Orders of the Day — Falkland Islands (Franks Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:53 pm on 26th January 1983.

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Photo of Mr Stuart Holland Mr Stuart Holland , Lambeth Vauxhall 8:53 pm, 26th January 1983

Several arguments have been nailed during the debate, one being that the crisis was unavoidable because it was unforeseen. Franks makes it plain that, throughout February, pressure was mounting. Hon. Members have drawn attention to this and also in particular to the fact that the Prime Minister minuted a telegram from the ambassador to Buenos Aires on 3 March saying: We must make contingency plans. That was a month before the invasion. This was the Prime Minister who said that the Falklands crisis all came as a bolt from the blue when, in fact, it came in a minute in a red box a month before the invasion.

Several hon. Members have tried to address themselves to the lessons of the Falklands crisis and the invasion. It is clear that the islanders have been grossly disserved. Many of them, for example, now have unusable ground. There is talk of moving Stanley itself because of the difficulty of disposing of Argentine plastic mines. There is no attention to the real needs of the islanders. There is even quite appalling talk of further colonisation of the islands on plots of 100 acres of grade 5 land, equivalent to the top of the Cairngorms, which could perhaps suport six to eight sheep each but not a family, with no wheat, no vegetables and no processing for market.

In social terms, what is being done by the Government for the people themselves rather than the claims to property? What about hospital and educational facilities? What are the retirement prospects for people who traditionally have not been able to retire on the islands but have retired elsewhere, whether in Britain or in New Zealand?

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who is not with us at present, said that sovereignty in the Falklands could never be conditional. He is wrong. Effective sovereignty is always conditional, including the sovereignty of the Crown or the sovereignty of the House of Commons, of which it is so jealous and proud. The Crown in Parliament, not the Crown, is sovereign here. Parliament does not dictate that solutions should be unchanged for ever. Rather, it prides itself on being able to amend initial cases so that they are better adapted to real needs and circumstances. If the Government do not recognise that fact, we shall be condemned to fighting the battle of the Falklands for ever.

A long-term Falklands lesson is that indecision, inertia and incompetence on the part of Government led to a drift into crisis. Few hon. Members have addressed that lesson in terms of the wider implications for defence policy. There are two dimensions. The first has been the admitted unusability of nuclear-powered submarines in this crisis. The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Sir J. Nott), told us that conventional submarines could track down a nuclear submarine and that the nuclear submarine could not surface. Our forces simply were not adapted to deal with situations of that kind.

The right hon. Gentleman also reminded us that in his view the real enemy is in Europe and the Soviet Union. Given the scenario of an inability to react to events—the marked feature of what occurred in March 1982 was inaction and indecision—what assurances have we received that that would not recur if there were a crisis in Europe?

Let me take one scenario, although there are others. Instead of the Hungarian crisis in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the recent Polish crisis, what if there were a combination of all three? We might know that the Warsaw pact forces were mobilised to deal not with a foreign threat but with internal repression. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) agrees, because I was struck by his argument that, had we over-reacted at a certain stage in the Falklands war, it could have been interpreted as an offensive move. That is precisely the dilemma we face over the lowering of the nuclear threshold in the European theatre.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister told us that to have sent three frigates would not have helped. She said that the sending of one or more nuclear submarines would have meant continuing negotiations. She said that a covert presence would not have deterred. In other words, we never had the right thing in the right place at the right time.

How would we deter movement across frontiers in Europe, not, as expected, of Warsaw pact forces, but possibly of other forces crossing frontiers to defend themselves against the Warsaw pact? One thing is certain—there would be no Franks report or two-day postmortem after such a crisis, because in a nuclear holocaust we would all be dead.

The inability of the Government to have an adaptable and appropriate response for the Falklands is one of the key features of the Franks report. In their view it was either all-out war or nothing. Those are the two options that they considered they faced. But that will be our peril if we translate the same options into the European theatre.

What is the record overall? It is too little, too late, on the Government side. Instead of a resolute approach, the Government were irresolute, indecisive and, in key respects, by failing to act on information, incompetent. When she needed to act, the "iron lady" had her feet off the floor. She was saved only by the courage and commitment of the armed forces. She has made a mess of the economy and now a mess of the Falklands. This report and debate are not the jewel in her crown; they could well be the beginning of the end of her Government.