§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
I beg to move,That this House approves the decision of Her Majesty's Government to set up a Falkland Islands review as announced by the Prime Minister in her reply to a Question by the right honourable Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, on 6th July 1982.
§ The Prime Minister
As early as 8 April, I announced in reply to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that there would be a review of the way in which the Government Departments concerned had discharged their responsibilities in the period leading up to the invasion of the Falkland Islands.
Since then, although a few have argued that it is not necessary, there is widespread agreement that a review of some sort should be conducted and that there should be prior consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of other opposition parties in the House who are Privy Councillors. It would be fair to say that the consultations led to broad agreement on the nature, scope and composition of the review.
Accordingly, I set out the form of the review and its terms of reference in my reply of Tuesday to the Leader of the Opposition, and I welcome the opportunity to explain to the House today the reasons why the Government have decided to appoint a Committee of six Privy Councillors to conduct the review and to give it the terms of reference set out in my answer to the right hon. Gentleman.
I wish to deal in turn with the nature of the review, its scope and its composition. As to its nature, the overriding considerations are that it should be independent, that it should command confidence, that its members should have access to all relevant papers and persons and that it should complete its work speedily. Those four considerations taken together led naturally to a Committee of Privy Councillors. Such a Committee has one great advantage over other forms of inquiry. As it conducts its deliberations in private and its members are all Privy Councillors, there need be no reservations about providing it with all the relevant evidence—including much that is highly sensitive—subject to safeguards upon its use and publication.
A Committee of Privy Councillors can be authorised to see relevant departmental documents, Cabinet and Cabinet Committee memoranda and minutes, and intelligence assessments and reports, all on Privy Councillor terms. Many of these documents could not be made available to a tribunal of inquiry, a Select Committee or a Royal Commission.
The Committee will also be able to take evidence from any Ministers or officials whom it wishes to see, and I hope that former Ministers or officials and others who may be invited to assist the Committee will think it right to do so.
There are several precedents for a Government setting up a Committee of Privy Councillors to look into matters where the functioning of the Government has been called in question and sensitive information and issues are involved.
470 I will refer to just one. A conference of Privy Councillors was established in November 1955 to examine security procedures in the public services as a result of the defection of Burgess and Maclean. The results of the inquiry were reported to the House by the then Prime Minister on 8 March 1956, although he stated that it would not be in the public interest to publish the full text of the report or to make known all its recommendations.
In the case of the present review, information made available to the Committee whose disclosure would be prejudicial to national security or damaging to the international relations of the United Kingdom will need to be protected. The Government will therefore suggest to the Committee that it should seek to avoid including any such information in its main report which is to be published, and that, if it needs to draw conclusions or make recommendations which, if published, would entail the disclosure of such information, it should submit them to the Government in a confidential annex which will not be published.
In the last resort the Government must retain the right to delete from the Committee's report before publication any material whose disclosure would be prejudicial to national security or damaging to the international relations of the United Kingdom. But I very much hope that the arrangements that I have just described will make it unnecessary for the Government to do that. However, should it be necessary I can give the House the following assurances.
First, the Government will make no deletions save strictly on the grounds of protecting national security or international relations. Secondly, Ministers will consider any proposals for deletions individually and critically and will accept such proposals only on the grounds I have specified. Thirdly, the Chairman of the Committee will be consulted if any deletions have to be proposed. The fact that the Committee would know what deletions had been made from its report offers the best assurance to those who might believe that the Government would try to make unjustified deletions.
Nevertheless, I repeat that it is the Government's aim to present to Parliament the report of the Committee in full.
So much for the nature of the review. I turn now to its scope. First, geographically, it includes the dependencies—that is, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Secondly, the review will be directed to the events leading up to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April. If these events are to be fairly viewed, they must be seen against the background of negotiations, actions, intelligence and other assessments over the years. For that reason the terms of reference given to the Committee empower it to take account of all such factors in previous years as are relevant.
For this purpose the Committee will need to have access to any relevant documents of previous Administrations, as well as to documents of the present Administration. I have consulted Mr. Harold Macmillan, my noble Friend Lord Home, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), and they have agreed that the Committee should have access to the relevant documents of their Administrations, subject to the following conventions, which are consistent with what has been done in the past.
471 First, documents will be made available to members of the Committee by virtue of their being Privy Councillors and solely for the purposes of this review.
Secondly, any member of a previous Administration who is invited to give evidence to the Committee will be able to exercise his normal right to see documents which he saw as a member of that Administration.
Thirdly, serving and former officials and members of the Armed Forces invited to give evidence to the Committee will be able to see documents which they saw as advisers to Ministers on matters covered by the review.
Fourthly, documents of previous Administrations will not be disclosed to members of the present Administration or to any other persons not entitled to see them.
Fifthly, documents made available to the Committee, and any copies made of those documents for the use of members of the Committee, will be returned to the Departments from which they came as soon as they are no longer required for the purposes of the Committee's review.
Sixthly, it is understood that the Committee may need to describe in its report the gist or purport of documents made available to it, so far as that can be done consistently with the protection of national security and the international relations of the United Kingdom. But no part of Cabinet or Cabinet Committee documents or other documents which carry a security classification may be reproduced in the Committee's report or otherwise published without the agreement of the Government and that of the former Prime Minister of the Administration concerned.
So that there is absolutely no misunderstanding on this point, I repeat that no member of the present Government can or will see any documents of any previous Administration unless he or she, himself or herself, was a member of such an Administration and is entitled for that reason to see those papers.
There is one other procedural matter on which I should say a few words. Although it will be for the Committee itself to determine its own procedure, it will be suggested to the Chairman that should the Committee wish to criticise any individual it should, before incorporating that criticism in its report, give the person concerned details of the criticism, and an opportunity to make representations, orally or in writing. At that stage the Committee would have to decide whether to allow the individual concerned to be legally represented.
Even though the review will be conducted in private, it is important that individuals should not be inhibited in giving evidence to the Committee through fears of making themselves vulnerable to criticism which they may think unjustified and which they might not be given an opportunity of rebutting before the Committee.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The Prime Minister has outlined a massive amount of work for the Committee. Will she tell us about its staff? Are they to be drawn exclusively from the Cabinet Office and the Civil Service, or may members of the staff be brought in from outside?
§ The Prime Minister
The staff of the Committee are being provided under the leadership of the Home Office. The Home Office civil servants have not been connected either with Foreign Office work or with Ministry of Defence work, but they have been accustomed to handling 472 intelligence. It seems right and proper to make arrangements for them to provide the secretarial assistance to the Committee Finally, I turn to the composition of the review—the membership of the Committee.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, be replying to the debate this evening and will hope then to answer arty questions that have arisen. Does the hon. Gentleman still wish to persist?
§ Mr. Faulds
Is it intended that the inquiry should be free to examine the political advisability of the Prime Minister's recent exercise in the South Atlantic? That is very important.
§ The Prime Minister
The Committee will act within its terms of refere ace as it construes them. The terms of reference are:To review the way in which the responsibilities of Government in relation to the Falkland Islands and their dependencies were discharged in the period leading up to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982, taking account of all such factors in previous years as are relevant; and to report.Judging by the distinction of those who have agreed to serve on the review, I think that we can leave them to interpret the terms of reference as they think best fitted to the discharge of their duties.
I come to the membership of the Committee. As I announced in my reply to the right hon. Gentleman on Tuesday, Lord Franks has agreed to be the Chairman. I know that that choice is acceptable and indeed welcome to those whom I have consulted. Lord Franks will bring an unrivalled breadth of experience to the work of his Committee, and we are fortunate that he is ready to take on the task.
As I also announced on Tuesday, the other members of the Committee will be my noble Friend Lord Barber, Lord Lever of Manchester, Sir Patrick Nairne, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and my noble Friend Lord Watkinson. The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve that Sir Patrick Nairne be sworn a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition proposed the names of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South and Lord Lever. I hope that the House will share my view that a Committee with this membership gives us the best possible assurance that the review will be carried out with independence and integrity.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)
Does the right hon. Lady agree that there might be an outside impression that this coterie is comfortable, conservative and clubable, as there is no female member on the Committee? Do only males understand war and its events? Why does not the right hon. Lady appoint someone suitable from her own sex to the Privy Council such as Mary Goldring, who might bring in an outside view, away from the claustrophobic atmosphere of Westminster and Whitehall?
§ The Prime Minister
All those concerned with choosing those who should be on the Committee have been anxious to select people who have the right experience, sagacity and integrity to conduct the review. I believe that that is how it will be seen outside.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not keep interrupting. The Prime Minister has not given way, as far as I know. Is the Prime Minister giving way?
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Prime Minister is a lawyer. Is there not a case for having either an international lawyer or a Queen's Counsel on the Committee? Is there not a case for having someone representing the view of what one might call the awkward squad?
§ The Prime Minister
My noble Friend Lord Barber is a distinguished lawyer, who practised for many years. Lord Lever is also a barrister. They will be well able to sift the facts from the opinions and to make a judgment upon the evidence and not upon the imagination.
The Committee must be given the time it needs to carry out its work thoroughly. But the review also needs to be completed as quickly as possible, and it is my hope that it can be completed within six months.
I have confined my comments to the setting up of the review, because that is the subject of the motion. We are not concerned today with the substance of the events that led up to the invasion of the Falkland Islands. That is for the review itself and for the debate that will follow publication of the Committee's report. I hope that hon. Members will welcome the review, and I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Since a review of the matter that we are debating was first raised in the House and outside, the Opposition have taken a view about the way in which it should be approached. We have believed from the beginning that there should be an inquiry or a review. We have believed that it should be directed predominantly to the events leading to the invasion at the beginning of April. We have believed that it should be reasonably swift in making its report to the House and the country. We have believed that the review must be likely to secure general support in the House. In particular, we have believed that the House should support the way in which the final publication of the review is to be made.
I shall respond to the Prime Minister's remarks. I shall say how far we think those requirements that we have always thought to be right have been fulfilled and how far we may proceed along those lines. The House would be wise to accept the Government's motion, and I shall give the reasons.
Major constitutional questions are involved in the establishment of a Committee of this nature. If in any quarter of the House there were any doubt on such a point, the possibility of misunderstanding was removed by the intervention of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) a few days ago when he gave a fine display of his customary perception and bonhomie. In the manner in which he presented his case he showed that there was an important background to such reviews and that we should examine it carefully. In the main, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman implied in his intervention. Important constitutional matters are involved. I do not seek to minimise them. The speech by the Prime Minister showed that she, too, accepted the importance of those constitutional questions.
474 There is the question of rummaging in the pigeon holes and other places where the work and deliberations of previous Governments may be found. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Sidcup implied. It would be an inhibition to good government if every incoming Administration were to spend considerable time examining what the previous Administration did, with special access to matters that the previous Administration had been most eager to keep quiet. That would not assist the processes of good government, although I know that some people think that that would be advantageous. In centuries gone by that was the practice of British Governments.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century incoming Governments spent a considerable part of the beginning of their period in office drawing up the measures of impeachment or Bills of attainder that they wished to make against their predecessors. No doubt they had good grounds to do so. I am not saying that any such possibilities have evaporated now.
In the early part of the eighteenth century a great barrier was placed against the way in which the Government conducted their affairs. Over a period, particularly in this century, not by any precise enactment—that does not make it any worse under our constitution—but by the general usage of Cabinet Government, there grew up the practice that Governments should not have access to the documents of their predecessors. That is a good rule. If it is to be abandoned, it should be done so only if there is a clear statement of proceedings, in circumstances that are fully understood.
There remains the issue that the right hon. Member for Sidcup underlined in his intervention—ministerial responsibility in these matters. If the proceedings of previous Governments are ransacked, ministerial responsibility to the House will be injured. I strongly favour sustaining ministerial responsibility. It is essential to parliamentary government. Ministers should not be allowed to shelter behind the claim that civil servants have offered them incorrect advice. They should take absolute responsibility for what they say. That principle could be injured if matters are not dealt with in the scrupulous way that the right hon. Gentleman suggested.
Civil Service responsibility may arise in the inquiry. Civil servants are not necessarily absolved from the advice that they give. Ministers who accept advice must take responsibility for it, but, in an incident such as this, it is right that the advice, suggestions and propositions about a course of action that a civil servant may have suggested should be examined. I do not refer to civil servants in any one Department, although I noticed that the Prime Minister was diffident about clearing the Foreign Office a little earlier. I hope that she will be a little more generous as we proceed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—Because I favour being generous to everyone if I can—even the Foreign Office.
We are debating a matter of great concern to the whole country, as was demonstrated by the debates on 2 and 3 April. We are concerned to a considerable extent about the type of intelligence that was provided for the Government and what judgment was made on it by both Ministers and civil servants. There is no absolution for Ministers in the proposed inquiry. If we are to use any information that may be discovered about the failures of the intelligence service, it will involve civil servants. The matter must be examined. It is one of the central features of such an inquiry.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it is not necessary, when considering the way in which the Government reached their decision, to compare the present decision-making process with previous decision-making processes. How is that so?
§ Mr. Foot
I am not suggesting that. I agree with the terms that the Prime Minister proposed and the interpretation that she placed upon them in her speech. I am not suggesting that there should be no comparisons between what happened on this and on previous occasions about the interpretation of intelligence. The Opposition have no desire, nor did we when we were in Government, to suppress, circumvent or hide information. The more the report brings the matter into the open, the better we shall like it and the better will be the service done to the nation.
I have not heard the right hon. Lady's statements on the rights of individuals who may be charged or accused or whose conduct may be criticised by the report. I was gratified to hear that they will have the right, prior to the report being published, to see what is said about them so that they will have an opportunity to comment. I assume that they will also be able to present their own views to the inquiry.
I have heard much in the past about various forms of tribunals of inquiry. I participated in some of the debates after which we set up the inquiries into tribunals of inquiry. We set them up because grave injustice had been done to individuals in many tribunals. It was the overwhelming opinion of the House—certainly on the Labour side—that there must be protection for people in those circumstances. Should anyone question what I say, they should examine the debates on the inquiry after the Vassall tribunal, for example, or earlier ones. People were implicated in inquiries at which they did not have the chance to defend themselves. Gross injustice was done to some of them. Some were excluded or driven from public life as a result of charges that they had not seen before they were published in newspaper headlines. I am opposed to British citizens, even if they are civil servants or in the Foreign Office, being subjected to that type of trial. The inquiry may have presented a different picture. Therefore, I warmly welcome what the right hon. Lady said.
It may be thought that inquiries are always to be approved and that they always have been. That is not so, partly for the reasons that the right hon. Member for Sidcup hinted at in his intervention and partly for others. The House has rejected the idea of inquiries on important occasions. In the main, the Opposition have always supported them. In circumstances of great national concern such as this, we have consistently argued for such inquiries. I warmly welcome the fact that the right hon. Lady and the Conservative Party now accept the necessity for an inquiry in present circumstances. It is a conversion. I say that as one who, together with my right hon. and hon. Friends, for many years argued for an inquiry into the Suez fiasco. There has been no such inquiry from that day to this. The Falklands crisis was solved by a considerable military success, but what preceded it cannot be called a diplomatic success.
It is wise for the House to have learnt about these matters. The Suez catastrophe led to the loss of British lives. This country's reputation was injured and great damage was done to our international affairs. That is why the Labour Party, with the Liberals of those times, pressed 476 hard for an investigation into Suez. I am glad that there has been a conversion. It would have been much better for the country if it had listened to what the Labour Party said on the matter some 20 or 25 years ago.
§ Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
If the Opposition are so keen on inquiries now, why was there no inquiry into the invasion of Cyprus? That invasion was widely expected when the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were in Government. They refused any inquiry or information.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. There was a Select Committee on the matter, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) played a most distinguished and independent part. He was not silenced in any way. The Committee revealed many facts that were of great importance to the country. There was no suppression of the inquiry. We are now to have the type of inquiry that best suits the present circumstances. That is wise.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
Is my right hon. Friend a ware—I am sure that if he charges his memory he will recall it—that not only was there an inquiry, but the Foreign Secretary of the day and his officials appeared before the inquiry and gave evidence?
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is a great parliamentarian. Would he consider it proper that the inquiry should investigate whether, in the course of this unhappy affair, the House of Commons was deceived? I refer particularly to the fact that, in undertaking diplomatic talks with representatives of the Argentine junta, Ministers but not Parliament were aware that among some 15,000 people who had disappeared in Argentina itself, most of whom must now be presumed dead, there were also British subjects. Should not that information have been conveyed to Parliament, and would it not have been justification for calling off talks with the Fascist junta?
§ Mr. Foot
I fully accept w hat the hon. Gentleman says. I only wish that greater attention had been paid to the disgraceful state of affairs in Argentina at that time. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) must also be more careful, because he was one of those who opposed an inquiry into Suez. I welcome his conversion. —[Interruption.]—I have been so forbearing that I did not mention that the right hon. Member for Sidcup was Chief Whip at the time. Such matters, of course, cannot be overlooked.
The inquiry will deal with a serious and important matter, and it will be of great benefit to the country if the matter is probed in the way in which the House is determined that it should be. I believe that the names of those appointed to the Committee are the guarantee that that will be so.
§ Mr. Douglas
I in no way impugn the integrity or excellence of the people chosen but this is a House of Commons matter. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give us some idea of the criteria on which he chose those representing the Labour Party?
§ Mr. Foot
I wish to carry my party with me on this matter. I realised that in picking two names out of such a comprehensive selection I might involve myself in some difficulties. I think that is better for us to consider the two who have in fact been selected. I am sure that all Labour Members will have absolute confidence in the two people selected to perform this important function.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is always eager to ensure that the "awkward squad" is properly represented. I can assure him that, if he had been a member of the last Labour Cabinet, he would know that my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Lever qualifies for that appellation better than anyone else in the country, rising even to the high standards of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian.
As I have said, the inquiry will investigate extremely important matters. I believe that it should be conducted speedily. If there is any difference in emphasis between me and the right hon. Lady about the way in which she presented this matter to the House, it is on timing. I do not believe that the inquiry need take six months. I believe that the work could be completed considerably more speedily and that it would be better for the country and the House and for those who wish to judge these matters that that should be so.
For the rest, I believe that what the right hon. Lady has proposed is right and that the House would be wise to support it. I emphasise what she said, and what we have always understood in our discussions, about the fullness of the report to be made to the House and to the country. That is an absolute requirement, but I do not believe that there has been any difference between us on that.
§ Mr. Cryer
My right hon. Friend has put forward the names of two Privy Councillors. Does he accept that people may get the impression, first, that those representatives are in a minority and, secondly, that if the entire membership of the inquiry consists of Privy Councillors, who are thereby close to the Establishment, the necessary zeal to pursue the inquiry may be lacking? There seems to be an undercurrent to the effect that only Privy Councillors can be entrusted with a task of this kind, which is plainly not true.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not making any reflection upon those who are not Privy Councillors. Indeed, I have my eye on my hon. Friend as a prospective Privy Councillor at some later stage. Until the convention is changed, there are certain qualifications that Privy Councillors have to sustain and to which they must subscribe. That is why I believe that in these circumstances it is wise to choose them, but I repudiate entirely any suggestion that the two spokesmen who will be there on behalf of the Labour Party will not prosecute these matters with sufficient zeal and independence. Of course they will. Moreover, as I understand it, in a case such as this they retain the right to make their own independent assessment and to produce their own report if they so wish. It does no service to the country to suggest that the inquiry will in any sense be conducted by a coterie. It will be conducted on behalf of the House of Commons. That is why I ask the House to vote for it now. I believe that it is the right course to take and that the House should give its confident support for it.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South-East)
I do not know whether it was a slip of the tongue. My right hon. Friend said that the inquiry was being conducted on behalf 478 of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister may claim that that would be the effect, but, constitutionally, it is clearly being set up by the Government for the Government to edit at their discretion.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not accept that. If that had been the case, the first requirement that I laid down and on which we have always insisted throughout our discussions would not have been fulfilled. If the Prime Minister had said that she intended to set up a Committee on this without securing the approval of the House, that would have been an error. In the circumstances, the House has the opportunity to decide whether it wishes the inquiry to proceed on this basis. I believe that that is the right way to proceed. The House of Commons has the opportunity to state its view. If my hon. Friend is saying that the whole nature of the inquiry must be changed to ensure that the Prime Minister's position in such a matter should be abandoned in accordance with precedent, I do not agree. We have asserted the right of the House to judge the matter. No service is done by suggesting that an inquiry of this kind, on which some of my right hon. Friends will serve, will do anything other than seek to carry through the task that the House wishes it to fulfil.
Having watched events in the past months since the beginning of the Falklands crisis, I have been reminded occasionally of a scene in Victor Hugo's book, "Ninety-Three", in which a sailor lets loose a great battering ram against a ship. When it looks as though the ship will be destroyed by it, by a skilful piece of agility and manoeuvre at the last minute, he manages to prevent it from doing the fatal damage. I sometimes see the Prime Minister as the heroine of that scene. The hero in the book was first decorated and then shot. I believe that that would be a proper way to apportion responsibility. I speak, of course, in political and electoral terms.
I welcome the inquiry. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support it. I believe that the report may be of great consequence for the country. It may help us to avoid the terrible errors that landed us in this crisis. It may also help to sustain the vigilance with which the House of Commons exercises its rights over the Executive.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
After the undertaking given by the Government at the start of the Falklands expedition, I can see that the inquiry is inescapable. I agree that, if we are to have one, its terms of reference and the form that it is to take are the least undesirable.
In this country we are habitually given to a great preoccupation with the past. That frequently clouds our interest in the future. We should reflect on who is likely to benefit from this inquisition and who is likely to be injured by it, both individuals and the nation. A collection of wise and venerable men will make their services available. I hope that they will bear in mind that such inquisitions can have a damaging and dampening effect upon discussion. They tend to make Ministers cautious, officials careful, records scarce and discussion shallow. They must be careful that attention is not diverted from what has been magnificently achieved by raking over the ashes.
I hope that I shall be forgiven if I refer to some of those in my constituency who have made a notable contribution. The Harrier pilots were mainly based there. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will agree that the 479 families of those who were killed in action should not be unduly prejudiced by their irreparable loss. The Westland helicopters played an important role in the prodigiously successful campaign.
I hope that the inquiry will remember the danger of hindsight when considering the difficulties that confronted those who took part in the events that led to the rape of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. I hope it will not be deceived into making the same facile use of hindsight as have so many of the Government's critics.
I recall the doubts that I had at the outset of the campaign. I wondered whether it was wise for us to take such a huge risk, whether such a military expedition was feasible under such appalling conditions, whether we should keep the staunchness of our friends—our friends stood by us magnificently, although no one had high hopes of Mr. Haughey, and such high hopes would not have been justified—and whether our resolve and determination would survive, not only the long delays and uncertainties, but the inevitable grim toll of casualties.
I hope that the inquiry will consider carefully how many of the Government's accusers, both inside and outside the House, are immaculate. There is a danger that its report may become a fertile quarry for those who habitually scavenge for material that can be used to discredit their country.
I do not believe that there are many countries—given the events of the past few months—that would turn their backs so readily on what was done on our behalf and indulge this passion for raking over bitter ashes. Easy and plausible arguments can be adduced for holding such inquiries, but I believe that the longer-term consequences of such exercises are damaging.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the investigations into the conduct of the generals in the First World War had a profound effect in changing attitudes to military tactics in the Second World War, thereby saving lives? It was demeaning to those who were the subject of the inquiry, but it was surely right that it should have taken place.
§ Mr. Peyton
The parallel is not exact and I do not wish to take up the time of the House by going so far back into history. I believe that such exercises can easily do far more damage than good. I fear that that is likely to be the case with this inquiry, even given the wide reservations that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has placed on the Committee's powers.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has only this is in his favour: previous such inquiries, going back to the Crimea, and even before, have rarely produced a satisfactory answer. That is not the only point with which we are involved, and I differ from him in his conclusions.
Once the task force had been despatched, I was not willing either to give comfort to the Argentines by showing that there were differences in the House or to make our men, who were steaming towards the Falklands, feel that there was disunity here. I believed that it was right that criticism of the Government, which I had expressed before, should be suspended, but only suspended. I do not believe that it would be right to ignore entirely what took place before the task force set sail. My view is shared. I 480 am influenced by the voluminous correspondence that I have received from the public on this matter. I do not recall receiving such a volume of correspondence for many years, and certainly not since I was Prime Minister—and a Prime Minister, of course, always receives a great deal of correspondence. There is a real feeling of shock and alarm among the public, if my correspondence is representative. I shall be happy to supply any part of it to the inquiry to show why the issue should not be allowed to trickle on and dwindle away without an answer.
It came as a shock to the British people that Britain should find herself at war with another sovereign State for the first time for at least 30 years, that all three Services of our Armed Forces—the Army, Navy and Air Force—should be involved and that when battle was joined many lives should be lost, men wounded, some maimed for life, and aircraft and ships lost, all at immense cost. We cannot brush all that to one side.
In addition, two senior Cabinet members resigned and a third member of the Government, a junior Minister, resigned. Another member of the Cabinet, the Secretary of State for Defence, offered his resignation. It was refused by the Prime Minister on the ground that his Department was not responsible for policy, which pointed the finger clearly at the Foreign Office. But the Prime Minister has an overall responsibility for everything that takes place. However, when she gave that reply in her letter to the Secretary of State for Defence, I do not believe that she was implicating herself.
All those matters have alarmed public opinion. The gallantry and professional skill of all our men in the South Atlantic have not washed away the alarm and doubts. They should be resolved now. Hence the need for the inquiry, which has been conceded—almost volunteered—by the Prime Minister. I assume that she shares at least some of the views that I hold about why those matters should be inquired into.
I have read suggestions that the inquiry should make a long and leisurely investigation into affairs over the previous 20 years. I do not know whether such reports are accurate, but the Prime Minister's emphasis in the terms of reference is different.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
While my right hon. Friend is dealing wiht the question of the Ministers who resigned, I recall the former Foreign Secretary's statement that the matter had been a great national humiliation. Are not Lord Carrington and the others involved entitled to hear the inquiry and its conclusions? Is not an essential part of the inquiry to give them an opportunity to explain the circumstances and not just to point an accusing finger?
§ Mr. Callaghan
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made that point clearly. Lord Carrington and the others are entitled to have their explanations and actions fully examined and to make what reply they can; then, as the right hon. Lady said, if it is thought that injustice is being done to them, to have the opportunity to comment. A similar proposition was put by my right hon. Friend when he was Leader of the House on the question of the commission of inquiry to follow the Bingham report. I believe that the precedent has been correctly followed by the Prime Minister today.
I believe that hon. Members are entitled to offer guidance to the inquiry on what people are anxious about.
481 It will start with a blank sheet. The point in the correspondence that I have received can be summed up in one general but central question. Nearly every letter comes back to the question whether a prudent Government should have taken more positive and firmer action at an earlier date to forestall an invasion. That is the central issue with which the inquiry should concern itself.
It is generally put to me that more positive action would have been to have had sufficient force on hand early enough to anticipate an armed attack. The test of firmer action is important. I start from the belief that the junta would not have invaded had it known what our response would be. I cannot prove that, but I believe it strongly.
When the Government were finally convinced that an invasion would take place only a matter of days before it happened, they were incapable of getting men, ships, aircraft and other equipment to the area in time. What action did they take? President Reagan was approached by the Prime Minister. We read in the press that she had several conversations with him. I have no doubt that she put her point with great urgency. We understand that President Reagan urged Galtieri not to invade the Falklands. That was the action of a friend. Indeed, President Reagan had other interests to consider in Latin America.
Did the Government convey to General Galtieri, or ask President Reagan to convey to Greneral Galtieri, that in the event of an invasion Britain would not only protest peacably but would use armed force to retake the islands? That is a central question. I never had any doubt about what we would do. I was certain that we would send the task force. Although I was not in the House on that famous Saturday, I was certain about that. We all know our instincts. The Prime Minister is not the only patriot in the House. There are 635 of us. We all knew that that would be the instinctive response of the Government and the House, but did Galtieri know that we would send a task force to retake the islands? If not, the Government are open to grave criticism.
In considering whether the junta understood what our reaction would be, the inquiry will also want to consider the events involving HMS "Endurance" and the proposal by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) to consider transferring sovereignty of the Falkland Islands to the Argentines, subject to a leaseback arrangement. What signals were those? What was the junta supposed to conclude from such actions? To what extent did the Prime Minister endorse the offer of a transfer of sovereignty to Argentina with a leaseback arrangement, or did the hon. Gentleman make the suggestion on his own account when he was discussing the matter with his opposite number? [Interruption.] I have no hesitation in saying that I have a fixed view. I would be unfit to be a member of the inquiry. I would not have offered myself; in any case, I was not asked! Until my dying day I shall never get out of my head the belief that, as I said on the day that the task force sailed, this was an unnecessary war. I hold the Prime Minister responsible for what took place.
§ Sir Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
The right hon. Gentleman should go back a little further and explain why his Government failed to build a military airfield on the Falkland Islands in 1977.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I fear that that was a question of expenditure, and we did not do so. But I am prepared to go over all those matters in detail.
§ Mr. Peyton
I hope that in addition to saying that we must not brush the affair aside the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what benefits he expects to flow from the inquiry.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am not sure that the Prime Minister will learn much from the inquiry, but I hope that she will. We need a new Government if we are to develop a better manner of conducting our affairs. [Interruption.] I am not playing games. I feel very deeply about this, and I have a right to do so.
The Labour Government decided to have discussions about the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, beginning on 13 December 1977. Because we did not know what form those discussions would take, we decided to make our analysis of what might happen. We did so. It was our belief that the Argentines wanted, naturally, a peaceful transfer of sovereignty, but if there were no prospects of real progress towards Argentine sovereignty there would be a risk of a resort to forceful measures, including direct military action against British shipping and the establishment of an Argentine presence on the dependencies, especially South Georgia, in addition to the scientific station already on Southern Thule.
We also believed that there was the prospect of some private venture activity on one of the dependencies, possibly South Georgia, and that if that took place the Argentine Government would be under such pressure from public opinion that it would have to follow it up. There was internal pressure on the Argentine Government at that time to divert attention from their internal problems.
As a result, we took legal opinion on whether we could establish an exclusion zone of 25 miles. We worked out rules of engagement, authorising a challenge to Argentine ships coming to within 50 miles of the islands to declare their intention. We decided that "Endurance", which the Ministry of Defence wanted to withdraw, should not only be kept on station but should be refitted.
We sent my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) to the talks that began on 13 December, but we made certain that on that day there was a naval presence off the Falkland Islands to strengthen his hand in the event of a breakdown in the talks leading to our beliefs being fulfilled.
That was what the Labour Government did. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked questions about this recently, the Prime Minister's response was to hurl across the Dispatch Box—"sneer" is the correct word—that if a Labour Government had been in power we would not have fired a shot. I tell the right hon. Lady, if we had been in power we would not have needed to.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), I remind him that the terms of the motion before us are whether we should have an inquiry.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)
I welcome this opportunity to comment on the terms of the inquiry, which is a matter of great public concern. Although serious problems have been raised about the mechanics of the inquiry and the constitutional issues, it is essential, for the political health of the country, that the air should be cleared and as many facts as possible relating to previous years brought out. It is important for the country to know whether it has been adequately served by all the Government agencies that have been involved in this sad adventure.
Some years ago I was involved in the Falklands and in Argentina. I offer to the House a few thoughts to justify the Committee's taking account—it is eminently qualified to do so—of all relevant factors from previous years. It is not enough to recognise the facts of the three months that led to the events of 2 April.
I give two or three examples to justify that assertion. We have heard a great deal, in our debates and in the press, about Argentine press comments in January, February and March of this year. It is impossible to make a fair judgment and analysis of the significance of such press reports in Buenos Aires newspapers unless comparisons are made with similar flurries of tension over the previous 10, 15 or 20 years.
Some years ago there was an incident which became known as the "Cronica landing". Cronica is a Buenos Aires newspaper. It sponsored and paid for the landing of an aircraft on Port Stanley airstrip. At that time, to put it mildly, tempers were running high and the apprehensions of those concerned in the British Government, and elsewhere in the world, were intense. Therefore, if an examination is conducted into press comments during the past few months, a comparison must be made with what happened on previous occasions.
Another matter that received considerable prominence recently—the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made some mileage from this—was the comments of the present captain of "Endurance". In a television interview some days ago he said that when the "Endurance" visited Ushuaia in January he found a certain coolness in the atmosphere, which worried him. It is important that the inquiry should establish the amount of alarm that was sounded in the reports that he sent back to the Government on that occasion.
It is also important for the inquiry to consider other incidents in the past—remembering, of course, that the present captain of "Endurance" was not the captain at the time. I believe that the present incumbent has held the post for about 18 months. The inquiry should recognise that in 1976 "Endurance" was forbidden to visit Ushuaia. There was a period of heightened tension on that occasion.
Lord Franks and the Committee of Inquiry should also take into account an occasion in earlier years when shots were fired across the bows of the research ship "Shackleton".
Those examples—and I can offer many more—suggest that it would be inadequate to look only at the events of this year. It is essential to go back a long way. That will, in many ways, be regrettable, because of the understandable difficulties about constitutional propriety, but the composition of the Committee and the terms of reference announced by the Prime Minister will ensure that 484 none of us need have any fears about those constitutional issues. We can all be confident that they will be handled properly.
It is not for me or any other hon. Member to prejudge the outcome of the inquiry, but I should like to offer one thought. Things often go wrong in life, and there is no doubt that they went badly wrong over the Falklands. However, sometimes they go wrong, not because of some immense miscalculation, moral turpitude or fatal inadequacy of any particular individual or even a particular service, but because of a blind and determined refusal by countries to face realities. For reasons that we shall no doubt explore, even after the Committee has reported, it just may be that our two countries, and we in this House, refused to face realities.
If there is telephonic communication between two people and the individuals concerned do not have their ears to the handset, it is not much good blaming either the instrument or the wires that connect them. If this is a case of deafness between two countries, the way to wisdom is to restore the connection, to make sure that the deafness is removed and that our ears go back to the handset. That is the sort of lesson that we should learn.
The inquiry must not be turned into a political dogfight. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) talked about the country not forgiving. I doubt whether he would disagree with my view that the country will not forgive if this issue is turned into a political dogfight. After the brilliant courage and heroism that have been shown, the nation and this House must rise above that.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The responsibility for not turning this issue, on which there has been a substantial measure of national unity, into a party political dog-fight rests on both sides of the House and on all parties, including the Government. That must be carefully borne in mind in the future.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), and not with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that an inquiry is necessary. However, I share some of the views of the right hon. Member for Yeovil about the unhappy history of inquiries of this sort, partly because they are inquiries into unhappy affairs. That is not the only reason, and I shall return to it in a moment.
As the Prime Minister probably recognises, an inquiry has always been part of the bargain. It was understood that there should not be criticism during the operation while British lives were at risk, but that she would agree to the fullest inquiry as soon as the operation was concluded. It has been satisfactorily concluded, and we are all grateful for that.
The Prime Minister indicated that view in reply to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grirnond) as early as 8 April. In that reply, she talked about an inquiry into the work of Departments. I think that she had that in her mind until quite recently. That would have been a mistaken approach, because what is involved is not merely, or even primarily, Departments but the responsibility of Ministers and the Government as a whole. It is wrong to pretend that Ministers or the Prime Minister herself can distance 485 themselves by talking about Departments and inquiries into Departments. If we did that, we would get ourselves into a dangerous constitutional position.
I do not wish to pursue that point too far, because the terms of reference are now about right. They are approximately what they should have been all along—principally to tell us what went wrong in the runup to the Argentine invasion on 2 April 1982.
I wholly accept that it is appropriate for the inquiry, if necessary, to look back for purposes of comparison or clarification. It would be reasonable, if it judged it right, for the inquiry to bring together a review of the facts about successive attempts at negotiation. However, I believe that they are already very much more in the public domain than what happened in the immediate run-up to 2 April. I do not think that there is any great obscurity about those negotiations, but, if there is, let the cloak of obscurity be lifted and let us see absolutely clearly what happened—indeed, back to 1967 and intervening times. Let us see what happened when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who was then at the Foreign Office, nearly brought off a settlement in 1980. Still more relevantly, let us see what happened in the negotiations in New York conducted by the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce).
None the less, let us be absolutely clear that the central point at issue is why an invasion was allowed to take place on 2 April 1982. It is not why an invasion did not take place on a limitless number of occasions in the past. It is no good pretending that there is an equality of status between non-events and events.
As to the composition of the inquiry, the Chairman is a good choice. He is certainly a man of outstanding ability and experience. He has been criticised for having some Foreign Office connections. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about the Foreign Office. In any event, Lord Franks was very much a non-Foreign Office ambassador to Washington as long ago as 1949, and his only connection with the Foreign Office was that for four years he prevented a Foreign Office official from getting that highly coveted job nearly 30 years ago. I do not think that that amounts to a disqualification. Lord Franks is admirably qualified, not least by being a member of the Liberal Party, having taken the Liberal Whip in another place for a number of years.
I turn to the politicians, because Lord Franks is not a politician. [Interruption.] Perhaps I should say that he is not primarily a politician. I doubt very much whether the Prime Minister would have appointed him Chairman had he been so.
Everybody can produce his favourite or non-favourite list of politicians. I notice that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) has put forward an alternative list. We can all argue about that, but, however it is done, I see no way of avoiding the fact that under a whipping system the representatives of the two major parties are chosen by the Government and Opposition Front Benches. I make no point about that.
Sir Patrick Nairne, the sixth member of the inquiry, is a former civil servant. He was an outstanding civil servant. At one time I worked closely with him and found him to be a man of great power, decision and effectiveness. He will be a useful, perhaps outstanding, member of the inquiry. However, I take issue on one thing, and, 486 surprisingly, I partly agree with one or two of the hon. Members—not hon. Friends—who sometimes share this Bench below the Gangway in such neighbourly proximity.
I have no objection to Sir Patrick Nairne being made a Privy Councillor on the ground of his services to the State, which are great. However, there is a danger of making a fetish of Privy Councillorhood. It does not make great sense to pretend that a man's discretion and sense of secrecy cannot be trusted if he is not a member of the Privy Council, but if he is made one it is absolute. People who are not Privy Councillors, such as permanent secretaries in the most sensitive Departments, receive information of great secrecy. Staff will have to be appointed to this Committee who will be members of the Home Office who are certainly not Privy Councillors and whose discretion will need to be absolute.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
In his capacity as historian and not politician, can the right hon. Gentleman throw any light on when this custom concerning Privy Councillors grew up? Is it of recent origin that no one can speak to anyone who is not a Privy Councillor, that they are the only people who can be trusted to keep a secret, and that it is only when one is 70 or so that one is respectable enough to become a Privy Councillor?
§ Mr. Jenkins
It is fairly recent, although I hesitate to speak with absolute authority. The Prime Minister referred to a precedent from 1955, but that was specifically a security inquiry. The two inquiries that were rather similar to this one, those into Mesopotamia and the Dardanelles, were not confined to Privy Councillors and there was no suggestion that they should be so confined.
It is a curious concept that a man has a different sense of responsibility to his nation if he is a Privy Councillor than if he is not. As far as I can recollect, part of the Privy Councillor's oath may be more honoured in the breach than in the honouring, for it is hardly the case that if ill is spoken of another member of the Council it is never passed on unless disclosed to him in Council. [HON. MEMBERS:"Order."] What are we talking about? We do not live in a world of secret societies in which we should not know even what oaths people are bound by.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As one who was twice Home Secretary, is the right hon. Gentleman happy that the talented civil servants of the Home Office should exclusively provide the crucial staffing? Is there not a case for having some members of staff who are from outside lawyers' offices, the academic world or the trade unions?
§ Mr. Jenkins
That is a point for the hon. Gentleman to make himself, which I am sure that he can do with great power. I am satisfied that, from my experience of the Home Office, there are people there who are fully capable of discharging the responsibility that is here involved.
The history of inquiries has not been an inspiring one, and it is difficult to say that a wholly satisfactory formula has emerged over a substantial period. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to the Crimean war inquiry. That was conducted by the whole House sitting as a Committee of inquiry. I doubt whether anyone would propose that that should be done for this inquiry. All hon. Members were not made Privy Councillors for that.
There was the Jameson raid inquiry, about which the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) is 487 a considerable expert as the biographer of Joseph Chamberlain. That was a Select Committee of 15 members, but with the Minister whose conduct was principally at issue playing a great part in appointing the Committee, drawing up terms of reference and sitting on the Committee together with three other members of the Government, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Attorney-General. The Leader of the Opposition also sat on the Committee, but that did not prevent Joseph Chamberlain, it is generally assumed, from withholding three vital telegrams. Thus, that, too, was not a good example of how the truth should be arrived at.
§ Mr. Jenkins
There was then the Marconi Select Committee which, by sheer partisanship, devalued the whole concept of Select Committees. For the inquiry into the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia we had a different form not too dissimilar from that which is here proposed, except that members were not all Privy Councillors. The House added certain members and later added the right to send for persons and papers, which was not in the original resolution. The House also made the resolution rather more precise that it was previously. That, too, is not a particularly good example.
The Mesopotamian inquiry led to the resignation of Austen Chamberlain, who probably ought not to have resigned, although perhaps his father should have resigned 20 years before. The Dardanelles inquiry is not judged by historians to have led to any very close approach to the truth. Certainly Sir Winston Churchill did not accept it. Following that, because of the reaction against the Select Committee, we had the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. I am unaware of the form set out in that Act having been usefully used in any proceedings similar to that with which we are here concerned. Probably its most notable use was the Lynskey tribunal, which had great disadvantages.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to the recent proposal for a Committee, rather similar to this one, following up the Bingham inquiry. That was passed by the House of Commons, rejected by the House of Lords and died between two Governments. Thus, we do not have a vastly inspiring record, and it cannot be pretended that a perfect formula has been worked out.
Various amendments have been tabled which you have not called, Mr. Speaker, including one from the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), which deals in great detail with points relating to confidentiality of the papers of previous Administrations. My impression was that that was largely covered by the qualifications that the Prime Minister set out in her opening statement. Those propositions seem to me to make good sense and to strike about the right balance between the needs of proper investigation and those of adequate confidentiality.
There is need for a certain degree of confidentiality in Government. The Prime Minister said the other day that she was attached to the 30-year rule. I do not necessarily go as far as that. There is nothing sacrosanct about 30 years and it may well be changed in the future, as the 50-year rule was changed. On the whole, we are moving towards rather more open government, not least in the Cabinet of the right hon. Lady. Rarely have we heard more from within an Administration about what went on in the Cabinet, about what Ministers think about each other and 488 what the right hon. Lady thinks about Ministers individually from time to time. [Interruption.] We have the precedent of certain diaries, but they were published a few years after events, although nothing like 30 years after the event. That is different a few days after the event. However, a degree of confidentiality in Government is essential. We should lose a great deal without that.
I deplore the attacks made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield upon the Foreign Office. If officials could not allow their minds to play around a problem—I am not talking about exercising executive responsibility—and offer Ministers advice without feeling that they would be pilloried subsequently, we should lose a great deal. One human freedom that is important in Government, even for Ministers, is the right to change one's mind in private. If that freedom were removed, we should find that more wrong decisions were stubbornly stuck to than if Ministers are allowed to take a tentative view of a subject, then have another look at it, with free advice from officials acting honestly, and then decide that it is perhaps better to proceed in a different way.
There is much to be inquired into. There is much that we need to know. We do not have a perfect formula for inquiries, but this seems about as good as we can get in the present circumstances. I hope that the inquiry will get on with its work expeditiously, fearlessly and frankly. In my opinion, six months is the maximum—it may be even too long—but certainly it should not be allowed to go on longer than that. We wish it well in its work, and we look forward with interest to its report.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)
This is, I think, the first occasion since last Friday on which the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) has addressed the House. Perhaps I should congratulate him, at any rate on filling the Opposition Benches below the Gangway with slightly unusual and in some ways more agreeable faces than one normally sees there. I was particularly interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman describe the distinguished Member of the other House who takes the Liberal Whip as not being a politician. We shall have to see how relations between the two parties develop.
I shall detain the House for only a few minutes. I am one of those into whose activities before the events of 2 April the Committee that is being set up will inquire. I very much welcome the setting up of this inquiry. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said a few minutes ago, on 2 April the House and the country had a very disagreeable shock. No one likes an unpleasant surprise. The immediate reaction of all of us when we have an unpleasant surprise is to say, first, "Why was l not warned?" and, secondly, "Could not something have been done to stop it happening?" That is what the country is asking, and that, I suspect, is what the country will want this inquiry to discover.
However, there is one flaw—a completely unavoidable flaw—in any inquiry or other body that can be set up by the Government, this House, or in any other way in this country, and that is that it cannot question General Galtieri. It takes two to make a bargain, and it takes two to make a quarrel.
The inquiry can—and I hope will—delve deeply into everything that happened in this country. It can review the decisions of Ministers. It can scrutinise the advice given by officials to those Ministers. It can study the messages 489 sent to this country by our representatives overseas. It can peruse the intelligence reports—and I shall return to that matter in a moment. It can investigate the liaison between Ministries and Departments in this country. All those things it can do. What it cannot do is to assess accurately the impact of what we did here on the Argentine President, the junta, the generals, admirals and air force officers, or whoever it was who took the decision to invade on 2 April.
Obviously, what we did—or did not do—here had a powerful effect, because the Argentines did invade. That, as we all now know, was a reckless decision which caused considerable loss of life, led to a humiliating surrender and an enormous loss of material and an even greater loss of confidence in that country's leadership. But what led it to take that decision? Was it because it thought that it would have an easy victory? Did it perhaps take an outside gamble to distract attention from pressing problems at home? Or were there other considerations?
Many people, with or without axes to grind, have already given their opinions. I have no doubt that over the next weeks and months many more will give their opinions. But do they know? No, they do not. Will this inquiry know? I have to say that I doubt it. Nevertheless, as I said, I am certain that it is right to hold it, and I welcome the motion before us, which sets it on its way.
I am more than ready to give the inquiry every help that I can, and I hope that its report will produce lessons for the future. The inquiry may or may not apportion blame. That is for it alone to decide. However, I venture to suggest that if it can point out ways in which the Government machine in this country, from Ministers down, can be made to work better and minimise the chance of this kind of thing ever happening again, that will be the best service that it can render its fellow citizens.
If I may say so, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has got the terms of reference of the inquiry exactly right. Most people are interested in the events of the weeks and months leading up to 2 April, and no doubt the inquiry will concentrate mainly on that, but it would be wrong to attempt to confine the inquiry to an arbitrary period. It may well be—in my view, it is almost certain—that events before the beginning of this year had a powerful influence on what happened.
The most extreme example of that is that in 1965 the United Nations passed a resolution calling on this country and Argentina to discuss together our difficulties and settle them. It may be that the passage of 17 years, without any real noticeable progress, led to a gradual build-up of resentment in Argentina which may have created almost irresistible pressures. It may be that something else done before 1982 caused the Argentines to make up their minds about their course of action. I do not know, but it is clearly right to empower the inquiry to pursue this or other points if, in its judgment, they are relevant.
It is also right—indeed, essential—that the inquiry should be able to see every document having a bearing on the matter, including the most sensitive and secret of all, the intelligence reports. The motion before us does not state precisely that it can do that, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spent a good deal of time spelling out the precise terms on which the inquiry will operate. I am delighted that the inquiry will be able to see everything that it needs to see. The whole proceeding would be futile if it could not do that.
490 The necessity to do that places some restriction on the number of people who can serve on the new body. I take a rather different view from the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead about Privy Councillors. I believe that there is a compelling reason for believing that the discretion of Privy Councillors can be trusted, and that is because they take an oath. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I pay some attention to the oath that I took, and the fact that I took that oath on becoming a member of the Privy Council weighs heavily with me, as I think it does with most others.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I of course pay great attention to that. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that had he not been a Privy Councillor, and had be been required to deal with highly secure matters, as he may well have done in the Department before becoming a Privy Councillor, he would have been careless about the information with which he was dealing in the interests of the State.
§ Mr. Atkins
I like to think not, any more than the right hon. Gentleman would have been careless before he became a Privy Councillor. However, the fact that somebody has become a Privy Councillor and is known to have taken the oath means that outsiders can place reliance upon him.
I place reliance upon those who have been chosen to conduct the inquiry. I rely not only upon their discretion, but upon the way in which they will approach their task. It is my belief—hon. Members may challenge it if they wish—that Privy Councillors, bound by the Privy Council oath, will have the necessary credibility outside the House. Two of the members are unknown to me, but their reputations speak for themselves. I am as confident in them as I am in any of the others.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend resisted the temptation to appoint a judge to the inquiry. It is not that I do not have the highest respect for Her Majesty's judges, I do, but this is not an inquiry for a judge. There is no justiciable issue. There is a great need for an understanding based on experience of how the Government machine works. Without such knowledge it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to know the right questions to ask. If the right questions are not asked, the right conclusions will not be drawn and the right lessons will not be learnt.
I am glad that the inquiry has been proposed by my right hon. Friend. I hope that the House will support the motion before it tonight and that the inquiry, once it is under way, will proceed with all possible speed.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
I greatly welcome the opportunity for the House to debate this subject. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said, I hope that we shall be able to give some guidance to the members of the inquiry before they begin their task.
I greatly welcome the fact that there seems now to be general agreement that there should be an inquiry, although I do not agree with the terms and some of the details of it.
I welcome the privilege of being called to speak in the debate, particularly as I am the first Labour Member to be called who is not a Privy Councillor.
491 I welcomed the opportunity of participating in the debate on 3 April. On that occasion, amongst other rather more controversial remarks, I said that everyone, except the United Kingdom Government, seemed to know that the Falkland Islands were to be or were in danger of being invaded by the Argentines. That is becoming increasingly clear.
We now know that the captain of HMS "Endurance" warned that the Falkland Islands were in danger of being invaded. We know that even Mrs. Madge Nichols was worried about the Falkland Islands being invaded. We also know the kind of dismissive reply that the Prime Minister gave to Mrs. Madge Nichols. I asked the Prime Minister how many other people had written to her expressing concern about the withdrawal of HMS "Endurance". She said that she could not provide that information because it would cost too much. That she was not willing to spend some money and to give her staff time to discover the extent of the opposition to that withdrawal does not bode well for the inquiry.
I welcome the scope of the review that the Prime Minister has agreed to institute. The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) seems to have misinterpreted the scope of the inquiry. Under pressure from my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is to concentrate on the events leading up to the invasion. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition shold be congratulated on that achievement. It is only incidents previous and relating to the invasion that the inquiry will look at.
There, I am afraid, my welcome must end. I have serious reservations about the inquiry that we have heard about today. First, we must consider how the inquiry measures up to the principle of natural justice. It does not measure up to the principle of natural justice. It does not measure up very well. The Prime Minister has said that it is to review the action of Government Departments. That matter was raised by the right hon. Member for Hillhead. My understanding—the Madge Nichols letter and other evidence point in this direction—is that the actions of the Prime Minister herself must come under scrutiny.
If the actions of the Prime Minister are to be among the principal subjects of the inquiry, is it in accord with the principles of natural justice that she should choose the members of the inquiry, set its terms of reference, receive its report and finally have the power to delete any part of the report that she wishes on grounds, as she said, of national security or international relations? Those two broad grounds have been misinterpreted and misused by Governments in the past. On those tests, this inquiry does not measure up to the principle of natural justice. That is why I am unhappy.
I move with some trepidation to the membership of the inquiry. I suppose that I should not question the age, experience and distinction of the members of the Committee, particulary as I used to work for Age Concern. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) is the youngest and most militant member of the inquiry, which says a lot about its membership.
I do not question that people of experience and distinction have an appropriate part to play in the inquiry. However, there should be some people with more inquiring minds as well. There should be some members who are less a part of the Establishment. I question the myth that respectabilty, age and experience equate with objectivity. The Establishment has a self-protection mechanism. One has only to recall the way in which the 492 misdeeds of—dale I mention the names?—Philby, Blunt, Burgess and Maclean were covered up by their fellow members of the Establishment to realise that the Establishment has a powerful self-protecting mechanism.
Without criticising the individuals, I would argue that the attitude of mind, background, education and experience of most of the members of the inquiry lead them to a predisposition to defend the Establishment. Their experience in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office will lead them to protect those who in many cases were their former colleagues—people whom they appointed and worked with.
Why is no one.—perhaps the right hon. Member for Hillhead came nearest to doing so—arguing strongly that we have now set up a system of powerful and, I hope, experienced Select Committees? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] My fellow members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs agree with me. The Defence and Foreign Affairs Select Committees have already agreed to set up their own inquiry into the circumstances leading up to the invasion. There will be problems in that regard.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
At least the Select Committee into the Jameson raid, which the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was criticising, was able to take evidence in public. One member, Henry Labouchere, made a minority report which put on the record what happened. If the Prime Minister were to give evidence to a Select Committee, whether some matters have to be sidelined or not and whether it is in public or private, at least far more would be made public than with the present inquiry.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has experience of getting to the bottom of some of these matters.
I am surprised, for example, that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee are not arguing that their Committees, which they chair with great distinction and experience, should deal with the matter. They have experience of interrogation. They have experience of the two Departments and of Ministers and of officials appearing before them. They seem appropriate Committees. In the United States, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be dealing with the issue in public with the Executive appearing before it. We would be all the better for that.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
As a fellow member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, who has perhaps not such a grandiose view of its ability and experience compared with the distinguished members of the inquiry, I invite the hon. Gentleman not to overlook the fact that the Falklands inquiry, composed as it is of Privy Councillors—whether one likes it or not—will have access to material that would not be available to our Select Committee. Does he agree that any inquiry by the Select Committee would inevitably go off at half-cock and would be much more second rate than what is proposed?
§ Mr. Foulkes
I have considered that important point. I understand from the Clerk to the Select Committee that special arrangements have been made in the past for both the Defence and Foreign Affairs Select Committees to see and to read privileged, confidential and, in some cases, even more highly classified information as part of their 493 exercise. I am sure that can be done without the necessity of swearing in people as Privy Councillors. I have no wish to be included with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) as a candidate for the Privy Council.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am glad that my hon. Friend has made it clear that it is not his desire to be a Privy Councillor. I am also glad that he made the second point, which is important. I agree with the right hon. Member for Hillhead. I do not know what magical transformation occurs when the oath is taken that makes someone who was dishonest before into an honest man or someone who was honest before into a dishonest man.
I am glad that the Prime Minister is to reply to the debate. I did not gather from her introduction what pledge of action she was giving about the inquiry report. I have expressed my reservations about the power of deletion. The right hon. Lady seemed to talk a great deal about deletion. She did not give any indication of what action would result from the report. I hope that she will tell us how the report will be made to the House and what will be the procedures to enable the House and the Government to take action upon it. This may seem a technical matter. I know, however, that my hon. Friends who serve on the Select Committee are anxious to be made aware of exactly what will happen. So many reports, not just of Select Committees, but of other inquiries have gathered dust with no action arising from them.
I have made clear my reservations. I know that I am not alone in having serious doubts about the independence of the inquiry and the confidence that it will command in the House and in the country as a whole. Two of the criteria that the Prime Minister set herself in establishing the inquiry were that it should be independent and that it should command confidence. On both counts, it is seriously wanting.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
The Prime Minister reminded us that it was on 8 April, three months ago, that she told the House that there would be an inquiry into the Falklands affair. I am sure that my right hon. Friend was absolutely right not only to make that announcement but to make it so early after the start of operations.
I am one of those who believe that the inquiry is necessary, for a number of reasons. It is necessary in fairness to my right hon. Friend Lord Carrington and to the two other Foreign Office Ministers who resigned. It is necessary to enable hon. Members, once the inquiry has been approved, to concentrate their minds on the other great issues that face this country instead of pursuing constant trails of what happened before or during the invasion of the Falkland Islands.
It is also necessary in order to try to remove some of the bitterness, anguish and heartbreak of those who lost relatives in the war and of those who have been injured. So far as I am able to ascertain, no one in my constituency was directly affected. Like the right hon. Member for 494 Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I have received letters from all over the country from those who have been deeply affected and are obviously puzzled and sometimes very bitter about what happened before their own sons or relatives were subjected to all the risks and hazards of war. For those reasons, I believe that it is right to have the inquiry.
I do not share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) that the inquiry is flawed by the fact that it is unable to summon General Galtieri before it. In foreign affairs we have constantly to make decisions affecting other countries and affecting international relations without being able to cross-examine those concerned on the other side about their motives or intentions. We have to form our own assessments and our own judgments. With great respect to my right hon. Friend, this Committee will have to do that, assisted by seeing the papers and being able to invite those concerned to give evidence before it.
This brings me to the nature of the inquiry. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who interrupted the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when he said that this was a parliamentary inquiry, is right. It is not a parliamentary inquiry. It is not a parliamentary inquiry in the sense that following the publication of the Bingham report the then Attorney-General of the Administration of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East put a motion before the House, which was clearly a case of the House setting up its own inquiry and establishing its own procedures. This is an inquiry established by the Government, for which they are asking approval. The plain fact is that we have never succeeded in finding the perfect form of inquiry. An exchange has occurred on the inquiry into the Jameson raid and about entrusting the inquiry to a Select Committee.
If my recollection serves me right, the Select Committee inquiry into the Marconi scandal just before the First World War was the occasion of so much abuse that it led to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 and therefore the introduction of that form of legally established tribunal. It was, I think, the Salmon commission that examined the workings of tribunals over a period of 60 years and pointed out the grave weaknesses and injustices that followed from the use of that machinery. I am prepared to accept the motion before the House to set up a Government inquiry with the approval of Parliament if Parliament decides so to approve. To judge from the debate, although some right hon. and hon. Members have reservations about some aspects of it, the great majority are prepared to approve the inquiry.
I find myself in a very difficult position in what I have to say next. I find, in the terms of reference and in the letter that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister kindly sent me, that the Government are now in agreement with what I proposed. I also find myself the recipient of compliments from the Leader of the Opposition. It is difficult, at short notice, to assess which is the more damaging to me.
I welcome the fact that the terms of reference announced on Tuesday referred to the responsibilities of the Government in relation to the Falkland Islands instead of to the responsibilities of Departments, as was previously said. I am sure that that is right. In her reply to me last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised that one reason why the inquiry had to look back was the importance of the intelligence 495 services. These are the responsibility not of a Department, but of the Prime Minister. The budget for the intelligence services is also the responsibility of the Prime Minister.
No doubt one matter that the Committee will wish to examine is whether the intelligence services were given the necessary resources to carry on their activities properly at a time of economic difficulty. The Committee may also wish to examine the performance of the intelligence services. But when I hear from some hon. Members that it is necessary to go back over many years in order to compare the results of the intelligence services and the policies of other Governments, it leads to the question whether the present Administration, in reaching whatever decisions they took before the invasion by the Argentines, studied all the intelligence reports of the past 20 years and examined all the papers of previous Administrations and the policies that they pursued. If they did, I ask myself how they had access to all that secret information on the policies of previous Administrations. Obviously, the answer is that no Government behaves in this way.
If the Committee of Inquiry wishes to go back, we now have a procedure by which it can make comparisons. But, as was said by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), there is a severe limitation on the advantage of so doing, which is that it will prolong the Committee's deliberations.
Based on experience, I am not as optimistic about the time that this inquiry will last as some hon. Members who have spoken today. I have been reading the report of the Committee that examined the memoirs of former Ministers, a report that one would not have thought was the most difficult, lengthy or engaging of tasks to compile. That Committee took nine months to produce a straightforward and simple report. In fairness to the three Ministers at the Foreign Office who resigned, this Committee of Inquiry should do its job as speedily as possible, without, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said, our setting a time limit upon it.
I now deal wih the other matter that I raised previously—the papers of a previous Administration. I wish to comment briefly on this issue, because I am glad that the Government have now fully accepted my point of view. In the letter that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent to me, which is not confidential, she said:I hope therefore that you will be able to agree that the Committee should have access to any relevant documents of the Administration for which you were responsible,This is not a matter of courtesy. It is a matter of the constitutional practice of Parliament, which has been established since 1917, when Cabinet minutes were first kept. I am not sure that the Leader of the Opposition was accurate in his description of what happened in olden days. Of course Ministers were impeached, but not on the basis of their papers, because they either took them away or burnt them. The practice was that if one did not wish another Administration to see such papers one simply got rid of them. It is now accepted that such a practice ended in 1917.
For those who are still in doubt about the matter, I draw their attention to the Bingham report in which, as long ago as 1954, Mr. Churchill and Mr. Herbert Morrison both agreed thatthere is a general custom … that the Cabinet documents of one Government are not considered by those who are the Ministers in another Government; they are left as their own internal affairs.That practice has been reinforced many times.
496 For those who prefer constitutional historians to the vested interests of politicians, page 274 of the third edition of Jennings' "Cabinet Government" states:The Ministers of one Government are not entitled to examine the Cabinet documents of their predecessors, though some of those documents (without the minutes) will be in the secret departmental files.They are in the Department, but are not available to another Administration. I hope that the point has now been fully confirmed.
The Committee of Memoirs of ex-Ministers was chaired by Lord Radcliffe. Lord Franks was a member of the Committee and signed the report. On civil servants, the report states that the advice that they give should not be revealed during their service lifetime. That is the practice, but the report goes on:Successive Governments have accepted a convention that neither the views of predecessors in office nor the advice tendered to them by their departmental officers should be made available to the successors.In January 1976, the Committee, with Lord Franks assenting, accepted that position, and I have every confidence that Lord Franks will observe it in the Committee that he will chair.
I also agree strongly with the conditions that my right hon. Friend set out this afternoon, and which were set out in broadly similar terms in the letter that she sent to me and to the other former Prime Ministers. Hon. Members have mentioned the possibility of excisions from the report when it is presented. It is customary for excisions to be made with the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of other Opposition parties. I do not know whether that was omitted deliberately or accidentally, but if excisions are to be made the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of other parties must know what has been kept out. The terms of reference and the acceptance of the responsibility of former Administrations for their documents are right.
I have great admiration for Lord Franks and the other members of the Committee. However, it is sad that the Committee does not contain a Conservative Member of Parliament. I should have thought that some Conservative Privy Councillors on the Back Benches would be suitable to serve on the Committee. As it is, the Committee consists of four members of the Upper House, one member of the Lower House and one former civil servant, for whom I join the right hon. Member for Hillhead in expressing admiration. When I was Prime Minister, he served with great distinction as head of the European part of the Cabinet Office.
I hope that the Committee will function satisfactorily and that it will pursue the main emphasis of the terms of reference that have now so obviously been shifted to this Administration, with authority to ask the Prime Minister of the day whether it may refer to earlier papers. I said last Thursday that I was willing to allow the papers affecting the Falkland Islands during my Administration to be seen by a committee of inquiry, but that the constitutional proprieties had to be maintained. That is now the position, and I am perfectly satisfied.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I believe that it was Mr. Costa Mendez who, soon after the invasion of the Falkland Islands, said that he did not believe that in the late part of the twentieth century Britain would wage a 497 colonial war in defence of the islands. That misconception may have encouraged the Argentine junta to invade the islands when it did.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said that he has never had any such misconception and always believed that the Government would react by using force to repel the invasion. I was not so certain at the time—we had this disagreement in earlier debates—and it came as a surprise to me, not having attended the famous Saturday debate, that that was the uniform reaction throughout the House, with the notable exception of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes). I formed that judgment, as I said in an earlier debate, on the basis of my perception of the stance of successive Governments on the Falkland Islands. They were persuaded, because of the economic plight of the country and its present defence capability, that it would be impossible to maintain a force in the Falkland Islands that would be able to repel an invasion and to protect the rights of 1,800 people. Therefore, they came to the conclusion that the right thing was for sovereignty ultimately to go to Argentina and that the best they could do for the 1,800 Falkland Islanders was to negotiate on a basis of sincere conviction to achieve the best that they could for them.
§ Mr. Lyon
My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but that was my perception. Some Back Benchers visited the Falklands and returned full of righteous indignation about the state of the morale of the islanders who were insisting that they could never negotiate sovereignty.
We criticise the Government for entering into negotiations, but, as I understand it, the Labour Government also entered into negotiations in the hope that sovereignty could be ceded in a way that would satisfy the Falkland Islanders. If that was not the case, and my misconception was a genuine misconception, then an effective signal was not made either to Argentina or to Britain in the run-up to the present dispute. If the Government always had it in mind that sovereignty would never be ceded and that if the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina there would be a military response on the scale that has taken place, that should have been made clear to all concerned. It is not my perception that that was the position.
I always take what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East says as the unvarnished truth, but, with the history of the past few years, I find it difficult to believe that there has been any opposition. I wish to know from the Committee whether that was the position. Is it clear from all that was said and done by the Government in the lead-up to the invasion that they were always going to resist, even to the extent of killing people, any attempt by Argentina to take over the sovereignty of the Falklands? Was that their position? Did they take proper steps to ensure that that was made plain to the world—in particular, to Argentina?
In deciding whether the Committee will answer those questions, I have to consider personalties. There is no other way. These questions will not be answered by appointing any Committee; they will be answered only by the appointment of a Committee which will ask the right questions. Those who have said that they are satisfied with 498 the Committee believe that that will be achieved. How do we indicate the nature of our reservations in a debate such as this? We cannot go into the personal qualities of the members of the Committee or those whom we think should be on the Committee. However, having looked at the composition of the Committee, I cannot say that I am satisfied that the right questions will be asked.
I was once the parliamentary private secretary to my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Lever. I have the greatest affection for him and I rejoice in the relationship that we had when I was his PPS. I know that all hon. Members have the greatest affection for him. The House is used to making savage judgments about people, but I have never heard a savage judgment about Lord Lever because he is such an amiable man.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) described my right hon. and noble Friend as one of the "awkward squad". I agree that he has a perceptive mind but he believes and is anxious to believe the best of everyone. However, I am not sure that that is the best attitude in a committee of inquiry into the conduct of individuals.
As a barrister, I am used to trying to find out the truth about people. It was never the best tactic in cross-examination to begin by believing the best of the person being cross-examined. It was sometimes as well to take what they were saying with a pinch of salt. That is what I should like to see the Committee do.
I have referred to my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Lever, who I know will forgive me if I say anything personal about him. I do not propose to say anything personal about my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) or anyone else. The most I would say about the members of the Committee is that, with the apparent exception of Lord Watkinson, each has a close relationship not with the present Prime Minister but with a past Prime Minister. All past Prime Ministers can happily sit quietly in their seats because they have a friend at court. I believe that that represents a danger. I am not sure whether Lord Watkinson has been chosen as the Prime Minister's friend—I do not know what her relationship is with Lord Watkinson—but it may be so. Certainly, the civil servants to be questioned in the inquiry have a friend.
Those engaged on the inquiry might, through a sense of affection, friendship or links with the past want to do justice to—I would say protect—the interests of some of those whose reputations and records are at stake. That is not the right approach for an investigatory Committee.
What we need—my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) used the phrase "the awkward squad"; I would not put it as baldly as that—are people who are prepared to ask the difficult questions and to persist with them in order to ensure that they get the right answers.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I suggest that, because of friendship, members of the Committee would be so keen to prove their impartiality that they might be less than fair to those involved.
§ Mr. Lyon
In a wicked moment before I rose to speak, while I was thinking about what to say and how difficult it would be to say it in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, I thought it might be 499 useful if the Government heard a cynical contribution at the beginning of the debate in order that they might overreact. Even in that situation they would not do so.
The truth is that we have a selection of people who will ensure that some of the questions are at least muffled. I say that openly not because I am in any way hostile to the membership of the Committee. If I were to choose the Committee, I would not necessarily choose those mentioned in my amendment, which has not been selected for discussion. I chose those mentioned in the amendment because they fit the criteria laid down by the respective Front Benches. They are all Privy Councillors. Lord Franks is to be the Chairman. There is one civil servant and two Labour and two Conservative Members. However, if I were to choose the members of the Committee, they would not necessarily be Privy Councillors.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that this was a parliamentary inquiry. It is not. It has been agreed by the two Front Benches. I am not criticising you, Mr. Speaker, for not selecting the amendment, but the fact that you have not means that the House has only one choice at the end of the day. We can either accept what the Front Benches have agreed or throw it out altogether. If we throw it out, there will be no inquiry. I want an inquiry, but I should have liked the House to participate in setting up the inquiry and appointing its membership. That is the most important factor in the whole issue. The House cannot find a way of selecting people for such committees. We are resistant to a system of selection that means putting forward candidates and having people canvassing for them.
You, Mr. Speaker, and I are privileged to know a method that would overcome this difficulty. You were once selected as the vice-president of the Methodist conference. I was selected too, but I turned down the invitation. We were selected on the basis that, on the first day, each person in the conference puts forward the name of a person he would like to be vice-president. Of the people nominated, the first two or three who receive most nominations are voted upon by the conference. Therefore, there is a nomination system that comes out of the grass roots. No one can canvass. That is what we want in the House. We want a system whereby the whole House can put down names. Those who are highest in the list should be selected. If there has to be a vote, there is an immediate vote to identify who should fill the position. Some such system must emerge. I am treading on delicate ground by saying that such a system would be useful in the selection of Mr. Speaker.
We in the House have no means of identifying our wishes. In the end it is the wishes of the Front Bench that count. We are not consulted. We are not privy to the decision. For that reason, I have my reservations. I hope that the Committee will be successful. I hope that it will bring out the truth, but I have my doubts.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
It is right to hold an inquiry into the events leading up to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April. The nation and Parliament are entitled to know not only what went wrong but whether what happened could have been avoided. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was right. That is the key question. However, with respect, that is a reason why the inquiry cannot be 500 concerned solely with what happened just prior to the invasion, important and relevant though that may be. The Falklands tragedy did not start then. I fear that the signals that had been flashing from Britain to Buenos Aires over the past 17 years had been conveying at best a confusing message and at worst the idea that in the end the British would yield.
True, there was a dispute over sovereignty, but Britain had always made it clear that she was ready to submit it to the International Court of Justice. It was Argentina that refused. There the matter should have been left. In 1965, the twentieth general assembly of the United Nations passed resolution 2065 inviting Britain and Argentina to enter into discussions to find a peaceful way of resolving their differences. However, as our spokesman at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, told the assembly, referring to the Falkland Islands,the people of this territory are not to be betrayed or bartered. Their wishes and interests are paramount and we shall do our duty in protecting them.That was the last robust statement for some years.
Since the Falkland Islanders themselves told the United Nations that they wished to remain British, the matter should have been left there. Instead, talks went ahead. The storm burst when four unofficial members of the Governor's executive council wrote on 27 February 1968 to each hon. Member of this House asking;Are you aware that negotiations are now proceding between the British and Argentine Governments which may result at any moment in the handing over of the Falkland Islands to the Argentines? Take note that the inhabitants of the islands have never yet been consulted regarding their future. They do not want to become Argentines. They are as British as you are. Are you aware that the people of these islands do not wish to submit to a foreign language, law, customs and culture because for 135 years they have happily pursued their own peaceful way of life, a very British way of life? Do you not feel ashamed that this wicked thing may suddenly be foisted upon us?Not only had there been negotiations behind the backs of the islanders but the Argentines were beginning to think that they might prevail. The distinguished naturalist, Peter Scott, who had just returned from a visit at that time wrote to The Times saying that in Buenos Aires he had founda general impression that any minute now, the Islas Malvinas, as they call them, will be part of Argentina.Who had given the Argentines that impression? The crisis was debated in the House on 26 March 1968 under pressure from both sides of the House. The then Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart, speaking firmly, made it clear that there should be no doubt about our sovereignty, but that, in order to secure a lasting modus vivendi with the Argentines, it was thought right to discuss sovereignty.
Later in the same year came the bombshell of the Chalfont mission. It seemed clear to us—to the islanders it seemed certain—that an attempt was being made to change their minds by telling them, without real foundation, that if they did not do so their economic prospects were gloomy. The exercise was described by The Economist on 7 December 1968 as a sign of "sheer governmental incompetence."
The most crushing comment came from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was then the Leader of the Opposition and in whose team I had the honour to serve as a Commonwealth affairs spokesman. At a meeting of the Royal Commonwealth Society, reported in The Times on 6 December 1968, he said:It was wrong and foolish to try to scare the islanders out of their loyalty to the Crown by partial and pessimistic accounts of their long-term future. It is wrong and foolish to go on discussing 501 the sovereignty of the islands with Argentina. This alarms the islanders and at the same time arouses expectations with Argentina and at the United Nations which we cannot fulfil.The Government gives the impression to the world that it is sorry that the islanders wish to remain British. But this is a matter for pride, not for shame.My right hon. Friend went on to say that Britain should applaud the islanders' loyalty, promise them its firm support and encourage development through private enterprise projects. Those were plain and honest words. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not mind if I say that they expressed my view, and it has never changed.
At a stroke my right hon. Friend had revealed the weakness and confusion that were passing for policy on the Falklands issue. My right hon. Friend no doubt will defend the communications agreements into which he entered when he became Prime Minister. I am not criticising this. I am merely saying that that was part of the exercise of pushing the Falkland Islanders into sole dependence on Argentina for their external air communications.
The only ray of light that emerged after those events was the Shackleton report. It was an admirable document, but it was confined to economic matters. There were no political overtones in it. It appeared in 1976 and showed for the first time that there were resources which could be developed, and that there could be a viable future for the Falkland Islanders. But it also said that it was crucial to lengthen the runway at Port Stanleywithout which any substantial new development would, in our judgment, be greatly handicapped".Needless to say, the runway was never extended. Nor was there any hurry to implement the 90-odd recommendations of the report. It was as though such a positive report was an embarrassment, even an obstacle, to getting rid of the Falklands. When the inquiry gets to grips with its task, I hope that it will establish the true facts about that.
§ Mr. Heath
The treaties that were negotiated during the Government of 1970–74 when Sir Alec Douglas-Home was Foreign Secretary were negotiated in the interests of the islanders and the development of private enterprise. There could not have been any private enterprise until air and sea communications were established. The islanders then managed to get social services that they desperately needed—education and health—in Buenos Aires. Moreover, that was agreed by the great majority of the islanders.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
It was indeed. I was careful to say that I was not criticising the agreements. I would point out, however, that the airfield was capable of taking only relatively small aircraft from Argentina. It was unable to take larger aircraft from other parts of South America and Europe. Perhaps they were the best arrangements that could have been made at the time, but undoubtedly they increased the dependence of the islanders on Argentina.
I now turn to a serious development that made the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup against negotiating with Argentina all the stronger, and here I hope that the inquiry will ask the most searching questions. From 1975, Argentina's armed forces were engaged in war against their own people. Since then, at least 15,000 persons—it may be many more—including children, drawn from 30 nationalities, have disappeared into the prisons and torture chambers of the junta. A few of these unfortunates have reappeared and testified to the 502 horrors that they endured. The rest must be presumed dead. The disappeared have not been brought to trial or charged with any offence. Their families can obtain no information about them. There is evidence of mutilated bodies being washed up on the shores of Uruguay.
In 1980, the inter-American commission on human rights reported to the OAS, of which the United States is a member, after a visit to Argentina that serious violations had taken place affecting the right to life and personal freedom. Thousands had disappeared. Many had been killed in prison or had died from torture and other inhumane and degrading treatments. The methods of torture used were unbelievably cruel.
All that was known to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights; it was known also to Western Governments. The total unfitness of Argentina to have any hand in administering a territory inhabited by people of British stock, nurtured in our tradition of parliamentary democracy, should have been apparent to all. But it was not, save to those hon. Members on both sides of the House who had known it for years. Alas, we did not know all.
From 1976, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had known what was going on. I have also established in the past few days that the truth had been concealed from Parliament that among the disappeared were United Kingdom citizens. How is it that the British Government were prepared to enter diplomatic talks with representatives of the military junta knowing that British subjects were being held illegally, perhaps tortured, and are probably now dead?
I hope that the inquiry will ask whether when Ministers were advised to enter negotiations they were told that on 9 August 1976 Walter Kenneth Nelson Fleury, a British citizen, had been apprehended by Argentine security forces and had not been heard of since. Were Ministers told that in September 1977 Dr. Douglas Gillie Whitehead, a British citizen, born in Berwick-upon-Tweed, and his brother Deryck, born in Argentina, were seized in their own homes and have not been heard of since? I have spoken to women who were similarly kidnapped who owed their survival to the King of Spain. In 1978 he had successfully demanded the release of a Spanish woman who had been swept into the same net. She was released quickly enough and gave the names of others, who were also released and allowed to go into exile.
Why did the Government of the day not demand the release of our people as a precondition for talks? Better still, why did they not see, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup so clearly saw in 1968, that there was no case for entering into talks? At the very least, Ministers could have said that sovereignty was non-negotiable, save with a democratic Argentine Government that respected human rights. Why was that not done?
When the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) went out to Buenos Aires and the Falklands, an Argentine human rights organisation was giving evidence to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva about the appalling treatment, the torture and killing going on in Argentine prisons and military camps. Was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ignorant of that, or was it just deaf?
One can see how, step by step, despite protests made in this House, the ambivalence in the conduct of foreign policy had disheartened the Falkland Islanders and 503 encouraged the Argentines. Is it really so surprising that the junta was prepared to take chances? Did the junta escalate its harassment because it believed that there would be no more than a token response? If so, it would not have been the first to misjudge us. The tragedy is that we did not learn the lessons of our own history in time. We should have known that it is always fatal to appease the bully and shameful to let our own people down.
I have only posed the questions. The inquiry is composed of people who are admirably placed to discover the answers. I have every confidence that they will.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you, at your own convenience, clarify your own position? Will the Franks Committee be empowered to call you in your previous incarnation as Minister of State at the Foreign Office? Whether the Speaker of the House of Commons should be subject to a Committee is a serious matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should be very surprised if it could. I am a servant of the House. No one in the land can order me around.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
That was the final assurance that we needed to terminate the debate.
Some hon. Members seem to imagine that the Prime Minister dictated the terms of reference of the review. That is not so. I must pay tribute on behalf of the other parties in the House to the fact that she consulted all of us about the procedures, the terms and the composition of the inquiry. She made substantial changes to her original intentions.
I warmly welcome the flexibility that the Prime Minister showed in her consultations about the nature of the inquiry, and her readiness to change in a search for consensus. I hope that the widespread support that the final proposals have received will encourage her to be similarly flexible in the pursuit of consensus in other matters.
The debate has been concerned primarily with the nature and composition of the inquiry. For that reason it has been obliged to stray into the substance of matters that the inquiry must consider.
Is an inquiry necessary and should it concentrate on the responsibility of the Government in the period leading up to the Argentine invasion? There can be no doubt but that it is necessary. That must be the focus of its work.
The fact that the Argentines were able to invade the Falkland Islands without significant resistance was rightly described by the Foreign Secretary himself at the time as a national humiliation, and it led him and two of his ministerial colleagues at the Foreign Office to resign and the Secretary of State for Defence to offer his resignation. We should all pay tribute to Lord Carrington for allowing his sense of honour to dictate his resignation. He served the country with great distinction in that high office, but he was right to resign after the events which led up to the Argentine invasion. I do not believe, however, that he was solely responsible for the national humiliation that we suffered. I suspect that there were other weaknesses in the way in which the Government discharged their responsibilities. If so, they must be identified and corrected so that similar errors are not made again. That is the case for the inquiry and for its terms of reference as they finally emerged.
504 There have been questions about the people chosen to serve on the inquiry and about its procedures. It seems to me that the composition of the Committee of inquiry is dictated by the nature of the events and the errors of judgment which led to our national humiliation and the subsequent ministerial resignations.
The inquiry is bound to spend some time considering problems of intelligence. Was the information required for the proper judgment of Argentine intentions available to Ministers? I do not mean just secret intelligence through communications from satellites and agents on the ground but also information publicly available from the British community in Buenos Aires, articles in the Argentine press, statements by Argentine representatives and, indeed, the actions of the Argentine forces themselves, from the warlike preparations seen by the captain of HMS "Endurance" in Ushuaia at the end of January to the landings on South Georgia.
I find it difficult to believe that adequate information was not available to the Government. The real question is whether the information was rightly interpreted. The answer to that can only be a clear "No". The Government misjudged the intentions of the Argentines and thus reacted improperly to the way in which the Argentines behaved.
The central question that the inquiry must consider in this context is one that, I confess, perplexed me when I was Secretary of State for Defence 20 years ago. Is it right that representatives of Departments responsible for policy in the Government should have responsibility for assessing intelligence information? It is inevitable that, in assessing intelligence, highly placed members of the Foreign Office are bound to be influenced by the policy positions that they have honestly and sincerely taken in their Departments on a particular issue. I know well, as I believe that the Secretary of State for Defence knows, that it is dangerous to make an individual defence service responsible for evaluating intelligence about the opposite enemy service which may influence its position in Whitehall.
I believe that there is a strong case for separating the assessment of intelligence as well as its collection from policy Departments in the Government, as the Americans decided when they set up the CIA. Whatever its defects, it is worth recalling that the CIA was the only American agency which gave accurate information to the American Government throughout the war in Vietnam. I hope that the inquiry will look into that aspect of the matter, as I suspect that the failure to interpret intelligence correctly and to purvey the right interpretation to Ministers may derive from the way in which responsibility for its assessment is currently structured in Whitehall.
The central importance of intelligence makes it inevitable that members of the Committee of inquiry should be persons with some knowledge of how the intelligence community operates. I do not believe that it was essential that they should be Privy Councillors—as I shall explain, I think that other considerations led to that conclusion. The presence of Lord Watkinson, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and Sir Patrick Nairne—to whom I also pay tribute, as I think that he served as private secretary to about half the Ministers and ex-Ministers now in the House—was necessary for that reason.
The inquiry is also concerned with wider issues which go to the root of how foreign and defence policy should be handled. For that reason, it is essential that it should 505 include senior politicians with Cabinet experience at a high level, as will indeed be the case. In this respect, I am glad that the Prime Minister has not chosen Cabinet Ministers with recent experience in the Departments that are the subject of the inquiry. She was right to steer clear of that.
The central charge against the Government by both sides of the House has been that of unpardonable fecklessness in dealing with the Argentine threat to the Falklands in the months preceding the invasion. General Galtieri made it clear when he took office that he would use force to recover the Falkland Islands if he could not obtain them quickly through negotiation and if force could be used without serious resistance. There is a great deal of evidence for that. Lord Carrington, on the day on which he resigned as Foreign Secretary, admitted on television that the Argentines were likely to use force but that he had thought that it would come later in the year. The implications of that surprising statement will need to be explored by the inquiry.
The central question is this: given the mass of evidence that an invasion might be being contemplated, why did the Government send the wrong signals to Buenos Aires on every occasion? That cannot be denied. It was made clear by many Members on both sides of the House in raising questions about, for example, the announcement that HMS "Endurance" was to be withdrawn, the failure to respond to the extremely offensive renunciation by the Buenos Aires Foreign Ministry of the agreement on pursuing negotiations made by the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) a few days earlier, as well as in our handling of questions about the landings on South Georgia.
Another matter that must be considered is the fact that General Galtieri and Mr. Costa Mendez said on many occasions after we had reacted that they were absolutely staggered that we had reacted in that way, as they had had no reason to believe that we would. Every signal that we sent them was to the effect that we did not take the possibility of an invasion very seriously. We sent no messages of warning. Instead, we sent them armaments right up to two or three days before the invasion took place.
One reason for the difficulties into which we fell may be suggested by the fact that the Foreign Secretary, as Lord Carrington said in his television interview, was staggered by the reaction of the House of Commons in the debate on 3 April. I suspect that that is a very strong argument against the appointment of a peer to an office of such political importance—particularly a peer who has never served in the House of Commons and has never been elected to public office.
The analogies for the failure to send the right signals at the right time have been legion in recent years and all have had tragic consequences, from the failure to stand up properly to Hitler from the Rhineland to Munich to the failure of the Americans to warn the North Koreans when they withdrew their troops from South Korea without replacing them with any kind of defence commitment.
The one lesson to be learnt from recent history is that in dealing with dictators, military or civilian, one cannot afford to take chances. On the intelligence side, one cannot afford to take the easier interpretation rather than the more difficult one, and, on the military side, an ounce of deterrence can save tons of military action to restore the consequences of one's failure to react. The principles that 506 I have announced are fundamental to the conduct of any Government's responsibility for foreign affairs. The House must know why they were neglected in the months preceding the invasion of the Falklands. Nothing can reduce General Galtieri's prime responsibility for the thousand families who are now mourning their dead because of his action.
If it is shown that the United Kingdom Government failed in their responsibility to take timely action that could have led General Galtieri to abandon his plans, the Government will bear a heavy responsibility. Should that be the inquiry's finding, I hope that the Prime Minister will show the same courage in accepting its implications as Lord Carrington showed three months ago.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall reply in the few minutes available that I believe are sufficient because of the way in which the debate has gone. The House has generally supported the proposals that the Government have placed before the House.
I thank the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) for the tribute he paid to Lord Carrington for the excellent way in which he carried out his duties as Foreign Secretary and for his supreme integrity. I listened extremely carefully to what the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said about intelligence assessment. I shall follow that up from the viewpoint of a Minister and Prime Minister. I thank him for making it clear that the consultations between the Front Benches and the leaders of other parties had been fruitful and were largely responsible for coming to the agreement that we have broadly reached.
The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) rather took me to task for referring initially to Government Departments in my reply to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). The right hon. Gentleman will remember that he first asked me if Iwill order an inquiry into the conduct of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in recent years and the sufficiency of the advice and information supplied to Ministers."—[Official Report, 8 April 1982, Vol. 21, c. 416.]It was in reply to that question that I said that we would have to go wider into other Government Departments. A good deal of what was in that reply is in the terms of reference. When the answer was drafted, to me "Government Departments" obviously included "Ministers". I saw afterwards that it might be taken to be an inquiry only into officials. That is why we changed it in the final terms of reference to the responsibilities of Government.
There have been some comments about the fetish of having inquiries by Privy Councillors. I have to consider not only the integrity of Privy Councillors and others, but the attitudes of the intelligence community and maintain its confidence that it is yielding its information to people of supreme integrity. Officials are governed by the Official Secrets Act. Ministers would be, but not necessarily those people who would be on an inquiry.
If we are to continue to obtain intelligence and protect its sources—to continue sometimes to obtain it from other countries—we must be certain that we do everything possible to protect it. It was for that reason that we were naturally led to a Committee of Privy Councillors. It makes it easier to secure the consent of those who have to 507 give such consent if Cabinet minutes and documents are to be revealed to the members of the inquiry. There was never any suggestion that Cabinet minutes and documents of one Administration should be revealed to another of a different political party, or even to another Administration whose members were not entitled to see them. The question arises as to what can be revealed to those who are on the inquiry. I was naturally anxious that we should reveal as much as possible, because if the inquiry is to be charged with the duty of finding the facts it must see as much of the evidence as possible. That is why we were led naturally to a Committee of Privy Councillors The 30-year rule has been criticised in some quarters of the House. I believe in that rule. It is a reasonable period, and if it were made much shorter we should soon find that Cabinet minutes and Cabinet Committee minutes would be drafted differently and would yield up far less information to future generations and fewer of the reasons that led us to take certain decisions.
I shall make one point about previous relevant information, although I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) put it extremely well. Other right hon. and hon. Members pointed out that a great deal of such information was already in the public domain but it is not possible to appreciate some of the decisions that were taken except by seeing them against a longer background.
With regard to a pledge of action that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East mentioned, it is a little early to talk about that before the review has even started. We shall have to see what it reports. It will have to come to the House for debate and perhaps we can take it from there.
§ The Prime Minister
I must finish in three minutes.
With regard to the members of the inquiry, I have, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East pointed out, been careful to choose those who have not had recent experience in the principal Departments concerned. I take issue with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East on what he said about natural justice. I have gone to great lengths to consult with many other right hon. and hon. Members on the terms of reference and on the composition of the inquiry and its general scope. I have made it perfectly clear that I shall very rarely make deletions.
§ The Prime Minister
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made a point about intelligence. I have made it my business to ensure that the intelligence and security services have had sufficient resources to fulfil the requirements placed upon them.
As has been said, there are some drawbacks to every inquiry. I am anxious that we should reveal as much as possible and I believe that this is the right inquiry to choose and that that has been endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the other political parties. I believe that it has had the general support of the House, and I ask the House to support it.
§ It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to the Order this day.
§ Question agreed to.
That this House approves the decision of Her Majesty's Government to set up a Falkland Islands review as announced by the Prime Minister in her reply to a Question by the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, on 6 July 1982.