Falkland Islands

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 13th May 1982.

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Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon 6:45 pm, 13th May 1982

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.