Falkland Islands

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 13th May 1982.

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Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire 3:46 pm, 13th May 1982

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.