HC Deb 05 May 1982 vol 23 cc161-9 3.53 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Francis Pym)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has just spoken about military aspects of the situation. I should like to add my own tribute to the courage of the crew of HMS "Sheffield" and of the Harrier pilot and my deep sympathy to the families.

The military losses which have now occurred on both sides in this unhappy conflict emphasise all the more the urgent need to find a diplomatic solution.

The House will wish to know that since my return from the United States on Monday I have remained in the closest possible touch with Mr. Haig. As I reported to the House yesterday, we are working very actively on ideas put to us by Mr. Haig, including some advanced by the President of Peru. Yesterday afternoon, after my statement, I sent a constructive contribution of our own to Mr. Haig. He is taking this fully into account. I shall be in touch with him again later on today.

I want to tell the House that a vital ingredient of the ideas on which we are working is an early ceasefire and the prompt withdrawal of Argentine forces. I can assure the House that we are sparing no efforts in the search for an acceptable solution in line with the principles which we have stated on several occasions.

The points which were put to me in New York by the Secretary-General of the United Nations are also receiving our very careful attention. I have been in touch with Mr. Perez de Cuellar about this since my return from New York and will continue to keep in close contact with him.

There are many points of similarity between the Secretary-General's thinking and the points we are pursuing with Mr. Haig. Indeed, Mr. Perez de Cuellar's helpful ideas seem certain to be reflected in the basis of any solution which we may be able to achieve.

I can assure the House that any obstructionism there may be will not come from our side. Although it is we who have been the victims of aggression, it is also we who are working tirelessly and constructively for a peaceful solution.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making the statement. I hope that he will not hesitate to make further statements whenever he has further information to give us. I thank him particularly for his opening words. We all feel that if military escalation continues in the way in which it has done over the last few days, more lives—both Argentine and British—than there are inhabitants on the Falkland Islands could be lost. That underlines the paramount necessity of achieving a diplomatic solution.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the ideas of the American Secretary of State. Will he confirm reports that the American Secretary of State has asked for a two-day ceasefire so that the diplomatic possibilities can be further explored? If so, what response have Her Majesty's Government given?

I particularly welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the United Nations Secretary-General. He was a great deal more forthcoming than yesterday, when he was more forthcoming than last Thursday. I see that the United Nations Secretary-General is reported in today's edition of The Times as saying that the suspension of the peace initiative by Mr. Haig had created a diplomatic vacuum which only the United Nations could fill.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, that has been the view of Her Majesty's Opposition for some time. I understand that the Argentine Government have already agreed to accept the good offices of the United Nations. I appeal to Her Majesty's Government to do the same. Any doubts that they might have had at one time must have been removed by the Secretary-General's statement yesterday, when he insisted on the full implementation of resolution 502, which requires the Argentine forces to leave the Falkland Islands.

I was particularly glad to hear the Secretary of State for Defence endorse my words this morning that the ceasefire must depend on agreement on a negotiating process which will get the Argentine forces off the islands. That is an important distinction from the demand that has been made occasionally, that the ceasefire cannot take place until the Argentine forces have left.

I take this opportunity to ask the right hon. Gentleman again a question that many hon. Members on both sides of the House thought was unsatisfactorily answered by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), earlier today. The hon. Gentleman was asked by hon. Members on both sides of the House to give a firm assurance that the British forces now committed to the defence of Belize would not be withdrawn until the threat from Guatemala was seen to be removed. If the right hon. Gentleman could give us that assurance, it would do much to allay the fears that our behaviour may be misinterpreted by the Government of Guatemala in the same way as our behaviour was misinterpreted before the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Pym

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said at the beginning of his intervention. I very much appreciate his remarks. I fully realise that we both share the strongest desire to achieve a negotiated settlement, if that can be done.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the possible suggestions by Mr. Haig for a two-day ceasefire. A ceasefire must be a part of any negotiated settlement that involves a withdrawal. That is an area that is and always has been part of the discussions. I am sure that it is helpful that I am in close touch with the Secretary-General. He has offered his good offices both to the Argentine and to the United Kingdom. I have responded in that sense. The Secretary-General has not put any definite proposals to me, but we have shared our ideas and I am responding to the ideas that he sent recently.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to reports of the suspension of the diplomatic mission by Mr. Haig. There has been no such suspension. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was implying that in some way Mr. Haig's efforts had come to an end. That is not so. It is clear that they began a new phase when the Argentine rejected the proposals that had been put forward earlier. I am certain that it is helpful that Mr. Haig's efforts are continuing.

I do not agree that the vacuum to which the right hon. Gentleman referred can only be filled by the United Nations. I am not worried about how the vacuum is filled so long as it is filled. I have told the House all along that I believe that Mr. Haig's efforts are the most hopeful basis for a settlement, but I do not exclude anything else, and certainly not the efforts of the United Nations. That is why I talked to the Secretary-General personally. He is in touch with both our Government and the Argentine Government. We hope that that will make a contribution. As I said in my statement, the principles and the basis upon which we are all talking have many aspects in common.

We have no plans at present to withdraw our forces from Belize. The right hon. Gentleman can be assured that his worries about the neighbouring States are the prime consideration in the Government's mind relating to what we do in connection with our forces there.

Mr. Healey

The right hon. Gentleman's statement on Belize did not carry matters further forward. I hope that he will reconsider the matter and take the opportunity later to give an explicit assurance, for which many hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked.

It has been widely reported that the United Nations Secretary-General has put forward proposals both to the British and to the Argentine Governments not on a substantive solution of the crisis, but on ways in which negotiations might be carried forward. It is also reported that he has asked the British and Argentine Governments to respond to those proposals today. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm those reports? Will he assure the House that the Government will take the initiative in responding and will not hide behind the possible refusal of the Argentine Government to respond as was the case with Mr. Haig's earlier proposals?

Mr. Pym

There is no question of our hiding behind anything or waiting for someone else to refuse or reject. There has been no time when I have not been looking constructively for a way forward. I am in close touch with the Secretary-General and I am responding to the outlines about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke. Nevertheless, I still believe that the work that I am doing with Mr. Haig is most likely to produce a result, but no door is closed.

Mr. Healey

In answer to my earlier question, the right hon. Gentleman said that no proposals had been made by the Secretary-General. Now he tells us that proposals have been made. I do not blame him for not disclosing them. The matter requires to be kept under diplomatic privacy, but, if proposals have been made, the Opposition would wish the right hon. Gentleman to make a positive response without delay.

Mr. Pym

No formal proposals have been put to me. They were ideas. I am not sure what words to choose. The Secretary-General is receiving a response from me. I do not know what the Argentine Government are doing. I am in close touch with the Secretary-General and I am responding to him. That is the most helpful reply that I can give. It is the most positive position that I can be in.

Mr. Speaker

Order. At Question Time I gave an undertaking that I would call first the five hon. Members who waited for replies to their questions addressed to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

How many more lives must be lost before the Government fully realise that there cannot be a purely military solution to the crisis? If the Government are seriously intent on a long-term peaceful solution, why do they not comply with the increasing demands from some Opposition Members, and demands being made nationally and internationally, for an immediate ceasefire and for the United Nations, not the United States, to act as a mediator?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if that is not done, the crisis is in danger of escalating into a full-scale blood bath, which no one will win, and that Britain will find itself increasingly isolated?

Mr. Pym

Of course, we would like an immediate ceasefire and an immediate withdrawal. The Argentine is under an obligation under resolution 502 to withdraw its forces. At present, however, it shows no sign of doing so. Indeed, the reverse is true. A withdrawal must be established in the first place. That is what we must achieve.

I am working with all the strength that I can muster to find a solution, notwithstanding the fact that we are the victim. We are suffering from the act of aggression. It is the Falkland Islands that have been invaded. There seems to be no desire on the other side—we have seen very little—to come to an agreement. I am doing everything that I can, because, like the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and everyone everywhere, I want a settlement. However, the Argentine must withdraw its forces.

Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)

Is it not clear that, although the 8,000 miles between Britain and the Falkland Islands gave time for negotiations, the indivisibility of sovereignty allowed little scope for such negotiations? Just as the worsening weather in the South Atlantic vas undoubtedly a factor in the timing of the Argentine invasion, so the prolonging of negotiations indefinitely without the withdrawal of Argentine troops consolidates Argentine aggression. In those circumstances, does my right hon. Friend agree that the most effective negotiating weapon that is available to us is likely to be the legitimate exercise of force?

Mr. Pym

I note carefully what my hon. Friend has said. I should infinitely prefer, as I am sure would [he House, that the Argentine troops left the islands under a peaceful umbrella rather than have to be driven out by force. If we can possibly achieve that, I believe that everyone will be immensely relieved. We do not know whether that can be done, but I shall leave no stone unturned in an attempt to achieve it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that resolution 502 does not give carte blanche to the Government for any military action, but calls for the cessation of hostilities and the negotiation of a peaceful resolution to the dispute? Do not the Government recognise that escalation of military activity could result in the deaths of Falkland Islanders—the very people we claim to be defending? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that, as military action goes on, the Government seem to look less and less for a diplomatic settlement and more and more for a military one in what seems to many people to be a tragic and misguided escapade?

Mr. Pym

That is not true. The resolution also calls for a withdrawal. That is the part that the hon. Gentleman did not mention. I think constantly of the islanders. They are suffering at the moment under the heel of the invader, whom they did not want and did not invite and who intends to impose upon them a way of life and Government that they do not want. It is in their defence that we have taken the steps that we have. Of course they are suffering. Any invaded country suffers. There are too many invaded countries in the world at the moment. We have the islanders very much in mind. It is to their rescue that we have devoted all our efforts for which we have received the support from our friends all around the world.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's constructive communications with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Does he agree that there still remain formidable problems in communicating with the Argentine junta as its leaders have so far shown themselves to speak with divided, contradictory and, at times, incoherent voices? In those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend be exceedingly cautious about negotiating terms for a ceasefire or anything else until the Argentine has shown, by its deeds, that it is withdrawing its troops from the Falklands?

Mr. Pym

Yes, I shall show appropriate caution. I shall also show appropriate enthusiasm. There is no doubt that it is exceedingly difficult to negotiate with the Argentine, as the construction of the Government there is such that sometimes the decision of the President or of the Foreign Secretary is easily overthrown—sometimes in the middle of the night. It is not easy to negotiate with them. Nevertheless, I shall continue to bear in mind, as I believe I have all along, the factors to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. D. A. Trippier (Rossendale)

In view of the events of the past few days, is it correct to assume that the former initiatives that were taken by Mr. Haig are now interlinked with those pursued by the Peruvians?

Mr. Pym

The proposals that were produced by the United States a week or 10 days ago but which were turned down by the Argentines are now over. Since then, a number of Governments have produced ideas. The ideas on which we are now working are a combination of United States proposals and proposals from the President of Peru. It is a mixture.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call three more hon. Members from each side and then to move on.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that we strongly support his insistence on linking any early ceasefire with the prompt withdrawal of Argentine forces, no doubt with phased withdrawal of British forces from the Southern Atlantic as well?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a little more detail about the activities of the Peruvian Government? Is there any chance of the Peruvians actually putting down proposals rather than going into a formal Security Council debate?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that many people in the world now expect some clear indication of the British Government's long-term position? Will he come forward with a positive welcome for the concept of trusteeship councils?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's first remark.

Some proposals that originated entirely in Peru have now been, as it were, absorbed in the other negotiations designed and thought up by the United States. I have made a constructive contribution to the latest suggestions, and I hope that out of them will come a proposition with some chance of success. I cannot say more than that at this stage. The United States Secretary of State is in close touch with Peru. I think that working in that way, through them and the friends of the Argentines, may be a good way to negotiate with the Argentines.

As to the long term, Her Majesty's Government have an open mind about what might be the ultimate solution. The United Nations trusteeship concept is most certainly one of the possibilities and may eventually prove to be a highly suitable one. Whether it will match the needs of the situation later, I do not know, but I would not exclude anything. I think that I can give a reasonably positive response to the right hon. Gentleman on that, but that is in no way to prejudge the matter. It is certainly among the concepts that can be considered.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

Will my right hon. Friend reiterate from the Dispatch Box that it was in support of our diplomacy that the overwhelming majority in the House supported the dispatch of the task force to the South Atlantic and that that resolution still holds good? I congratulate my right hon. Friend and wish him well in his efforts to secure a diplomatic solution to the crisis, as that is what the overwhelming majority of people want—not an escalation of violence.

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said. The strategy must be seen as a comprehensive goal. The diplomatic activity, the economic pressure, the task force and the military pressure are all part of the same process of bringing pressure to bear on the Argentines to secure, one hopes by peaceful means, the withdrawal that everybody wants.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I should like to associate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and myself with the expressions of sympathy for those who lost their lives in the recent action.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the dispatch of the task force, combined with diplomacy, which was wholly justified, seems to have come to an end as a police action, and that the next stage must be negotiation or all-out war? In those circumstances, and in view of what he said in answer to an earlier question about the eventual settlement of the dispute, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he will continue to press for negotiation and a ceasefire concurrently with the removal of Argentine troops from the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I assure him that I shall certainly continue those efforts. As for the long term, that should be negotiated and discussed around the table with the parties involved and others in whatever forum is thought best at the time. My immediate concern—and I believe it is the immediate concern of the House—is how to reach a position in which such negotiations are possible. That requires withdrawal and a ceasefire. It requires peace again. However difficult it may be, I am doing everything possible to try to achieve that.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

In view of all the remarks about principles today, will my right hon. Friend reclarify for the benefit of all of us the principles which, in his view and ours, morally justify our intervention? I understand them to be, first, the self-determination of the people of the Falkland Islands and, secondly, that in this day and age acts of unprovoked aggression shall not succeed. The two are linked, but they are not necessarily the same. I say that in view of the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who compared the number of casualties with the number of Falkland Islanders. That may have relevance to the first principle, but it has none at all to whether in this day and age acts of unprovoked aggression shall be allowed to succeed.

Mr. Pym

We are in business to prevent a military dictatorship and an undemocratic Government from imposing on a smaller country, by aggression and invasion, a type of government that the people of the smaller country do not want. The principles that moved Members of the House are set out in the United Nations charter in the principles of democratic rights and so forth. I think that people throughout the world understand very well what this is all about.

During my recent visit to the United States, I went out of my way to emphasise time and again that this was not just a British problem but one in which many other countries had an interest, particularly the democracies and the small countries, many of which are fearful enough already. If we could achieve success in this case, one hopes by peaceful means, I believe that the world would heave a sigh of relief and that, for the ensuing few years at least, it would be a more peaceful, stable and less fearful place in which to live.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It has become clear to me that, to be fair to the larger parties as well as to the minority parties, I shall have to call two more hon. Members than I had intended from each side to enable me to achieve a balance.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is there now any prospect that, with the help of the United Nations Secretary-General and perhaps the Peruvian Government, the real holders of power in the Argentine junta may be brought into the deliberations, as Mr. Costa Mendez clearly had his authority to negotiate a settlement cut from under his feet at a crucial moment?

Mr. Pym

I am not in a position to answer that question competently, but the signs are that the junta makes up its own mind with the generals and admirals and anyone else it cares to consult. I can only hope that a positive answer will be forthcoming if we can reach a stituation in which proposals can be put to the Argentines.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)

The House and the country clearly wish my right hon. Friend well in any negotiations that he thinks it worthwhile to undertake and which do not prejudice our fundamental national objectives, but is it not preferable that we should recognise, sooner rather than later, that, failing a negotiated settlement, the task force will not be able to achieve its objectives unless the Argentines are not capable of operating missile-carrying aircraft from any runway within striking distance of the carrier fleet?

Mr. Pym

Naturally, the military aspects are being considered in great depth, and possible plans are being prepared. That is entirely right, because we have a task force operating in the South Atlantic. But let us at present concentrate our minds on trying to achieve a peaceful settlement, which is what the House wants.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there have been serious shortcomings in the conduct of Britain's foreign affairs in that, having set out to build up military pressure and at the same time to seek a diplomatic solution to the problem, the Government found themselves building up military pressure at a time when the Haig initiative had collapsed and the Government had failed to make arrangements at the United Nations or anywhere else for another mediator to be on hand?

Mr. Pym

I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that, without military pressure, there would be no chance whatever of an Argentine withdrawal.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the brave men and women of our Armed Services in the task force are shouldering the burden for the whole world in upholding law and order? Does he realise that the longer negotiations continue, the greater will be the danger to them? Has the Argentine junta or any of its representatives given any indication at all that it is prepared to withdraw from the Falkland Islands in accordance with part of Security Council resolution 502 which, I remind the House, was passed, with much support for us, a month ago?

Mr. Pym

On the latter point, there has been all too little indication so far. On the former point, I do not see our diplomatic efforts as in any way conflicting with what is happening to our task force. The task force has its operating instructions and is doing its job as best it can. That in no way conflicts with the diplomatic efforts that we are making. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is it not now opportune for the United Nations and its members to act under article 41 of the charter and to impose much greater economic sanctions on the Argentine? Unless that is done—and, I hope, subsequently lifted—why should the Argentines now agree to a negotiated settlement?

Mr. Pym

I suppose if they come to the conclusion that it is in their interest. Of course, it would be helpful if the United Nations passed such a resolution, and if that resolution were than carried out, but I doubt whether that would happen.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

As my right hon. Friend appeared to imply that a temporary cessation of hostilities might form part of the current proposals, will he assure us that the British Government will agree to no ceasefire if its only or main effect would be to reduce the military pressure on the Argentine and enable the Argentine to consolidate its illegal occupation of the islands?

Mr. Pym

As I said earlier, arrangements for a ceasefire are part and parcel of a withdrawal. I certainly have in mind what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Healey

I thank the right hon. Gentleman again for the frank way in which he has answered questions, and I hope that he will not hesitate to come back to the House. I thank him, too, for the increasing emphasis that he is placing on the United Nations. I say, once again, that there is a risk that, unless we take an early initiative within the United Nations, we may find that our action is pre-empted by representatives in the Security Council whose interests are by no means as benign or well-informed as our own.

Finally, the Opposition will wish to keep under consideration the proper date on which the House should have another debate on the matter. If we reach a view on the matter, I hope that it will be supported by the Government.

Mr. Pym

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his supportive remarks. The fact that the House of Commons has broadly the same desires can do nothing but help the operations, both diplomatic and military, that are in hand at present. I am not convinced that another initiative by us in the United Nations would help. It is a possible option, but at the moment we have resolution 502, which has to be, but has not yet been, carried out. I have to bear in mind carefully how it is to our best advantage and to the advantage of securing a peaceful settlement to take any further initiative in the United Nations. Nevertheless, I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said.