HC Deb 08 April 1982 vol 21 cc1084-6
Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 8 April.

The Prime Minister

In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others throughout the day. This evening I shall have a meeting and a working dinner with Secretary Haig.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the Prime Minister agree with the statement by the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday that the Falkland Islands exercise will go ahead regardless of cost? Has she any idea of what that cost will be—£100 million, £500 million, £1,000 million? How will it be paid for, and how does it come within the cash limits of the Ministry of Defence?

The Prime Minister

I wish to make it perfectly clear to the hon. Gentleman that when this information first came to me—I said when it did—I took a decision immediately and said that the future of freedom and the reputation of Britain were at stake. We cannot therefore look at it on the basis of precisely how much it will cost. That is what the Contingency Reserve is for. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that, should we need to raise more money, that money will be raised in orthodox ways, and that it will not be done in an inflationary way.

Mr. Neil Thorne

A report has just been received to the effect that the Argentine reserve forces are being called up. Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider whether it will be necessary to make an announcement soon about our own reserves, particularly in view of the importance of providing effective cover in Europe, and particulartly in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

If we thought it necessary to do so, we should of course consider it, but I do not believe that it is necessary at the moment.

Mr. Foot

May I put to the right hon. Lady a question concerning the possible recall of Parliament to discuss these matters, because, in the light of some of her replies now, and of what is happening, we may need to come back earlier than was previously decided? A curious statement was made by the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday on this matter, when he referred to the need to keep the House informed of developments. He said: I undertake to do that while the House is in recess".—[Official Report, 7 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 1045.] The House should be informed about these major questions. The right hon. Lady may have to report to the House on her discussions with the American Secretary of State. Also, the House might need to be the first place to be informed about any statement on Gibraltar. There are a crowd of matters. I do not ask the right hon. Lady necessarily to reply now, but I put it to her that the House may well need to come back on Tuesday, instead of following the present arangements. I ask her to consider that. I also ask her to consider that although, of course, she will have the right to make the judgment on the matter, we may wish to make representations to her on the subject.

The Prime Minister

Of course I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members may wish to make representations. If it were thought necessary or strongly advisable to recall the House, we should of course do so.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Lady for that undertaking, which I naturally understood that she would give, but may I press on her that if departures in policy or understanding arise, for example, from the visit of the American Secretary of State, the House of Commons must deal with the matter, and not some television programme?

The Prime Minister

Secretary of State Haig comes as a friend and ally. Between the United States and ourselves the word "mediator" has not been used, because we made our position perfectly clear. The troops must be withdrawn from the Falkland Islands as a first step.

Mr. Montgomery

Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to remind the rest of the world that the regime responsible for the invasion of the Falkland Islands did not do it to bring freedom and democracy to the Falklanders? Is not its record of oppression in Argentina a clear indication of the sort of people who are involved?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that that regime has yet to bring freedom and democracy to its own people. I am afraid that we must have grave doubts about the way in which they will treat our people on the Falkland Islands.

Dr. Owen

In the light of the debate yesterday and the clear wish of all right hon. and hon. Members to unite and avoid endless post mortems, will the Prime Minister institute discussions between the parties about the form of an inquiry which will have to take place? The House should be given an assurance about that matter at the earliest possible moment so that we may look at the whole conduct of the affair up to the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

The Prime Minister

I am in some difficulty. There is a later question on the Order Paper, tabled by one of the right hon. Gentleman's distinguished colleagues. Although, in my view, the precise form of the inquiry that the question asks for would not be appropriate, I think that some form of review is appropriate. We are considering exactly what form that review or inquiry should take and what its timing should be. I am quite happy to consult on that matter. What I want to make clear is that we think that some form of review or inquiry is advisable under the circumstances, and we shall consult later.

Q3. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 8 April.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that, contrary to assertions that we are running down the Royal Navy, we are in fact spending more in real terms on the Navy than was spent in the last year of the Labour Administration, and that by 1985 we shall have even more fighting ships and submarines than now?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point. It was raised very effectively in the debate last night. It should be more widely known, first, that we are spending more than £½ billion more in real terms on the Navy now than when we took office, and, secondly, that in the future we shall still be spending more on the conventional Navy, even when expenditure on modernising the strategic deterrent is at its peak, than we were in 1978–79. I also hope that it will be made abundantly clear that the two new aircraft carriers "Illustrious" and "Ark Royal" will be in operational service before "Invincible" and "Hermes" are disposed of.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Will the Prime Minister take time today to reconsider her ministerial changes? Will she explain to the House why she chose to appoint a noble Lord from another place to the very sensitive post of Secretary of State for Trade, bearing in mind the debacle that has just taken place in the Foreign Office because it had a Minister who was answerable not to this place but to another place along the corridor? Will she look into this matter? Does she not feel that she is treating the Members of this Chamber with contempt?

The Prime Minister

Certainly not. A great deal of legislation and debate also takes place in another place, and it has been the custom under Conservative Governments to have three Members of the other place in the Cabinet. Quite apart from that, my noble Friend will be a very effective Minister indeed.

Mr. William Hamilton

No one has ever heard of him

Mr. Chapman

In view of the grave responsibilities that fall on my right hon. Friend at this time in our country's history, is she assured that she has the support of all the friends of our country? Will she bear that in mind in her resolve to seek a solution of the Falkland Islands problem and to put back this terrible aggressor on British lands?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I emphasise again the widespread support that we have had, not only from the European Economic Community and our NATO allies, but, as we would expect, from Commonwealth countries, and—even beyond that—from some of the countries in Africa and the Caribbean, which gave us positive support in the motion before the Security Council. I think that everyone clearly understands that unprovoked aggression must be stopped.

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