about to be deprived of a war which they have tried to build up in the public mind as a desirable outcome.
Therefore, the Government are right in their three-pronged strategy—to negotiate, to retain and extend solidarity on economic sanctions, and to back up the military net around the islands. Although the Foreign Secretary did not dwell on economic sanctions, I think that one of the dificulties is that in Buenos Aires we are not necessarily dealing with rational people who are open to normal argument. We should all be conscious of that.
I make two last points about the long term. First, we should not lose sight of the fact that the House will have to return to the defence implications of what has happened. Leaving aside the subject of weaponry on our ships, which the Select Committee on Defence is now considering, there is the whole question of how much of our defence budget will be pre-empted by the commitment to Trident and the extent to which our shipyards will be committed to Trident-bearing submarines as opposed to further expansion in hunter-killers.
When Ministers refer to the islanders as being under the heel of the Fascist junta, it should be remembered that we were happily selling arms to that same Fascist junta not long ago. Moreover, the Exocet missile, which has frequently been referred to as a "fire and forget" weapon, might also be referred to as an "export and forget" weapon. There is a need for at least a European initiative to control and register the sale of arms to third countries. Indeed, I should like such an initiative to extend to the whole of NATO and eventually to the international community, as Hans-Dietrich Genscher has suggested. There should be a United Nations register on the sale of arms.
Finally, the House must not forget that the cost of this exercise for this country is extremely heavy both in lives and in financial terms. When it is all over, we shall have to decide whether we should have the kind of commission that was set up by the House in 1916 after the Dardanelles campaign to examine the origins of this conflict and exactly how it arose. We must never lose sight of the fact that what we have been discussing in these repeated debates is the greatest debacle in our foreign and defence policy for 25 years.
It seems that today there is tri-partisan agreement with the Government in their diplomacy to try to restore the Falkland Islands without resorting to too much force. I am sure that that is what the country would wish.
What I have not quite understood from either of the Opposition speeches, however, is what would happen if the junta in Buenos Aires refused to accept our minimum conditions. The Opposition Front Bench seemed to suggest that in that case we should continue the blockade. the whole House, or certainly anyone with naval experience, such as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), knows that to continue such a blockade over a long period without air superiority can be extremely dangerous, especially when there are two submarines still on the loose.
I should like to ask the Opposition what they would do in the event of the refusal of the junta to accept our minimum conditions. Would they then support a landing in the Falkland Islands—not, I suggest, as the press has said, a direct assualt on Port Stanley, which I think is highly unlikely, but a landing which I believe could be made on West Falkland or even East Falkland, unopposed, and which possibly would not even be discovered for some time? We should then have troops ashore. In my view, that would give our diplomacy much more strength, because both British and Argentine forces would be in place on the Falkland Islands. Pressure could then be exerted with the minimum of force. The country would like to know the answers to that question from both the Opposition spokesmen who have spoken today.
This is our fifth emergency debate on the Falkland Islands. To some extent, of course, it is a rehash of what we have already discussed. Again, to some extent, we are speaking in a vacuum. We have brought the arguments up to date, but we do not know where we are going from here, because that depends very much on what happens in Argentina. Therefore, I want to develop a new line of argument. I hope that the House will bear with me. As leader of our delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly, I believe that important lessons can be learnt by NATO from the operations that have already been conducted in the south Atlantic around the Falkland Islands.
Let us consider central Europe. The House will agree, I think, that the real threat comes from the Warsaw Pact countries. The threat in Europe on land comes from the fact that the Warsaw Pact armour outnumbers that of NATO by three to one, and that that could be increased at a break-out point. Therefore, it is essential to get reinforcements from this country, Canada and the United States to central Europe before war breaks out. Of course, we all hope that war never happens, but we must realise that it could happen.
So we must use the warning time properly—to use a technical term. Warning time was expected to be about three weeks. Now it is generally agreed that it could be as short as three days. The use of warning time depends on our political guts, the political courage of politicians in the Parliaments of the NATO nations, to mobilise before the balloon goes up, to get reinforcements in place, and thus probably prevent the outbreak of the Third World War.
In such circumstances, I can imagine the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), and that military expert, Arthur Scargill, saying straight away "We must not mobilise, because that would be provocative to the Soviet Union. We must not do anything to exacerbate the situation, or increase tension. We must appeal to the United Nations". It would then be left too late, and the Soviet tanks would then rumble across Europe.
What does all that have to do with the Falkland Islands? I suggest that NATO and, in particular, the Soviet Union, already have lessons to learn from what has happened in the South Atlantic. First, there was a misappreciation of the intelligence of the movement of the Argentine forces. I shall not go into the reasons for that. We must not have any misappreciation of intelligence of any movement of Soviet forces in Europe, because any attack that they might decide to launch would be done under cover of a major maritime exercise such as Okean and manoeuvres in East Germany or Poland.
The second lesson is that we in this country have managed to mobilise a fleet and transfer it from peace to war conditions in no more than three days. It was an unprecedented exercise, and must cause the Soviet Union to pause and realise that we can use the warning time, and that we can get troops and ships where they are needed in times of tension, and thus, I hope, prevent war. We have taken up merchant ships and, for all I know, civilian aircraft. That was obviously done with early preparation and with the complete co-operation of the trade unions. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the North Atlantic Assembly recommended—if I remember rightly—some five years ago, that every NATO nation should pass legislation to enable it to take up merchant shipping, civilian aircraft, and their crews without mobilisation. The House owes a debt of gratitude to the achievements of the dockland workmen, particularly in Chatham and Portsmouth, for the magnificent efforts they have made, when many of them had redundancy notices in their pockets, and also to the crews of the merchant ships men and women who volunteered, almost 100 per cent., to go into the danger areas with the troops in the liners that were taken up as troop transports.
The lessons to be learnt are that there is a unity in this nation. Indeed, that has been shown to a large extent in the House this afternoon. Above all, there is a political will on the part of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as has been demonstrated so strongly recently. I believe that it would be followed by other Western leaders such as President Reagan, President Mitterrand, or Chancellor Schmidt. That must be lesson number one for the Soviet Union.
Now I shall deal briefly with some of the tactical lessons which the Soviet Union and others can learn from what has happened so far in the Falkland Islands. The first is that we have now entered the missile age. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was right when he said in the House last year that he would give priority to weapon systems. We can be proud of the weapons that this country has managed to produce.
Sea-skimming missiles are very much in our minds at present. Hon. Members will know that foreign navies, such as the American, Italian and Spanish, have developed rapid firing guns with proximity fuses, to shoot down these missiles. The Americans, for instance, have a six-barrelled Gatling gun, the Vulcan Phalanx, which has a range of about 1,500 metres and a rate of fire of 3,000 rounds per minute. So if they hit the missile, at so short a range the remains of the missile would probably damage any unarmoured ship.
This country, and this country alone, has developed an anti-missile missile. That is something of which we should be proud. Hon. Members will know that the CWS 25, built by British Aerospace and Marconi, is in the Broadsword class frigates, that it took no less than 13 years to develop, and that it always has to be improved as technology advances. However, it is heavy. The six-barrelled launcher weighs about 35 tons. At the moment it also has some deficiencies in radar. The point that I am trying to make, and one that has frequently appeared in the press, is that it is not possible to have a heavyweight Sea Wolf and a Sea Dart in a small ship. That would need a ship of about 6,000 or 7,000 tons, which is twice the size of our existing destroyers. There is no question of fitting both weapon systems to the type 42 destroyer, as was suggested in the press recently.
However there is the new lightweight Sea Wolf, which weighs only 6¼ tons and is comparatively cheap and can therefore be fitted to any warship, Royal Fleet auxiliary or merchant ship. This should be developed with the maximum urgency. It is a great credit to British Aerospace and Marconi, which have also had successes with other systems such as the Sting Ray torpedo, the Sea Eagle and the Rapier. It shows the degree of advanced technology in British industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will undertake to push ahead with the development of this lightweight Sea Wolf, which will have export potential throughout the world.
I shall say a brief word about the remaining aspects of the tactical lessons that can be learnt. First, we should remember that the Navy of today has been designed for anti-submarine warfare in the North Atlantic. That is a partnership of maritime patrol aircraft, hunter-killer submarines, small ships with anti-submarine helicopters, and Buccaneers with Sea Eagle operating from shore bases. Suddenly, this fleet is transported to the South Atlantic-8,000 miles away. I do not believe that any fleet in history has had to operate with such long lines of communication, and it has done it extremely well.
The problem facing our forces at the moment is, of course, lack of air superiority. Had "Ark Royal" and "Eagle" been in commission today, the situation in the South Atlantic would be very different from what it is. However, we can take great credit for the development of the Harrier and the fact that it has been proved that this vertical take-off aircraft can deal with supersonic aircraft. That will be an important factor in any military developments in the Falkland Islands as Harriers ashore can give us the needed air cover.
As chairman of the Royal Marine parliamentary group, I would pay tribute to the Royal Marines, who have so far been the main troops engaged in fighting in the Falklands. I hope that the House will allow me to remind it of the words of Lord St. Vincent 200 years ago.:
I never knew an appeal made to them for honour, courage and loyalty, that they did not more than realise my highest expectations.
That statement is as true today as it was then. I also congratulate my right hon, Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on reprieving the two LPDs "Fearless" and "Intrepid" before these operations took place. One can see the important role that they are now playing.
There are other weapon systems such as Sea Skua which is already being used effectively. There is a danger from the two modern German-built submarines, but I understand from the press that the Stingray torpedo, which is the most advanced in world, has been taken to the South Atlantic. The Argentine submarines must be feeling anxious about that.
The mobilisation of civilian assets will be extremely important in central Europe—for example, using German lorries to supplement the military effort—and we have shown how we can accomplish that in a maritime context by calling up container ships and tankers and converting the liners such as the QE2. Presumably the three helicopter platforms with which she was fitted were already prepared, as we managed to dispatch all those ships to the South Atlantic at short notice.
The BBC has been mentioned and I shall not enter that controversy. However, I suggest to the House that the problem that we must face is that of a non-war. It reminds one of Suez and Vietnam. War has not been declared, which means that the Government do not have the control that they would have in a proper shooting war. We hope that the Falklands will not become a proper shooting war, but one must remember that many people believe that the Americans failed to achieve their aim in Vietnam because of the television set. I attended a talk by an American major who had been captured by the Vietcong. He said that the worst thing when he was being brainwashed was being presented with a Congressional Record and told what his own congressmen were saying about that so-called unjust war. I have no doubt that some of the utterances of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East will be used in the same way by the Argentines.
What was really impressive was that the major's wife said that, when her husband was captured, the "peaceniks", as she called them, said that if she did not demonstrate with them her husband would receive no mail, and that, when the prisoners were released, he would be the last to leave. Psychological warfare needs careful consideration by the Government, but not in the immediate future but in the long term. I hope that that is one lesson that will be learnt from the Falkland Islands.
I conclude as I began. We all hope that we can end this disagreement with Argentina by diplomacy. Many of us believe that that is not possible because the junta cannot accept the minimum conditions that we demand. If it does so, the generals will fall from office and such a dictatorship preserves its own power to the utmost extent. Therefore, we must face up to the fact, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, that force may have to be used. It is no good threatening force if we are not prepared to use it, but I believe that force can be used in the Falkland Islands without the bloodbath that the press is so keen to talk about.
When Mr. Brezhnev dies and new rulers take over at the Kremlin, they may well be faced with a choice between the disintegration of the Soviet empire and aggression. They will choose the latter if they believe that they can get away with it. The real lesson of the Falkland Islands is that we must not allow aggressors to succeed. The lesson that we have learnt so far, is that the courage of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the support that we have received from the Commonwealth, the EEC and the United States of America will demonstrate to the rulers in the Kremlin that they cannot get away with aggression. That will do much to prevent the outbreak of World War Three.
I agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party in his confirmation of the constitutional position as it was re-emphasised by the Prime Minister at Question Time on Tuesday and again today, which is that the prerogative of war and peace and of treaty-making vested in the executive is exercised by the Government subject only to retaining the subsequent and continuing confidence of the House. We are, after all, not a committee of security of a revolutionary regime, sitting in daily session to attempt to manage the affairs of a campaign. We are the nation talking to the Government.
However, there is a counterpart to the Government's rights, an implication of their constitutional position. It is not just that they continuously maintain contact with the House and, as far as possible, take the House into their confidence; it is also that they do not change the major outlines of policy upon which, with the approval of the House, they have acted without the change being clearly understood and equally approved by the House. It is because, as I believe, such a change, which the House has not approved and the country has not approved through the House, is taking place—perhaps has taken place already—that today's debate is especially timely.
There is no doubt what were the objects with which the dispatch of the task force to the South Atlantic was approved at the beginning of April. They were to repossess the Falkland Islands, to restore British administration of the islands and to ensure that the decisive factor in the future of the islands should be the wishes of the inhabitants. Whether those objects were right or wrong, those were the objects for which the force was dispatched, and dispatched with the support of the House as well as of the country, for we must remember that we have conducted all debates upon the motion for the Adjournment, whereas, if there had been any question of a substantial body of opinion in the House which did not approve either those actions or the grounds on which they were undertaken, nothing could have prevented a motion being placed before the House and a decision arrived at. No part, no organised part, of the House can contract out of the fact that it was with the support of the House and of the country behind it that we dispatched the task force and incurred the probability—we have already experienced the reality—of casualties inflicted by us and upon us.
Last Friday, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a statement to the House. In it, he set out the terms of an interim agreement, as he called it, to which we had agreed. He said:
We signified that we were willing to accept and implement immediately an interim agreement".
The agreement was not acceptable to the other party and therefore did not come into force; but we do know from the statements of the Foreign Secretary in the House what it was that was accepted. So far as I understand that interim agreement, it is in breach, if not in contradiction, of each of the three objects with which the task force was dispatched to the South Atlantic.
There was to be
complete and supervised withdrawal of Argentine forces …matched by corresponding withdrawal of British forces".
There is no withdrawal of British force that "corresponds" to the withdrawal from the territory of the islands of those
who have unlawfully occupied them. We have a right to be there; those are our waters, the territory is ours and we have the right to sail the oceans with our fleets whenever we think fit. So the whole notion of a "corresponding withdrawal", a withdrawal of the only force which can possibly restore the position, which can possibly ensure any of the objectives which have been talked about on either side of the House, is in contradiction of the determination to repossess the Falklands.
Then there is to be the
appointment of a small group of countries, acceptable to both sides, which would …undertake the interim administration.
We had been told that our object was to restore British administration. Administration by a selected "group of countries", however agreeable to the Argentines or ourselves, is not British administration, and everyone knows that it is not British administration. Everyone also knows—if we here pretend that we do not know it, there is no such pretence out of doors—that such an interim arrangement prejudices, and is intended to prejudice, the eventual outcome against this country.
As to the eventual outcome, it is to be
a definitive agreement …without prejudice … to the wishes of the islanders."—[Official Report, 7 May 1982; Vol. 23, c. 394.]
A "definitive agreement" arrived at in those circumstances, after those preliminaries, is not compatible with what we made the overriding justification and paramount factor—the status which the Falkland Islanders voluntarily choose for themselves.
Does the right hon. Member not agree that his attack, which is in fact an attack upon what the Foreign Secretary said, is not in any way in conformity with resolution 502 which, after all, was drafted by the British delegation and which in paragraph 3 calls on the Governments of the Argentine 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?
If one side is not prepared to make any concessions whatever, how could a diplomatic solution be achieved?
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that resolution 502, much though we have made of it, is internally contradictory. Indeed the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said as much a little while ago within the hearing of the House. In my understanding, it was clearly stated at the beginning of this affair that, after securing resolution 502, we were acting in pursuance of our undoubted and inherent right of self-defence, when our own territory had been overrun by an aggressor.
The fact with which I find myself faced is that the Foreign Secretary on behalf of this country has agreed to a series of propositions which differ radically from the basis upon which this whole operation was undertaken and on which it was supported by the country. If people doubt that, there is a simple experiment by which they can verify it. Let them suppose that all this is carried out, and then let them visualise the task force sailing back up the Atlantic and into Portsmouth harbour. Would those who sent them, would those who comprise that force, say "We achieved the purposes for which we set sail"? Of course not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"] I leave the House to judge; but it is a fair test and they know what the answer to that would be.
The Foreign Secretary says, correctly of course, that since this agreement did not come into effect—there was no agreement on the other side—therefore it is void and we are not bound by it. I dare say that technically we are not bound by it, any more than in trade union negotiations an offer made without prejudice is binding if the negotiations do not succeed. But the country and the world have been told through the mouth of the Foreign Secretary that the Government are prepared to accept what six weeks ago was unacceptable, and that the purposes for which our forces are in the South Atlantic and for which they are exposed to loss of life and loss of vessels have been radically altered.
That is contradiction which is entirely unfair to the country and to the forces. They have a right to understand for what purpose we are prepared to engage in a war, to use our forces and to risk the lives of the members of those forces. We cannot turn round afterwards to those men and their relatives and say, "Oh yes, you thought that it was about what we told you at the beginning of April, but it turns out to have been about something different, the basis of which was not approved either by you or your Parliament."
It is now the duty of the Government to restore that unity of Government without which it is unfair to expect the nation or the forces to support such an operation as that in which we are engaged.
It may well be that the Foreign Secretary is not in agreement with his colleagues in the Cabinet. It may be that the divergence to which I have drawn attention and which I believe is indisputable represents an internal difference of opinion in the Government. If so, the right hon. Gentleman can resolve it. If he is not agreed with his colleagues on the purposes for which this operation is being conducted, there is an honourable course that he can take.
But it is not only to the right hon. Gentleman that this is addressed, nor upon him alone that the duty rests. The supreme duty to maintain the unity of the Government rests upon the Prime Minister. She owes it to the country, to the forces and to the Falkland Islanders to restore the unity of the Government, to restore the clarity of purpose upon the basis of which the whole operation began and in the name of which alone we in the House are entitled to call upon our forces and our people for sacrifice.
Towards the end of the Foreign Secretary's interesting and useful speech, I wished to ask him a question on a point of clarification. When he was talking of certain immovable conditions in negotiation, he said that one of those was Argentine withdrawal matched by our own ceasefire if there was verification of mutual withdrawal. The Peruvian proposals and the Peruvian proposals that were discussed with Mr. Haig both contained two points followed by three others, which present greater difficulties. I understand that. If I am wrong in my understanding of those two points, I hope that the Foreign Secretary will tell me. The two points in common between the Peruvian proposals and those discussed between Peru and Mr. Haig were, first, a period of truce, described in discussions with Mr. Haig as an immediate cessation of hostilities, and, secondly, the mutual withdrawal of military and naval forces. If the Foreign Secretary is saying that a period of truce with the mutual withdrawal of forces is an acceptable condition, and the remaining items, which I recognise present some problems, are negotiable, it is important that the House should be fully aware of that. As the Foreign Secretary is not contradicting me, I take it that I have interpreted him correctly.
I explained last Friday as far as I could the basis upon which the arrangement was made which did not come to fruition last week. I cannot go further than that. As far as I recall, the word "truce" does not come into it.
I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to clarify further what he said this afternoon. I am relating what he said this afternoon to the Peruvian and the Peruvian-Haig proposals. As I understood it, he said this afternoon that if there was a verification of mutual withdrawal, we could accept a ceasefire.
I said that there cannot be a withdrawal without a ceasefire, or the other way round. There must be a method of verification for that process. That has not been established in the current case. Under the previous proposals there was an arrangement for such verification, but in this case that has not yet been negotiated.
I am a little disappointed. I thought that the Foreign Secretary had taken us a little further this afternoon than he has.
I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends believe in a mutual truce. The truce that is mentioned in the early-day motion that has been signed by some 80 hon. Members is not a unilateral truce. A truce must involve the other side. We believe that there must be negotiations through the United Nations. There must be a peaceful solution, not a war.
I recognise the logic that if one is against a military operation and yet opposed to Argentine aggression against the Falkland Islands, one must have another answer. That could be economic sanctions. The argument against that has always been that economic sanctions have never worked. However, we have not tried them often. We tried them with Rhodesia but Rhodesia did not have a foreign exchange problem. Rhodesia had plenty of foreign exchange and it had South Africa to call on if any rescue operation were needed.
As the Foreign Secretary said, Argentina needs $3 billion of new loans this year. The Argentine debt varies according to the newspaper one reads, from $32 billion to $34 billion. It has always been recognised as one of five countries with such an outstanding debt ratio problem that any default in its payments to the banks could bring one of the major international banks tumbling down. The financial element in economic sanctions could be of the greatest importance.
This afternoon the Foreign Secretary said that economic sanctions are going well. He said that there has been no single public sector new loan so far. I should like to draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to the fact that it is not the public sector loans that are at issue here. The $32 billion or $34 billion that are owed are owed to the private banking sector, some of them British and some of them American banks.
A report in The Daily Telegraph on 26 April 1982—a paper which commands the support of Conservative Members—summarised it in this way:
As Keynes once said, if I owe a bank £100 I have a problem, but if I owe a bank a million pounds, the bank has the problem".
The article goes on to summarise the amount owed by Argentina. It has a small headline saying "Panic in money markets". It says:
If Argentina was forced to default then leading British and American banks, including household names such as Barclays and Lloyds, would be in serious difficulties. Their present capital resources would be stretched to have to deal with bad debts of $17 billion".
The article goes on to say:
Even if Argentina does not default, the fact that Britain has already frozen Argentine deposits held in London banks still has possible implications for the City of London. From the City's point of view the worry is that countries not directly involved in the present dispute will shift deposits away from London to other financial centres such as Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg which might offer greater political independence.
Those of us who believe that there should be no war on this issue have argued from the outset that the task force should not have been sent because, once sent, it would create its own momentum. I know that that is a matter of great disagreement. Now that the Foreign Secretary has placed negotiations in the hands of the United Nations, which I think we can agree should have happened earlier, I hope that they will be successful. However, if he is hesitating about the pressure that needs to be brought to bear upon Argentina I ask him seriously to consider the alternative to war. That alternative could be effective financial sanctions, even though they might damage the banking community in Britain or America.
The Foreign Secretary and the Government must face that issue. It is no use saying that we will sacrifice the lives of our forces if there is an alternative, although it might mean many difficulties for the private banking sector. The second option of financial constraint has not yet been exercised. I say again that it is no use at all the Foreign Secretary saying that there have been no new public sector loans. They do not matter at all. It is the private banking sector that counts.
I hope that the negotiations will succeed. We were told by Mr. Haig last weekend that he feared a new and terrible wave of fighting; another bloody outbreak of fighting. We have been told by some of our Community friends, such as the Dutch, that there is a question of disproportion in this matter.
This is only the second debate on the subject in which I have intervened and I hope that I have not abused my position as Privy Councillor. In my first intervention some two weeks ago I said that there were many matters on which we were all agreed. One was that Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands was wrong. The second was that the matter had to be settled by negotiation as under Security Council resolution 502. However, I add this. Resolution 502 includes a clause about the cessation of hostilities. A good deal of international legal argument would support my view that those three points are not interdependent and that we have as great an obligation to observe the clause about the cessation of hostilities, as the Argentines have to withdraw from the Falkland Islands.
There is also agreement that we are concerned about our people on the Falkland Islands. We are also concerned about the people in Argentina. I wish to make two detailed points. I gave notice to the Home Secretary today that I would raise one of those points in the House if I was called to speak. Nobel peace prize winner Perez Esquivel is either in Paris or Brussels today, having so far been refused a visa to come to Britain. He is a peace person. [Interruption.] Perhaps Nobel peace prize winners merit only the contempt of some Conservative Members, but they command my respect. It would be most unfortunate if Perez Esquivel—partly for reasons of his own safety—was not allowed to come to Britain. I hope that the Foreign Office and the Home Secretary will reconsider the matter and allow him to come here.
The Government and Conservative Members have made the great discovery that Argentina has a particularly nasty and brutal Fascist regime. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will pass on to the Home Secretary the relevant fact that between 1974 and 1979 the Labour Government had a programme for refugees from Chile and Argentina. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and I initiated the programme jointly—with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—when I was at the Ministry of Overseas Development. As soon as the Conservative Party came to power, it stopped that programme. Not only did the Conservative Government continue and increase arms sales and not only did the chairman of the Conservative Party go to Argentina to try to promote further trade, but they stopped the programme that had helped the victims of Fascism and oppression in Argentina. I am not sure how many Conservative Members are aware of what their Government did to that programme, but I ask that it be restored forthwith.
Naturally and correctly, there has been much discussion about the principles involved in the issue. Several principles are involved. There are different views about the principle of sovereignty. The Foreign Secretary implied that negotiations could take place about that. There is also the principle of self-determination and the principle, under the Committee of 24 at the United Nations, of independence. A principle is also involved in any consideration of what should be done if an act of aggression is committed against a piece of territory that historically happens to be British.
There is one other principle. Those of us who have reservations and doubts about the Government's judgments, and who believe that there should not be a war and that there must be a peaceful negotiation, say that if the world, in an age of high technology warfare, is to have a future, the principle of resolving disputes by negotiation must stand supreme. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give his full attention to that principle in the course of the next few days.
I shall follow some of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He referred to restoring the country's unity and to the clarity of our purpose. To be as brief as possible, I shall concentrate on the longer-term effects of such factors on the future of Britain, on the longer-term impact of the means by which the Government reach a settlement—whether diplomatic or military—and on the nature of that settlement, both interim and final.
The decisions that the Government take in the next few days may well affect our future for a long time. Those decisions may bolster our new-found self-confidence, or destroy it. They will confirm or deny our value as sound and reliable allies and partners in the world. They could well affect—to meet a point raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—the attitude of future Governments to our foreign policy and their freedom to act.
The House and the country have been behind the Government in their willingness to bend over backwards to meet the Argentines in negotiations and in their remarkable firmness of intent. It is only recently that some doubts have arisen about that firmness of intent. Those doubts are partly a result of the long delay. Delay tends to weaken resolution and the longer action is put off, the harder it is to take it.
The Government are right to negotiate. Negotiation means compromise but the extent to which such compromise is justifiable depends, at least in part, on how much movement—to use a trade union term—one can get from the other side and to what extent Argentina is willing to meet our points and does not ask us to make three concessions to every one that she is prepared to consider.
There are four main points at issue in the negotiations and in the future conduct of the dispute. On the handling of those four points, the Government will be judged in Britain and Britain will be judged in the world.
The first point is sovereignty. Because of our previous attitude, some longer-term concessions could be made, but not if Argentina seeks some sort of actual or implied guarantee that the negotiations will lead to the concessions and to a settlement on any terms. If, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary suggested, we embark after the interim period on negotiations for the longer term that take months, we shall embark on a course that can end only with agreement with Argentina. Our task force will have gone, our sanctions will have been removed and we shall have no more levers. Therefore, we shall be forced to reach some agreement. If we follow this path in negotiating, I hope that we shall ensure in the interim that the United Nations, our partners in Europe and our other allies consider that fact and will undertake during the longer-term negotiations, to help us avoid this trap. That is especially true if, as I suspect, we have to make considerable concessions to world opinion. If that is the case world opinion should make it plain that they will continue to support us.
We cannot prevent the Argentine claim to sovereignty or deny that in the past we have been willing to negotiate on it. We have responded to the invasion and use of force by Argentina by saying that force must not succeed. The Government must not now virtually guarantee what amounts to a nearly complete Argentine success. We can perhaps compromise on the second point, that of administration, provided that the islanders are adequately protected and are not faced ultimately with no other choice but either accepting an Argentine administration or getting out. Whatever interim arrangements are made—partly perhaps to satisfy world opinion—they must not imply that Argentina will be the ultimate administrator come what may.
Thirdly, originally it was the islanders' wishes that were paramount. I believe that gave them too powerful a veto, for it is obvious from a practical point of view that wishes cannot be paramount. The United Nations used the phrase that their interests should be paramount. I disagree with the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I do not see how we can abandon the principle of self-determination, at least in its negative sense. It is impossible to say that every community throughout the country or world can choose which country to belong to. We embark upon a dangerous journey if we say that some communities such as Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, will not be handed over to another Government without their full consent, but that others can be. We must not abandon the principle because we have not the will to carry it through.
Fourthly, I am not happy about my right hon. Friend's concept of a "stand off' of the British forces when he talks about the Argentine withdrawal and the possibility of a ceasefire. We must have a British presence on the islands. If the task force is withdrawn I am sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates the difficulties that would be created if the rest of the world is unwilling, and we are unable, to take any action should the Argentines default on a phased withdrawal.
I believe that the future credibility of the Government and the country depends on the ultimate result of what is done now on these four points of principle. Initially, the Government were firm on them. They have inevitably moved from those principles to some extent, rightly as some believe, wrongly in the view of others. All democracies which negotiate with intransigent tyrants, such as the present Argentine Government, at some stage have to ask the question: when does compromise become concession? At what stage does concession become appeasement? When does legitimate compromise over conflicting interests become the shameful surrender of vital principles? Those are the fundamental questions which now face Parliament and the Government.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have made it clear throughout the proceedings that we are concerned with principle rather than with possessions. I believe that this distinction, together with the task force, has made negotiation possible. They have stated their principles clearly, although not always consistently. I understand why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary can say no more than he has, but in his account today I felt that there was some danger that the interim arrangements involving withdrawal of the task force, no British administration, and no military presence on the islands, could mean that the long-term negotiations would be prejudiced in favour of Argentina.
We must still hope for a peaceful solution, but the time available is not unlimited. We cannot wait indefinitely and still expect to take effective action if force should be required. I hope that, after all the Government have said and all the task force has done, we do not seek what used to be called peace at any price.
If we have to continue the present use of force and perhaps ultimately consider an invasion, we must view the possibility of casualties with abhorrence. But I believe that the people would accept casualties that result from firm action after the failure of genuine negotiations to try to achieve a peaceful solution. They would accept casualties more readily than they would accept terms which they judged to be a surrender of the principles on which the task force was dispatched.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) seemed to talk in terms of comparatively few casualties, and the right hon. Gentleman is doing the same. The Argentines have a very tough marine corps of at least 6,000 officers and men who are highly regarded by professional marines in this country. The conscripts will fight as if they are fighting in a holy war. There will be massive casualties; that fact should be faced.
I have deliberately not embarked on any military consideration. I do not consider myself qualified to make those judgments. I am not capable of assessing how many casualties there are likely to be. The force commanders will assess that and they will take the appropriate decision. I believe that the number of casualties that might occur after the failure of negotiations—I am not specifying what military action will be taken—would be accepted by the people if they resulted from firm action rather than from terms which they would judge to be surrender, and which would appear to make the role of the task force an empty bluff.
I believe that the worst result would be the retreat that could come after or because of indecisive or ineffective action or action that is started too late. That sort of muddle would not impress world opinion. It has been made clear by all speakers that by world opinion we mean the opinion of those countries which are capable of damaging British interests or threatening our success in the Falkland Islands either by hostile action or by withdrawing necessary support.
World opinion will respond to success and, in the end, view with contempt too great a retreat from principles which, after all, are the principles of the United Nations as well as our own. Such a retreat would have a disastrous effect on our credibility as a NATO ally and as a European partner and on our own self-confidence.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) referred to defending interests, rather than opposing dictators as happened on a previous occasion. At that time it was a Conservative Prime Minister who negotiated a peaceful diplomatic solution that he believed would bring peace with honour as well as peace in our time. In fact, he achieved neither—only the last of what were many acts of appeasement of an aggressor who could have been stopped earlier. In their anxiety to get the Falkland Islands problem settled as quickly and as peacefully as possible the Government must not lose sight of other British interests in the world and British credibility at home and abroad.
If this fifth debate is to have value, it is important that two messages go from this House. The first is that the House broadly accepts the negotiating framework which the Government have developed over the past few weeks and which has been outlined by the Prime Minister in answer to questions, and by the Foreign Secretary. The second is that the House remains resolved that, if Argentina remains intransigent on the central question of the withdrawal of its forces and the occupation of the islands, we are prepared to exert the full range of pressure on the Argentine Government that we have been building up over the past few weeks.
I do not quibble with anything in the Government's negotiating position. If I have a criticism to make, it is that I wish that some of the flexibility that they are now showing was available to Secretary Haig in his own negotiating mission. That was when the maximum pressure was being exerted on the Argentines. The Government's negotiating position deserves the endorsement of the House. It is sensible to ask for a clear-cut timetable for a phased, verifiable withdrawal.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that the withdrawal must be total before the task force is moved. Words slightly fail me in describing the right hon. Gentleman's position, but "rigid in the extreme" are perhaps the words to describe it. His whole speech was that of a pedant who seems to believe that, having set one's objectives—the Prime Minister described the Government's objectives in her first speech—one does not shift from them, compromise, or enter into negotiations with any flexibility. The speeches of the right hon. Member for Down, South bear an increasing resemblance to those of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn).
It would be utter folly for the Government not to have flexibility in their negotiating position. The second flexibility that the Government have introduced into their negotiation position is a readiness to accept an interim administration. No right hon. or hon. Member who would not prefer to see a British administration completely restored to the islands. The Prime Minister was right to set that as the objective, but, taking into account what has happened, it would be utter folly for the Government to hold to that position and not be prepared to contemplate an interim administration with third party representation. The Foreign Secretary was right on that.
The right hon. Gentleman's position on the third issue seems to be both principled and correct. Of course the issue of sovereignty can be discussed, but we cannot enter into discussions with the outcome prejudged by the Argentine. The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) accepted that position, but he reminded the House, and was right to do so, that successive Governments have been ready to discuss an accommodation with Argentina. One of those accommodations was a readiness to discuss the Argentine claim to sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. That did not prejudge the negotiations. It did not prejudice our position of accepting that sovereignty was a fact of life and was retained by the United Kingdom, but that we were ready to discuss it in the interests of the Falkland Islands.
When dealing with this matter, I found a readiness by the Falkland Islanders themselves to recognise that it was in their interests for some form of accommodation to be reached with the Argentines. They were aware of the vulnerability and uncertainty of their position. They wanted certainty, but they did not want an accommodation that prejudiced their interests. The House must adhere to maintaining the interests of the Falkland Islanders.
Most people have never accepted that there should be an absolute right of veto by the Falkland Islanders. However, we should not spend too much time arguing about that. They are sensible people and they will adjust to the changed circumstances that they now face. They are asking us to take sensible precautions for their long-term future.
The Foreign Secretary put forward a framework for negotiations. I do not see the semantic distinction of principle that the right hon. Member for Down, South seems to have established between what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said. We have listened to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary. I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister during Question Time. I did not find any difference in wording or in principle from what the Foreign Secretary said. It is to the benefit of the House to hope and believe that the key Ministers who are responsible for the day-to-day negotiations—the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister—are acting as one on this issue. I have no evidence to believe otherwise.
It is obvious, and right, that the House should entrust to those four people—I do not include the chairman of the Conservative Party; that was an unfortunate decision—the responsibility for taking decisions that might have to be taken at short notice. Here I disagree with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). The Government must be in a position to respond to urgent situations. The military situation is fragile. We have seen how vulnerable surface ships are. We have seen the extraordinary power of the battleships of the future—nuclear-powered submarines. The situation can change and the Chiefs of Staff might at any moment want to see those four Ministers. I am sure that the Cabinet, too, has had to accept a great deal of responsibility.
The debate has taken forward the Government's negotiating position. I hope that we will endorse that negotiating position and give the Government the confidence that they will be able to carry with them the majority of the House. It is clear that some Members will not be satisfied with a compromise and who do not want negotiations. But what negotiation is ever conducted in which every word said at the opening of the negotiation marries up with the end of the negotiation? Which trade unionist enters into negotiations without establishing a position and modifying it from time to time? Which employer does not do the same? The same applies to international negotiations. It cannot be otherwise.
As the right hon. Member for Sidcup has reminded us, we have often invoked resolution 502. The three elements of the resolution are ceasefire, withdrawal and diplomatic negotiations. No hon. Member could have endorsed that resolution without realising that negotiations would mean some compromise and give and take.
The central question is what degree of compromise will be involved. I believe as strongly as anyone that there are extremely important issues of principle. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was right to remind the House of the dangers of the Venezuelan and Guyanese territorial dispute. There is the serious dispute between Guatemala and Belize. Throughout my period as Foreign Secretary I lived with the prospect of a Guatemalan invasion of Belize. Belize has become independent, but there is still the prospect of an invasion.
If there were to be a belief in Latin America, or anywhere else in the world, that aggression would meet no response, or would lead merely to a paper formula, many territorial disputes would be unlocked, to the grave disadvantage of us all. We could well see bitter fighting taking place between Chile and Argentina.
The right hon. Member for Sidcup reminded the House that the overall responsibility of the Foreign Secretary, and of the House, is to protect British interests. Those interests have to be considered in the round. There are the interests of honour and there are the obligations that we have to. the Falkland Islanders, and they are precious to us all. Those interests have to be married with the stability of Latin America, the ever-present temptation for the Soviet Union to exploit this episode in a most damaging and divisive way and the necessity of retaining our friendship with and the cohesion of our alliance with the European Community, and of that precious alliance with the United States, which has been tested and not found wanting in this dispute. We could not ask for the support of the United States and then not listen to its advice. We could not ask for it to implement sanctions and then not listen to its views on reasonable compromises and reasonable positions for us to enter into.
At the end of the day the decision will have to be taken by the Government. None of us can guarantee that next week we might not be debating an even graver military situation. I hope that that is not the case.
I hope that we shall be debating a peaceful settlement. I have made my views clear on the escalation of the dispute to involve the Argentine mainland. That would unlock a major escalation in the international climate. To do so would effectively unify the whole of Latin America. In my view no one would ever enter into that escalation unless the entire fleet was in jeopardy. At any moment while we are debating the issue one of our ships could be hit by another Exocet missile. It could be HMS "Invincible" or HMS "Hermes".
There are major military aspects which we do not often discuss. However, we are well aware that few people would put themselves in a box and rule out any military action.
However, there are limits to the extent to which military action can be taken. We must have some idea of what is at risk. What are the risks of casualties? In some instances they could be extremely grave. That factor must be part of a balanced judgment of Britain's interests overall. I believe that the Foreign Secretary is well seized of Britain's interests. I wish him success in the delicate negotiations that will take place over the next few days.
I am well known to have some fairly strong views about the Home Office. Sir Anthony Parson, our United Nations representative, is a liberal-minded but tough-minded man. The same description applies to his deputy. If the discussions and negotiations have to be in their hands, I can think of few better hands. The Foreign Secretary will be well served by those two gentleman, whom I know extremely well, and he will be well advised to listen to their views on the negotiating position and the most that can be brought out from it.
Finally, the Foreign Secretary was well reminded by the right hon. Member for Sidcup—I do not think that he really needed to be reminded—that a successful negotiator provides an escape hatch for the other party and allows him an honourable way out. That is part of successful negotiations. The House should, however, remain resolute on the issue of withdrawal of the occupation forces from the Falkland Islands. If it has to apply extra force to achieve a withdrawal, those of us who have willed the end must be prepard to will the means.
I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I think it might be as well if another Bristol voice is heard from the Labour Benches on this important issue. Bristol is not a naval port but it is a great sea-going place with a notable tradition. However, in these days Bristol is famous mainly for highly developed electronic technology at British Aerospace and in many other associated ancillary enterprises.
Only a few short months ago there were rumours that in pursuit of cutting costs and finding more funds for the purchase of nuclear weapons the Government were considering either cancelling the Sea Wolf missile or retarding its delivery. At any rate, those were the rumours. As I think the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) knows, these fears were brought to the attention of Bristol Members and we made the appropriate representations. I believe that we did so with some success.
It is worth noting that the strongest representations to us came not so much from management—I know that it was very concerned, however—as from shop stewards, trade unionists and the workers in general. They were not moved only by employment considerations. They knew what an effective weapon Sea Wolf could be and how valuable it could be to the Royal Navy. It was Sea Wolf that was used yesterday to drive off the Argentine planes and to bring them down during their attack on our ships.
This is the fifth debate that we have had on the Falkland Islands since 3 April. The situation has evolved and changed since then. I agree that policies must change and adapt correspondingly as long as we do not lose sight of certain essential principles. To me, these principles are three. First, unprovoked armed aggression must be resisted when it is defined as such by the United Nations. I should think that this is now the accepted law of the nations. Secondly, the rights of self-governing free peoples to their own way of life must be upheld. Thirdly, while precedence must be given always to diplomatic methods in resisting and throwing back aggression, the use of force in full or in part is equally lawful.
Force can be applied to resist aggression as in North Korea, where there was a great loss of life. Force can be applied collectively by the United Nations or individually by one nation—in this instance Britain, the victim of the aggression. I shall say nothing of sovereignty; it is much talked about, but I hold the view that national sovereignty can never, in the modern world, be absolute, if we are to have in the long run an overriding world order.
Unfortunately, I could not be present on 3 April, but I have read the Official Report carefully. Much was made of the early blunder by the present Government, who were caught unprepared for the Argentine invasion. That was the dominating theme from both sides of the House on that occasion. The Government were certainly unprepared for the invasion but, as I hope the coming inquiry will show, I believe that the real situation was worse than that. British representatives, both diplomatic and ministerial, had given the Argentine rulers the impression that we were bored with the Falklands. The trigger-happy junta, anxious for its political survival, took this as an invitation to occupy, because they imagined that the door would be left unlocked when they got there.
Since then, the Government, by the dispatch of the task force and great diplomatic activity, have been doing their best to lock the door again, preferably with the illegal occupiers outside. In this effort, approved by world opinion in the main, the Government have the broad support of the Opposition parties. I am not saying that they deserved that support—on their record, I doubt whether they did—but they had it because of the principles involved and because of the common concern for the good of the country and the peace of the world against aggression.
I agree entirely here with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in a later debate on 14 April when he that without the task force there would have been no hope of useful negotiations with the junta in Buenos Aires. He was right about this. General Galtieri and his kind, who have murdered and kidnapped their political opponents at home with impunity for years were not likely to pay attention abroad to words without deeds.
However, backing principles with deeds—faith with works—is never very easy. It is a complicated and arduous business, fraught sometimes with sorrow and disillusionment and always with the threat of possible disaster. I can only say to that pessimism that some of my hon. Friends show that life is always dangerous and uncertain and in war, it is even more so.
I want now to say something about my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I sent a note to him to say that I would be referring to him today if he wished to be present but I understand that he has left for the United States where presumably he will be making a speech. Unlike his Front Bench colleagues, with whom he has served many years in Labour Administrations, his fault—I want to put this as mildly as I can—is that he has given the impression, to his own party particularly, that there is a soft option in this matter, and an easy way out.
"Bring back the task force" my right hon. Friend says, "Some might be killed. Just transfer the sovereignty of the Falklands to the United Nations." It is very easy to say these things—who could disagree with them?—but how difficult to carry them out. I have no doubt that the United Kingdom Government in considering how, in the past, Britain appeared to wish to get rid of the Falklands because they were somewhat of a nuisance, an embarrassment, would accept the transfer of sovereignty to the United Nations. However, is it seriously suggested that the leader of Argentina, and his even more sinister colleagues, who have placed large forces of well-equipped troops in the islands, and have increased their numbers, to dispossess Britain of the sovereignty by occupation, will now hand it over to the United Nations? I cannot believe that for one moment. Why should they? Possession is nine points of the law and they well understand that.
In the meantime, what is to be the future of the British population of the Falklands? The Labour Party conference—that is always accepted in my party as a great authority—had no doubt in 1980 about what should be the proper attitude of this country to the Falkland Islands. It agreed, in the paper "A Socialist Foreign Policy", which was approved by the annual conference and published in 1981:
"Parliamentary policy is that the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands should not be handed over to a regime which violates human and civil rights.
That was straight forward and clear, and, as recently as last month at a meeting of the National Executive Committee
of the party, it was confirmed. I have a number of useful quotes here that would strengthen my argument but as they would take some time I shall use just one:
On behalf of the British Labour movement, the NEC reiterates its full support for the right of the people of the Falkland Islands to live under the sovereignty of their own choice, which is the right of free peoples throughout the world".
Yes, the rights of the Falkland Islanders are important—after all Britain has been in possession of the islands for a great number of years, since 1833. It is said that we took the islands by force from Argentina, but Argentina did not exist at that time. The occupation was part of the long struggle between the rising British empire and the declining Spanish empire. On the fate of the islanders, I am afraid that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East has been notably silent. I read his speeches with care, not only in Hansard but in that famous paper, the Bristol Evening Post. I am sorry to have to say this, but I have to make the point that that is perhaps why his speeches have been so well received and publicised in Argentina by its controlled press and television.
The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), spoke with great balance and penetration and was very solemn. I enjoyed his speech and agreed with much that he had to say. But on one point I disagreed fundamentally with him. It was that ideology, which is not a good word, or the principles of government, which is better, do not matter. I think they do. My view was held in the end in the last war even by Neville Chamberlain who, if I remember it correctly, described the Nazi system as evil. That judgment was put forward even more strongly later by Winston Churchill. The regime in the Argentine is also an evil regime. We all want peace and hope that we are going to obtain it but a diplomatic settlement which bound a free people to a squalid military dictatorship would not have the support of this House. l am sure of that.
My contribution to the debate will be short. Like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) I thought that the objectives in this difficult situation were clear. It is because the clarity appears to be obscured that I intervene in the debate. One of the reasons why it is being obscured is the endless stream of comment which rends to distort everything we do on this matter.
Comment is free, but facts are sacred. What are the facts? On 2 April the Argentine forces took the Falkland Islands. They usurped British territory and British subjects have been forced to live under an alien regime. The subsequent dispatch of the task force and everything that has happened since make sense only if they fulfil two basic aims.
I come back to the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South. It is essential that our soldiers and sailors in the task force know exactly what the objectives are. The two basic objectives are clear and have been made clear from the beginning. They are the withdrawal of the aggressor and the re-establishment of British sovereignty. Without the re-establishment of British sovereignty it is impossible for the Falkland Islanders to exercise their right of self-determination. I cannot believe that a multinational interim regime can achieve that situation for the islanders when they know that the Argentine fleet and forces are just over the horizon.
Anything less means that the aggressor has won. No amount of talk or diplomatic language can disguise that. This is not said in any jingoistic, warmongering posture, but in a clear, cool appreciation of the two vital issues at stake, which are that aggression must not succeed and that self-determination must be upheld. All my life, ever since I can remember anything about politics, self-determination has been an honoured principle within the world community. It governed the founding of the League of Nations and the United Nations after the war. It motivated the relinquishment of our imperial power throughout the world. Where it is denied today we are loud in our condemnation of those situations.
To me there is no more pernicious doctrine than that which says that because there are only 1,800 Falkland Islanders this principle should not apply. Where does it end? Does it end with Gibraltar, with whatever its population is—20,000? Does it end with Ulster, with a population of 1½ million? Does it end, indeed, with Afghanistan and Poland?
As a result of a chapter of accidents—it has been a chapter of accidents, as the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) said—we find ourselves responsible for upholding this principle. It is no good referring to past negotiations or to anything that happened previously. As soon as the first Argentine soldier set foot on the Falkland Islands the position changed completely and any former negotiations were rendered null and void.
In a democracy it is difficult to conduct the sort of operation that is going on as advice and comment swirl around my right hon. Friends. I have the greatest confidence in and admiration for the way in which the Prime Minister and her Ministers have faced the problem. I do not wish to press them tonight, but I urge them—I beg them—to stick firmly to these principles and to take comfort from the understanding and robustness of the British people.
Before the debate started on 3 April, following the disgraceful attack by the Fascist junta, I was worried that too short a time was being given to debate so serious a matter. Therefore I forced a Division in which 115 hon. Members voted for a longer debate. I wondered then whether I was doing the right thing, but I know now that it was right. It would have been far better if on 3 April we had had a much longer debate so that more hon. Members from all parts of the country had the opportunity to put their point of view. We would not then have had claims by hon. Members who perhaps take a different view from me that they did not have the opportunity to state their case.
If the debate had been longer, it would have given better guidance to the Government and they would have been strengthened by that guidance. However, it was not to be and I make no further complaint about it. I am an ex-Whip, and therefore I realise the difficulties and know how things sometimes have to be arranged.
When I heard the news of the invasion on that Friday, I felt a sense of outrage and anger such as I have not experienced for a long time. I was outraged that a disgusting Facist junta should invade territory over which there is no doubt that this country has sovereignty and should put its oppressive hold over 1,800 people for whom we have responsibility. That sense of outrage was shared by most of the British population.
The sense of anger was brought about because of the disgraceful neglect of the situation by the Government. It is due to the Government's neglect of the Falkland Islands, the difficulties there and their failure to understand the messages that were coming from there that we find ourselves in this crisis.
At a time when all the dispatches from the South Atlantic, from the Falkland Islands, from South America and from the United States suggested that there were likely to be difficulties in the Falklands, it was disgraceful that our Foreign Secretary was acting as an envoy—I say that advisedly, rather than as a messenger boy—for the Europen Economic Community in Israel with a peace message. Nevertheless, he was neglecting the best interests of this country and of the British people. I hope that the lesson has been learnt in the Foreign Office that Britain has its interests and that those interests should be considered paramount.
When this is all over, I sincerely trust that the Foreign Secretary will not leave it to a Select Committee of the House or even to a Committee of Privy Councillors to investigate the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I sincerely trust that he will investigate the Foreign and Commonwealth Office himself and examine the attitudes of mind of those who are supposed to be serving our best interests. That is one of his prime duties, and he cannot push it off on to a Select Committee or any other body of the House. He is responsible, as are the Government, and I trust that that investigation will take place on a governmental basis.
I hope that we may have an assurance that at the end of this crisis nothing of this sort will happen again, because it has jeopardised our country's interests and put at risk the lives of many of our Service men.
There are many lessons to be learnt from this crisis, some of which have already been mentioned. The first is that before we supply arms to Fascist aggressors we had better understand that they will use those arms not necessarily only against ourselves but against their neighbours and other innocent people in their own countries. I therefore trust that if this Government and a future Labour Government—the previous Labour Government's record might be examined as well—they decide to sell arms abroad, which is a disgraceful trade anyway, they will ensure that under no circumstances will they sell arms, particularly sophisticated weapons, to Fascist regimes that might turn them against ourselves or other people.
I believe also that we should examine our diplomatic relations with such regimes. We should be careful about how we trade with them and how we finance them, lest we perpetuate such regimes and help them to enslave their own people.
This country has a democracy that is unequalled in the world. The Falkland Islanders think so too. They believe that they will get fairer treatment under the Crown and this Parliament than they will get from a Fascist junta.
Freedom is indivisible, and freedom of speech is exactly that. It cannot be qualified. Conservative Members have done a disservice to themselves, to the House and to democracy by criticising the coverage given to the Falklands crisis by the BBC. They do themselves no good by doing so.
Whether we like what the BBC does or says, we must always uphold its right to do so and we must not put pressure on it to change, because that will merely undermine the democracy and free speech in which we all believe.
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the BBC should not be criticised? It is not a case of stopping the BBC from doing anything. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that it is so Olympian that it should not be criticised, especially for is appalling approach last Monday?
I am not suggesting that the BBC should not be criticised. I am suggesting that the pressure that has been brought to bear on the BBC by Conservative Members and Ministers—
—is verging on the improper and that they ought to think very carefully about what they are doing. I say no more than that.
The fact remains that Argentina has taken by force of arms territory over which this country has a sovereign right and which it has not been able to obtain by negotiation and reference to the international community. I should have thought that everyone would have condemned that. Unfortunately, some people in our own country, so far as I can tell, without any knowledge, are at present denying the British claim to sovereignty and in their own minds have handed it over to Argentina by upholding Argentina's claims to sovereignty. I simply do not understand how they can assert that, as one person did last night, with so much certainty.
I have looked at the interesting booklet issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My understanding of Argentina's claim is that it is based on a Papal Bull of 1493, which divided the territory of the South Americas between Castille and Portugal. Their job was to Christianise the pagans. We know how they did that. In many instances they simply killed them, and in virtually every case robbed them of every possession they had.
Apparently, that is the basis of the claim. Unfortunately for Argentina, the Falkland Islands were not even discovered at that time. In fact, the only inhabitants of the Falkland Islands were penguins and not pagans. The Falkland Islands were discovered by the British—by Captain John Davis of Davy Jones' locker fame—so we have the right by discovery. I therefore simply do not know how anyone in this country can sustain Argentina's claim to sovereignty.
Argentina actually invaded South Georgia first, but I understand and accept the hon. Gentleman's point.
If Argentina is so confident of its claim, why on earth will it not refer it to international arbitration? I understand that Britain is perfectly prepared to do that. I believe that Argentina would gain a lot of support for its case if it were prepared to refer its case to international arbitration, which it is not. The crisis could end tomorrow if Argentina agreed to withdraw its troops.
Some people say that we should withdraw our task force forthwith. If we were to do that and allow Argentina to get away with what it has done, there is no question but that we should be giving comfort and encouragement to every potty little dictator throughout the world. If we allow the Argentines to get away with their ill-gotten gains, many people will be in danger, as will democracy itself. Democracy and democracies will be regarded as weak-kneed arrangements that will give in at the first whiff of gunfire. We cannot allow that to happen. The House and the country are right to stand up to it.
Ordinary people seem to understand that far better than many of those who go to meetings and pass pious resolutions condemning Fascism, whether it be in El Salvador, Chile or Poland. When it comes to confronting Fascism in areas for which we have a responsibility, such people shrink from doing just that. Ordinary people understand that if we do not confront Fascism now there are great dangers for the future.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) is one of those who wishes to settle the matter peacefully. So do I, but she would have a truce and withdraw the task force. I do not know what would happen during a truce. Would the Argentine withdraw? I very much doubt it.
Appeasement never pays. I remember the appeasement of Ian Smith in Rhodesia. He was every bit as much of a Fascist as Galtieri. He seized power and the country from the Crown. I remember that we said that we would not use force against Mr. Smith. It did not deter him from declaring UDI. It took 15 years and 22,000 lives to restore the position to what it was before Smith seized power in Rhodesia. When we talk about not using force with regard to Galtieri and Argentina, we should always remember Rhodesia, because 22,000 Zimbabwean lives were lost in the process of regaining control of that country for he majority of the people who live there.
I strongly support negotiations. I strongly support the line that has been taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. I have every respect for and confidence in the Foreign Secretary in his search for a peaceful solution to the problem. Nevertheless. I warn that if we withdraw our task force from the South Atlantic, leaving the Argentines in possesion of the Falkland Islands, the political repercussions in Britain will be immense. They will redound against Parliament and the parties. We must ensure that the task that we set ourselves on 3 April is carried out. The task is to confront Fascist aggression, to remove the invader from the Falkland Islands and to release the people of the Falkland Islands from that Fascist aggression.
I thank you for your advance warning, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have sat through all the debates hitherto on the Falklands crisis. Therefore, having listened to all the speeches, I can say with some authority that the vast majority have been supportive of the Government. As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, the House has spoken for the nation to the Government. The speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) was much more in accord with the views of the people of Bristol than were those of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) who is reported as being off on a visit to the United States of America, whence I hope he will fly on to Argentina on a one-way ticket.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) took a slightly partisan line. The Falklands crisis is the result of the failure of successive Governments to grasp the problem during the past 20 years or so. Moreover, successive Governments in the past 20 years have sold arms to Argentina.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his characteristically robust restatement of our objectives and the way in which, through a combination of diplomatic, economic and military action, they will be achieved. He said that we may vary our tactics. I hope that the strategy will not alter and we must never fail to maintain our aim.
I am surprised that more has not been said about the media. Yesterday, hon. Members were critical of the BBC's coverage of the Falklands crisis. I agree with the vast majority of my constituents who have written to me about the matter. They also think that the BBC got it wrong. Nevertheless, let us give credit where credit is due. The sight of 500 Scouses on the BBC last night, singing "There'll always be an England" on Merseyside, was welcome after weeks of pictures of howling, hysterical Argentines.
I will not follow the lead that has been given by some hon. Members and pretend to be a military tactician or attempt before the full facts are known to carry out an inquest on the mistakes that led to the Falklands crisis. They will not be known until some time after the matter has been concluded.
I welcome the Prime Minister's promise of an inquiry. I hope that it will be more than an investigation merely by two of our Select Committees. There will be plenty of opportunities for inquests once we have fully restored our administration of the Falkland Islands and other dependencies in the area, secured British sovereignty, and freed our people from the Argentine jackboot. We shall have freed the islanders from an oppressive regime which is in no way representative of the Argentine people, who should be our friends, not our enemies.
I cannot resist pointing out that most of the recrimination in our debates to date have centred on the failure of the Foreign Office to interpret correctly the intelligence reports that were received in the weeks preceding the Argentine attack. Much of the information came with the compliments of our American allies. Their intelligence gathering services in the Argentine are said to be even better than our own and are backed up by satellite reports.
Therefore, if we failed to assess the reports correctly, there must have been some very red faces in Washington, too. If the State Department had not made the same mistakes as we did and had thus been able to inform President Reagan of what was afoot, in anticipating the difficulties ahead, particularly for America, the President would have been on the hot line at once to warn the British Prime Minister of the impending invasion.
There were major miscalculations both in London and in Washington. I simply hope that our intelligence-gathering services are still able to feed us information and that we understand the signals better than we did before the invasion. Receiving intelligence reports is one thing. Interpreting them correctly is quite another.
The greatest miscalculation of all, however, was made by General Galtieri. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, the junta never believed that Britain would use armed force to regain our possessions and to save 1,800 British subjects whose freedom, future security and wishes we regard as paramount.
There have been miscalculations all round. One may criticise the Foreign Office, as I have, but let us never forget the enormous success of our diplomats in achieving the passing of Security Council resolution 502 on which so much else now depends.
I am pleased that many hon. Members on both sides have praised the great efforts made by United States Secretary of State Haig to achieve the implementation of the mandatory Security Council resolution. No one else could have done the job at that time. As a supporter of the resolution the United States had condemned the Argentine invasion of sovereign British territory, called for the withdrawal of Argentine troops and sought a negotiated settlement to the dispute. Those remain our common aims and they must be restated time and again. Now it is the turn of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to negotiate. That is not a concession. It is mere common sense.
The United States has also shown by backing up talk with action that there is more at stake than just the Falkland Islands and their inhabitants. Nevertheless, I am sure that more economic pressure on Argentina by the United States is called for, simply because General Galtieri shows no sign of obeying mandatory resolution 502. He has had five-and-a-half weeks to make a move, and we have given him four or five special opportunities to do so, but he has failed to take them. There is no doubt that additional economic pressure by the United States would help rather than hinder our diplomatic efforts and those of the United Nations. It has been reported that some American banks may be vulnerable if the United States impose further sanctions on Argentina. Nevertheless, now that the United States is seen to be firmly on the side of the international rule of law in this matter, rather than continuing to play the game in an even-handed, honest-broker role, it must risk some economic damage to itself.
The United States administration knows that the Congress and people of the United States are solidly behind it, and this should encourage it to tighten the economic screw. I believe that the knock-on effect on the international banking system, to which reference has been made, has been grossly exaggerated, as was seen last year in the Polish crisis. Nor do I think that economic sanctions are an alternative option to military action, as the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) suggested. It is part of the three-fold strategy of diplomatic, economic and military pressure on the Argentine junta.
I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to our Commonwealth and EEC partners for the way in which they have rallied to our side, and I applaud the way in which the Commission and the European Parliament have agreed to a renewal of economic sanctions for a further month from Monday. Some of them, as ex-colonial powers, understand the problem and appreciate that it may be their turn next. It is heartening that, at a time of acrimonious wrangling about the EEC Budget, good men will combine, at no little cost to themselves, to deny Argentina one-fifth of her export trade.
Argentina is already £22 billion in foreign debt and needs £2·8 billion annually to service interest payments. It desperately requires to borrow a further £5½ billion, but it cannot do so without Britain's agreement. Thirty major banks will not lend the money while the Prime Minister has the support of our EEC partners and the United States.
Economic and financial pressures on Argentina are building up steadily, but not fast enough. In the long term, the economic sanctions imposed will have a major effect, but in the short term the effect is likely to be too limited. To date, United States measures fall short of the trade and economic sanctions adopted by our Commonwealth and EEC partners. The United States has not put an embargo on trade with Argentina, which is worth about $3,000 million per year. Nor has it interfered with American private bank loans to Argentina. Japan, whose support we welcome, does not have significant trade with Argentina and has adopted a cautious approach to sanctions. It is still the Commonwealth and EEC actions to impose a trade embargo on imports worth some £1,000 million in 1980 with beef and oil seed derivatives amounting to two-thirds of total imports, which strikes a hard blow at the Argentine economy by closing a market that previously absorbed one-quarter of its exports.
We now want America to match what our other allies have done, and to do so fast, because the Argentine economic position could be boosted as soon as next month when revenue from grain sales begins to flow in.
The time for talk is rapidly running out. We must go on trying and pray that the crisis will eventually be resolved diplomatically, but diplomacy will not free the Falkland Islands unless we negotiate from a position of ever-increasing strength. That, at least, is agreed on almost all sides.
The Government will no doubt be sustained by the overwhelming support both within and outside Parliament for the action that has been taken. Public opinion in the United States, having overcome its original incredulity, now realises that the democratic freedoms and rights which are the hallmark of that great nation are at stake and has rallied behind us.
As what I see as the final days pass, the Argentine dictator will have to come to terms with three facts which should, as for a man going to the gallows, concentrate his mind wonderfully.
First, despite the Latin temperament, the morale of his teenage conscript forces will fall as it dawns on them that the most powerful fleet that Britain has ever put to sea in peacetime is sinking Argentine ships and shooting down their aircraft because of the intransigence of their military dictator leaders.
Secondly, the occupation forces will face increasing logistic problems which will be very difficult to overcome, especially in the face of a full blockade and deteriorating weather. I suggest that those are far greater problems than those facing our own fleet.
Thirdly, there will be mounting political trouble within Argentina as economic pressure from our allies begins to hurt the Argentine economy, which may eventually collapse.
As a member of an earlier expeditionary force—to Suez, 25 years ago—I was made aware of the danger of talking tough and acting weakly, and eventually having to climb down in the face of international political and economic pressure, some of it from people whom we thought were our friends. Today, we are talking tough and acting tough, but let us remember also that this crisis is very different from Suez in that world opinion is on our side and Her Majesty's Government have international support for the action that they are taking to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
Let us also, for a moment, imagine ourselves between decks on HMS "Hermes" or HMS "Invincible", after weeks at sea in the Roaring Forties, with the constant threat of torpedo or missile attack, and the knowledge of friends already killed. The people in our task force know that time is Galtieri's best weapon. That is why I hope that the Government will continue to force the pace, and not flinch from ordering an assault on the Falkland Islands if Argentine troops are not withdrawn in accordance with resolution 502. Surely, the time is fast approaching when a sensible ultimatum should be issued.
I take this opportunity, as a Member who has the honour to represent part of the city of Bristol, to wish god-speed and a safe return to HMS "Bristol", the British Navy's only type 82 destroyer, which sailed last week to join the task force. The ship carries equipment made in my constituency, and its two Rolls-Royce Olympus turbine engines are maritime versions of the Bristol-made Concorde power plants. Alas, there is one Bristol product which she could have had, but does not, and that is the new lightweight Sea Wolf anti-missile missile. It is not ready. I welcome what was said by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) on this subject. We have already seen tragic evidence of the vulnerability of surface ships to missile attack. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence has already taken the necessary action to step up the development and production of our mark II Sea Wolf, to ensure that our surface ships have the defences required for today's high technology warfare.
I hope that the Government have noted the speed of response of the major Ministry of Defence contractors to requests for help, and the ability of prime contractors to take rapid action to modify weapon systems to the latest standards. Much of that work is carried out without contractual cover, and the nation, and particularly our task force, have due cause to recognise the ability of our prime contractors to respond to the nation's call.
Finally, I want to look long term, and comment on the references in earlier debates to NATO. Unfortunately, the Falkland Islands are not covered by the North Atlantic Treaty. There has been some talk of setting up a similar type of organisation to cover the south Atlantic. Last summer, a conference was held—in Buenos Aires, of all places—to discuss it. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will give an undertaking at the end of today's debate that, when this crisis has been satisfactorily resolved, the Government will explore, as a matter of urgency, the possibility of establishing an international defence treaty organisation to fill the power vacuum created by the cancellation of the Simonstown agreement and the American ban on United States ships using South Atlantic ports.
Undoubtedly, there will be difficulties in establishing such an organisation. Argentina and Brazil are against the idea, and it raises the problem of how to accommodate South Africa and Chile, but think how much stronger our military position would be today if we still had the use of the Simonstown base. Think how precarious our position will be tomorrow if the Soviet Navy is established at Walvis Bay in South West Africa.
In a previous debate, I think it was my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) who quoted Drake's prayer. At that time, Drake spoke for England. Today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister speaks not only for Britain and the British people, including the families of those who have already laid down their lives in defence of the international rule of law, but for every other person in the world, no matter where he or she is, who has lost or faces the loss of personal freedom and democratic rights. That is why I trust that the House will continue to give my right hon. Friend and her Government our wholehearted support for the cool-headed action that they are taking to restore those freedoms and rights to the Falkland islanders.
Order. I remind the House that everyone, except one hon. Member, who is trying to catch my eye has waited through the full four previous debates. If everyone who speaks takes 20 minutes, other speakers will be cut out.
The hon. Member for Bristol North-West (Mr. Colvin) sent his good wishes to the people serving on HMS "Bristol". I do the same to those serving on HMS "Norfolk", but the sad fact is that HMS "Norfolk" has been sold to Chile and will go there at the end of this operation. That is a reflection on part of the problem that we are debating today.
I welcome the approach taken by the Foreign Secretary in is speech today. He was strongly attacked by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and by some Conservative Members. I defend the flexibility shown by the Foreign Secretary. It was reflected in an outstanding speech by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). At a time when crucial negotiations are taking place in the United Nations, we have to be prepared, in so far as our principles allow, to seek a diplomatic settlement, which is what is required under resolution 502.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) that my case is not so much that Argentina is a dictatorship—that, of course, is part of the case—but that it has committed an act of aggression. That is the offence. If we became involved in action against all dictatorships, we should have a big job on our hands.
I have substantially supported the Government in most of their policies, starting with resolution 502 and the rapidly assembled task force. I accept that diplomacy cannot have any effect unless there are forces and an indication that they will be used. I thought that it was right for us to occupy South Georgia, and it was certainly right to establish the exclusion zone. I agreed with the attack on the airstrip at Port Stanley. However, I felt that we went too far when we sank the "General Belgrano". That is the point at which I started to divide myself from the Government. We went beyond the concept of force to back diplomacy. It led to retaliation and the sad loss of HMS "Sheffield" and the members of her crew who died. It had a disturbing effect on world opinion. I hope that the Government have learnt something from that.
However, that was not the first error. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West mentioned the failure of the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular—perhaps more than the Foreign Office—to deter the aggression. I say, as one who was a Minister at the Foreign Office with responsibility for the Falkland Islands and relations with Argentina, that this need never have happened if HMS "Endurance" had stayed in the area—although she would not have been enough on her own—and if we had made it perfectly clear that if there were an attack we would resist it with the forces at our disposal. If we had done what we did in 1977, I do not believe that the invasion would have taken place. I shall say no more on that subject now, because there will, quite properly, be a detailed examination of the way in which the Government contributed to the tragedy.
My second criticism of the Government is over the long delay in going back to the United Nations. Reluctance was shown, particularly by Conservative Back Benchers. They were pleased with resolution 502, but they ignored the many other aspects of United Nations activity. Very soon after Argentina failed to withdraw its forces, as it was called upon to do under that mandatory resolution, we should have returned to the United Nations with a new resolution condemning Argentina for failing to withdraw its troops and used the other facilities of the United Nations, perhaps article 41, to carry out blockades and other operations by air, sea or land forces involving many other countries. That article gives ample power to the United Nations to do that.
Even more important, we should have involved the United Nations in the negotiations—as it now is, three weeks after it could have been. We should have been in a much stronger position if, instead of the independent negotiations genuinely carried out by Mr. Haig—which kept the Americans on the fence and ensured that they did not turn on the economic screws—we had gone to the United Nations earlier. When we refused to go to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, America kept an even keel at a time when we needed its support most.
The United Nations now holds the centre of the stage and we look to the negotiations with the Secretary-General as mediator. I wish to pay tribute to the way in which he has done his job during the past six weeks. He is a new man in the job and so far he has made remarkable progress. The Foreign Secretary acknowledged the progress that has been made between the two sides. I hope that that progress will continue and lead to an eventual agreement.
Of course, it must mean the withdrawal of all Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands. That is essential. The Argentines are the aggressors and their forces must be withdrawn. They cannot make acceptance of sovereignty a precondition of negotiations. There are strong suggestions that they may have moved off that post. I wish to see that in writing. If that is the case, it is an important step forward.
A diplomatic solution along the lines of resolution 502 must also demonstrate some movement from our extreme position. By "extreme position" I mean that, inevitably, negotiations begin with one party at one extreme and the other party at another extreme. There must be some movement if one is to achieve a settlement. I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary, because he has shown the flexibility necessary to move towards such an agreement. I am sorry that he cannot carry some of his Back-Bench Members with him.
We cannot refuse to discuss sovereignty. After all, we have been discussing it for years. We know perfectly well that since the beginning of this year British Ministers have been discussing with Argentine Ministers questions of sovereignty, lease-back and other alternatives. That, linked with the decision of the Prime Minister to scrap HMS "Endurance" and no firm warnings of what Britain would do, was part of the build-up to what happened. It would be absurd if we were not prepared to discuss sovereignty, just as it would be absurd for the Argentines to try to stop us discussing it.
The right hon. Member for Sidcup was right to say that, as a result of what has tragically happened, nothing will ever be the same again. It is not realistic to believe that we could assemble such a task force again or ever maintain HMS "Invincible", for example, to fulfil a defensive role in the Falkland Islands, as though they can be excluded from the rest of Latin America. I have great sympathy for the long-suffering and much battered but loyal Falkland Islanders, but it does not make sense to give them an absolute veto not only over a settlement but over Britain's defence policy. That is not just because there are only 1,800 islanders, but because we must consider the realities of distance, communication and our own inability—or lack of wisdom—to have a massive defence capability.
I shall not give way, because many other hon. Members wish to speak. I have only two or three more points to make.
It is right that the two sides are not yet meeting around one table. The Secretary-General is trying to produce an agreement, which he can then put to both sides. I hope that neither side will initiate further military action that might imperil or defeat the Secretary-General's efforts. I do not advocate a ceasefire in the sense that everyone begins to withdraw. We must exercise great control to ensure that no one escalates the problem, because there are some people in Britain—their views are reflected in the siren words of some popular newspapers—who wish to see an invasion of the Falkland Islands. We know that that would cause great bloodshed, and the Secretary of State is trying to avoid it.
We must be prepared to accept the establishment of a United Nations temporary executive authority, or whatever it is called, together with such peace-keeping facilities as we believe are necessary both to monitor the mutual withdrawal of all forces and to administer the islands pending a negotiated settlement of the dispute. After the remarkable assembly of the task force and the highly trained troops, it would be a terrible tragedy if we embarked upon a real war to the death while the United Nations was still struggling for a peaceful settlement.
I shall not give way. The task of the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence is to give every chance to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to bring about a peaceful settlement of this dispute. I have no time for those who are almost whooping for blood, if one considers the headlines in some of the popular press.
I have two major reasons for putting forward views in this important debate. First, the merchant fleet—the "Canberra", the "QE2" and several roll-on/roll-off ships—were dispatched from Southampton not only with the utmost speed but with the utmost efficiency. The firm Vosper Thornycroft, which has received a little flak in the past because it builds warships for export, including to Latin America, has put all its labour force into top gear to ensure that those merchant ships were ready to receive the large troop-carrying helicopters.
Southampton is proud not only of the port and the warship division of Vosper Thornycroft but of the crews of the two major passenger liners, almost 100 per cent. of whom volunteered to go on what could be a most arduous and perhaps extended voyage. I thank them and I ask the House to give its thanks.
Who would have believed that on the third anniversary of the Government the House would be almost completely dominated by the crisis in the South Atlantic? The speed of events and the almost day-by-day television war game has necessitated the Opposition demanding yet another debate. In all fairness to the public, Opposition Front Bench Members are conspicuous by their absence.
As the Opposition demanded the debate, it would have been only courteous for their Front Bench Members to have remained. Matters such as the economy, industrial growth, social welfare, the pound, Britain in Europe and many other world crises have been completely dominated by the Falkland Islands aggression.
However, the Government's measured approach to the general build-up of military pressure, while seeking a diplomatic solution, has gained widespread support. I have received nothing but support from my constituents who believe that the Government have been outstanding in bringing together the task force. They support the way in which the Ministry of Defence has gone into action.
One humorous aside is that at the beginning of the Falkland Islands campaign, a high ranking politician in the Ministry of Defence said to me that the biggest danger would be the armchair strategists. I suppose that that includes all the media and the opinions that they put forward almost as a daily diet.
From the speeches that have been made today I wonder whether those serving in the task forces will be able to unravel the debate, and the final statements. There is no way that the debate has brought forward any more conclusions than the first, second, third or fourth debate. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, under great pressure not to reveal anything of the innermost details of the negotiations, was less than frank and less than firm in his speech at the beginning of the debate.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), for whom I have a great deal of admiration, made a speech today parts of which I could not agree with. When there was an intervention from the Opposition he had an admirable chance to take the side of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It was perhaps a little sad that he did not take the opportunity once and for all to confirm that his support is completely with the Government in this matter and that he no longer wishes to sit on the fence.
If my right hon. Friend can correct that in the not-too-distant future, his admirers will gather force again. However, he did not impress me. His speech was well balanced, but he said that the Argentines had made an error of judgment. It was a funny error of judgment. It was an aggression carried out on a colossal scale. As we know, it will mean a complete rethink by NATO not only of South Atlantic strategy but of the need for conventional weapons to be maintained. Perhaps there will be a rethink about Trident and our nuclear deterrent. This matter has become important. The South Atlantic sea lanes are beginning to be critically important to the United Kingdom and the Western civilisation. The front page of The Standard stated today that the Pentagon was saying "Go now because the weather is closing in." There is a danger that the negotiations will go on so long that the task force will have no choice but to winter at Ascension Island. That would be fatal because the negotiations would have to drag on right through the long Antarctic winter.
I shall not give way.
The Prime Minister said that the task force was under political control, but when it has to go into action it should not be a task force with leg irons. It should be given complete freedom of movement. Once the political decision is made there should be no attempt to change details.
I hope that the great outcome of the good work that Portsmouth and Southampton have put into the Falkland Islands campaign will mean that the Portsmouth dockyard must be kept open. Southampton will benefit from the fact that it has worked so well in conjunction with Portsmouth.
The campaign will resolve so much that the 300 Falkland Islanders who have left the islands over several years and now reside in my constituency will at least know that the United Kingdom has done everything to protect the Falkland Islanders and their right of self-determination. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary must make every provision at all stages of the negotiations for a Red Cross safety corridor to enable the women and children living in the Falkland Islands to be brought out if the fighting is so severe that their lives are in danger.
Remembering the caution that was given by you, Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of the debate, that speeches should last only 10 minutes, I should like to thank the House for listening to me and for the quality of the debate.
By far the most desirable outcome of the Falkland Islands war would be an early ceasefire linked to a balanced and phased withdrawal of the Argentines from the Falkland Islands and of the task force from the area so that negotiations could be finalised on the form and structure of a United Nations or other mutually agreed international interim administration in which sovereignty could be temporarily vested.
Such an outcome has looked promising from time to time over the last week. I hope that it is still possible. It is still possible, although it is far from certain. While such proposals should immediately be reinstated whenever the serious likelihood of mutual acceptance of them re-emerges, the alternative at this stage of a longer haul must be faced.
The Government's response, if there were to be a breakdown of negotiations, should be provisionally settled. The first option, after the initial skirmishes and the considerable casualties on both sides, would be to bring the matter to a head militarily by a full-scale military assault on the islands or by a series of limited, but mounting, military excursions, with or without an air strike, on the air bases on the mainland.
I understand that the latter option has been ruled out. However, whether that is so, on both military and political grounds I believe that that option should be firmly rejected. Militarily it would constitute a massive escalation of the present stage of the conflict and could be accomplished only with considerable loss of life, British as well as Argentine, out of all proportion to our legitimate political objectives over the whole issue. One has only to consider the EEC, international and domestic reaction to the sinking of the "Belgrano".
Against that background, it is clear that if we won the battle it would only be with outrage to world opinion, which has hitherto largely supported us. According to a recent MORI poll, before the destruction of HMS "Sheffield" 60 per cent. of Britons opposed the loss of one British life to regain the Falklands. The straight military option could not be played without a violent polarisation of opinion in Britain. When the carnage inexorably mounted, as it would, it would not be without strong opposition from the majority.
It is for those reasons that I strongly support what was said by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). A task force that was sent at the beginning explicitly to strengthen diplomacy need not now be used, even if negotiations are unsuccessful. There is no inevitable, inexorable logic in that argument. All those who assert that there is, for what I believe are their ulterior motives, should be firmly opposed.
The so-called military solution does not make political sense. Even if we succeeded in retaking the islands by sheer force of arms, there is the question whether we could consolidate such a position. We would be faced by a virulently angry and bitterly humiliated Argentina. In that situation, could such a tiny population, not itself a nation, 400 miles from a hostile mainland in whose economic ambit it irrevocably lies, be maintained in safety and freedom indefinitely, except at a cost that any Government must surely find prohibitive?
I do not believe that the view of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is shared by the majority of people in Britain.
I want to take up a point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) with the Foreign Secretary at Question Time today. With food supplies, communications and all services from the Argentine mainland cut off, and given the inability to obtain such services from Uruguay or Brazil, would not the maintenance of such a large garrison, perhaps of 3,000 men, over a long period prove absurdly costly and out of all proportion to other overriding national priorities?
I am not unwilling to give way, but there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak and I must make my points briefly.
All this underlines the crucial point that in the end there must be a negotiated settlement that meets at least the minimum of agreement in Argentina. That does not mean that there are not constraining political objectives from which we can or should walk away. Our legitimate political objectives are, as they have always been, first, resistance against unprovoked aggression, so that, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition "international anarchy shall not pay"; secondly, to secure the reasonable interests of the islanders, without—I echo many hon. Members—ill-advised talk of paramountcy, granting them an automatic veto over the lives and resources of a nation of 55 million people. It is noticeable that today the Prime Minister did not use that word. No doubt she has thought better of her earlier volubility. I hope so.
To reassert the metaphysics of British sovereignty is not a legitimate aspiration. Like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I differ from much Tory opinion. It surely cannot make sense to have a war over the regaining of sovereignty when for 17 years both this and previous Governments have striven to find a satisfactory formula for handing sovereignty over to Argentina. When this crisis has finally passed, after a decent interval such a formula will no doubt be looked for again. In such a situation it cannot make sense to fight on such a ground.
Given that there are legitimate political objectives, if a ceasefire is not negotiable because of Argentina's intransigence—I say that without prejudice to the current negotiations, because I for one, along with many other hon. Members, hope that they will be successful—and if a full-scale military assault is effectively ruled out by the pyrrhic consequences that would ensue, is there another option to overcome Argentina's resistance to a diplomatic settlement that would still safeguard the proper and legitimate political objectives that I have stated? I believe that there is.
So far, pressure on Argentina has been concentrated largely on the military dimension. Other pressures, diplomatic to some extent, but above all economic and financial, have been greatly underdeployed. Yet they could be much more effective in bringing about an early and acceptable settlement than military attack, and certainly without the appalling cost in human lives. Argentina is a more vulnerable economic and financial target than the British Government's tactics would so far suggest. In my view, the Prime Minister has considerably overdone her downplaying of sanctions.
The United Kingdom, the EEC and the Commonwealth have stopped about 30 per cent. of Argentina's exports. For what it is worth, Japan has agreed not to take undue advantage of other countries' restraint and the United States has imposed a block on credits. However, the big leverage that has still not yet been imposed would come from a full American embargo on Argentina's trade, which is now running at about $3 billion a year.
More important—this is the real nub of what I have to say—would be a finance ban. I want to take a little further some of the ideas that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) put to the House this afternoon. Argentina has a debt structure, as has repeatedly been stated, of between $30 billion and $35 billion. That is considerably greater than Poland's debt structure. Interest and capital repayments due this year amount to between $6 billion and $7 billion. These were to be paid by Argentina partly from reserves and partly from borrowings. Even before the invasion on 2 April the reserves totalled only about $6 billion, of which one quarter has now been frozen in London and nearly a further $1 billion has been drawn down in the past two months.
Argentina planned to borrow about $7 billion this year from abroad, but none of that, so far as we know, has materialised. The effect of that is that Argentina's financial situation is critical, with a potential to default. Even more seriously, Argentina's debts are short-term. It is here that Argentina is the most vulnerable of all. For that reason, it is astonishing that the Bank of England has breached the financial sanctions that it imposed by allowing the rolling over of 30-day loans. Therefore, Argentina's financial survival has virtually depended on that deliberate breach of sanctions in London. It now seems that Argentina's reserves have fallen as low as $3·5 billion, of which perhaps only $0·5 billion can be drawn down quickly, because the rest consist of gold and official holdings abroad. If that is so, and if the war has already cost it another $0·5 billion, its financial plight is desperate.
The financial noose on Argentina could be tightened. The 30-day overdraft loans should not be renewed. I ask the Government to announce tonight that instructions have been given that that will no longer be permitted. United Kingdom-owned banks and banking subsidiaries overseas could and should be brought within the sanctions net from which they have so far been excluded. Those who say that there might be jurisdictional problems should remember the American precedent during the Iranian hostages crisis. In particular, the Bank's guidelines should specifically prohibit the transfer of banking houses' Argentine loan books abroad. Where that has occurred—as it has in the case of Schroder Wagg, and perhaps other banks—they should be required to give an undertaking that no new business will be written with Argentina.
I understand that international accountancy companies such as Price Waterhouse and Company, Touche Ross and Company and others, are continuing with their international method of working. Because of the normal transfer of work to Argentina, that in practice circumvents the ban. So far they have not imposed any self-denying ordinance in accordance with the spirit of the embargo. In such cases, the letter of the embargo should be tightened by the Government.
Other countries should be pressed—as an alternative to a bloody military solution—to back up such initiatives, if necessary enforced by a new United Nations resolution. If there is a lesson that the Government should urgently consider at this stage in the conflict it is that finance—not military capability—remains Galtieri's Achilles' heel. Of course, there is a price to be paid for such a plan. It has been estimated that the losses of a total default by Argentina might halve a year's profits for the British clearing banks. However, when the alternative is a mounting scale of carnage, and when even a military victory would make the ultimate goal of a negotiated settlement not less difficult but more difficult, that price should be paid.
With reference to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), despotic dictatorships that go bankrupt do not pay. Not one single penny would be paid and the money would be lost.
This is the first time that I have spoken in one of the Falkland Islands debates. My main reason for not speaking before is that I have been supremely satisfied with the manner in which all the negotiations and the conduct of the House have been managed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence since the previous Foreign Secretary rightly resigned because of the mistakes made by the Foreign Office.
I would like a message to go out tonight to our troops. Thay have only 10 days or a fortnight to stay where they are. Conditions are becoming deplorable and any action must be taken shortly. Therefore, my message is that it is now 40 days since the Argentines first had an opportunity to say what they proposed to do. I would serve them notice that if they do not come to heel within 10 days, our troops will go straight in to recover our property. We cannot afford more time than that if we are not to jeopardise the lives of all the task force. All hon. Members would rather have a diplomatic solution than a military victory. I do not welcome the thought of a military victory, but unfortunately all that the hon. Member for Oldham, West said overlooks the time scale involved and the immediacy of the problem. If the solution is military, action must be taken soon.
I was immensely impressed by the speech made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He highlighted the difficulties. One of my reasons for speaking is that I wish to ensure that it is clear that our Government will stand for the principles for which we stood when we sent the task force. I am convinced that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary wish to pursue those principles, but it is easy for others to try to seduce them from that attitude in negotiations in which we are trying to reach a settlement. That is particularly true if a flabby attitude is adopted, such as that portrayed by the Foreign Office in bygone days.
Therefore, what are our minimum requirements? First, the House has stated over and over again that the condition precedent to any negotiated settlement is the withdrawal of Argentine troops first—and not at the same time as anything else. Secondly, once they have withdrawn, a trusteeship could be properly set up by the United Nations. Several countries could take over in much of the interregnum. An integral part of that stage is that some of our troops must participate in the trusteeship that ensures the integrity of the islands during that period. Without those requirements, we cannot withdraw the task force. thirdly, the task force must not be withdrawn until the beginning of the trusteeship and until the forces responsible and the administration move in.
Those are the three essential requirements that must be agreed. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) put it slightly differently, it is true that in any settlement one must try to save the enemy's face. Like a Chinaman's, his face must be saved somehow. What face-saving device could be found for the Argntines? I suggest something along the lines of Cyprus. If we are to be responsible for the islands' administration in due course, we must be prepared to offer the Argentines a small base in the islands where they can assert their rights to be there. When settlements are made, it will be necessary to take into account the education of the children on the Falkland Islands as well as other matters.
I waited before speaking because I wanted to consider the essential requirements after a military victory or a diplomatic agreement. They are crucial. Sovereignty is not the main issue. The overriding factor is the strategic importance of the Falkland Islands. The battle of the Falkland Islands in the First World War and the battle of the River Plate in the Second World War show the dangers. If the military dictator, Galtieri, were to get into the hands of the Communists there could easily be hostile naval bases in the Falkland Islands. That is the most dangerous possibility. Those bases could become Soviet naval bases.
One of the Foreign Office's failures—by no means the only one—is that it has made no attempt to assess the mineral wealth of the Falkland Islands, the dependent territories, or of the Antarctic. As we know, the Soviets are sitting on the top of the Arctic. The main route from Simonstown past the Falkland islands to the Antarctic is in their sights. Therefore, when this dispute is over, it is essential that there should be proper recognition of the great mineral wealth that lies in and inder the seas. It should be recognised that in any future settlement we shall require the alliance of the United States of America and, if possible, the support of the Argentines along the long coastline. It would be better to achieve that by diplomacy than by the iron fist.
For those reasons a settlement with Argentina would be preferable. The best solution would be for it to withdraw from the Falkland Islands and to agree an interregnum, under the trusteeship of the United Nations. To save the face of the dictator, they could be given a base on the Falkland Islands similar to one in Cyprus under the auspices of the United Nations. The absolute right of the islanders must be to remain on the island. We must carry out our promise.
I trust that in the end the Foreign Office will recognise for the first time how wrong it has been. The naval base is of strategic importance. It is vital for the development of the wealth in that area and for the development of oil and mineral wealth in the Antarctic. One hon. Gentleman said that the area is not covered by NATO. There should be another such organisation for the South Atlantic. It will be necessary for the South Africans to be drawn into it. It should be recognised that South Africa, the United States of America, Argentina and ourselves can play a part. There is no way in which we cannot afford to give Argentina a base. It is perfectly possible in alliance with others for us to ensure that the naval base is maintained.
I have been brief but I hope that I have opened up matters which have not been touched on. I hope that problems which might arise when this has been settled can be explored.
I beg the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to stand firmly by their principles. Not only our party but the nation will suffer unless we make absolutely certain that the Argentine forces are removed before there is any question of trusteeship or other method of settlement. I leave that entirely to my right hon. Friends who have the ability to arrive at the right negotiated settlement. That can and will be achieved but there must be a deadline. There is a maximum of ten days. Our troops must be told that if the matter is not settled they can go in and recapture our legitimate islands.
Why the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) should choose Cyprus as his model is beyond me. The Turkish troops invaded Cyprus eight years ago and have remained undisturbed ever since. They are the occupying force as a result of their invasion.
That is a different matter. First, let me take up an important point which was raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He suggested that the House was unanimous in its support for the task force from the beginning. That is not so. The absence of a vote or some other indication of organised opposition does not mean that one can assume that the House unanimously endorses the task force and its job. That is not so. Those ideas should not be circulated by the right hon. Gentleman. He would be the first to object if silence or something going by default were an sign of support on a bipartisan basis for all that happens in Northern Ireland. I am sure that he does not.
There is an excellent motion on the order paper showing that there was no unanimity. It is important to recognise the significance of that motion. There have been statements, particularly by the Left of the Socialist movement, that they did not support the sending of the task force, and there were good reasons why that was so.
I shall take my few minutes. I shall probably answer the point that my hon. Friend wishes to raise.
Many people in the Socialist movement started to confuse the repulsive administration under the junta with what is happening in the Falklands. The idea was that the dispatch of the task force would bring an end to the Fascist regime in Argentina. There was a difference of opinion about that. Many of us made it absolutely clear that we believed that the junta could be dealt with by the imposition of economic sanctions as advocated by my hon. Friend the member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). In my view and that of many of my hon. Friends that is the only way the Fascist junta can be dealt with. That is a different matter to the use of military force. We still hold the view that there can be no military solution. We were saying that there could be no military solution. We felt that it would endanger the obvious negotiations that subsequently had to take place. Those were the reasons why we did not support the idea of a task force and military intervention. It is dangerous and ludicrous to suggest that any invasion of the Falklands can somehow bring about a permanent settlement. It is lunacy to talk in that way.
I shall not give way because of the time.
Principles have changed since the beginning of the argument. Had the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) returned earlier from China and said then what he has said tonight I am certain that the Cabinet's politics would have been different and there would have been many different faces around the Cabinet table. The matter would have developed differently and we would have seen some changes. The two non-negotiable principles to which the Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary and Lord Privy Seal referred at the beginning of self-determination and sovereignty have now changed. It is absolutely clear to people on this side of the Atlantic that sovereignty will be negotiated.
Britain is now to negotiate conditions for lease-back. Sovereignty is already on the way to being transferred. We should now recognise what is happening. As regards self-determination, the Falkland Islanders are in no way involved in direct negotiations. It is not possible to concede them the right of self-determination as they cannot possibly be signatories to any negotiated settlement. That contradiction is ignored by many hon. Members.
There is another reason for some of us opposing the bipartisan approach. We said that the negotiated settlement could not be the kind talked about at the time. There are many ways in which we can illustrate the problem of what is happening. Behind the argument for bringing back the task force, or the original argument for not having a military solution, is the simple premise that there can be no negotiation under duress. The Argentines are justifying the retention of troops on the islands because they are not prepared to negotiate under duress. We are arguing to the opposite effect.
A country that backs its diplomatic initiatives with a task force is saying that it wants to negotiate under duress. Military muscle is added to the negotiating table. Many of us said that it would be much more difficult for the United Nations to intervene when military duress was imposed. Bringing back the task force will allow negotiations to proceed without the duress of military pressures.
There are two functions for the United Nations. One is interim trusteeship, which is already being discussed as a possibility. If that is not possible, the other is that of being an honest broker. Again, the question of a negotiated lease-back arises, particularly for oil and mineral rights. The United Nations may be called upon to negotiate in that respect.
I refer again to the issues of sovereignty and self-determination. They are not now inviolable, as they were originally. That is the significance of the debate. I hope that when it is recognised that sovereignty and self-determination are no longer non-negotiable the House will discuss the endorsement, or otherwise, of the present situation.
The Prime Minister talked about a negotiated settlement and a diplomatic solution. That is now a very different way ahead, and the solution will be very different from that envisaged some time ago.
This is not a matter of loss of face. If we had a decent press in this country, instead of trying to whip up the emotional jingoism that was spread throughout the country some weeks ago, it would be doing all that it could to avoid that aspect.
The right hon. Member for Sidcup talked about an escape hatch for the Argentines. I believe that the House should create an escape hatch for the Government. We should not put them across a barrel because of their flexibility and the shift that they have made. The Government should be applauded for what they are doing and for having the strength and courage to do it. We should not be attempting to ridicule or belittle the Government's leadership. We should be going in the other direction and wishing them success in negotiating a settlement. That, of necessity, will mean a long journey from the principles that they sought to establish at the beginning.
There has been consistency over the past five weeks. Those who adopted the argument that I have advanced when the crisis began have been proved to have a true understanding of the Falklands' future and to have at heart the best interests of the world Socialist movement in defeating Argentine-type juntas.
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) may have convinced himself of the consistency of his own argument, but it may have escaped the attention of some hon. Members that on the one hand he puts his faith in the United Nations and on the other is prepared to deny article 51 of the United Nations charter, which gives this country the right to defend itself against an unwarranted act of aggression.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not try to follow him down those paths. The dispatch of the task force, which was endorsed by the leaders of both major parties when the force was sent, was necessary to strengthen the Government's negotiating principles. It was intended to be seen as a manifestation of the Government's resolve to achieve a solution to the dispute in the southern Atlantic.
We recognise the difficulties of conducting negotiations or a war in a democracy with a free press. I shall not trespass into any military or strategic assessments. At worst that is extremely unhelpful and at best it adds nothing to the debate. I wish to consider the long term. A number of hon. Members have sought to do so, and that is why I think that the debate is worth while.
The assessment of strategic importance must be linked to the final disposition of the Falkland Islands. We all hope that there will be a peaceful settlement that will involve the withdrawal of Argentine troops from the Falkland Islands, but we must ask rhetorically "What is the reality?". I do not think that I shall be accused of abject pessimism if I say that the reality is that the Argentine Government have made it abundantly clear hitherto that they have no interest in withdrawing their troops from the Falkland Islands.
The Argentine Government are a military dictatorship. When such a Government put soldiers on the top of a hill any withdrawal leads to a sense of military defeat. We are not negotiating with another democracy. Therefore, it is likely that the islands will have to be retaken by force of arms. Having served briefly in commando forces, I have every confidence that that could be done quickly and effectively and with minimum casualties, although that is not necessarily so.
A British task force should never have been dispatched. There should have been a United Nations standing force. The lack of enforceability of world law is perhaps the great lacuna in international order. If nothing else comes out of the crisis, I hope that world opinion will be focused on that issue. A remedy is required.
If I am correct in my assessment that the islands will be taken by force of arms, which may sadly involve some loss of life due to the intransigence and obstinacy of the Argentine Government, two things must follow. First, following a retaking of the Falkland Islands by force of arms, the British public would not be able to understand the Government's policy if they were to trade away the sovereignty of the islands. That must be manifestly right.
Secondly, the Argentine Government, or their successor in title, will be even more determined to retake the islands and not less determined. I do not subscribe to the idea that if the Argentine troops are forced to withdraw through force of arms that will teach them their lesson and they will not seek to retake the islands. I believe that their resolve to take them will be strengthened. If the successor Government in the Argentine are Peronist or another Right-wing regime, they will look for succour to anyone who will aid them in their enterprise. Sadly, it is very likely that they will turn to the Soviet Union, which will be only too amenable because it is trying to destabilise the situation in South America.
The strategic importance of the Falkland Islands—which already exists and has been mentioned tonight—because of the route around the Horn, Antartica and mineral and oil deposits, would be enhanced in that situation. The islands would be made even more strategically important, because one would have the need for an offshore set of islands that would be able to cast a glance at what is happening in South America, if an Argentine Government were so foolish as to believe that they could come to a military, as well as a trading, partnership with the Soviet Union.
I hope that at some stage we can return to an amicable relationship with Argentina. That is why all options, such as a United Nations trusteeship, need to be considered. However, if my assessment is correct, the strategic importance of the islands is enhanced, particularly to NATO and more specifically to the United States. It will have an interest there, especially if its policy with Argentina is shot full of holes.
Another matter that might be considered for the Falkland Islands is an Ascension Island type of solution, where there is a British territory with an American base. Time does not allow me to go into all the options and assess which is the more likely. It is a difficult enough task for the Government, let alone a Back Bencher. However, if, as a result of a withdrawal of Argentine forces, either by diplomacy or by force of arms, Argentina becomes doubly determined to regain what will have been lost, following its successful occupation, to concede sovereignty is, in effect, to succumb to the threat of force of arms. The pages of history cannot be turned back. The continuing defence of the Falkland Islands may be difficult. It might have been better to carry negotiations through to a successful conclusion before the act of aggression. That could have led to British sovereignty being interchangeable with a base in some way. Can that option now be open to us? I doubt it.
The world expects a solution in accordance with resolution 502. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) spoke of the importance of world opinion. Yes, world opinion is important, but the world must realise that things can now never be the same, because not only is the world much older but, I hope, it is much wiser.
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—
That is probably quite right, and I am sure that does not apply only to the most senior executives.
But this is not a question of the private views of BBC executives or anyone else. It is a question of the independence and credibility of the BBC at times of crisis such as this. That is why there is a considerable difference, as there must be, between the broadcasts by Argentina's authorities or any other dictatorship and the BBC. Indeed, the same could be said of some American broadcasting stations such as Radio Liberty and the Voice of America. Their broadcasts are not viewed in the same light as those of the BBC. The BBC has its reputation and credibility because it is free from constant Government control and interference. I hope that it will continue to be that way.
If the BBC broadcasts—I leave aside television programmes—are supposed to be sympathetic to the junta's point of view, why is the junta so busy jamming those broadcasts? To me, that is an odd state of affairs. Therefore, we should leave the broadcasting authorities to get on with their business. They should not be the subject of interference.
There is also much hysteria in the press. One can only describe the reporting by some newspapers of events relating to the Falklands as the worst type of gutter journalism. I believe that they are far more concerned with circulation wars and rivalry than with the interests of Britain or our Service men. Indeed, if some hon. Members are to be believed, those Service men could be involved in a widespread military conflict within seven or 10 days.
According to the press, the agent in the Beaconsfield by-election has said that if the Union Jack is flying in Port Stanley on polling day, the Tory vote will be up. I was not aware that this crisis was about by-elections, increasing the Tory vote or anything else like that. But the truth is that to a large extent, rather like some of the popular press, Conservative Members believe that the present events can be exploited for party political purposes.
I accept that the Labour Party may be losing votes—for all I know, it did so in the local elections last Thursday—because of the Falklands crisis. That is not the most important consideration. It is that we should put forward our point of view about the way in which the crisis can be resolved. It is not a question of winning votes or of popularity, although one hopes that in time people will come to respect our views.
The Government must not allow themselves to be swayed by some of the more jingoistic feelings and emotions that have been expressed by some Conservative Members. At the end of the day, this House wants to see a negotiated settlement. We do not want an escalation of the conflict or an invasion in which thousands of lives could be lost. That is why I hope that the efforts now being made by the United Nations Secretary-General will be successful.
That is the way to bring about a solution. We must try to involve the United Nations and at the same time try to reach an agreement that would ensure the removal of Argentina's troops from the islands. We must also recognise that sovereignty must be negotiated. The parties concerned must realise that once the military conflict comes to an end there can be meaningful talks. As I said earlier, we cannot take the view that the Falklands will remain British for ever and a day.
The Government should pursue the line that they are now beginning to take—lessening the military aspect and putting much more emphasis on the diplomatic. They should recognise British wishes that the United Nations should be involved and that there should be a solution as suggested by the Secretary General of the United Nations. In that way, not only would we come out of the conflict honourably, but we would not be isolated from our supporters overseas. Moreover, it would be a most effective way of saving thousands of lives in military conflict.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made a great parade about his passionate opposition to Fascist Governments in South America. He also cited his long record of protest. Protest is one thing, but to do something about it is another. That is what the Government are now engaged upon. We did not learn very much from the hon. Gentleman about what can be done. He puts his faith in more negotiation, in the United Nations, in Christmas. It is rather like waiting for Godot. His speech did not advance the argument at all.
The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) got it right when he said that the debate was about the negotiations and the extent to which flexibility can be extended before a vital principle is sacrificed. That theme has run through many speeches.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made an impressive speech, as is so often the case. He reminded us of the objectives with which the task force set forth, and the vast majority of the House supported them. One of those objectives was the restoration of British administration. We cannot claim to have succeeded unless that comes about.
I remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was good enough to give way to me during his speech. I asked him about the restoration of British administration. My right hon. Friend talked of it being exercised by "a small group of nations" after a withdrawal. It was no more closely defined than that. I asked whether the small group of nations would include a British element and whether British troops would return at the same time or before. He said that he would return to my point. With great respect, he did not. He mentioned something to do with the islanders being capable of administering themselves. I am sure that, to some extent, that is true. Nevertheless, I should like an assurance on the matter when my right hon. Friend winds up the debate.
I have not spoken in previous Falkland debates, but this is perhaps not a bad moment to begin. It is as critical as any yet. Britain has sent a force to regain her territory and to resist aggression. She was right to do so. She would have been right irrespective of the support of the United Nations. Happily, we have that support. Resolution 502 is the result.
By now, I estimate that the task force is within days of having the capacity to re-establish British rule. If the Argentines agree to withdraw without any precondition on sovereignty, so be it. There is no engagement. The choice, as my right hon. Friend has said so clearly on more than one occasion, is theirs entirely. The Argentine garrison must be increasingly forlorn. Militarily speaking, I am more optimistic than some hon. Members. I take the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall). The Argentines can scarcely be full of confidence. Why, then, do they continue to be intransigent? We are told that they are intransigent because the junta is incapable of taking a decision as there are so many internal divisions and because there are other military commanders who must also be consulted.
I am sure that there is something in that, but is it the full story? Is it not also to some extent because the junta is encouraged by what it sees as progress of the negotiations? I admit that that is of course hypothesis, but if it is true, whence could that encouragement come? With respect, I do not think that there is much that Secretary-General de Cuellar can say purely on the authority of the United Nations that will make much difference or be likely to move the junta, and it is certainly getting no encouragement from the British Government. If that is so, is it possible that some encouragement comes from the junta's interpretation of the position of the Government of the United States?
To return to the beginning of the story, after the notorious dinner at the Argentine embassy Ms. Jeane Kirkpatrick, United States Representative at the United Nations was called to take part in a programme called "Face the Nation" on CBS television. This was no off-the-cuff affair. She had been invited to take part in the programme as a result of the dinner. This was what she said on that programme, after the invasion:
Now, look, one has to be clear about this, I think. Armed aggression would take place in a clear-cut way against territory on which there was clear-cut ownership. The Argentines, of course, have claimed for 200 years that they own those islands. And the British have claimed that they own those islands. Now if the Argentines own the islands, then moving troops into them is not armed aggression.
That lady, I understand, is responsible for the doctrine that there is a distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes—the former being acceptable and somehow more worthy of trust. I regard that as disingenuous rubbish, but it was the basis for the ideological excuse for the American backing of the Argentine junta right up to the moment of the invasion, and there is no doubt that that existed.
Like so many other hon. Members, I acknowledge the untiring efforts of Mr. Haig to reach a peaceful solution. If they still continue, I wish them luck, as does everyone. I am bound to say, however, that some of the President's remarks and asides, even of very recent date, seem less satisfactory from our point of view and rather difficult to understand. He went so far as to say just the other day that there was
some legitimacy in the Argentine claim
to sovereignty. That was in a speech to a school and it was said afterwards to be a slip of the tongue. Nevertheless, it was said. When asked about the Falklands, he is apt to reply, as I read the other day, by referring to that
cold little bunch of islands in the South Atlantic".
Why does he use such a theatrical description? It is because he does not wish to call them the Falklands, any more than he wishes to call them the Malvinas?
If I am right, President Reagan's support is so evenly balanced as to give rise to profound misgivings at least on my part. I am no expert on American affairs, but I dare say that because we enjoy the general support of Congress, the Washington Post and the man in the street on the East Coast, as I am sure we do, we cannot necessarily expect the same sentiments in California whence so many of the President's entourage come.
All this just may indicate that Argentine intransigence stems to some extent from the expectation that the United States will pressurise the British Government into some sort of compromise amounting to surrender of sovereignty. I believe, of course, that my right hon. Friend will resist that, and I am sure that he is doing so. Nevertheless, the House might be forgiven for entertaining at least the suspicion that the Foreign Office is at it again and, under American pressure, is trotting out all the old, specious arguments about the Falklands being an unnecessary embarrassment to us and so forth.
I regret that my right hon. Friend found it necessary to allude to sovereignty in precisely the terms that he did, in the context of the negatives and at this stage in the crisis. He said I think that "it should not be assumed that British sovereignty in the Falklands must exist for ever and a day", or some such words. That may be so, but it is regrettable that that should be said at this stage and I fear it may have weakened the negotiating position.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why Eduardo McLoughlin who was Argentine ambassador to Britain for five years, publicly declared that agreement was reached with one of the Labour Governments in which we accepted all their terms and were just waiting for an election before it was finalised? Why do not the Government either confirm or deny that?
I cannot quite follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's question. I would answer it if I could. Perhaps he should put it to the Minister who is to wind up the debate.
My point is that my right hon. Friend's reference to sovereignty might have weakened the negotiating position. To envisage the possibility of sharing sovereignty is one thing; to imply a cession of sovereignty is another.
My conviction is that the Falklands represent an important long-term strategic and economic interest to us and to the West. Whether we choose to exercise that interest alone or in partnership is a matter for us. That is for us to decide, once we have re-established British rule. Nor can I accept that the future defence of these islands, given our resources, is beyond our means. Those who claim that it is have not thought the matter out. If I am right, and if we are being subjected to what I shall call undue American pressure to cede our position, my right hon. Friend should exercise the maximum sanctions in return. If the United States Government still find it difficult to choose between their staunchest ally and a vicious and unprincipled South American dictatorship, then there is no meaning in the Alliance and little hope for free men in this affair—except through a clear-cut British victory.
If the Government should be prevailed upon to surrender now on any essential principle, when victory is within our grasp, we should all be aware of the potential consequences, and in my opinion they are these: it would break the confidence and trust of this nation—how could anyone who watched the QE2 sail yesterday doubt that?—it would destroy the special relationship with the United States and do perhaps irreparable harm to the Western Alliance, because people would come to know exactly what happened and they would never trust the United States again; it would betray this Government and all that they stand for and have stood for with such courage and consistency till now; lastly, it would mean that those who have died have died in vain.
I do not for an instant believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will weaken. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will weaken either. However, I am under no illusion about the pressure that they may be subjected to now or in the future.
The fate of this nation—or the fate of any nation—could be said from time to time to hang in the balance. In psychological terms, at least, this may be one such moment for us. The critical factor is not the Armed Forces. Thank God, they remain as true as steel. It is not the support of the country, because I am sure that the Government enjoy that. The key factor must be the will of Her Majesty's Ministers. I pray and believe that they will not be found wanting. And I know that it is our clear duty in this House to support them.
I want to participate in this debate for a number of reasons—mainly because I am a firm believer in peace, but also because I have a constituent whose daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren are in the Falkland Islands. His worry is about the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) for a more effective blockade. We should consider the problems of the Falkland Islanders, who would suffer far more than the Argentine troops if a blockade were made more effective. It is important to bear in mind the problems of the very people whom we seek to protect.
The worst thing that could happen in the Falklands would be the sinking of the British fleet, but the next worse thing would be for Britain to get the islands back. We do not want to lose, but if the islands are the only prize of victory, we hardly want to win.
As brave men prepare to fight to the death, it is worth remembering that this will be the first war over territory that one combatant wished and still wishes to donate to the other. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) tried his best to do that for the Labour Government in 1977, as did his successor for the Conservative Government in 1980. Both these Ministers trailed up and down the Americas trying to find a way to give up the islands.
The Carrington Foreign and Commonwealth Office committed an enormous blunder by fatally misjudging Argentine intentions. For whatever reason, it got everything wrong. In the 1970s the Foreign Office clearly had a policy of getting out of the Falkland Islands. It was not the sinister concoction of appeasing mandarins but was based on pragmatism. It seems to have been fully endorsed as an objective by Ministers of both parties and we now see with a fearful clarity why it was right. It was designed to relieve us of a commitment that we could not defend except by disturbing our entire foreign defence and economic policies. Britain no longer had the will, the means or the interests to protect our sovereignty in perpetuity, for the benefit of a declining population, against a serious attack.
We now see the consequences of a lack of any foresight appropriate to the risk—the product of a stubborn group of blinkered MPs committed to a principle that they had no means of enforcing but whom no Minister had the muscle, the time or the will to overcome. That may have been understandable at the time, but the unalterable fact is that they turned out to be tragically and culpably mistaken. As a result we are now setting out to fight, but not for the Falklands, which we do not want and which we would be happy to trade away in any deal. However, to strike a compromise, it is surely important to remember that we do not wish to keep the land.
Recently on television there was a Eurovision song contest. Millions viewed the contest, hundreds participated and the easy winner was Germany with "Song of Peace". I commend the record to all right hon. and hon. Members because the words convey what millions are trying to say to the politicians, Members of Parliament and Governments in the world—that they wish to have peace.
We have read and listened to millions of words in Parliament and in the world media. The history of the Falkland Islands is now known by most countries. We have listened to all the experts of foreign affairs from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to those experienced and qualified to speak about the Falkland Islands. Therefore, I do not intend to take up time by repeating what has already been stated. This is too important a matter for repetition.
However, some questions must be asked and answered. How can a Government and some of my hon. Friends refer to the Argentine junta as international thugs and an especially brutal dictatorial Government when only recently we made trading agreements to sell them ships, arms and goods of every description which could be used against us? We have allowed Argentines to practice on our ranges and they have purchased other weapons of war from our closest allies. How many British bullets will be used by the Argentines against our troops? For that matter, will our Navy be attempting to sink warships that we sold to Argentina only a few years ago?
When Britain was under attack by Napoleon, William Pitt, the then Prime Minister, received a letter enclosing a list of names of gentlemen who expressed their willingness to serve in the army against Napoleon, subject only to the condition that they would not be sent abroad. Pitt commented:
Except, I presume, in case of invasion.
When I read that recently it brought me to consider whether all the hawks on the Government Benches or in the Cabinet who plan and pontificate about the battle of the Falklands take that jingoistic line knowing that they can do so safely from the sanctuary of the House. Whether they would hold the same views if they were out in the wilds of the Antarctic winter seas is another matter.
I say to them that men, women and children devoid of any crime in this or any other country—trapped by the actions of some politically motivated Mad Hatters—should not be sacrificial lambs, committed to the Falklands slaughterhouse by the total incompetence of the first woman Prime Minister of this country and her Cabinet of millionaire warmongers.
This Government have left a trail of discontent, disharmony and disillusionment from Land's End to John o'Groats. Their actions over this issue which affects islands 8,000 miles away conclusively proves how totally incompetent, inadequate and inefficient they are. They have betrayed the people's trust, betrayed the Falklanders, and besmirched and belittled the confidence that the world had in Britain.
I say to Members of my party on this side of the House—get off this jingoistic bandwagon. We must spell it out to the Government, to the nation and to the world that we are not prepared to see more blood, British or Argentine, shed in this futile warmongering adventure. This is 1982, not 1902. The Prime Minister cannot act like a latter-day Queen Victoria.
The attitudes of those genuinely concerned for peace should not be to appease or applaud the actions of Tory warmongers, however outraged they may be. They may feel outraged against a Fascist junta, and I share that outrage, but neither the Prime Minister of Argentina nor hon. Members will be directly involved in the conflict.
When we speak of negotiations, there can be no negotiations for the 100, 1,000 or 10,000 who might be killed. There can be no negotiations for them once they are dead because they cannot come back. Who are we, assembled here in the comfort and custody of the Commons, to decide on the fate of all these people, and who can negotiate for the lives already lost?
There are moments when principles of humanity and principles of justice must be more important in our decision-making than any instinct of political advantage. We must all dissociate ourselves from any policy which even threatens further military action, let alone orders it. For once in this harsh cruel world, for once in our nation's history of war, empire and bloodshed, we must resolve this dispute, even though it is one with a Fascist Government, without the use of instruments of war. That is my heartfelt belief and plea.
I therefore call upon the Government to stop being unrealistic about Britain's role in the world, especially after being responsible for allowing the situation in the Falklands to develop. Stop this jingoism that is leading this and other nations to war. Spell out to the nation the fact that the effects of war mean death to British subjects, death to our Service men and women and death to people of other countries. Wives will be made widows and children made orphans. War will mean crippled and mangled limbs and thousands of lives ruined for those who survive.
Treat the question of sovereignty as of secondary and not paramount importance. Ensure that all British subjects who so desire can leave the Falkland Islands and ensure that there is adequate and reasonable compensation provided from British funds. Request peacemongers and peace-lovers to use all their influence and power in support of peace and seek to ensure genuine statesmanship based on humanitarian principles and not upon the present plight of a Prime Minister who is fighting to preserve her public position.
Finally, I ask the Prime Minister to show as a mother compassion for those thousands of sons and daughters—despite the calls of her 60 or more hawks, some of whom are more interested in the war to pull them through this economic recession than in British sovereignty or even our standing in the world.
I remind the Prime Minister of the saying that dignity is a narrow unstable bearing upon which mental spindle shanks attempt to stand when they have no other means of support. Pride can be expressed in the same way both in a person and in a nation. Therefore, I say to the Prime Minister: Stop this nineteenth century gunboat diplomacy. Stop before more lives are lost. Stop before the Government become obsessed with victory to save face at the expense of innocent people. Talk, talk, talk until the Government can find a negotiated settlement for the sake of peace and humanity.
I think that the House will understand if I do not follow the points raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell).
I wish to express my full support for the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. He emphasised once again the prime objective of the British Government, which is to seek a negotiated settlement. At this late stage in the debate it is not part of my task to try to instruct my right hon. Friend how he might carry out the negotiations.
It might be made clear to the Government of Argentina whenever negotiations are carried out through a third party that if, through the Argentines' intransigence, the military operations in the South Atlantic are increased and there are more casualties, it will be more difficult for Her Majesty's Government to envisage making concessions to Argentina after such conflict than at present.
I commend one of the comments that was made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). He said that one of the nations that stood to benefit from the conflict, which is likely to explode if we do not find a negotiated settlement, is the Soviet Union. He is not alone in drawing attention to that fact. Only last week The Times carried an article that was headed:
The Falklands: how Brezhnev wins by doing nothing".
As so much has been said about the news media today, I would say that there was a similar article pointing out the danger of the growing Russian influence in the Spanish language newspaper La Nacion in Buenos Aires on 13 April. That showed the courage and tenacity of some of the editors and newspapers in Argentina under the present threats. Much credit should be given to the press in that country for attempting to keep the light of freedom burning.
I wish to comment in passing on one other aspect of the reporting of the Falkland Islands crisis. I do not wish to say anything at this stage in the argument about the way in which the BBC has presented the crisis on our television screens and on the radio. However, I wish to make clear on behalf of my constituents the abhorrence that we felt at the reported comment of Mr. Richard Francis, the managing editor of BBC radio, at the general assembly of the International Press Institute in Madrid. He said:
the widow of Portsmouth is no different from the widow of Buenos Aires.
Perhaps in theological terms there is some truth in that, but to the people of Portsmouth, from which the fleet sailed and which has suffered loss of life in the defence of freedom and in the fight against aggression, the statement that there is no difference between the widows of Portsmouth and those of Buenos Aires is utterly unacceptable. If that is the attitude of the BBC it is far worse—
I would prefer not, to give way for obvious reasons. I have been present in the debate all day, which gives me an advantage over the right hon. Lady.
In the battle that is going on at the moment there is a need to win the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. Much has been said about the influence of overseas countries, their attitudes and the need for us to maintain their support. There is also the need for us to ensure that the Ministry of Defence in particular, and the Government in general, give the highest priority to ensuring that the British people, particularly the families of those serving in the South Atlantic, are well informed and given the widest possible information about what is going on.
There has been a failure to recognise the importance of British news material in this crisis. In the need to transport war materials to the South Atlantic it is not possible for less important items to be included in aircraft and ship cargoes. However, on the return journey from the South Atlantic, I should have thought that news material should have the highest priority. With modern technology it is not even necessary that pictures and news are physically brought back to Britain. They can be transmitted by cable or radio from countries in South or Central America to British television and the newspapers. We have missed an opportunity to ensure that our people are well informed of the British point of view about what is happening to British Service men in the South Atlantic. The Ministry of Defence should give this higher priority than it has up to now.
There is no doubt at all that negotiations must have the highest priority. However, if during those negotiations the Foreign Secretary should feel at any time that he is being treated in the same way as the former Foreign Secretary, and led into a trap by those who have the advantage over him, having no morality in their discussion, he should not hesitate to say that it is his belief that Argentina is not negotiating in good faith. He should draw that to the attention of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence. At that stage alone a military solution must be sought.
In the end, whether or not military activity takes place on a greater scale than it has hitherto, we will come back to negotiation. That negotiation must take place sooner or later. I believe that I speak for every hon. Member and for every person in Britain when I say that, whatever our political views, whatever our views about the ultimate solution to the crisis in the South Atlantic, we pray that this dispute can be settled without any more loss of life on either side.
There is no reason whatever why this issue, which has divided Britain from a great nation in the southern hemisphere, should not be settled if there is an element of good will on both sides. We know, from what has been said repeatedly, that there is that element of good will on the part of the British Government. What we require now is proof from Argentina that there is a willingness to negotiate in good faith. I trust that that is so, but if it is not, the military solution is the only alternative.
The debate has been valuable and thoughtful and shows that the Government were right to accede to the request of my right hon. Friend for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). There are obvious difficulties about conducting debates in the middle of negotiations, but the House and the country find it useful and valuable to have them. Such debates also show that in the middle of hostilities, we are still capable of preserving freedom of speech in the House and of listening tolerantly and with respect to a variety of different views. That is denied the people of Argentina by Galtieri and the Fascist junta.
Therefore, when the Argentines hear, read and learn of what is said in this House and in this country, I hope that they will not necessarily jump to the wrong conclusion. By and large the House and the country are united on a variety of points. The freedom that we in this House have deserves to be extended throughout the country, and I am sorry that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretaary were so angry about the BBC. It is strange that at the moment that they complained about the BBC, Mr. Costa Mendez was complaining about the BBC and the Argentines were jamming it. If we cannot preserve our rights, and the rights of minorities, and if we cannot say when they are minorities, we shall have lost the idealism and strength that Britain has had.
Like the Conservative Party, the Labour Party has its minority views on this affair.
Those views are vigorously expressed, and that is only right—[Interruption]. I gather that the SDP has, too, its minority views, and that is also good. The basic principle guiding the Labour Party goes back to the time when at least some SDP Members were members of the Labour Party. I refer to the National Executive Committee's statement of July 1977. The House will recall that in that year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) prevented an Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. At that time, the NEC considered what should be done and stated:
Under no circumstances
—it was not talking about a Labour Government—
will the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands be handed over to any Argentinian regime which violates human and civil rights
In 1980—just a year and a half ago—a draft manifesto was produced. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) played a prominent part in putting it together. The draft manifesto contained the following paragraph:
We reaffirm our commitment that under no circumstances will the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands be handed over to any Argentine regime which violates human and civil rights.
That remains the common view of the Labour Party today, and I hope that it remains the view of the Government.
In order to achieve that, the Security Council—following the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentine forces—was called upon to introduce resolution 502. It was tabled immediately before the first Saturday debate in the House and, as the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) pointed out, it contained three distinct parts that must, nevertheless, be read as a totality. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the first part 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 means that all diplomatic measures must be taken to ensure that the other two parts of the resolution are effective. The second part was that Argentine troops should withdraw from the islands that they had invaded. The third part of the resolution was that there should be a ceasefire. They have to be read in the context of the date of the original resolution. The original resolution was tabled by Her Majesty's Government representative on 3
April. It was done before the task force had even been assembled, let alone sailed from the United Kingdom. There were a number of abstentions but the resolution was passed by a large majority. Relying on article 51, Her Majesty's Government then began to take military action to win back the Falkland Islands.
I say to my right hon and hon. Friends and to Conservative Members who take a similar view, that of course our duty is to take all diplomatic measures we can and to negotiate as hard as we can. But suppose that those measures proved ineffective? "All right", say some of my hon. Friends, "Let us take economic and financial sanctions." What if those measures are ineffective? I believe we are then still in the position of having to rely on article 51. My view is that it remains a great pity that the United Nations did not proceed with its original idea of having its own peacekeeping force. The fact that one's own might has to be used in one's own defence means that in a sense one is a judge in one's own cause. That is the position that we are facing.
Article 51 takes over and it is here that the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) are especially important. If there is no alternative to the use of force how much force does one actually use? The limits that he has put down seem to be the sensible, reasonable limits that should guide a political decision—because that is what it is. First, the force to be used should not be so large that it prevents one from taking part in diplomatic negotiations.
Secondly, the force that is used should be reasonable in the circumstances. That is the common legal form for self-defence whether it is of an individual citizen or a group of people. Subject to those two qualifications, we might be in the position of having to use force. I have referred to a third qualification, to which the right hon. Member for Sidcup, also referred, that one must have political control.
I have no doubt that there is political control over the task force. It is a political decision and it is right that that should be Her Majesty's Government's political decision. Her Majesty's Government have a duty to ensure that our forces are protected—even more so in this case when the fleet is 8,000 miles away from home. There is the supply line to the fleet. Her Majesty's Government have to ensure that the fleet is well provided, that the maintenance is good, and that it is capable of dealing with any emergency that might arise in the area. I know what can happen when a fleet is that distance from its major port. Great difficulties can arise and emergencies must be capable of being dealt with.
I assume that Her Majesty's Government have that well in hand. I do not think it would be wise of me to put it in the form of a question. I want to put very few questions because lives are involved and I believe that it would be quite wrong to go into details.
However, I have one question that in no way affects lives or security. The Press Association tape "News Review at 6 pm" stated:
Selective call-up for reservists from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, with opportunities for some volunteers, may soon be announced by the Government".
I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence can comment on that tonight.
The Leader of the Liberal Party said earlier today—at a time when he could actually be heard—that he deplored the fact—I am not sure if he used the word "deplored"—
—regretted that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had not joined discussions with the Prime Minister in accordance with the offer made to him. The Leader of the Liberal Party was being somewhat disingenuous. I quote from The Times of 10 May. Incidentally, The Times came to a different conclusion but that does not matter. It stated:
Mrs. Thatcher herself showed that she understood well enough, when explaining a fortnight ago on BBC's Panorama why she knew that Mr. Foot would not accept an invitation: 'I think he probably feels, as I would feel if I were in his position, that he could only be given information on the basis not only that he would not use it—not mention it to anyone—but he could not use that information to colour what he said in the House of Commons. Now in a way that might deprive him of carrying out effectively his first duty which is constructively to criticise the Government of the day."'
I believe that is the right view. It adequately describes the duty of the Opposition, particularly at a time like this. It is easy to say that we should be united. We should, in so far as we can be. That is true. This is a time of great crisis and we have to cope with a national emergency. At the same time the Opposition have to take into account the fears, worries, questions, thoughts and problems of our citizens. That is our duty. Sometimes we will diverge from the national view because it is essential to push that point of view. To that we intend to stick.
In those circumstances I do not believe that it could possibly be right for my right hon. Friend to take part in discussions in which, incidentally, he alone in the Labour Party would be involved and in which he would find himself prejudiced, as the quotation from The Times shows, in making the kind of attack that he should make.
What is the duty of an Opposition in these circumstances? Surely it is to remind the country continuously why we have reached the present position and that it is our duty to protect the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands. Article 73 is quite distinct. It imposes a positive obligation on Britain to treat the interests of the inhabitants as paramount, requiring Britain to accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost their well-being.
In order to achieve that one must ask what must be done. What we have to do is ensure, with due respect for the culture of the people concerned, their political, economic, social and educational advancement, their just treatment and their protection against abuse.
It is our duty to proclaim this and to remind the country, as occasion has it, of what is necessary to be done. For that reason, fairly early on after the invasion of the Falkland Islands, we asked that there should be an extension of broadcasting to the inhabitants so that they should know what was happening in this country. We are glad that that has taken place.
Our second duty is to the forces. Her Majesty's Opposition have a strong duty to preserve the well-being, general competence and ability of those forces. Primarily the Government are responsible. Political control means that Ministers are responsible. However, the Opposition must voice their feelings provided that they do not enter too greatly into the details of strategy or tactics. If they do that, they are entering a realm that they do not know enough about at any particular time. However, they may do so in general because there may be circumstances in which they will have to comment, but they will have great difficulty in doing so.
Finally, the Opposition's duty is to voice the country's queries, problems and thoughts. If I understood the Foreign Secretary correctly, he announced two basic immovable positions from which he would not be budged. I hope that he will confirm, if necessary by a nod of the head, that I have them correct. First, he said that there shall be no ceasefire until there has been an agreement to withdraw the entire Argentine force plus the Argentine civil personnel. That appears to be correct. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that the outcome of long-term negotiations about the future of the islands must not be prejudged by the Argentines. He implied that they can have what opinion they like, but they must not prejudge the negotiations. I think that that is correct also.
If those two bases are the Government's immovable objectives and if they are what they will stick on, the Opposition are with them and will support them. The Foreign Secretary has said that other issues are negotiable.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister and the Government did not take up the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that we might have debates on the proposals that come to us from the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I remember that when the European Commission made proposals they were debated in the House and the responsible Minister would listen to what the House had to say. If the view of the House is not to be taken into account in that way, it follows that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will at some time—there will be a conclusion to the negotiations and all wars end in negotiations at some stage—
Even surrender leads to negotiations. The hon. Gentleman should remember what happened at the end of the Second World War. At some time the result of negotiations will be brought to the House. Responsibility for the items that are negotiable will rest with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government. At that time there will be no obligation on the Opposition to accept the results holus-bolus or in any other way. At that stage we shall examine what has been given and what has been provided. That is when we and the country will make our judgment on what has happened.
I share the view of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) that this debate has been worth while, and that this, the fifth debate on these grave issues, has been a constructive and balanced one.
It is now nearly six weeks since Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands and imposed on British people and British territory an illegal and alien military rule. The invasion was an unprovoked and obnoxious act, which the United Nations Security Council immediately condemned in resolution 502. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said in opening the debate, the foundation of the negotiations must be resolution 502. We must not forget, and we must not allow the world to forget, that resolution 502 forms the basis of any negotiation, including Argentine withdrawal.
Following the passing of resolution 502, Argentina continued to build up its forces on the Falkland Islands, and invaded South Georgia after the resolution was passed. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has worked tirelessly to achieve a diplomatic solution to the dispute. I appreciated the support of the right hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), in what they said, and their support for the Foreign Secretary in all his efforts.
These negotiations were carried out first with the cooperation of Secretary Haig, then on the basis of proposals from the President of Peru. On that, I should make it clear to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that whatever the press reports may have said, we know only of Argentine rejection of the Peruvian proposals. Now there are the negotiations with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Our approach to all these negotiations has been urgent, realistic and constructive.
Does my right hon. Friend think that it is satisfactory to tell the House and the country that all that the Government know is rejection, when the Government of Peru have issued firm statements giving the details of the amendments put forward by the Argentine Government? Quite apart from the quotation that I produced, this has been followed by further evidence from the Government of Peru about the proposals, and about the amendments put forward by the Argentines. There must be some explanation, if Her Majesty's Government are saying that they were told that it was rejection, and the Government of Peru, carrying on the negotiations, say that they were provided with three amendments, and publish them.
I am aware that there have been press reports that there were Argentine amendments made to the proposals of the President of Peru. I am advised that we have no knowledge of the amendments. We shall look further to see whether there is any accuracy in the press reports. However, all that we have been informed of is total rejection of the proposals that were made through the Peruvian President. If there is any subsequent information about Argentine amendments, we shall study them. Up to now, we have only been told of rejection.
I cannot answer that because I do not know what reports the right hon. Lady has seen. All I can tell the right hon. Lady is that there was a set of proposals that emanated from the United States and the President of Peru and those proposals were rejected by the Argentine Government.
Regrettably, throughout the negotiations, the Argentine Government have approached the matter differently from ourselves. They have sought to prolong them in the hope that international opposition to the illegal occupation would falter, and that time would act against us militarily. They have been consistent only in their inflexibility and intransigence. Meanwhile, Argentine troops are still on the Falkland Islands. They persist in their illegal occupation. They have taken no steps to withdraw in accordance with the mandatory resolution of the Security Council.
We cannot allow the present situation on the Falkland Islands to endure. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said, we should remember the consequences of allowing the Argentines to get away with this aggression. Our diplomatic efforts are intended to bring it to an end peacefully, but these efforts have been and must continue to be accompanied by military actions. I was naturally encouraged by the right hon. Gentleman's comment that so far the official Opposition had supported all our military actions.
I want to devote most of my short remarks to the military aspects of the affair, just as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary concentrated on our diplomatic efforts.
I will deal with that later.
Our military effort has been calculated to serve two purposes: first, to put increasing pressure on the Argentine garrison on the Falklands, and on the Argentine Government, to recognise our resolve and to accept a peaceful withdrawal; and secondly, to put us into a position from which, if all diplomatic efforts fail, we can take the further military action necessary to end the illegal occupation of the Falkland Islands. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said, there would have been no purpose in sending the task force unless we were in some circumstances prepared to use it.
From the first, our military actions have been complementary to our diplomatic efforts, and entirely consistent with our inherent right of self-defence under the charter. These actions have comprised a steady progression. The progression has not been dictated wholly by our diplomatic efforts; it has been necessary as a consequence of the time needed for our forces to deploy to the South Atlantic from the United Kingdom, although while this was taking place we have continued to place whatever military and economic pressure we could on the Argentine Government to recognise their misjudgment of our resolve and to withdraw from the islands.
I can therefore give a complete assurance to my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) that any period of delay has been caused not by doubts but by the movement of our forces to the area of potential conflict.
Now our forces are deployed to the Falklands area, they will take the action necessary to deny reinforcement and resupply of the Argentine garrison, and to protect themselves against attack from Argentine naval and air forces. The consequent engagements have already led to significant loss of life and casualties on both sides. The whole House regrets that this is so, and mourns those British Service men who have died while performing their duty to this country with conspicuous skill and courage.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East discussed the degree of force which was acceptable in meeting the Government's aims. Our military build-up has been gradual, graduated and closely controlled. Ministers have never been in any doubt, however, that if it became necessary to use force, force would have to be used.
We do not underestimate the threat posed to our forces by Argentina. The whole House agrees, as the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) has just said, that we cannot put our Service men at risk by requiring them to pull punches in the face of that threat. However, I can assure the House that our task group will not employ unnecessary force. It will use only the force necessary to fulfil its mission and to protect itself.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East referred again to the sinking of the cruiser "General Belgrano" and to the fact that she was some 30 miles or so outside the total exclusion zone. That zone was not relevant in this case. The "General Belgrano" was attacked under the terms of our warning to the Argentines some 10 days previously that any Argentine naval vessel or military aircraft which could amount to a threat to interfere with the mission of British forces in the South Atlantic would encounter the appropriate response.
The "General Belgrano" was in a heavily armed group of warships. The cruiser and two destroyers had been closing on elements of our task force. At the time that she was engaged, the "General Belgrano" and a group of British warships could have been within striking distance of each other in a matter of some five to six hours, converging from a distance of some 200 nautical miles.
Following attacks on our ships the previous day, and given the possible presence of an Argentine submarine and other information in our possession, there was every reason to beleive that the "General Belgrano" group was manoeuvring to a position from which to attack our surface vessels. Therefore, under certain rules of engagement that we had already agreed, our submarine attacked the cruiser for reasons of self-defence of our own fleet.
In this connection, I again emphasise that at all times the task force has been under political control. The clearest evidence of that is the political oversight we give and the regular, almost daily, meetings that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister holds with those of her Ministers most closely concerned. At these meetings, political and operational decisions are taken and approved.
I was asked about an announcement that has just been made about the call-out of reservists. It is not expected that any large-scale call-out of reserves will be needed, but we need a small number of skilled personnel mainly in communications. Therefore, it will be a selective call-out of specialists, and the present plans envisage that in due course up to about 300 may be involved.
Our military action so far has inflicted on the Argentine forces a number of serious reversals. South Georgia was retaken with no British casualties. As many as 10 Argentine aircraft have now been lost, whereas our task force has lost only one aircraft, a Harrier, as a direct result of Argentine action.
Argentine losses include one Canberra, two Mirages, three Sky Hawk aircraft and two Puma helicopters. Three further military aircraft, whose presence was in breach of our total exclusion zone, were severely damaged during attacks on airfields on the Falkland Islands. There have also been significant Argentine naval losses, which I shall not outline on this occasion.
I take no pleasure in the loss of life and the waste of resources that these losses represent. Nevertheless, I do take satisfaction from the evidence that they provide that our task force is discharging its mission effectively, and tightening its grip on the Argentine garrison on the Falklands.
There has been agreement in this debate that the net should be tightened. That garrison is now beleaguered. Its supply lines are cut. It may be that under cover of darkness or in adverse weather conditions, some supplies are still getting through by air or sea, but it is certain that this is quite insignificant compared with both the scale of resupply before we implemented the exclusion zone and the needs of the garrison.
Brief mention has been made about the press, radio and television—recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) and earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) and others. I do not want to say anything about the contents of press reports, but about the very real problem of reporting this affair in the unique circumstances that we face.
Everyone accepts that operations in the South Atlantic are difficult and dangerous. The task force is 8,000 miles from home. The weather is bad, with the winter season starting. The Argentine forces are on the alert to break into the total exclusion zone. The 27 correspondents aboard the task force are sharing the rigours and dangers of hostilities with the ships' companies. They are, if I may say so, doing a very impressive job, and I pay tribute to them. They get back to the public—not only the public of this country but throughout the world—the realities, and indeed the personal side, of conflict at sea in the conditions of the South Atlantic. They can communicate as only eye witnesses can.
I must make it clear that the commanding officers of the task force must ensure that the copy leaving their ships does not unintentionally disclose any operational information that would be useful to Argentine forces. The need to preserve the lives of our men in the task force must take priority over every other consideration, even well-informed British and international opinion, vital though it is. In the last resort, judgment of what to release from the task force can come only from the commander on the spot, not on a political level here at home. It cannot be done by me.
It is a matter of great regret to us that we have not been able to send back from the task force the volume of photographs and television reports that we would wish. The purpose of embarking journalists with the force was to ensure that there would be a flow of material coming home. The transmission of live television from the ships proved to be impossible because the required power is not available. Nor does the military satellite system have sufficient capacity to carry such signals. Even a recorded film could only be transmitted at a rate of about one still picture every 20 minutes. Any transmission on that basis would have placed quite unacceptable demands on a system that is already hard pressed with urgent operational requirements.
I make those points as I am hard pressed both by the British press which, understandably enough, says that it does not have sufficient information and would like more and by the Royal Navy, which is engaged in the hazardous and difficult task of the operation. To keep a balance between the two is not easy. We try to do our best. There are technical problems that prevent the material from coming back.
I am pleased to tell the House that the flow of film and photographs from the operation on South Georgia has now started. That will provide some more information of what is now going on in the South Atlantic.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that one of the points that has been made forcefully by the BBC and the press is that, because of the long delays in getting material back to London, they are sometimes more dependent on Argentine sources than they would wish? Would he also agree that the independence and even-handedness of the press and the BBC is one of this country's greatest assets in the diplomatic battle?
I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady. The independence of the press is absolutely fundamental. Nobody has ever suggested anything else. I said that complaints are made about my Department. It is said that we are not providing sufficient information from the South Atlantic. I am emphasising that it is technically impossible to do so. We are not obstructing. We are simply not able to provide information as we would wish.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup paid eloquent tribute to our forces. I cannot let that pass without paying my own. Not merely the Royal Navy has behaved absolutely splendidly—the Army and Royal Air Force have too. Some of the Royal Air Force's achievements have been quite remarkable. Mid-air refuelling and the Vulcan achievement are but two examples. The Merchant Navy and the civilians working in our dockyards and British industry have also done a magnificent job. I am sure that the whole House would agree that we should pay tribute to them now.
The House will of course be informed of events as they unfold. I shall not comment on the military options which I as Defence Secretary have put to my Cabinet colleagues. As has been said, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss the military options. The chiefs of staff are intimately involved in that process. The options open to us embrace a range from the long blockade of the Falklands to their repossession by force at an early date.
We will not be hurried. Decisions will be taken at the proper time in the light of all the information and advice that is available to us. Nevertheless, we will not be stalled by Argentine procrastination at the United Nations or anywhere else. I repeat my assurance to my right hon. and hon. Friends. At no stage since the outset of the affair, since the original invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina, have any necessary military measures been held back as a result of the process of time. We have moved forward methodically, placing our forces in a position to conduct the necessary operations, but it is a very long line of communication and it has taken many weeks for our amphibious forces to arrive in the area to carry out their measures if that proves necessary.
It remains our earnest hope that further military action may not be necessary. This depends on Argentina's willingness to withdraw her forces of occupation.
The search for a diplomatic solution continues as relentlessly as before. Equally relentless is the military pressure that we have applied and shall continue to apply until we have a solution that is acceptable to the House.
You, Mr. Speaker, very courteously allowed the Minister to finish, although strictly he should have been brought to a halt at 10 o'clock. Bearing in mind the pressure to take part in such debates—I know that several hon. Members who wished to speak were unable to do so—would it not be prudent to extend any future debate on this subject until 11 o'clock?