§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors on the Falkland Islands Review (Cmnd. 8787).
§ Mr. Speaker
I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
§ The Prime Minister
The House will recall that six days after the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands I announced in reply to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that a review would be held of the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in the period leading up to the invasion.
Following the liberation of the islands, I consulted the Leader of the Opposition, and Privy Councillors in other Opposition parties, about establishing a Committee to undertake the review. These consultations led to agreement both about the terms of reference of the review and its membership under the chairmanship of Lord Franks. Later, the House agreed without a Division a motion to approve the establishment of the Committee.
On that occasion the Leader of the Opposition, who proposed the names of two of the six members of the committee, said: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."—[Official Report, 8 July 1982; Vol. 27, c. 476.]The committee had access to all relevant Cabinet and Cabinet Committee papers and to a comprehensive collection of reports from the intelligence agencies. It saw not only the papers of the present Administration but those of previous Administrations also. Each member of the committee read these papers personally, and did not rely on summaries or extracts. They had access to and saw far more papers than anyone else has seen, and interviewed more people.
I shall follow the structure of the report, Mr. Speaker, dealing in turn, first, with the fundamental nature of the dispute and the way that successive Governments tried to deal with it; secondly, with the period preceding the invasion and some points that have been made about the Government's actions during that time; thirdly, with the main conclusions of the report and the Government's reactions to them. Throughout I shall try to follow Lord Franks' advice that his report should be read as a whole, and his warning against the dangers of hindsight.
The fundamental dilemma is plain from the report. Argentina was interested in only one thing—sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and, if it could get it, over the dependencies as well. Successive British Governments recognised that any solution had to be acceptable to the islanders and sought to achieve that solution by negotiation. The inherent contradiction was evident. No solution which satisfied the Argentine demand for sovereignty pure and simple could possibly be reconciled with the wishes of the islanders or of this House.
Chapter I of the report—a valuable historical analysis of the period from 1965 to 1979—illustrates clearly the recurrence of certain features in the policies pursued by 790 successive British Governments, in the intelligence assessments they received and in the military assessments prepared by the chiefs of staff.
The year 1967 was a landmark in that the then Labour Government were the first British Government to state formally to Argentina that they would be prepared to cede sovereignty over the islands under certain conditions, provided that the wishes of the islanders were respected. Following agreement at official level with Argentina on a memorandum of understanding, Lord Chalfont visited the islands to explain the policy that the Government had been pursuing.
In the light of the reaction both in the islands and in this country, the Government decided not to continue to attempt to reach a settlement on the basis of the memorandum. Nevertheless, it was recognised even at that stage thatfailure to reach an understanding with Argentina carried the risks of increased harassment of the Islanders and the possibility of an attack.The Government therefore decided to continue negotiations, while making clear the British attitude on sovereignty, and that the islanders' wishes were paramount. Talks were resumed in 1969.
Following the change of Government in June 1970, a communications agreement was signed, but Argentina pressed for talks on sovereignty and in 1974 attention turned to the possibility of condominium which was explored with the islanders and then dropped.
Towards the end of 1973, the Joint Intelligence Committee assessed that Argentina attitudes were hardening and for the first time there were signs that Argentina might be preparing contingency plans for an occupation of the islands.
In 1974, official military action was considered unlikely as long as Argentina believed that the British Government were prepared to negotiate on sovereignty, but the JIC did not rule out that military action. In December 1974, an Argentine newspaper mounted a press campaign advocating invasion of the islands. This pattern of hardening Argentine attitudes, the possibility of military action and a press campaign advocating it would be seen again.
This historical background is important because a good deal of recent comment has suggested that the circumstances in early 1982 were entirely new.
In 1975, lease-back was proposed for the first time. It was an Argentine suggestion in response to a British proposal for joint development of economic resources of the south west Atlantic. The Argentine Foreign Minister also proposed that Argentina should occupy South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. That proposal was unacceptable to Britain, and the absence of talks on sovereignty was unacceptable to the Argentines. For some time following that, there were no negotiations.
The economic survey by Lord Shackleton in 1975ߝ76 provoked a hostile Argentine reaction and relations deteriorated sharply in 1976. Our ambassador was told by the Argentine Foreign Minister that if the British Government refused to resume negotiationswe were rapidly moving towards a head-on collision … in the end he could only see one course open to Argentina irrespective of what Government might be in power. … Fortified by the support of the entire Argentine nation as well as all the other nations of the world assembled in New York, his Government could accept no responsibility for such a disastrous outcome.791 That was in 1976. No stronger threat was issued by an Argentine Foreign Minister throughout the period covered by the report. Ambassadors were withdrawn and newspapers in Buenos Aires advocated invasion, although in veiled terms.
In January 1976, the JIC assessed that a sudden invasion was unlikely but that there was an increased likelihood of Argentine political and economic action against British interests and that as the sequence of Argentine measures proceeded the possibility of military operations must be regarded as that much nearer. The pattern was similar to that in 1974 and was to be seen again.
On 4 February 1976, shots were fired at the unarmed research ship RRS "Shackleton" 78 miles south of Port Stanley, and an unsuccessful attempt by the Argentines was made to arrest her.
A week later the then Minister of State at the Foreign Office went to New York for talks with the new Argentine Foreign Minister at which, according to the report, he was instructed by the then Foreign Secretary to ask what proposals the Argentines had about discussions on sovereignty. Again, this is worth noting, for the Argentines were to be asked a similar question in September 1981, to which the Franks report also refers.
In February 1976 the chiefs of staff produced a paper on military options, the first of four such papers. According to the Franks report, all were similar in scope, and the language used was substantially the same. Having noted the limitation of the airstrip at Port Stanley and other difficulties, the 1976 paper continued:It would not be practicable to provide, transport and support the force necessary in the Islands to ensure that a determined Argentine attempt to eject the British garrison was unsuccessful".In December of the same year an Argentine military presence was discovered in the British territory of Southern Thule. The Labour Government took no steps to make that fact public, and it did not become known to the House until May 1978—some 16 months later. Formal protests were made to Argentina at the time, but the Franks report states that the Argentine expectation had been that the British reaction would have been much stronger.
A JIC assessment in January 1977 concluded that the Argentine Government were unlikely to order withdrawal until it suited them to do so and, depending on the British Government's actions in the situation, could be encouraged to attempt further military measures against British interests in the area.
There was evidence at that time of an Argentine contingency plan for a joint air force and navy invasion of the Falkland Islands, but later intelligence suggested that that plan had been shelved—not because of any action by the then British Government, but because Argentina could not count on the support of the Third world or the Communist bloc.
In February 1977, some two months after the discovery of the occupation of Southern Thule, but without referring to it, Mr. Crosland told the House that the time had come to consider with the islanders and the Argentine Government whether a climate existed for further talks. At the same time, he announced that the Government did not accept the more costly recommendations in the Shackleton report, notably the enlargement of the airport and the 792 lengthening of the runway. At a time when Argentina had just occupied British territory, what sort of a signal was that?
In July 1977, the then Labour Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), presented a paper to the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee which, as the report statesargued that serious and substantive negotiations were necessary to keep the Argentines in play, since the Islands were militarily indefensible except by a major costly and unacceptable diversion of current resources".The committee decided that the aim should be to keep the negotiations going. The report continues:Broadly speaking, the Government's strategy was to retain sovereignty as long as possible, if necessary making concessions in respect of the Dependencies and the maritime resources in the area, while recognising that ultimately only some form of leaseback arrangement was likely to satisfy Argentina".In view of that, it was surprising, to say the least, that in December 1980 the then shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), condemned the lease-back proposal when it was put to the House by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary—some advertisement for collective decision! We are told that in the talks the British side put forward the idea that the sovereignty of the uninhabited dependencies might be "looked at separately" from the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands themselves. The Argentine reaction to that further signal is not recorded.
Franks uses a similar phrase to that used to describe the position at the end of 1973—the Argentine position was hardening.Indeed it was. Argentine naval units arrested seven Soviet and two Bulgarian fishing vessels in Falkland waters. Shots were fired at one of the Bulgarian ships and there were orders to sink the vessel if necessary. The British Government were officially informed that there would be a similar riposte to intrusions by any other flag carrier and at any other place.
The JIC concluded that if negotiations broke down, or if Argentina concluded that there was no real prospect of their resulting in a transfer of sovereignty, there would bea high risk of its then resorting to more forceful measures, including direct military action".Invasion of the Falklands was, in the JIC's view, unlikely but "could not be discounted". That was a situation of unparalleled tension in the history of the dispute. Nothing comparable existed in March 1982, as the report itself points out.
I wish to say a word about the despatch of one nuclear submarine and two frigates to the south Atlantic by the Labour Government in November 1977. According to the report, Ministers accepted thatSuch a force would not be able to deal with a determined Argentine attack".
§ The Prime Minister
I wish to continue, as I am in the middle of making a point.
According to the report, Ministers accepted that such a force could not deal with a determined Argentine attack. What, one must ask, would that force have done if, wholly without air cover, it had met such an attack?
§ The Prime Minister
When I finish this section. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Further, the report found no evidence that Argentina ever came to know of its existence. So I hope that the right 793 hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) will tell us in the course of this debate what he meant when he told the House on 30 March last year thatwhen the fact"—of this force—became known, without fuss and publicity, a diplomatic solution followed".—[Official Report, 30 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 168.]
§ Mr. Dalyell
If the Prime Minister is correct in saying that nothing comparable existed in March 1982, why is it that in paragraph 152 the Franks report refers to a telegram on 3 March from the ambassador in Buenos Aires, on which she wrotewe must make contingency plans"?How does the right hon. Lady square that?
§ The Prime Minister
I can square that easily. The hon. Gentleman will find a paragraph in the report dealing with press reports at that time suggesting that, while early action was thought to be such items as withdrawal of services, matters would become urgent as the 150th anniversary approached and that there could well be an invasion at that difficult time later in the year. The report said in paragraph 327:At that time there were signs of growing Argentine impatience, in the form of the bout de papier and the accompanying hostile press comment in Argentina, but in other respects the circumstances were different from those obtaining at the time of the 1977 talks. 1977 was a tense period in Anglo-Argentine relations and there was a sharper risk of Argentine military action".There were further negotiations with Argentina in February 1978 in Lima, in December 1978 in Geneva, and in March 1979 in New York. On none of those occasions was a force deployed.
§ The Prime Minister
Chapters 2 and 3 of the report cover the period of the present Government. As with each previous Government, the full range of policy options was put to us at the outset. The second half of 1979 saw a visit by my right hon. Friend the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury to the islands, two exploratory meetings with Argentine representatives, the restoration of ambassadors and the formulation of proposals to the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee, including both political and military assessment.
In exchanges in the House on 18 January, the Leader of the Opposition, referred to what he called thecollapse of effective Cabinet government".—[Official Report, 18 January 1982; Vol. 35, c. 175.]The fact is that in 1980, when the policy was being decided, there were no fewer than seven collective and often lengthy discussions of our policy towards the Falkland Islands, four in the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee and three in Cabinet.
In January 1981, a further meeting of that Committee—the eighth collective discussion—was held to review the position in the light of the islanders' reactions to the lease-back proposal and the comments in the House on the statement in December 1980 by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. The Committee endorsed Lord Carrington's proposal that the aim should be to keep the negotiations going with a view to finding an acceptable basis for a negotiated settlement. It agreed to the early 794 talks for which Argentina was pressing, and at which the islanders were to be represented. Those talks took place in New York in February 1981.
Thereafter, the policy having been decided in those eight collective meetings, my noble Friend kept his colleagues informed in detail through minutes circulated to all members of the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee. That is a well-known habit and custom of successive Governments once the policy has been determined.
To reassure the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, let me tell him that Cabinet government flourished so well in 1981 that there were 18 meetings of the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee, to say nothing of all the other Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings.
In 1982, following the New York talks, a meeting of the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee was planned for 16 March. It did not happen because my noble Friend wanted to consult the islanders on the response he was proposing to send to Mr. Costa Mendez about the unilateral Argentine communiqué following the New York talks; and the Island Council was meeting on that very day to discuss this matter.
The South Georgia incident, which changed the whole situation, began on Friday 19 March, and the Cabinet discussed that incident at its next meeting on 25 March.
There has also been comment, both in the report and outside, about the decision on HMS "Endurance".
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I am much obliged to the right hon. Lady and I shall take up tomorrow the point she made. Is she not jumping rather quickly from January 1981 to March 1982? Does she not think that the Cabinet or the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee should have reviewed the policy when the ambassador wrote to the Foreign Secretary and said "All we seem to have is a state of Micawberism"? Should they not have reviewed the policy in the light of what the chiefs of staff had to say in August 1981? It really was a collapse of government that she should not have permitted a meeting between those two times.
§ The Prime Minister
A discussion could have been permitted at any time. A paper could have been submitted at any time, but we had eight discussions while the policy was being formulated. Lord Carrington carried out the policy and kept each and every member of the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee informed through minutes which are detailed in the report. Another meeting when things were changing had been expected on 16 March. I have given the reason why it did not take place. I shall refer to the reviews of the chiefs of staff later in my speech.
This was a collective Cabinet decision resulting from the 1981 Defence Review—to withdraw "Endurance" at the end of her 1982 deployment. "Endurance", as the Argentines well knew, has a limited defence capability and was only on station during the Antarctic summer months each year. Her presence in the South Atlantic at the time did not stop Argentina launching her invasion any more than her presence in the area deterred the Argentines from attacking RRS "Shackleton" in 1976.
Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence said on 7 April 1982, and the Franks report now states, that the decision to withdraw "Endurance" could have provided the wrong signal to the 795 Argentines—one of a number. As the House knows, we have now decided that "Endurance" will continue in service.
It has been suggested that a large task force or a smaller force of ships should have been sent earlier than they were. Assessments by the chiefs of staff of possible military responses to the Argentine threat were received throughout the period under review and were similar in scope and content.
When the present Government first considered the position in 1980, we had a military assessment before us. The latest one reached me on 26 March 1982, in response to a request for contingency plans. It was virtually indentical to the assessment made in September 1981, and that was similar to the one prepared in 1977 which, according to the report, in its turn, was similar to that of February 1976.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
If the Prime Minister is referring to the JIC report she ought to refer to the report presented on 9 July 1981 which warned that the Argentine might act swiftly and without warning. In such circumstances, military action against British shipping or a full-scale invasion of the Falkland Islands could not be discounted. Surely that was the rather more important JIC report.
§ The Prime Minister
I quoted the JIC reports up to the period with which I am now dealing. I shall quote that JIC report in association with this period about which I am now dealing.
The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the purpose of my quoting many of those reports is to understand the similarities of warning and progression. A constant similarity in the report of the chiefs of staff was not surprising because the fundamental circumstances of the distance of the islands, the airstrip, and Ascension Island did not change.
All the reports of the chiefs of staff—I shall deal later with the intelligence reports—were substantially similar. The one I received on 26 March was similar to the previous one in September 1981. That was similar to the one in 1977, which in turn was similar to that in 1976 which was also very similar to the military assessment before us when we formulated the policy with regard to the Falkland Islands at the beginning of 1980 in the Cabinet and in the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee.
The Franks report itself points out that, although from 1975 the Argentine threat of military action increased, no Government were prepared to establish a garrison on the Falkland Islands large enough to repel a full-scale Argentine invasion, or to provide an extended runway for the airport, with supporting facilities.
The 1981 paper by the chiefs of staff, having recognised the strength of the Argentine air force, concluded thatto deter a full scale invasion, a large balanced force would be required, comprising an Invincible class carrier with four destroyers or frigates plus possibly a nuclear powered submarine, supply ships in attendance and additional manpower up to brigade strength, to reinforce the garrison.Such a deployment would be very expensive and would engage a significant portion of the country's naval resources. There was a danger that its depatch could precipitate the very action it was intended to deter.There followed an extremely important sentence: 796If then faced with Argentine occupation of the Falkland Islands on arrival, there could be no certainty that such a force could retake them. The paper concluded that to deal with a full-scale invasion would require naval and land forces with organic air support on a very substantial scale, and that the logistical problem of such an operation would be formidable.That was the advice that continually reached me.
The Franks report concludes that it would not have been appropriate to prepare a large task force with the capacity to retake the Falkland Islands before there was clear evidence of an invasion. I agree—and of course as soon as the evidence became available, on 31 March, that preparatory action was taken.
Some argue that a small force should have been deployed earlier, as had been the case in 1977. Franks states clearly that the situation at the time of the New York talks in February 1982 was quite different from the situation in November 1977, the time of the deployment of a submarine and two frigates. I have already described the differences.
In November 1977 there had already been bellicose military action by Argentina in Falkland waters and an explicit threat to any of our ships which might enter those waters.
As Franks also concludes, the situation in February 1982 did not justify a similar, small naval deployment, but I would like to put another argument. To have sent two or three frigates at that time, without air cover, knowing as we did the strength and efficiency of the Argentine air force would have put men and ships in great danger— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Oh, yes. To have stood them off several hundred miles away would not have helped against a full-scale invasion.
Then it is said that one or more nuclear submarines might have been sent on 5 March. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has said that it was quite clear that the Argentines had by then given up hope of a negotiated settlement. Not so. At the talks in New York, Argentina had proposed a programme for monthly meetings, and that programme was specifically endorsed even in the unilateral communiqué issued in Buenos Aires on 1 March. The prospect was of continuing negotiations for several months ahead, not of an imminent military threat.
The committee questioned my noble Friend on this point, whose concern was that if a submarine was sent and the fact became known, this would have jeopardised his objective of continuing negotiation. The committee found that this was not an unreasonable view to take at the time, and, as the House knows, the decision to sail the first nuclear-powered submarine was taken early on 29 March.
The Franks committee consider that there was a case for taking this action at the end of the previous week. This is a fairly fine judgment and depends on the interpretation of the developing situation in South Georgia which the Government had been trying to solve by negotiation.
§ Mr. Edward Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil)
Will the right hon. Lady confirm and remind the House that in November 1977 the chiefs of staff advised that covert submarines plus frigates 1,000 miles off was an effective and adequate force to deploy given the situation with which we were then dealing?
§ The Prime Minister
Paragraphs 65 and 66 are the relevant paragraphs, and I have quoted from them. They state: 797In the light of the intelligence assessment Ministers decided at a meeting on 21 November 1977 that a military presence in the area of the Falkland Islands should be established by the time the negotiations began in December. The objective would be to buttress the Government's negotiating position by deploying a force of sufficient strength, available if necessary, to convince the Argentines that military action by them would meet resistance. Such a force would not be able to deal with a determined Argentine attack, but it would be able to respond flexibly to limited acts of aggression. The Committee agreed that secrecy should be maintained about the purpose of the force. One nuclear-powered submarine and two frigates were deployed to the area, the submarine to the immediate vicinity of the Islands with the frigates standing off about a thousand miles away. Rules of engagement were drawn up.Cabinet Committee papers show clearly that it was agreed that the force should remain covert. We have found no evidence that the Argentine Government ever came to know of its existence.But, of course, the covert presence of a nuclear submarine would not have deterred the eventual Argentine invasion. Had the junta known that we had despatched a submarine, its response could well have been to launch an airborne invasion supported by ground attack aircraft, a method, as the chiefs of staff had advised, well within its capability. Moreover, I remember that some Opposition Members criticised the sinking of the "Belgrano" by submarine after several weeks of actual hostilities. What would their attitude have been had Britain fired the first shot, had Britain attacked a ship on the high seas before hostilities? They would have been the first to condemn and to demand an inquiry, and we should have lost all support from our allies and the international community and should never have secured the passage of the famous Security Council resolution 502 which dominated international opinion for so long.
I can only repeat that had the two frigates been in the area when that invasion was mounted, I should have been very fearful for the safety of the crews, given that they would have been without any air cover with a formidable Argentine air force only 400 miles away.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, South)
The Prime Minister's argument is interesting, and we shall consider it, but it fails to explain something for which I believe she deserves some credit. Following the warning from the British ambassador in Buenos Aires on 3 March, she herself asked the Ministry of Defence for contingency plans to deal with the situation. If we accept the right hon. Lady's argument, she knew that nothing was worth while except sending the sort of force which the chiefs of staff had previously advised her would be necessary to deter a full-scale invasion. Was that request an idle and capricious one, is that why she chose not to follow it up, or did she believe, as the Franks report says, that timely action on a smaller scale at that moment might have deterred action by the Argentines?
§ The Prime Minister
I once again asked for advice from the chiefs of staff in the situation which faced us about which I read in a press report. That is fully set out in paragraph 139 of the report. There were a number of press reports, but I saw the La Prensa report. Paragraph 139 states:"La Prensa speculated, after conversation with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, that, if present tactics were unproductive, a first step might be to cut off services to the Islands followed by a progressive cooling of bilateral relations.The intelligence reports also suggested first steps of that nature, and that we would expect a whole sequence of actions to be taken long before further military assessment. Paragraph 139 continues: 798Sr. Ronuco quoted sources saying that Britain would have no more than three of four months to acknowledge Argentine sovereignty and agree on an early date for the return of the Islands to Argentina. There would be no flexibility in Argentina's minimum demand for restitution of sovereignty before the 150th anniversary".There were two issues in that press report—which were referred to in others, including a report in the Buenos Aires Herald—in line with the JIC assessment and many previous assessments, which is why I frequently quoted them, suggesting that when things gradually got worse between Argentina and the United Kingdom a series of actions of mounting seriousness would be taken, but the likelihood was that we would have a good deal of warning. That press report suggested that the first step would be the cutting off of commercial supplies and services. Secondly, it highlighted that only a few months were left. In that position, I felt that I should again seek the advice of the chiefs of staff.
I have said that that was the same fundamental advice, and it was inherent in the fundamental situation that even to deter we needed a force with an aircraft carrier, about four frigates and a nuclear submarine. It was also clear that if such a force was sent and it actually arrived, it would not be sufficient to throw the invader off the islands. There was a fundamental difficulty, but I felt that it would be totally and utterly wrong to send less than was sufficient.
The advice reached me on 26 March, by which time there were changes in the South Georgia incident. On 29 March we sent a nuclear submarine, and on 31 March we sent seven warships from off Gibraltar. They were not to act on their own. They were to await the full aircraft carrier force. In view of the chiefs of staff advice that a deterrent force would require an aircraft carrier, and that to win would require a much bigger force, I was anxious that we should not put people in jeopardy. We should have sufficient forces to protect them the whole time.
§ The Prime Minister
It is obvious, but seems to need repeating, that the real cause of the conflict was not the misdemeanours of British Governments, nor of civil servants, nor a failure of machinery, nor of intelligence, but the decision and the gross misjudgment of a military junta to take by force British territory inhabited by people who had always wanted to remain British.
§ The Prime Minister
The reasons for Lord Carrington's resignation were set out in his letter which was published in full. The Franks report says many times that the view that he took was reasonable in the circumstances at the time. Many people are seeing that decision with hindsight. The Franks report attempted to judge the position as at the time.
Throughout this account I have referred frequently to intelligence assessments. In November 1979 there was a reassessment of the Argentine threat in language similar to that which had occurred several times previously.
799 A further assessment was made in July 1981. That assessment reviewed the options open to the Argentine Government if they decided to resort to direct measures in the dispute. It took the view that it was likely that in the first instance Argentina would adopt diplomatic and economic measures, including the disruption of air communications, of food and oil supplies. Next, Argentina might occupy one of the uninhabited dependencies, following up its action in 1976 in establishing a presence on Southern Thule; next, a risk that it might establish a military presence in the Falkland Islands themselves, remote from Port Stanley. In the committee's view, harassment or arrest of British shipping would not be a likely option unless the Argentine Government felt themselves severely provoked.
As in 1979, the assessment noted that there was no sign of diminution in Argentina's determination eventually to extend its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands area, but that it would prefer to achieve this objective by peaceful means and would turn to forcible action only as a last resort.
The final paragraph of the assessment stated that, if Argentina concluded that there was no hope of a peaceful transfer of sovereignty, there would be a high risk of its resorting to more forcible measures against British interests, and that it might act swiftly and without warning. In such circumstances, military action against British shipping or a full-scale invasion could not be discounted.
I have described this assessment in some detail because it dealt with the responses that Argentina would be likely to make in the order in which it thought they would occur. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East, the then shadow Foreign Secretary, has selectively emphasised the final possibility ignoring all of the measures which the assessment thought would precede it. At the end of previous JIC assessments there has always been the phrase that invasion could not be discounted.
The principal suggestion made by Lord Franks for the future is that the machinery within Government for intelligence assessment should be reviewed. The committee expressed the view that, during the period leading up to the invasion, the Joint Intelligence Organisation might not have given sufficient weight to the diplomatic and other indications that the Argentine Government's position was hardening in the early months of 1982, as compared with intelligence reports.
The committee also suggested that the independence of the Joint Intelligence Committee should be emphasised by having its chairman appointed by the Prime Minister as a full-time member of the Cabinet Office, with a more critical and independent role.
These are matters which it is our custom not to discuss in public for obvious reasons. We have to remember that anything which we say on this subject is certain to be studied very closely by foreign Governments. We have therefore to be sure that nothing we say makes the tasks of our own security and intelligence people harder, or those of our adversaries easier. We must therefore avoid any reference to our own operations and techniques or those of our allies, but the House will expect me on this occasion to comment on the Franks' observations on the composition of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
800 I think it right to accept the proposal that its chairmanship should be held by a member of the Cabinet Office who is able to give more time to supervising the work of the assessments machinery. I therefore intend to appoint as chairman of the JIC an official of the Cabinet Office who will be engaged full time on intelligence matters. He will have direct access to the Prime Minister in the same way as the heads of the security and intelligence agencies.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Mr. Ure recorded that the Cabinet Office had said that the Prime Minister would like the next Defence Committee paper on the Falklands to include annexes on both civil and military contingency plans. By asking for military contingency plans on 5 March, how can the Prime Minister say that this crisis came out of the blue to her on Wednesday 31 March?
§ The Prime Minister
As there had been military contingency plans for a long time of the kind that described the number of ships that would need to go to the area in certain circumstances, I fail to see how the hon. Gentleman's question has any significance. That paragraph arose from my comment on a press report that I saw and to which I have referred. It said, first, that if any action were taken it would be commercial action, but that we were in jeopardy possibly. There is nothing as dangerous as the previous press report in the Cronica in about 1974 or reports of threats of invasion in 1976. I saw the press report and said that we must look at contingency plans. The press report was dated 3 March. It was communicated to the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence which referred to it at the meeting on 5 March.
The Ministry of Defence considered its previous documents and altered them in the light of the changing position. The contingency plans came to me on 26 March. In view of what I had seen, it seemed reasonable to ask for contingency plans. Although an invasion was not imminent, and Franks agreed that it was not and that we could not have known that one was imminent because the decision to invade was not taken, it seemed reasonable to take the view contained in the press report that there might be considerable danger in several months, and to seek the advice of the chiefs of staff and to decide what action should be taken.
The advice came. It still contained the fundamental dilemma which did not change because of the geography.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall not give way. I am coming to an end. I have dealt at some length with the comments made.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall finish shortly.
I have dealt at some length with the comments made in the Franks report and by others outside. But the report sets them all in perspective. I quote:There is no reasonable basis for any suggestion—which would be purely hypothetical—that the invasion would have been 801 prevented if the Government had acted in the ways indicated in our Report. Taking account of these considerations and of all the evidence we have received, we conclude that we would not be justified in attaching any criticsm or blame to the present Government for the Argentine Junta's decision to commit its act of unprovoked aggression in the invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982.That is the unanimous conclusion, taking into account all the considerations and all the evidence. The question which the Opposition must answer is, do they accept or repudiate that conclusion? After all their efforts to paint in stronger colours this or that aspect of the account, do they accept this independent committee's final verdict? The House and the country will expect from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition a clear answer to that question, which is not given in his amendment.
As a result of the events of last year and of the Franks report, the performance of Government machinery, of Ministers and of officials has been subjected to the closest scrutiny. That is our way in this democracy, and rightly so.
But I now pay tribute again to the outstanding service which my noble Friend Lord Carrington has given to this country, and also to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), whose skill in handling the New York talks in February 1982 is specifically acknowledged in the report.
Officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the Ministry of Defence and in the intelligence organisation have been subjected to much criticism. The Franks report attaches no blame to the individuals and makes it equally clear that the mass of allegations made against the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were quite unjustified.
I would add that the Department which has been subjected to that criticism was the same Department which so brilliantly mobilised opinion and so skilfully promoted our cause at the United Nations, in the United States, with our other partners and allies and across the world. That needs saying and I am glad to say it.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall not give way. I have nearly come to the end of my speech.
I pay tribute as well to the work of the Ministry of Defence, which played such a notable part in the mobilisation and servicing of the task force.
It is not surprising that a thorough inquiry over six months by a committee with the distinction and calibre which has produced this report should have observations to make on the handling of this or that aspect of events. That would have been so whatever the subject of the inquiry. I believe that the Government can legitimately take pride in the final verdict of this review. Where it points to the need for change, change will, as I have indicated, be made. For it is now the future that matters—and in particular the future of the Falkland Islanders. The Government are determined, as are the British people, that everything necessary shall be done to secure for the islanders what they themselves want and deserve—a life of freedom and peace under a Government of their choice. That prospect was shattered last spring. It is now restored, and we shall do everything within our power to ensure that it is never again imperilled.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:notes that the Report of the Falkland Islands Review confirmed the failure of Her Majesty's Government to give adequate priority to the Falkland Islands in its defence and foreign policy, its failure to consider the problem in Cabinet or the Defence Committee of Cabinet in the fifteen months before the invasion took place, and its failure to respond adequately to a risk of invasion which it knew to exist.In my remarks I shall seek to traverse the same ground as the Prime Minister traversed, although not in the same order.
I must begin, in view of the right hon. Lady's concluding remarks, by saying how touched we are by her tribute to the Foreign Office and those in it. Some of us can remember the furious campaign that was conducted in some of the newspapers that have been the most prominent supporters of the right hon. Lady—The Sun, the Daily Mail and others—against Lord Carrington and those who were associated with him. It was a foul and loathsome campaign. The right hon. Lady would have done herself much more credit if she had repudiated it much more forcefully at that time, instead of allowing it to persist.
This affair raises questions about who was responsible for the invasion. We have no doubt that the chief responsibility and guilt for the invasion rests on General Galtieri and those in Argentina who supported him. We have never wavered from our view that the responsibility was theirs, but of course others with responsibility must have been involved, particularly as the Foreign Secretary and some eminent members of the Foreign Office resigned. It is not every day of the week that the Foreign Secretary resigns, not even under this Government.
I know that we always look a little sceptically, wonderingly and with solicitude at the new Foreign Secretary. We often wonder how long he will survive. Sometimes when I see him wandering round the place I am reminded of the account of the Minister who served in Constantinople, who said that he never left the sultan's presence without making sure that his head was still upon his shoulders. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has to make sure of that too. The right hon. Lady has a special faculty for shifting the blame for some of the events for which she should take responsibility on to other shoulders. We must look at the debate in that sense.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I, too, quote fairly extensively from the report. I refer to the memorandum of 12 October 1979, which is referred to in paragraph 75. Anyone who reads that will see how it compresses the tragedy into a few sentences. The report states:On 12 October 1979 Lord Carrington circulated a memorandum to the Prime Minister and other members of the Defence Committee with a view to discussion by the Committee at a meeting the following week. The paper restated the options set out in Lord Carrington's minute of 20 September. It pointed out that the 'Fortress Falklands' option and the option of continuing talks but without making any concessions on sovereignty both carried a serious threat of invasion. One of the annexes to the memorandum was a paper on the Argentine political and military threat, which assessed that, if Argentina concluded that there was no prospect of real progress towards a negotiated transfer of sovereignty, there would be a high risk of its resorting to more forceful measures including direct military action. It pointed out that Argentina had the capability to capture the Islands. Lord Carrington recommended that talks with 803 Argentina should be resumed at ministerial level to explore, without commitment and without seeking to rush matters, political and economic solutions.That was the considered view of the Foreign Office after the first major assessment undertaken by the Government on the subject. That was the view that Lord Carrington and the Foreign Office wished to have discussed fully at the beginning of the Government's tenure of office. In the next sentence or two—I do not blame the right hon. Lady for this, although it is a matter of interest—it is said that the matter was not discussed at that meeting as other urgent and pressing matters had to be discussed.
The right hon. Lady claims that that document, which must have been a governing document within the Department and in the Foreign Office, was persistently discussed during 1980. She claims that the Government were persistently examining these matters all through 1980. I should like to know at which meetings and how often that document was discussed, with its statement that the present developing situation carrieda serious threat of invasion.When the right hon. Lady says, as she did in her speech a few minutes ago, that all options were put at the outset, I should like to know when that document, stating that there was a serious threat of invasion, was put to the Cabinet or to the Defence Committee.
Now I come to the other end of the timetable, the intelligence questions to which the right hon. Lady referred. I do so for a reason which I hope will become fully recognised in a moment. The right hon. Lady made many references to the intelligence reports and the way in which they were made to the Government. All of us can remember that in the debates at the time of the invasion there were many discussions on whether the intelligence work had been done properly. The Franks report does not include any strong condemnation of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which did its work pretty well. Everyone who read most of the warnings that it gave even up to March 1982, would, I believe, concur with that.
In paragraph 309 the report says:In March 1982 it was agreed that a new assessment should be prepared,"—the right hon. Lady referred to an earlier assessment, but I do not think that she referred specifically to this new assessment—and work was started on it. It was thought, however, that it could most usefully be presented to Ministers in the context of a more general consideration of Falkland Islands policy,"—if it was thought that it should be presented in a wider context that was the right way to proceed, because it appears that often the more general indications of what was happening in Buenos Aires were discounted—which they were expected to discuss at a meeting of the Defence Committee on 16 March. In the event, as we have explained," —that is, the Franks committee—that meeting did not take place, and the new assessment was never completed.The right hon. Lady referred to that missing meeting of 16 March. Anyone who reads the report will hunt again and again to discover exactly why it should have been postponed. There were people in the Foreign Office and in the Joint Intelligence Service who wanted to secure it.
It was said by the right hon. Lady today that the meeting was postponed because the Foreign Secretary was awaiting further information about what might be happening in the 804 Falkland Islands themselves, but if we consider those dates, the problem, the new assessment and the people who were asking that that new assessment should be considered, it seems strange that there should have been another postponement. That report, like so many other reports to which the Franks report refers, should have been considered by the Cabinet and by the Overseas and Defence Committee during that period.
The same applies to the reports by the ambassador in Buenos Aires. All of us who have read the report and, indeed, everyone, must be impressed by the reports that came from Buenos Aires and by the warnings given by the ambassador. Paragraph 104 must be of special interest to the right hon. Lady, because it was the ambassador who led her at a later stage to say:We must make contingency plans,but the ambassador in Buenos Aires reinforced in the latter part of 1981 the assessment that the Foreign Office had been making ever since the end of 1979.
Paragraph 104 says:When he was informed of Lord Carrington's decision not to pursue a public education campaign, the British Ambassador in Buenos Aires protested strongly in a letter to Mr. Fearn on 2 October 1981. He said that, as he understood it, the decision was to have no strategy at all beyond a general Micawberism.That phrase has now become famous. It might almost be substituted for the phrase, "the resolute approach".
The same paragraph says:There was a clear risk that the Argentines would conclude that talking was a waste of time. The Ambassador said that 'talks for the sake of talking' were something the Argentines conceded to the British and not vice versa; and he was dubious about their being ready to concede them any longer.That was a warning that should have been presented not merely to the Foreign Secretary but to the Cabinet and to the Overseas and Defence Committee at least. The right hon. Lady must acknowledge that, because it was she who, a few weeks later when she received another report from the same ambassador, made her famous comment:We must make contingency plans".One of the contingency plans which the right hon. Lady might have made in that moment of extremity was to refer the matter to the Cabinet, but she did not do so. There is no evidence in the report that those contingency plans had any effect. Indeed, we can also discover from the report that many contingency plans had been made in various Departments and they were awaiting a meeting at which the proposals for the contingency plans could be brought forward.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the beginning of chapter 2, which he quoted at some length, and to paragraph 75 and Lord Carrington's reference to the possibility of invasion? The right hon. Gentleman is repeating history to the House. Will he acknowledge that that was within five months of the Government taking office and was the fourth initiative taken by the Government, the first having been taken within one month, when a Minister of State met the deputy Foreign Minister, and the second a month later, when he went to the Falkland Islands? There was no lack of urgency in dealing with a serious problem.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not in any sense criticising the Foreign Secretary for having brought forward that assessment at that time in 1979. Far from criticising him, I was citing that paragraph to show that right at the beginning of this Government's tenure of office they had a full, proper, careful assessment presented to them by the Foreign 805 Office, although we do not even now know at what meeting that assessment was discussed. I am not criticising the Foreign Secretary. Indeed, I am doing the opposite. I shall come to his further defence on another matter on which he needs not my defence but that of others.
I quoted to the House last week the appeal that came from the Falkland Islanders on the whole question of the withdrawal of HMS Endurance. The matter cannot be disposed of in the peremptory and trivial manner in which the right hon. Lady did so, particularly because on this question she has a special responsibility of her own, to which I shall come in a moment.
I hope that I shall be pardoned for reading to the House again what the people in the Falkland Islands said when they got the news that the decision had been made by the Government to withdraw HMS Endurance. They said:The people of the Falkland Islands deplore in the strongest terms the decision to withdraw HMS 'Endurance' from service. They express extreme concern that Britain appears to be abandoning its defence of British interests in the South Atlantic and Antarctic at a time when other powers are strengthening their position in these areas. They feel that such a withdrawal will further weaken British sovereignty in this area in the eyes not only of Islanders but of the world. They urge that all possible endeavours be made to secure a reversal of this decision.There were quite a number of people in the country and in Parliament who were in favour of trying to back the Falkland Islanders in an attempt to have the decision reversed. They used proper parliamentary methods to do it. As all of us can remember, there was over a period of weeks a whole series of early-day motions signed and resigned and placed on the Order Paper. I am glad to say that those had some effect in one quarter at least. They did not have any effect upon the Secretary of State for Defence, but they had some effect upon the Foreign Office. Lord Carrington cited those early-day motions in the appeal that he made to the Government to change their mind about HMS Endurance.
There is also the case that was made by Lord Hill-Norton in the debate in another place on 16 December 1981. The right hon. Lady and the Franks report have warned us against hindsight. This is not hindsight; this is what was said before. It was a warning that was given to the former Secretary of State for Defence in particular. Few Conservative Members can disregard Lord Hill-Norton's opinion. He said:What I have no doubt about is that the decision to withdraw HMS Endurance from this station next year, after 27 years of continuous Antarctic patrol, without replacement by another of Her Majesty's ships suitably fit and fitted, is a grave mistake. The consequence of it will almost certainly be disastrous in the political, military and economic fields alike, and equally probably it will be irreversible.Even at this late date the Prime Minister talks about the limited capacity of HMS Endurance, but all that was dealt with by Lord Hill-Norton. He went on to say:Therefore, to conclude, it is my view that to withdraw the 'Endurance' would be the clearest signal imaginable"—The right hon. Lady talked about signals a few minutes ago. She dared to ask us what sort of signal that was. What sort of signal was hers?Therefore, to conclude, it is my view that to withdraw the 'Endurance' would be the clearest signal imaginable of our lack, or loss, of interest, not only in the Falklands but in the whole area. Make no mistake about it, that signal will at once be read, with anguish by our friends and with delight—as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has quoted—by any potential opponent."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 1981; Vol. 426, c. 220ߝ22.]806 The Prime Minister has a special responsibility in this matter. When her Ministers are attacked, she sometimes rushes to their defence. She rushed to the defence of the previous Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Sir J. Nott). On 9 February 1982 my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) asked:On a related question, is the Prime Minister aware that the Government's decisions to withdraw and pay off HMS 'Endurance' when she returns from the South Atlantic is an error that could have serious consequences? Is she further aware that this stale old proposition was put to me on more than one occasion when I was Prime Minister and after considering it I turned it down flat? Will she please do the same?Several weeks later the right hon. Lady did the same, but a war started before she changed her mind.
The right hon. Lady, with her usual determination to come to the aid of Ministers under attack, said:I recognise that this was a very difficult decision for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.It was all his decision apparently.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are many competing claims on the defence budget, even though we are increasing it substantially. He will also know that the defence capability of that ship is extremely limited. My right hon. Friend therefore felt that other claims on the defence budget should have greater priority."—[Official Report, 9 February 1982. Vol. 17, c. 856ߝ57.]The Government thereby saved about £3 million on the Budget.
How does the right hon. Lady think her reply and the words of Lord Hill-Norton in another place were received by those in Buenos Aires if they were studying these matters? I hope that there will be no further talk from the right hon. Lady about signals to Argentina. The right hon. Lady had every chance of changing her mind long before. All she had to do was listen to the opinion that was coming from so many different quarters in the House, in the country and from the Falklands. That was the way in which she could have sent a signal. What she did was to send the wrong one. She should have had the honesty to get up and admit it.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten the signal that was sent by a Socialist Government in the mid-1970s, when they announced that they were scrapping HMS Endurance? Does he not recall the circumstances in which HMS Endurance was reprieved? It took the firing on a British ship—RRS Shackleton—by Argentine forces before the Labour Government decided to reprieve HMS Endurance, and that was done only on a year-by-year basis.
§ Mr. Foot
If what the hon. Gentleman says is true, how much greater is the guilt of the right hon. Lady? It was not only once that she had to learn the lesson; it was twice. The right hon. Lady might have learnt something had she consulted the hon. Gentleman on the matter. What he has done is to confirm my case. The right hon. Lady ought to understand by now that it was a grave mistake, as Lord Hill-Norton said in the other place.
My claim against the Government is that the proper conclusion to be drawn from all these events is that matters that should have been brought to the Cabinet and the Defence Committee were not properly brought there. Anybody who looks at the case will see that that is confirmed.
During the critical months of 1980 and 1981, right up to the time of the invasion, the wise judgment of the 807 ambassador at Buenos Aires never reached the Cabinet or the Defence Committee. The important forecasts of the Joint Intelligence Committee, some admittedly varied, never reached the Cabinet. The considered views of Lord Carrington over a long period never reached the Cabinet and were never discussed at the Defence Committee during the whole of the period. The attitudes of the Secretary of State for Defence conflicted with those of the Foreign Office on some crucial questions. The whole issue of deterrence turned partly on an estimate of their two judgments. Therefore, it is not possible to deal with those two judgments by letters of the kind to which the right hon. Lady has referred. The only proper place for dealing with such matters was in Cabinet.
The right hon. Lady asked for verdicts, and paragraph 291 of the Franks report is a verdict on the way in which the Government were run. It says:Officials in both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence were looking to Ministers to review the outcome of the contingency planning they had done in view of a potentially more aggressive posture by Argentina.The right hon. Lady attempted to explain that Argentina's posture was becoming less hostile, but that is not exactly the judgment of the Franks report. The report continues:In the event, Government policy towards Argentina and the Falkland Islands was never formally discussed outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after January 1981. Thereafter, the time was never judged to be ripe"—and the person who has the responsibility and the power to decide what meetings shall take place is the Prime Minister—although we were told in oral evidence that, subject to the availability of Ministers, a Defence Committee meeting could have been held at any time, if necessary at short notice. There was no meeting of the Defence Committee to discuss the Falklands until 1 April 1982"—a most appropriate date—and there was no reference to the Falklands in Cabinet, even after the New York talks of 26 and 27 February, until Lord Carrington reported on events in South Georgia on 25 March 1982.That is what I described last week as the collapse of Cabinet government. That is the bare truth of the matter. It is the reason why the Government, the Cabinet, did not respond properly to the demands of the House of Commons. It is the reason why the Government did not make a proper judgment on what was occurring. It is the reason why, after the first assessment at the end of 1979—it was a perfectly proper and wise assessment by the Foreign Office, which, apparently, was not even discussed in the Cabinet—the Cabinet made no such full estimate of the problem with which it had to deal.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
The right hon. Gentleman is making a serious charge about the breakdown of Cabinet government. So that we may get it into perspective, perhaps he will tell us what went on when he was in Cabinet. For example, when he was the deputy leader of the party, was he told about the deployment of the frigates and the submarines to the south Atlantic in 1977? Was he at any time during the whole of the Labour Administration told about the Chevaline programme?
§ Mr. Foot
We had meetings three times a week to discuss those matters. No charge is made by Franks or anyone else against the Labour Government for the failure to call proper meetings. Indeed, it is remarked how we called meetings much more frequently. The difference is 808 that under the Labour Government not a single life was lost to protect the Falklands. What happened as a result of the right hon. Lady's Government and the way in which they conducted their affairs was that there was hopeless mismanagement and, I repeat, a collapse of Cabinet government, and a failure to decide these matters properly.
It is not only what happened in the past that concerned the Franks committee and was the reason for having an investigation. I agree with the investigation that has taken place, and in my view it has been extremely thorough and exposes foreign policy issues, defence issues, and the interlinking of those issues, better than anyone could have expected, but I do not agree with the final sentences. Most people who have read the report will confirm what I say. The last two sentences might have been better if they had said that the operation had been a great success, but unfortunately the patient died, because that is the fact of the matter. In fact, it was not a success.
Somehow or other, there has to be a conclusion about the responsibility. If we do not make the proper deductions about the conduct of Cabinet government in this country, the same mistakes will be made again on this and many other issues. I hope that the House and the country will be a good deal wiser in dealing with this problem in the coming weeks, months and years, but we shall not do so if we make the wrong deductions.
One of the most important comments on the Franks report and the developing situation was made by a person to whom the right hon. Lady will take no exception. I say that because sometimes she speaks as though Fortress Falklands is the only policy that is necessary. Her right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary does not always speak in those terms, and I dare say that a divergence may develop between them, and the right hon. Gentleman's spokesman in the House of Lords has not accepted that doctrine. Indeed, Lord Carrington himself made a speech about the possibility of securing a treaty in the future that could deal with these problems. I do not say that he is asking for it immediately—no one could ask for it immediately—but I believe that we should look at this report and decide how to advance from here.
I hope that the right hon. Lady and the Foreign Secretary will respond to what is said. If they do not respond to what we say in the House about it, perhaps they will respond to what was written by Sir Nicholas Henderson in The Sunday Times last week in an extremely perceptive and wise article. Certainly, the right hon. Lady cannot discount the opinions of Sir Nicholas Henderson. He was closer to some of these events and the events in New York than anyone else. He probably knows as much about the complicated and interweaving diplomacy of these matters as anyone else.
This is what Sir Nicholas Henderson said, and this is the advice that I give the right hon. Lady. I hope that she will not deride it. Indeed, I hope that she and the House will be prepared to act upon it. He wrote:I do not think, however, that we should underestimate the international difficulties that lie ahead for us. The Europeans will be providing the Argentinians with plenty of the most modern arms including exocets. Washington will be fortifying relations with Buenos Aires. We will be under pressure from our Community partners and from the USA to negotiate. At the non-aligned summit due to be held in New Delhi in the spring and at the next United Nations General Assembly we must expect awkward resolutions calling for renewed negotiations. It will no doubt be pointed out that Her Majesty's Government has gone 809 about the world for years urging everyone to settle differences by negotiations and we can expect to be asked to follow our own advice.He went on to say:It is, of course, much too early to try to foresee what form the negotiation might take or what it might be about".I do not dissent from that.
Although I have no official role now whatever, I am sure that in some way at some stage the problem will have to be internationalised. Other countries will have to be brought in, not least to remove the prospect of an indefinite security".That is the problem that we face in this country. Partly, it is the problem of the Falklands which we have always had to face, but partly it is made more intense, and it is more necessary that we should act wisely, because of what has occurred. If we do not act wisely and learn from these events, and learn from these reports, there will be other events in which other people are killed in the Falklands, whether they are Falkland Islanders, Argentines or our own people.
It was bad enough that we made mistakes that led to deaths. It would be even worse if, having learnt some of the lessons, we turned aside and did not heed them. I therefore urge the right hon. Lady, as long as she holds these responsibilities, not to think of trying to blame someone else for her own faults, but to recognise that she and the Government should show some wisdom and magnanimity in dealing with this problem.
§ 5.8 pm
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
Listening to this debate, I wondered what people outside, and perhaps particularly those who went down into the southern Atlantic and risked their lives, and some of those who came back severely injured, must have thought. The Prime Minister did not seem able to concede at any stage any error, any possibility of any misjudgment. Nevertheless, listening to the Leader of the Opposition, one was driven to conclude that he seemed to believe that the Franks report did not exist. He virtually gave the impression that the Government were responsible for every aspect of the situation. The right hon. Gentleman launched a vitriolic attack on all aspects of the judgment, ignoring the fact that two of his right hon. Friends were signatories to the report.
I do not agree with substantial parts of the Franks report, but anyone who pretends that the issue in 1982 was easy simply has not lived through such experiences. When I read the Franks report, I think, "There but for the grace of God go I." The attempt to try to make political polemic out of the issue is useless. The Leader of the Opposition can make criticisms—there are serious criticisms to be made—but the temper of the debate and the way in which we criticise is important.
The Prime Minister would have carried more conviction if she had admitted that she was wrong about HMS Endurance, and that when her Foreign Secretary asked three times for a reconsideration of the previous Cabinet decision on it she should at least have insisted that the issue went to the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee. It cannot be right that, on an issue of such importance, a Foreign Secretary should be overridden purely by an exchange of letters. The report found that the Prime Minister was wrong about that. It is to the credit of the former Prime Minster that when he was faced with a conflict of opinion on this matter in similar circumstances, he found decisively and repeatedly with the Foreign Secretary and against the Defence Secretary.
§ Mr. James Callaghan
I wish to get the facts right. I know how tempting it is constantly to interrupt, but it would be absurd if the view of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) were to catch attention, as I am sure the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) would agree. The Ministry of Defence's proposal, made during the lifetime of the Labour Government, to pay off HMS Endurance was never made public. The decision to continue using HMS Endurance was made well before the attack by the Argentines on the Bulgarian trawlers. The hon. Member for Stretford was wrong on both those facts.
§ Dr. Owen
The right hon. Gentleman will make his own speech tomorrow, but he is quite right. The decision to continue HMS Endurance was made on repeated occasions. Such a decision was made in October 1977 and in 1978 we made a further decision to continue HMS Endurance for two years into the first year of the life of the present Administration. I believed in 1977, and I believe now, that withdrawal of HMS Endurance would be substantially misread by the Argentines. That was a consequence of the decision to discontinue HMS Endurance's operations, but it would be pushing the point to far to claim purely that that action precipitated the invasion.
We should focus on the crisis that existed following the breakdown of the talks in New York. Franks was right to say that there was not a strong enough case to deploy a naval force to the south Atlantic before the talks in February 1982. That judgment was right. The crucial moment when the position changed was when the Argentine negotiator, the Argentine deputy Foreign Minister in New York, was disowned, a unilateral communiqué was put out in Buenos Aires and our ambassador there drew attention to the press interpretation of the report. [Interruption.] It is the tone of the speech that will be listened to outside. The right hon. Lady then faces the question—
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible for you to bury the rules of the House to allow the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) to stand in the middle of the Chamber to facilitate him facing both ways?
§ Dr. Owen
In passing, Mr. Speaker, I may say that I have long believed that cross-Benches in the House would make for a much more informed and balanced debate. I look forward to the day when they are introduced.
To return to the Prime Minister's responsibility, the ambassador's report triggered a response from her. However, the argument for putting the whole weight of blame of this point on the Prime Minister falls down. I admit that I was surprised to read in the Franks report that the Prime Minister had responded by saying:We must make contingency plans.I am even more amazed that, the right hon. Lady having made that comment, no contingency plans were made. It is extraordinary that Franks has not revealed what happened within the Government apparatus at that point. We are not told the terms of the Prime Minister's private 811 secretary's letter or whether there was a follow-up procedure when letters of the Prime Minister were not responded to.
It is amazing that any period longer than five days could go by without the Prime Minister's private secretary going to the private secretary of the Foreign Secretary and asking him for a reply. Franks does not reveal any of the exchanges that took place over the proposed meeting on 16 March. The Franks report did not even mention that it was postulated that there would be a meeting on that date. My memory of the report may have served me wrong on that point, but the reason why that meeting did not take place was certainly not examined.
The Foreign Secretary must take some burden of responsibility at that stage. The fact that he resigned honourably and rightly does not exclude the right of the House to examine why, when on 5 March he, as Foreign Secretary, was told by his officials that a naval deployment had been made in 1977, he did not follow up that matter more carefully. Why was the matter only mentioned to him by officials and a detailed paper on the circumstances of the 1977 deployment not presented? The extreme relevance of those dates—5 and 8 March—is also related to the Prime Minister, because she spoke to the then Defence Secretary on 8 March and asked him how long it would take to get ships down to the southern Atlantic.
The Prime Minister has a misconception about the use of nuclear submarines. The House, and indeed the world, needs no reminding of the strength and power of the nuclear submarine after the sinking of the Argentine vessel Belgrano by HMS Conqueror. It is a fact that in 1977 the chiefs of staff were insistent upon having surface ships as a means of communication to the submarines. When I objected to surface ships being in and around the Falklands, they were content for them to be deployed to the south Atlantic where the ships could communicate with the submarines out of range of Argentine aircraft. The Prime Minister spoke of not wishing to send surface ships for fear of what would happen, but no one asked that our surface ships should be deployed around the Falklands within the range of Argentine aircraft. The key question is what would have happened had a nuclear-powered submarine been deployed.
It was said that the submarine was impossible to deploy quickly, but that was exactly what was done in 1977. The news of its deployment was never leaked, which is surprising. Many believed that the information would be leaked. We had whole ships' companies away in the south Atlantic, missing Christmas at home, and still the news did not leak upon their return to port. It is a credit to the Navy that that was so.
The fact that that submarine was deployed should have been brought forcefully to the attention of the Foreign Secretary by the Foreign Office. One reason, I suspect, why that did not happen was that the Foreign Office was unenthusiastic about the initial deployment in 1977. It had to be extracted from the Foreign Office that there was even a deterioration in the then military position. That point should have been brought out in the Franks report. The way that the report deals with the position in 1977 is a disgrace and one wonders why one bothered to give evidence to it on what happened then. There were important facts on the way that decisions were made at that time.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
As he was Foreign Secretary in 1977, can the right hon. Gentleman answer two questions? First, how does he deal with Lord Franks' point that the Argentines did not know that this submarine had been deployed and that, therefore, it could hardly have been much of a deterrent? Secondly, how does he answer the points in paragraph 53 of the report that HMS `Endurance' discovered that Southern Thule had been invaded by the Argentines on 20 December 1976, but that it did not become known in Britain until May 1978?
§ Dr. Owen
My predecessor took the decision not to announce it. It was the right decision and I maintained it through 1977 on the ground that it would provoke the negotiations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That was the feeling. It was believed better to present the Southern Thule incident as part of a scientific endeavour and to persuade the Argentines to present it in that way. They eventually agreed to do that.
§ Dr. Owen
It is not a question of being more truthful. Many decisions are not made public for sound and sensible reasons. One of them was the decision to deploy naval vessels in November 1977.
It is well known to the House that there is minor disagreement between myself and the former Prime Minister about whether the Argentines knew. I believe that they did not know. They were not told. I gather that a book will shortly be published by Simon Jenkins and Max Hastings which states that Sir Maurice Oldfield might have told them. He was then head of MI6, but has since, sadly, died. I do not believe that he would have told the Argentines when he knew it to be in contradiction to my policy. Although he was answerable to the Prime Minister, he was under the executive authority of the Foreign Secretary. I do not know the circumstances, but I made every effort to ensure that the operation was covert. I do not believe the Argentines knew. This is a side issue that has often tended to draw attention away from the real significance of deploying a nuclear-powered submarine below the surface so as to be in a position to intervene if matters deteriorated. I regret some of the clouding that has taken place.
§ Sir John Nott (St. Ives)
If we leave aside for the moment the question whether the Labour Government at that time would, had the bluff been called, have given rules of engagement to the submarine that would have entitled it to sink an Argentine ship on the high seas before a shot had been fired, did the Labour Government consider how they would deter an airborne invasion of the Falkland Islands, which was wholly within the capability of the Argentines? They were only 400 miles from the islands. How was that threat to be deterred in 1977?
§ Dr. Owen
The right hon. Gentleman poses two important questions, but it should be understood that the Labour Government acted throughout in fullest consultation with the chiefs of staff and often implemented papers presented by the chiefs of staff. As to the right hon. 813 Gentleman's specific question, on 21 November a meeting was held, under the chairmanship of the then Prime Minister, consisting of the then Secretary of State for Defence, myself as Foreign Secretary and the chief of the defence staff. Detailed rules of engagement were drawn up for that submarine.
§ Dr. Owen
I shall reveal them to the House since I have been challenged by the former Secretary of State for Defence. The rules were quite explicit: if Argentine ships came within 50 miles of the Falkland Islands and were believed to have displayed hostile intent, the submarine was to open fire. It was to torpedo the ships. I did not criticise the decision on the General Belgrano—it was a difficult decision—because when one is faced by a threat to a vital national interest there is no point in having armed forces if one is not prepared to use them. That was certainly the view of the four people who met and took that decision.
As to the right hon. Gentleman's point about an airborne invasion, he is of course quite right. However, at the time we believed that we were more likely to face a naval invasion. The signs were that the Argentine navy was pushing military action in order to strengthen its position in the junta, which is what happened on this occasion. The advantage of a submarine is that one need not declare it. Had the Prime Minister deployed a submarine, when President Reagan telephoned General Galtieri, he could have said, "There are serious forces deployed in the area and Britain will not hesitate to use them." The Prime Minister might even have decided to hold her hand, not to inform President Reagan and wait. As the ships started to come towards the Falklands, she could have issued a serious warning—when they were 200 miles away from the islands—that they would enter an exclusion zone of 100 miles, or 50 miles as we projected, where their ships would be sunk. Had that happened, I believe that the Argentine vessels would have turned round. A mistake was made in not deploying a submarine.
I wish to try to get away from a party political battle about the issue and to debate the wrong decisions that were taken. If the former Prime Minister had been Prime Minister in 1982, he would have deployed a submarine in March. I make that judgment of a man whom I know and respect. Like the Prime Minister, he would have responded on 3 March. He would have asked for immediate contingency measures and I hope that I too, would have responded fairly smartly. The Defence and Overseas Policy Committee would have met—with much the same people—and it would have come to the same conclusion, to deploy a force in the south Atlantic.
However, not every leader of the Labour party would have responded in that way. There is not the slightest chance that the present Leader of the Opposition would have responded in that way. That is only my judgment, but this needs to be said. Had the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) been Prime Minister, he would have deployed the ships. However, some hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench would not have deployed them. Some hon. Members on the Conservative Benches might have handled the crisis better than the Prime Minister. She has received much praise during the past few months—deservedly so—for her conduct of the war. But to try to pretend in the debate that this national humiliation 814 had nothing to do with her and that there was no fault is nonsense. What a difference it would have made if she had admitted just once in her speech that she had made a mistake, even on HMS Endurance. That is the real indictment of the Prime Minister. We often wonder whether she believes that she ever makes a mistake. She believes that she alone governs this country, but the Cabinet is there. Why did not the Foreign Secretary go to the Cabinet? He knew that once the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence had made up their minds, he would be overruled yet again.
The most important issue is winning the peace. The Prime Minister earned praise for her role in the war, but let us examine her record on the peace. Not one millimetre of magnanimity nor one centimetre of sensitivity has come from her. She has flounced around the world, damaging and criticising those who came to our aid during the war. Her reaction to the American decision at the United Nations was hysterical. Her lack of support for the French in their decision to sell arms again to Argentina, and her scant regard for the remarkable support that w e received from the French throughout the crisis, is not designed to win friends and influence people.
Then we come to Fortress Falklands. The Prime Minister rejected Fortress Falklands in 1979, 1980 and 1981. She even rejected it during the negotiations before the events that led up to the war. Yet now that victory is won, without the slightest magnanimity, she embraces Fortress Falklands, embraces paramountcy and refuses to negotiate. What is she landing us with—a massive military commitment, millions of pounds and more. If this course is pursued, she will land Britain with another humiliation. One day the forces of Latin America—not just Argentina—will be sufficient to inflict a humiliation on us. Argentina also has in-flight refuelling. It can interfere with flights from Ascension Island to the Falklands. It can interfere with shipping. It had two diesel submarines that went around the area throughout the war, presenting a constant threat to HMS Invincible let alone many other ships. It is a fool who believes that we shall he able to withstand the present stance of no negotiations, Fortress Falklands and paramountcy for the Falkland Islanders.
It is the role of the House of Commons to defend the real interests of the Falkland Islanders. Throughout our support for the Prime Minister during the war in the Falklands, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I reminded her of the need to negotiate. The only area of major disagreement was that I did not believe that enough effort was being given to negotiation. At least I had the grace to admit that the final negotiation position was reasonable. We started to differ again when I said that it was unwise so quickly to take those suggestions off the negotiating table. The Prime Minster would have been wiser in the first few weeks of victory to have said to Argentina, "Let us put this behind us and look to the future." That is what magnanimity in victory means. The Prime Minister says that all those people could not lose their lives and be scarred for us to reopen negotiations.
It was a fundamental principle that the cross-party support for the war came from the determination to resist aggression and to act under the United Nations charter in self-defence. The Prime Minister quoted that charter often, but she forgot it the day that the Union Jack was again raised above Port Stanley. She has paid scant regard to the other responsibilities in the charter such as that to pursue a negotiated settlement. She had only to say before 815 the United Nations debate that she was ready at some future date to open discussions with Argentina and our friends would have stayed with us. She would not have had the United States voting as they did. I know that because I was in the United States shortly after the debate took place.
The Prime Minister refused adamantly to countenance any commitment to any future negotiations at any future date. I agree that the time was not right then, that the wounds had not healed and that the state of war still existed, but the Prime Minister has never yet shown that she believes that there will come a time, not too long in the future, when she will be prepared to discuss the long-term future of the Falkland Islands, not only with Argentina but with Latin America. If she says that now, I and the world will be delighted. Something of lasting value will have come out of this debate.
§ The Prime Minister
May I make sure what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing? As I emphasised in my speech, for years the House has taken the view that the wishes of the islanders are paramount. They wish to remain British. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is proposing that we enter negotiations to hand over sovereignty.
§ Dr. Owen
The Prime Minister must speak for herself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".] I shall answer. I may do many things, but I do not duck questions. I have never used the word "paramountcy" although I frequently answered questions about the Falkland Islands for two and half years from the Dispatch Box. The Conservative Opposition spokesmen then adopted an hysterical stance similar to that of Labour Opposition spokesmen when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury spoke from the Dispatch Box on the Falklands. I have never been committed to paramountcy. I always talked of the best interests or the long-term interests of the Falkland Islanders. I said that we must pay the greatest respect to or have the fullest regard for the interests of the Falkland Islanders. The commitment to paramountcy is already around the Prime Minister's neck in regard to Gibraltar and Hong Kong. I beg her to be careful about her use of that word.
It is important to reflect the interests of the Falkland Islanders, but they are 1,800 people. There are parish councils in Britain with a larger population. We respect the views of parish councillors, we take them into account, but Parliament has not yet given up its responsibilities to parish councils and others, although the Prime Minister dictates to metropolitan county and borough councils. She has not the slightest hesitation in overriding the views of the Cabinet. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about sovereignty?"] I am prepared to discuss sovereignty. I have never backed away from it. We should be prepared to discuss it. I urged the Prime Minister to examine the three-flag proposition during the war.
§ The Prime Minister
As far as I can see, the right hon. Gentleman will substitute his judgment of the islanders' interests for their wishes.
§ Dr. Owen
No, not at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes".] It would not be my judgment or even that of the Government but that of this House. I would never put the 816 judgment of the House in hock and say that it could not judge what it thought, having listened to the Falkland Islanders and having considered all the facts. I used to say to the Argentine Foreign Minister that, to persuade the House of Commons, it was crucial to persuade the Falkland Islanders, because if 90 per cent. of them opposed any move so would this House.
The Prime Minister talks about sovereignty as though she has never offered it. The Minister offered it in 1980 and it was withdrawn. The withdrawal confirmed the Argentines' belief. They always used to say that any British Government, whether Labour or Conservative, would offer sovereignty until either the Falkland Islanders or Parliament said "No".
If anything good can come out of the debate—I am not sure that much good will come out of the Franks report as it is a dismal report—I hope it is that the Government will not box themselves into a "no talks, Fortress Falklands" stance. That would be folly. It is a folly that has been rejected by successive Governments.
The House has a duty to say to the British people that we fought against aggression, not for a flag. We fought for principles of freedom and for respecting the views of the Falkland Islanders. Nevertheless, the judgment lies in the House of Commons. It is here that the extremely difficult decision about the future of the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and Hong Kong will have to be taken. The sooner the Prime Minister forgets this word "paramountcy" the better.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
During the Falkland Islands campaign I listened to all the speeches that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) made. He always speaks with clarity, moderation and courage. I warmly agreed with the first part of his speech today.
The right hon. Gentleman began by referring to the facile pretence that the handling of the issue was easy. He added, amid considerable barracking, but with great humility, "There but for the grace of God go I." Most of us sympathise with his sentiments. To sum up his speech, I believe that it would have come much better from the Leader of the Opposition than did his own speech.
When the right hon. Member for Devonport went on to call for magnanimity, he left us feeling a little vague as to what he meant. Magnanimity is one of those qualities with which none of us can quarrel but which we all know the difficulty of exercising now. We must bear in mind the regime in Argentina, which is hardly attractive. It can make no great claim to reliability, integrity or honesty. I found that part of the hon. Gentleman's speech a little difficult to follow.
I shall now deal with inquiries in general. I do not believe that any country that has for a short time rejoiced, and shown some pride, in a magnificent achievement would have travelled to the business of inquisition with quite the same speed or zest as we have done. It is obvious that many people have been disappointed not to find that which they expected from Lord Franks and his colleagues: a verdict of guilty. They plainly desired it. They predicted it and they may even now be slightly embarrassed by its absence.
We are so addicted to these probing exercises. Over the years that I have been in this place I can recall many of them. However, I remember few that have done justice to individuals or conferred much benefit upon the public. I 817 am not advocating the use of whitewash when I say that far too often we forget, especially those facile television inquisitors, that government is not easy. The Government who have produced all the right answers to all the questions they faced have never yet existed. This ceaseless probing for fault and error is probably more effective in prompting self-defence than in securing improvement. Nor do these processes accord a sure basis for a strong public morale. It should be remembered that no nation goes unscathed from the constant suggestion that it is always in the wrong, from the constant accusation of failure.
I have no hesitation in saying that we in the House, and the nation as a whole, are deeply indebted to Lord Franks and his colleagues. I had great misgivings when the committee was set up but I must now pay tribute to it and say how surprised and pleased I was that those men were able to withstand the pressure which was upon them to allow the clarity of hindsight to become the basis of condemnation. Instead, they managed somehow to have in mind the constraints imposed upon the Government by history, by current events, not least of all by Parliament, by the odious nature of the Argentine regime and, above all, by the great distances involved.
One of the decisions that we have to make today is whether we shall have an inquest upon an inquest. Either we accept the Franks report and face all the problems—they are difficult enough—that lie ahead of us. Let us escape for once from that unhealthy preoccupation with what is past and let us look instead at the future. Alternatively, we embark upon endless and rancorous debate. There will be a mixture of gain and hurt. Some individuals will gain, perhaps, and others will be hurt. I cannot believe that such a process, if continued indefinitely, could result in profit to the nation or credit to the House of Commons.
If we decide to sustain the bitter search for error and for guilt, let the process be widened and lengthened. Let us look deeply into the past, into the role of Parliament and into the influence—this is important—of the media. Let us examine also our time-consuming procedures, which we so much cherish but which so often are a bar to any effective or prompt action. Let us dwell on our habit—Sir Nicholas Henderson commented on this—of turning away from the intractable and the unwelcome in the confident but misplaced hope that it will go away.
I have had the privilege for a long time of representing a west country constituency. I make no apology for making use of this occasion briefly to express my pride in what was done there in equipping, assembling and dispatching the task force in an amazingly short time. I refer especially to the performance of Westland helicopters and to the astonishing operation that was launched from the Royal Naval air station at Yeovilton. I am proud to have the opportunity of applauding the courage and sacrifice of those who fought. I invite the attention of those who have spoken in the debate, those who intend to speak in it and those who listen to it to some words from those who were in the South Atlantic.
A naval captain who subsequently received the CBE wrote to me:I am proud of my South Atlantic medal; but the CBE makes me think. First of my Naval Party who did it all. Second of my mistakes—there were many—and how lucky I was they did not come home to roost. Third of all those not honoured who did so much more than I. Above all one remembers those superb young sailors who fought and died and have no grave but the sea.818 He continues:One relearnt a lot one had forgotten since 1945, in particular the nature of war. One reads of brilliant victory; but when there one is much more aware of one's own errors, the mistakes, disasters, the horror and the friction. However as always the side best able to surmount these things wins—and we did.I wonder whether it is too much to hope that the humility, the courage and the generosity of those words might find an echo in the House today.
I bring my remarks to a conclusion by quoting a further passage from a letter written by the chaplain to HMS Hermes. He wrote:I have no idea what the future may hold for us here in the South Atlantic. I do know that it has been my privilege to minister in god's name to a remarkable group of people, some of whom who are only 16½ years of age, whose professionalism, courage, devotion and compassion—not to mention their own distinctive sense of humour, which, alas, I doubt I could use at the Women's Guild—has for me returned, for the highest reasons, the Great back into Britain.At the end of such a saga there must, inevitably, be a legacy of deep sadness as well as pride. My plea—I do not know how I can give it the force that it deserves—is, let us not add to that sadness by for ever carping, by raking over the ashes of the past. There are problems enough ahead and we will best discharge our duties by considering them.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) when he said that we shall best draw what benefit there is to be drawn from the Franks review and from this debate upon it, if we lift our eyes to a wider and sometimes distant horizon and are not afraid to identify causes which lie comparatively remote from the anxious and crowded days of the last period before the Argentine invasion last year.
The crucial point in the story which the report unrolls is reached remarkably early. Indeed, it is reached right at the start, where the report records that in 1964 the British Government declared thatthe question of sovereignty over the islands was not negotiable.On the following page the report records thatin March 1967 the British Government for the first time stated formally to Argentina that they would be prepared to cede sovereignty over the islands.It is not recorded by the review whether that decision was submitted to or taken by the Overseas and Defence Committee of the Cabinet or by the Cabinet. What is certain is that it was never submitted in advance or at the time either to the House or to the country. Indeed, it was only in the following year that it came to knowledge that so profound an alteration in British policy as was marked by those two declarations had in fact taken place. Clearly, those who took that decision, whoever they were, were aware of its high sensitivity and were extremely doubtful whether it would carry support or even acquiescence in the House or out of doors. It was no doubt for that reason that they attached to it a rider of a familiar character which I want to examine a little more closely.
The proviso was:provided that the wishes of the islanders were respected.We are perhaps so familiar with that formula—we have met with it in so many contexts—that there is a danger that we misunderstand its meaning and its implications. In making my point here, there is a risk of what I halve to say being mistaken for mere verbalism when in reality it is all but verbalism. I shall give a hypothetical case. Suppose that Britain said that, if the inhabitants of the Orkneys and 819 Shetlands desired not to be part of the United Kingdom but to be part of a Scandinavian confederation, this country would place no obstacle in their way. That is one proposition. Contrast with that another proposition—that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to negotiate the transfer of the Orkneys and Shetlands to a Scandinavian confederacy, but will not do so except with the consent of the inhabitants of those islands.
One might carelessly suppose that those two statements are equivalent. In reality the two statements are opposite. When the world and the islanders hear the first statement, they hear a declaration that the United Kingdom will defend its integrity and its own, though not of course in defiance of the principle thatthe Queen wishes no unwilling subjects.When the world hears the second statement it says, "Now we understand. We get the message. It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to be rid, if at all possible, of those troublesome islands, but of course there is a proviso or a catch along the route." No doubt contrasting in its mind the relative magnitude and the relative power of the two parties—Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the relatively few islanders—the world might conclude, and it might not be mistaken in concluding, that means would be found for removing in one way or another that obstacle from a path which it was evidently the desire and the intention of Her Majesty's Government to follow.
That is what was done to the Falkland Islands in 1967, and never revoked from that day until 1982. Lest it be thought that these are reflections ex post facto, I shall trouble the House with some words I spoke at the beginning of 1969 on precisely that subject. I said:It sounds all very well for the Government to promise that they will not cede the islands against the wishes of the inhabitants. In fact the effect of this is to put the islanders themselves in the jaws of the nutcracker. That handful of isolated British people are thereby made the sole impediment to a vaunted settlement with Argentina and to compliance with the decolonisation mania of the United Nations. Thus the entire pressure of the world—the United Nations Organisation, Argentina and Britain herself—is concentrated, like a pyramid inverted upon its point on to the unlucky islanders. To tell them in these circumstances that they shall not be sold up against their will is a cynicism suitable for a nation bent upon demolishing its own assets.If illustration is needed of the "cynicism" to which I referred, it can be gained from a reading of the pages which follow in the Franks report, with the variation of vocabulary used about securing the consent of the islanders to what everyone knew was contrary to their wishes: they were to be "educated"; the matter was to be "made clear" to them; at times they were only to be "consulted"; their wishes were to be "paramount"; they must be brought to an understanding of "their interests"—all the enginery of power, brought to bear against the sole condition imposed and maintained by Her Majesty's Government, of both parties, upon what they wanted to do.
There were only two possible outcomes. One was that we would cheat Argentina by continuing to negotiate when we knew that negotiation could not have the end that we were holding out to it. Hon. Members will find plenty of commentary on that theme in the quotations in the report. The alternative was that we should find a way of putting the screw on the islanders so as to break their will and 820 obtain from them or appear to obtain from them a declaration contrary to their true wishes and their true mind. That was the story that occupied the intervening years between 1967 and 1982. It was a course of action which foreseeably—and which it was foreseen—would result in armed conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina.
§ Mr. Crouch
Is not the right hon. Gentleman exaggerating when he talks about breaking the will of the islanders? Is that not something which he, as a right hon. Member of the House, has sought to do regarding a great many people of this country who believe that we should be in Europe when he does not believe that we should be part of the EC? Is that breaking their will or is it trying to educate them to another point of view?
§ Mr. Powell
I do not think there is any analogy, and I do not believe that the House will think there is any analogy, between the conduct of a national debate as to the policy of the United Kingdom, and Her Majesty's Government and the opinion of the whole world bringing pressure to bear on the tiny population of a dependancy of which it appears from their own statements that the British Government are anxious to be disembarrassed.
There is a lesson which follows from this course of events, as displayed in the Franks report, unrolling inevitably from that commencement 15 years ago. It is that if this nation intends to maintain its territory, sovereignty, or interests, it cannot make that intention conditional. There is no such thing as conditional maintenance of sovereignty or conditional defence of territory. The inherent contradiction of saying, "We will let this go, but not against the will of a tiny and insignificant minority," is an insincerity which has drenched the relations of this country with Argentina over the past 15 years and led to the events of 1982.
The Prime Minister, responding last week to a supplementary question, made a remarkable formulation. The right hon. Lady said:The Argentines wanted transfer of sovereignty and no British Government were able or willing to accept transfer of sovereignty or to consider it unless it was acceptable to the islanders themselves.I draw attention to the words that follow because they are significant:That was the dilemma. It affected both Governments. Parliament and Governments of both parties have insisted that the wishes of the islanders are paramount. That put us in a difficult position. Now we have to honour those wishes."—[Official Report, 18 January 1983; Vol. 35, c. 182.]I wonder, with great respect, whether the Prime Minister has fully understood the implications and the consequences of the nature of the pledge, of the form in which it was given, and of the context in which it was given, and how totally different it is from a pledge that those who do not wish to be surrendered will not be surrendered except upon their own initiative. If we are to defend our own, we can do that only as an act of genuine national will, based upon a decision of this House and based upon the conscious decision of a Government and defended by that Government.
This is not a debate about Northern Ireland—and yet it is a debate about Northern Ireland. It will not have escaped the notice of hon. Members that the same formula, with its same inherent vice, has been applied, and applies to this day, to the integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The similarity of the forms 821 through which both matters have run is striking to anyone who studies it. I draw attention only to the fact that in 1938 Her Majesty's Government were invited to state that they would be glad to see a united Ireland provided, of course, that it was with the agreement of the inhabitants of the North. The matter never came to the Cabinet then, because the formula proposed did not, in the event, meet the wishes of the Government of the Irish Republic. It stood over, so to speak, until after the war.
It is now known, from the archives that have recently become available, that in 1952, the Prime Minister of this country let it be known in the United States that he waslonging to see a united Irelandwhich he hoped would join Britain and the United States in "collective defence arrangements" but, of course, that this would beonly under conditions that would permit both sides to express their will freely.The consequences of the inherent conflict we create by a conditional and qualified assertion of our right have been, in the context of Northern Ireland, a long, wearing and terrible war. That has been the consequence of the world being informed, as we informed the world over the Falkland Islands, that we would be glad enough to be rid of an embarrassment if only arrangements could be made to secure the consent upon which we had made the transaction conditional. [Interruption.] If we are to learn from the report, we must not restrict what we have to learn from it to its immediate subject matter.
The outcome in the case of the Falkland Islands was a bombshell, a thunderbolt, not the wearing, lengthy and draining sequence that has followed inside the United Kingdom itself. Events came to our rescue in the Falklands. The violent invasion took the matter out of our hands and posed the question to this House and to the nation in the simple terms, "Will you, in circumstances where you can—even though you only barely can—defend and uphold your own?" That was the question. The House answered, "Yes", the nation answered, "Yes", and we achieved it.
Let us not now go back into the entanglement, from which we were providentially freed by the events of last March and April, of pretending that there is such a thing as a conditional and contingent maintenance of our right and sovereignty.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Sir Frederick Bennett (Torbay)
One does not need to refer to the whole of the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to try to realise the point that he makes. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the remarks of the Prime Minister. I can only say that I listened carefully when she made that statement. With the best will in the world, and trying to follow the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes, there is not one word in the Prime Minister's answer that could possibly lead hon. Members or anyone else to doubt that she meant exactly what she said—that there could be no question of disregarding the paramountcy of the wishes of the islanders. I should have thought that that was abundantly clear to most of my hon. Friends. In fact, in some quarters, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been blamed today for being too firm on that subject.
The Leader of the Opposition began today rather generously by saying that, after all, we had to confess that most of the blame for what happened lay at the door of 822 General Galtieri. That was, I must admit, one of the right hon. Gentleman's better understatements. It would not be a bad idea if I spent a few moments recalling what led to the invasion of the Falklands. I intend to quote only one paragraph of the Franks report. If hon. Members were to concentrate solely on going through paragraph after paragraph to try to discover things that could have been done differently, this would surely divert public attention from what was, in every way, the correct response to an unprovoked act of aggression. That seems to have been forgotten to a large extent in the debate so far.
Without overrating one's own importance, I was in Washington the day before the invasion. I received a briefing from a senior State Department official, together with a United States senator, who, like me, was going to South America that evening. There is no doubt, as Franks admits, that the Americans did not anticipate the immediate invasion that took place. All the rumours to that effect have been disproved and no evidence has been given. The State Department would hardly send one of its precious senators to South America for a weekend if it thought that he would be involved in a problem.
When I arrived in Chile the following day, I found, talking to people in the street and to members of the Chilean Government, that they had no idea that an invasion of the Falklands was imminent. However, there was a general unease that General Galtieri was about to carry out some mad act or other. The reason for that belief was that for two days we had seen television broadcasts to rioting mobs in Buenos Aires, in which 2,000 men and women had been arrested by the police, and the Government appeared to be tottering.
Everyone to whom I spoke said that under those circumstances the only way that the junta could now save itself was to engage quickly in some foreign adventure. That is a fairly historic way to save oneself. The only thing that seemed to be in doubt in the minds of my Chilean friends was whether it would be Chile that would be attacked over the Beagle Islands, or whether it would be Britain. That Galtieri would be driven to some mad act became increasingly certain every time riots took place in Buenos Aires.
I woke up the following morning in Santiago to find that the invasion had taken place. As far as I can ascertain, or have any belief about the matter, the decision to invade was an eleventh hour one. I am willing to bet that the final initiative was taken without the knowledge of Galtieri, but on the initiative of the naval chief, and Galtieri went along with it. That was the way that the Argentine junta had been running its affairs for a long while. It was a kind of oligarchic dictatorship in which the three services had wide discretion.
Let us now stop nit-picking about what could or could not have been done, and do what the Prime Minister recommended earlier today—play fair and treat the Franks report as a whole. I say this because the question whether HMS Endurance should have been moved has been asked over and over again in speeches. However, the report says that it has no reason to believe that the course of events would have been any different if HMS Endurance had been moved or not.
I am one of those who can say this because I was one of the Back-Bench Members who signed an early-day motion urging that HMS Endurance should not leave, as I did under rather similar circumstances under the previous Government. I am not one of those who believe that had 823 the Government, and my right hon. Friend the then Defence Minister, changed their minds, or changed them earlier, the course of events would have been different.
One point that has not been mentioned today is that if we are to look at what really brought the circumstances about, other than the madness of a dictator, we should look at paragraph 278, which says:Argentina's growing military power coincided with an increasing concentration on the part of the United Kingdom on its NATO role and the progressive restriction of its other defence commitments. Even before the Defence Review published in 1966 the South Atlantic had not been a major area of deployment, but the decisions taken in 1967 to withdraw the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, and the frigate on station in the area, and in 1974 to terminate the Simonstown agreements, marked the lower priority attached to a British defence capability in the area. As the Argentine threat grew, in deciding to maintain only a token presence in the area, in the form of a small detachment of Royal Marines and in the summer months HMS Endurance, successive Governments had to accept that the Islands could not be defended against sudden invasion. These decisions were taken in the light of wider strategic interests, but it is likely that they were seen by Argentina as evidence of a decreasing British commitment to the defence of the Islands, however strongly that commitment was publicly asserted.I do not think that the right hon. Member for Down, South, who for part of his speech was prepared to accept the historic trend of events, could quarrel with that. This country, and this Parliament, made a decision that we would in favour of our NATO role, restrict our defence commitments in other parts of the world, whether that was east of Suez, with the instability that has followed, or in the south Atlantic.
Every hon. Member, past and present, has some responsibility for the fact that a logical sequence of events took place, especially as Argentina does not have, and has not had for a considerable time—if it ever had—a reasonable Government that could operate as we do.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was right. The British public does not want us to go through a post mortem to try to find out what the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) or the previous Prime Minister, or this Prime Minister, should or should not have done. At any time in any conflict that we have ever engaged in, it would have been possible to have post mortems, and to find that things could have been done in a different way. The British public is not interested in that; and that is one reason why public opinion polls are holding up so well in favour of the party that I serve.
The great British public has a more genuine and heartfelt appreciation of where this country's true interests lie than hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. The people know what it was about, and know perfectly well that we saw there a threat not just to our own national peace and security but to a much wider thing—the concept that aggressors must not be allowed to get away with aggression in the way that they did before, in the last war, which led to an appalling conflict.
The general public knows what Her Majesty's Government are trying to do, with or without the report. The Government want to defend the principle that we have the right to defend our people, our national sovereignty and our national territorial integrity. Beyond that, the real place in history that the Falklands conflict will take, in recording an event of real significance, is that this Government and this Prime Minister gave a warning to the world at an opportune moment in a dangerous decade that 824 the West would not indefinitely be pushed around and that we were prepared to act in defence of the interests and of the beliefs in which we have faith.
The public is grateful for that, and that is why the Conservative party is enjoying the confidence that it is in the country. The public is not interested in trying to look through the small margins to see whether somebody could have done something different. It knows what it is all about and is pleased at what took place.
As for magnanimity, I find the readiness of Labour Members to negotiate with the Government in Argentina, which they have bitterly resented over the years, from which they have withdrawn ambassadors, and with which they have wanted to have nothing to do, amazing. Over and over again we have been told how appalling these people are, that they are untrustworthy, and that they have killed untold thousands of people without trial. However, today right hon. and hon. Members are urging us to be magnanimous and to negotiate with the very people whom, in another type of debate, they would be criticising as Fascist dictators of the most contemptible kind.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I have a feeling that many people reading the Franks report will ask themselves questions different from those asked in the debate. They will not be interested in the Ulster parallel. I doubt whether some of the points about the organisation of Cabinet government will concern them. They will ask two questions: first, could the bloodshed have been avoided? Secondly, what are the lessons that will make it less likely that there will be another war? They are not interested in either the damaging or the saving of the reputations of Ministers or Governments.
I well remember a Cabinet meeting on 11 December 1968, and the preliminary meeting a week earlier, when we considered the then view of the Foreign Office. It is mentioned in paragraphs 23, 24 and 25 of the report, which refer to the agreement on the text of the memorandum of understanding, and states:The Government of the United Kingdom as part of such a final settlement will recognise Argentina's sovereignty over the Islands from a date to be agreed.That was the view of the Foreign Office and the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Stewart. My only question is whether the Cabinet at that time might have envisaged a rather different future for its Falklands policy if it could have anticipated what happened.
The second factor in the minds of many people who have no particular allegiance to either party is the feeling that we are discussing a political failure which has been masked by a costly military success. We speak about the military action, but it cannot be other than a failure that the invasion had to take place, because, even with the military success, there is no solution in sight. This is not the occasion for self-congratulation by the Prime Minister, any Government member or, indeed, any hon. Member in the House.
I am trying to put my point mildly, because I do not want to incite anger. However, there has been deep public resentment at the Prime Minister's apparent readiness to make political capital out of the sacrifice of those who died and to examine the Franks report only to see whether it exonerates her, rather than whether it throws light upon the problem. News management has been used directly in both instances, and people are beginning to see through it. I 825 make no criticism of Bernard Ingham—he worked with me at the Department of Energy, and I know what skills of news management he is capable of bringing to bear on behalf of the Prime Minister—but I have never been able to advise anyone on how to achieve a good press, so I should not ask people to take my advice on that.
The Franks report is unsatisfactory for three reasons. First, it was given the wrong terms of reference. It should not have ended its remit on 2 April, because the main events of that great affair occured after that date. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has made much in his speeches of our wish to know what was the Government's strategy on negotiation or military action after 2 April. Did they ever try to negotiate, or was the task force always sent to reoccupy the islands? Franks—who was either not allowed, or did not wish, to pursue that matter—cannot advise us.
Secondly, the weakness of Lords Franks is that he did not ask himself the right questions. Anyone can ask a funny question and receive an answer that pleases the establishment. Lord Franks should have asked himself whether the war could have been avoided, but he did not bother to do so. The question whether the Government could have anticipated what happened at 2 am on 2 April is a minor question compared to a study of the evidence and a considered judgment on whether the war could have been avoided.
Thirdly, Franks' conclusions do not follow the evidence. That is clear to those who managed to read the whole report and did not receive only the press release about the final paragraph, which was put out in time for the newspaper deadlines.
This is the only time in my political life that I have ever been given a glimpse of the workings of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the intelligence community, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister sooner than the 30-year rule allows. If ever there was a case for a freedom of information Act, it is that the information available to Parliament and the public in the Franks report gives us a real insight into the strengths and weaknesses of government as it operates in such circumstances. I know much more now about what happened in relation to the Falkland Islands when I was in Cabinet than I did at that time— [Interruption] Of course, not all hon. Members are members of the Defence Committee. I attended the Defence Committee meeting on 21 November 1977—but only for item 2, because it related to whether there should be a grant of Argentine rights within 3 miles of the Falklands. The Prime Minister may have read the minutes of that meeting. She knows that an Energy Minister would be brought in to deal with that point, but not with the military aspects. It is highly beneficial to know how decisions are reached. I hope that those who resist a freedom of information Act will now recognise that we have learnt something from the Franks report.
What does the evidence really reveal? It is not the little secrets that are interesting—it is never the details of who said what that appear in personal reminiscences. What is interesting is the way in which Ministers, Parliament and the public confront and deal with major options. It is about whether people even understand the big issues and can disentangle them from the smaller issues. That is where Franks is so helpful. We have seen the text of papers similar to those that Lord Stewart gave to the Cabinet in 1968.
826 Three options were open to the Government, as they were to their predecessors. The first option was that of real negotiation about sovereignty. That was rejected. The second was the military option of trying to provide a base in the Falklands so that they could not be occupied, or from which one could later displace the enemy if they were occupied. That option was at first ignored. The Government cannot say that they did not know the position. They were told it by Lord Carrington two and a half years before. That military option was first ignored, then improvised, and then executed in a way that was costly in British lives and to the families who were bereaved.
I did not like the way in which the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) spoke as if the sacrifice of life somehow raised the morale of a nation—[Interruption.] If I misjudge him, he will correct me. There has been too much talk that it was the fighting, rather than the broader questions, that restored the morale of our people. That idea is foreign to a democratic society.
§ Mr. Peyton
The right hon. Gentleman is a master of misinterpretation, and he has exceeded himself on this occasion. I disavow everything that he has said.
§ Mr. Benn
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. If I did him an injustice, I apologise—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw".] I have withdrawn, and I did so happily. One must not underestimate the extent to which the theme of blood lost in battle has been played during the past nine months as a means of restoring the nation's pride and morale. It has been played by Conservative Members.
The third option was that of neglect—to let the matter slide. It was the option of hoping for the best, despite the warnings—the Mr., or Mrs., Micawber option. During the whole of the last year before the invasion the Prime Minister said that we did not need to discuss the issue. Why not? It was because of the Government's decision to do nothing and hope for the best. They were set on the one option that Lord Carrington said might lead to war.
I do not wish to break my rule of not dealing with reputations, but I must tell the Prime Minister that she emerges from the report as someone profoundly uninterested in the Falklands. She would not negotiate nor prepare for military action. She let the matter slide. At the end, when her policy of neglect went wrong, she asked us to accept that she was the heroine of the hour.
I understand why the Prime Minister went to the Falklands. I know how the date was set. It was after she knew what was in the report and before it was published and before the islanders knew what was in it. Had the Falkland Islanders read about what was going on during the period of her Government, they would not have given her quite the same welcome.
The difficulty with this debate for the House of Commons is that these choices are still with us. This is not something that we can leave in the past and say, "There has been a victory." We must face the fact that only two options are left. The "let it slide" option was taken and failed. That leaves only the "fortress" option or the route of negotiation. When I listened to the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister—I know there was rhetoric at the end—I heard nothing about the future and nothing analytical as to how Parliament should determine between the two courses that are now open.
827 Looking at the military option, the Prime Minister has said that even if forces had been sent before April 1982 the invasion could not have been stopped. I wonder why she continued supplying arms to Galtieri after she had received those warnings from the Joint Intelligence Committee. Franks did not deal with that point. What the right hon. Lady has said about justifying her failure to prepare militarily also applies to the military option now. Unless we keep such a massive garrison on the Falklands so that the engagements of April and May 1982 could be repeated, the arguments against those early contingencies, which the right hon. Lady said would have been absurd, apply equally now in the light of what has happened. It would not have worked before April 1982.
I do not want to join in the Endurance argument. That argument attracts the interest of hon. Members because Endurance alone would not have been sufficient. I do not believe that the task force should have been sent a year earlier, because it would not have been acceptable and would not have solved the problem.
§ Mr. Benn
The House may not like what I have to say, because it thinks it has a military victory under its belt, but the peace option must now be faced, long urged by Foreign Secretaries of different parties and reinforced by United Nations' pressure.
I want to read one passage from paragraph 73 of the report. Lord Carrington's minute sets out three options:'Fortress Falklands'; protracted negotiations with no concession on sovereignty; and substantive negotiations on sovereignty. Lord Carrington recommended the last option on the ground that it was in the British interest and that of the Islanders themselves to try to find a way forward through negotiation.Let there be no more talk of treachery directed at us by Conservative Members. Their own Foreign Secretary told the Prime Minister after he had examined the matter that the right course for Britain and the islanders was to negotiate on sovereignty with a view, inevitably, to some concessions.
On May 20 the Government in their peace plan came hesitantly back to the Carrington view and withdrew that peace plan the same day. We now know that the continued garrison will be costly, will deny viability to the economy of the islands, will involve the risk of conflict, will isolate us internationally and will meet American opposition. Although President Reagan helped us further than I thought he would, he will not allow the Prime Minister to wreck his little set-up in Latin America once more by disturbing for a second time a military dictator with whom he hopes to negotiate other economic and military deals.
Five points should be part of that peace option. One is a United Nations mandate for the Falklands. That does not involve direct negotiations with the Argentines. The United Nations should be told that we are prepared to administer the islands as a mandating power for one or two years and will cede sovereignty to the United Nations.
Secondly, we should accept during the mandate period an Argentine observer, exactly as the Prime Minister said on 20 May when it was one of the proposals put forward.
Thirdly, there should be a withdrawal of British forces. The House will not accuse me of having been inconsistent on that question from the beginning.
Fourthly, there must be a grant or an award to the Falkland Islands Council. I set the figure at £400 million. 828 After all, we are spending about £1 million a day on the garrison. The Falkland Islands Council should be allowed to use that money for one year either to develop the islands or to provide resettlement for individual Falkland Islanders who wish to leave.
Fifthly, there should be established a United Nations award on sovereignty and a continuation of the mandate for that purpose. That is an honest, straightforward and logical continuation of the argument that began in the Foreign Office and which some of us argued in the House throughout the war. The great body of British opinion will come to that view and the Government will not be able to play for ever on the jingoism of the past few months.
I believe this matter was badly mishandled by all Governments and that the war need never have happened. Service men were sent to their deaths unnecessarily. The basic problems remain. History will judge us harshly. Today, as a year ago, the Government are failing to look ahead to what the rest of the world knows to be true. In a nuclear age, disputes must be settled by negotiation. It is not possible to resort to force to settle arguments and then elevate what has happened as a principle to sustain national virility.
The House should today begin to turn its mind—the Prime Minister should have done so in her speech—to the way in which we can provide a peaceful and stable settlement for those islands in conjunction with their geographic neighbours.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)
An interesting feature of this debate is that with the exception of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who did not refer very much to the Franks report, all the Opposition speeches have condemned the report as being inadequate in one form or another.
I began to feel sorry for the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who has been attacked from right, left and centre. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) went further than most by saying that the Franks committee had been given the wrong terms of reference. I have had a brief look at Hansard for 8 July, and I do not remember him saying that then. I do not remember him voting against the motion. No doubt he thought of that later.
He went on to say that he thought the conclusions did not follow the evidence. That is probably because he did not read it. He said at one stage that the Franks committee had not addressed itself to the right question. He said that nowhere had Franks addressed itself to whether this conflict could have been prevented or not. I invite him to study paragraph 335 onwards, including the heading immediately above 335, which asks that question.
§ Mr. Atkins
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has studied the report. I take a different view of the Franks report. There is no doubt that the Franks committee carried out its remit impeccably. The inquiries it made were immensely detailed. Paragraphs 4 and 5 show that its 829 members saw every paper, minute, document, report, assessment and file that had relevance to the events of the last few years. They took oral evidence from a long list of people, and that is detailed in annex E. I was one of those people. They took written evidence from an even longer list, which is detailed in annex C. There is no doubt that this was extremely hard work. They were asked to complete their task in six months. They held many meetings—42, I believe—and had a mass of material to read. I suspect, though I do not know, that these six men did practically nothing else during the whole period of their inquiry.
There can be no doubt that these six men know more about the events leading up to 2 April 1982 than anyone else in the country. Anyone who seeks to challenge what is in the report ought to have his own credentials closely examined to see whether there are any grounds for supposing that he knows more than those six men.
It is clear that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East does not, because he told us that he was interested to learn how the decisions in the Cabinet of which he was a member were arrived at. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has now learned something.
Those six men were unanimous in every word that they wrote. We are well accustomed to that not being the case. We have all seen reports by Royal Commissions, committees of inquiry and review bodies of all sorts that contain majority and minority reports. That is not so in this case. Those six men all signed the report, and that adds even more weight to their findings.
I am glad that the members of the committee addressed themselves to the two questions to which, in the debate on 8 July setting up the review, I felt the country would want the answers—why we were not warned, and whether anything could have been done to prevent the invasion.
The answers to both questions are quite clear. Paragraph 266 clearly states:The evidence of the timing of the decision taken by the Junta shows that the Government not only did not, but could not, have had earlier warning".That is the result of the committee's inquiry into precisely what happened. Its view is that the Argentine Government took the decision.
The second answer, which has escaped the notice of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, is contained in the early part of paragraph 339, which states:if the British Government had acted differently … it is impossible to judge what the impact on the Argentine Government … might have been. There is no reasonable basis for any suggestion—which would be purely hypothetical—that the invasion would have been prevented if the Government had acted in the ways indicated in our report.It is proper to draw attention to the word "reasonable", because the committee clearly states that there is no reasonable basis for assuming that the invasion could have been prevented by the Government doing anything else.
§ Mr. Atkins
I should like to continue with my speech.
Annex A, which has not so far been mentioned, deals with the many rumours, assertions and speculations that were flying about the country from 2 April onwards. I cannot tell why those rumours were given credence by the media, except that I get the impression that nowadays more credence is given to rumour and speculation than 830 used to be the case. I hope that I am wrong, but there is no doubt that a good deal of credence was given on this occasion, which I believe was damaging to the country.
I am delighted that the committee examined the 10 principal assertions and found without exception that all of them were untrue. That has been helpful. However, one set of comments widely made in April and since, not only in the media but by several hon. Members as well, is dealt with in another part of the report. Those comments concern the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The House knows that I held the office of Lord Privy Seal for just six months up to 5 April 1982. In that time, I did not get to know all members of the foreign service—nothing like it—but in the areas for which I held responsibility, I met a great many, of high rank and low, at home and abroad. I have great admiration for those who serve their country in this way. They are intelligent, hardworking men and women, and I can confirm absolutely from my own experience what the report says in paragraph 284:On every occasion that a new government—or new Ministers—came into office a full range of policy options was put before them. In every case Ministers made a decision of policy".
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
That statement is also made in paragraph 71. Why do the listed options there not include the option of offering to put the issue before the International Court of Justice? Surely that is an option, even if we think that our case is weak. Why do both Argentina and ourselves not wish to do that?
§ Mr. Atkins
I was referring to the quality of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to the fact that, contrary to what some people have said, it is not the practice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or its members to pursue their own policies. It is their business, just as it is the business of civil servants in all Departments, to put the options before Ministers and for Ministers to make the choices—
§ Mr. Atkins
That is precisely what happened in this case. When I arrived at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, those options were put before me. I discussed them with my colleagues. Therefore, it is nonsense to suggest that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office runs British foreign policy, and it is right that someone should say so.
It is easy to poke fun at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. People have been doing it for decades, probably for centuries. I expect that partly arises from the fact that it is a separate service from the home Civil Service, as a result of which it attracts attention.
There are two good reasons why it must be a separate service. First, its members must serve abroad, and the vast majority of people working in the home Civil Service do not want to go abroad. Secondly, there is the language problem. Even if home civil servants were given terms of service abroad, there are many countries where they would be no use until they learned the language, and that takes a long time.
There is a case for helping Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials to become more aware of the country they represent when abroad, because it must be easy to get out of touch. On one occasion I remember being asked to approve the appointment of an officer, not of very high rank, to a post abroad, and I discovered that it was his fifth 831 consecutive foreign posting without a spell in this country. I queried that, and there were reasons for it. That illustrates the difficulty into which Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials can get. It might help them represent us abroad if during their careers they had a spell—perhaps one or two years—at the right level in a home Civil Service post. I made that suggestion to the permanent undersecretary, who did not disagree with it. I hope that will happen, because I believe that it will help those officials.
The advice that we all received was not only as good as, but probably better than, the advice given to the Foreign Minister of any other country. That advice properly took account of one essential fact in our democratic process of government. No Cabinet, no Minister and no Department of State can carry through or even initiate any new policy unless Parliament agrees. It is relevant to the Falkland Islands, because we have only to read annex F of the report to see that when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, reported to the House on the Falkland Islands on 2 December 1980, my calculation is that out of the 17 supplementary questions asked, 13 were thoroughly hostile to what he had been doing. Ministers and civil servants recognised the impossibility of pursuing leaseback. It meant that the Government's options were and remain narrowed because of the antagonism of the House.
§ Mr. Ennals
I do not want to become entangled in an argument about the Foreign Office, because I have great affection for it, having served there. As Lord Privy Seal during the six months leading to the invasion, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that sufficient messages were sent to the Argentine Government so that they knew that if there were an invasion it would be resisted with the strength with which it was resisted?
§ Mr. Atkins
If the right hon. Gentleman is good enough to read the report he will find that those messages were sent on 23, 25 and 31 March. The view of the Franks committee, without qualification, is that the Argentine Government well knew our position.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was absolutely right when he made what was virtually his first pronouncement about the Falkland Islands after he assumed his office. He said that time was needed. We need time to consider the position now. I believe that the Argentines need time. They may need time to have a new Government. They have had one since the invasion. They may find that a different form of government is more agreeable. They will have to settle down to rational thought following their defeat. The rest of the world and the United Nations need time. A little education of some nations would do no harm. More than anything else, the Falkland Islanders need time. Their lives have been changed drastically by the events of April to June and will never be the same again.
I do not know what the islanders will think, as the months and years go by, about the position in which they now find themselves. I believe that it would be a great mistake to make any attempt to get them to decide quickly. We all need time, and during that time we have no alternative but to maintain, even at considerable cost, the status quo. I have no doubt that there is a way forward. This is not the occasion to discuss it in detail, and frankly, 832 I am not yet ready to do so. I believe that today we should confine ourselves to welcoming the report, to taking note of what it says and to applying its lessons for the future.
§ Mr. Edward Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil)
When I spoke in the debate in April 1982, in common with many other right hon. Members on all sides of the House, I called for action to free the Falkland Islanders. I am deeply glad and relieved that action resulted in the freedom of the islands and the islanders. I am saddened by the fact that it meant war and that more than two dozen of my young constituents, and young constituents of other hon. Members, had to go and fight.
Efforts were made to avoid that war once the invasion had taken place. Once those efforts failed, I have no doubt that, given the principle and the issues, it was right to fight. The skill, bravery and professionalism of our soldiers and sailors in fulfilling that duty and those responsibilities has been rightly and justifiably admired by everyone.
Tonight we are debating another set of responsibilities—not the conduct and management of the war, but the mismanagement of the peace leading to the war.
The Franks committee was asked to look into a series of specific events before the invasion and to look further back at the earlier issues and policies. I should like to do that also. It emerges from the report that there was common ground between successive Governments and that it was perfectly honourable to endeavour to avoid a Fortress Falklands policy. I had four years on the treadmill of British-Argentine negotiations to try to avoid that policy. It meant biting one's tongue, pulling one's punches and compromising one's instincts at times. One was negotiating with a pretty nasty bunch of people on many occasions.
I still believe that the general policy that we adopted, and which was adopted by the Government before us and the one that followed, of trying to avoid a Fortress Falklands policy and to find somehow a way of bridging the almost irreconcilable gap between the sides was perfectly honourable and reasonable. Fortress Falklands would have led to immeasurable and unpredictable financial and military consequences. I find it sickening and offensive that that policy was followed even further by the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister and the Government.
If one listened to some of the things that the Prime Minister has been saying recently, one would not believe that she belonged to that Government that justifiably and understandably tried to resolve the problem by offering the freehold of the territory lock, stock and barrel to Argentine. This afternoon when the Prime Minister was chiding us—as she chided me in April 1982—about Southern Thule, one would not believe that she had done nothing to restore the territorial sovereignty and integrity of that uninhabited island. What evidence is there in the report that the Government did the slightest thing to remove the Argentines from that uninhabited island? There is no evidence to suggest that she ever showed the slightest interest in it. Many of us believe that her passion for the Falkland Islands was discovered on about 2 April 1982. The evidence contained in the report suggests that her intervention and her involvement in the decisions preceding the run-up to the disasters of April 1982 were few and remarkably disinterested.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
From his intimate knowledge of the matter, is it the hon. Gentleman's opinion that the Argentine mission on Southern Thule was, as stated by Lord Goronwy-Roberts in the House of Lords in 1978, a scientific mission or a military presence? If it were a military presence, why did his Government do nothing to remove it?
§ Mr. Rowlands
Throughout the difficult negotiations that took place when we endeavoured to resolve the Southern Thule dispute, the Argentines never described the presence as anything other than scientific. That is why we turned to extending the principle of the Antarctic treaty in 1978.
We decided not to go to war over Southern Thule. The point I make is that, between May 1979 and April 1982, neither did the Government. Their present position on these matters is newly discovered.
I want to leave what may be common ground and the question whether successive Governments may or may not have tried to avoid a war and our present position, and look at the basic task that the Franks committee was given—to look at the events leading up to April 1982 and to decide how the Government managed those events.
I have read the report in detail. For four years I was involved in negotiations similar to those in which the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) and the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) were involved since 1979. I read the account with great interest, relating it to my own experiences. The narrative in the Franks report justifies the conclusion that there was a fundamental failure of crisis management in the fateful early days of March 1982. In part that failure of crisis management, which Franks was asked to investigate, derived from the way in which the Government acted and made decisions. I shall justify that statement by reference not only to Franks but to my experience.
The first months of 1982 were months of considerable tension and were fraught with potential conflict. The general who had come to power in Argentina, combined the power of president and commander of the armed forces. He set up if not an unprecedented, certainly an offensive, public press campaign with threats that the new regime intended to use force to resolve the issue. We were not aware of the next factor, as we were not told about it—I do not complain about that. The problems in South Georgia did not break out in March 1982, but were there throughout the first three months of the year. This is all stated in Franks.
Behind the scenes, through political and diplomatic machinery, a strident demand was being made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Buenos Aires that we should agree to a rigid and detailed timetable for holding sovereignty talks. It was also the 149th anniversary year. The regime had made it clear publicly and privately that there would not be a 150th anniversary. All those factors added up to growing tension and crisis. I was much more afraid in the first three months of 1982 than when I held responsibility in the summer and spring of 1977. Do not let us cover up all the comparative analysis, but let us state that the first three months of 1982 by any standards looked serious.
As the Franks report states in paragraph 302, insufficient weight was given to that collection of events and "the changing Argentine attitude". I agree with the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins). I have a 834 high personal regard and affection for the officials who served with me in the Foreign Office for four years. I have no complaint. We should not hide behind officials. Not just the officials but Ministers gave insufficient weight to the changing Argentine attitude. From January 1980 through to the early months of 1982 there was no meeting of the Cabinet to discuss the issue and no meeting of the Overseas and Defence Committee to review the changing situation and the growing tensions. There was no meeting to discuss what the hon. Member for Shoreham was going to do at the February talks in New York.
A question has been asked about what pattern of Cabinet Committee government we adopted on those issues. Before every major round of talks there was a full-scale meeting of the Overseas and Defence Committee chaired by the Prime Minister, who examined the policies submitted by the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. Before every set of talks in which I took part the Overseas and Defence Committee met to discuss in detail what my remit should be—and rightly so. Even if there was no fundamental change of policy, there was a review of the situation before every round of talks. There was one before my visit in February 1977 and one in the middle of the year before officials went to Rome, and three meetings in November. We were making plans for the negotiations. There was another meeting in February 1978. However, as the Franks report reveals, there was no discussion in the Cabinet when during the first three months of the year there was a mounting crisis.
That is Cabinet Committee negligence by any standards. When one reads the Franks report one realises how much of a crunch the February talks were. It was not an ordinary round of negotiations. They had been preceded not only by the virulent press campaign in Argentina but—none of us knew this until the Franks report revealed it—by the stiffest set of demands that had ever been made. I have more sympathy in retrospect for the hon. Member for Shoreham when he had to go to the talks, the runup to which had been a detailed demand about the timescale for the talks. I am glad to say that in my four years of negotiation I never came under such pressure.
There was no Cabinet Committee meeting and no review to consider what would happen if the talks broke down or what would happen if, understandably, Ministers felt that they could not go anywhere near meeting the Argentines' demands. That is why the comparison with 1977 is not only valid but pertinent when we discuss how things went wrong in early March 1982. Having read the Franks report I am more convinced than ever that the comparison between 1977 and 1982 is valid.
The reason why we chose to send the force in November 1977 was, as the report states, to buttress the negotiations. It was not sent there to deter Argentine action before the talks. It was sent there not to wield a big stick, fly the flag or demonstrate that we were virile in our assertion of sovereignty, but because we feared that the talks would break down or the junta would disown the outcome of the talks. The purpose was clear and specific.
The right hon. Lady was saying before I intervened that we could not send a force because of this or that danger. The chiefs of staff advised us on the mix of the force. We did not advise on the mix. They told us the combination of the force, which has being sent for the purpose to which we had agreed. The purpose was that if the talks broke down or if the junta disowned the outcome of the talks and denounced them, we would not be totally unprepared and 835 the islands would not be totally unprotected. It was a good old boy scouts' principle—to be prepared for trouble because we sensed that there would be trouble. It was not meant to do anything other than that.
When the trouble did not arise, when the negotiations did not break down, when we had agreed a communiqué and I knew that the junta would not denounce or disown it—we checked that—and when we agreed at New York that we would jointly report progress to the United Nations, it was only then—on 19 December, I believe—that I had the onerous duty of telegraphing home to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) that I believed the task force could be quietly withdrawn because it had served its purpose. Its purpose had been to be there if and when the talks broke down or the junta denounced the outcome.
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Member is making much point of the sending of the task force in 1977. He is also by implication criticising the present Government for not having done the same thing before the talks in February 1982. What does he say to the specific remark in paragraph 328 of the Franks report:It was believed that the round of talks in December 1977 could lead to a breakdown of negotiations. The circumstances leading up to the February 1982 talks were different, and we consider that they did not warrant a similar naval deployment"?
§ Mr. Rowlands
If the hon. Member will allow me to complete my remarks, I think I will answer the point.
§ Mr. Rowlands
The House is passing a judgment. I do not agree with every single word of it. I hope I have deployed an effective case to show that the first three months of 1982 were very serious, whatever comparison one wants to make with 1977. I was explaining the purpose of the November 1977 operation because much disinformation and misinformation have been put out about it. I was explaining clearly and straightforwardly the purpose and point of that operation.
I was about to say that what we feared, the nightmare of any negotiator in negotiations between Britain and Argentina, the very thing that concerned and frightened us in November 1977, happened on 1 March 1982. It happened as vividly as anyone could imagine. The "fruitful and positive" communiqué, as I think it was called, was signed. The Argentine delegation had not even got out of New York before the junta had disowned the talks and issued a unilateral communqué. By comparison, if that had happened in 1977 we would certainly have required the deployment that was made and no doubt I would have been telegraphing for reinforcements.
More important, in the early days of March 1982 it was crucial that there should be cover and protection. Instead, what happened? Lord Carrington had a brief conversation with officials during which the 1977 experience was referred to and dismissed. He asked himself the wrong question and drew a hopelessly wrong conclusion about the 1977 operation. Never again in those crucial early days of March was the option of deploying some sort of submarine cover for the islands ever taken up.
On 3 March the Prime Minister scribbled on a telegram. Reading very much between the lines of the report I think 836 she was referring to civil contingency plans for the islands. It is not clear, but in the context it seems they were as much civil as military.
§ Mr. Rowlands
In that case I withdraw it. If they were civil and military, fine. It does not matter. It was only that one sensed that the contingency plans were civil, but it is not basic to my case or argument.
Did the Prime Minister call her Ministers together? Did she summon them and say, "For goodness' sake, I have seen these telegrams and they are worrying me"? Did she say, "Let us have an urgent meeting of the Overseas and Defence Committee"? Five days later the letter went out formally from her office; such is the urgency she managed to instil in her office about the contingency plans. Even the Franks report uses cautious terms, saying that it would have been better and to advantage if Ministers had got together and considered this option in detail.
The report says that 5 March was the last day when it would have been possible to deploy anything in the light of subsequent events. I do not agree with that, because no one knew what was about to happen. It emerges from the report that there was a total breakdown in the normal Cabinet Committee type of responsibility.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I should like to complete my case. My hon. Friend will have ample opportunity to speak. I do not want to speak for much longer.
When situations like this are beginning to emerge, it is surely the role of a Prime Minister to bring Ministers together or even to knock heads together. I recall my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) once observing that the Foreign Office believed that diplomacy would get one everywhere and that the Ministry of Defence did not believe in moving anything anywhere. More than once, in the context not only of the Falklands but of Belize as well, I was usually one of the victims of his head-knocking operations.
In early March things needed to be moved. It had been found that diplomacy certainly could not get us what we wanted, despite the pleas to the President of the United States. The decision not to take any action in early March and not even to consider it at any ministerial meeting meant that the islands were left unprotected and the Government were caught unprepared.
The other thing that emerges from the Franks report when one reads the account of the last half of March is of a ship of state rudderless, lurching, drifting, as the low farce of the South Georgia scrap merchants' episode turned into the full-blown tragedy of the invasion itself. Messages were drafted but not sent. The Endurance was sent to South Georgia; then it was recalled and was found somewhere between South Georgia and the islands. Press talk of a nuclear submarine that never was scuppered the valiant diplomatic efforts behind the scenes to defuse the growing crisis. Still the Cabinet and the Overseas and Defence Committee did not meet.
For me anyway one overriding impression comes out of the report. It is of a highly personalised system of government that has been adopted in the last three years—the Foreign Secretary doing his thing and the Prime Minister doing her thing. Very rarely do they seem to come together. They certainly do not come together 837 within the structure of Cabinet government and Cabinet Committee government. The Prime Minister has fostered the image of a highly personalised government and decision-making process. When in March 1982 that led us to a disaster in war she cannot blame us for saying that we must hold her personally responsible for the conduct of the peace leading up to the war.
§ Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The hon. Member for Methyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) has spent the last half hour working hard trying to find differences between the last Administration and this one, but I do not think that he has succeeded in doing so. It is impossible to prove, but I have a strong suspicion that even if slightly different policies had been used in the way of crisis management the results would have been no different. Nevertheless, I believe that both Governments followed largely similar policies. They took more or less similar advice and found themselves up against the same difficulties except on one point, on which I shall seek to enlarge later.
Of course, after a nasty surprise such as we had—and there was every excuse for being surprised—the search for a scapegoat is natural. However, to the Labour Party's chagrin the Franks committee has found none. It was widely suspected at first that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would be found wanting—after all, its Ministers did resign—but it was not. If we read the Franks report, we find that its advice was steadily correct and that Governments of both complexions followed it. It could be argued that the Ministry of Defence was a bit slow sometimes and apparently unaware of political considerations, but, after all, that is not exactly its remit.
The criticism which has been seized upon this afternoon and which I find trivial is that of HMS Endurance. That pass was sold a long time ago. For many years there had been a notable lack of enthusiasm about that part of the world. We gave up Simonstown and there was an absence of reaction to the Argentine provocation at Southern Thule. And then there was the very small military contingent we put in. Such things had long ago given the impression that we were not sure whether or why we wanted to be in the Falkland Islands.
We should have asked ourselves questions about it sooner. Perhaps it would have been a good idea if the matter had been examined in a Select Committee such as we now have, but it never was, and many hon. Members were, and still are, rather ignorant about the subject. I suppose that there is some strategic interest in the Falkland Islands. After all, two famous sea battles were fought there and it is possible to imagine the closing of the Panama canal, which would give the Falkland Islands some importance. However, such considerations must be fairly far down the list.
Do the Falkland Islands have an economic interest? If they have, it has hardly been discoverable up to now. We have done little about it. I am not one of those who think that the Antarctic will be an E1 Dorado in a short time. Do the islands have a political interest? Obviously not, because the occupation and possession of the Falkland Islands do little to help our relations with South America and the other states there. In fact, our possession of the islands is a hangover from our imperial past—the sort of hangover which in the past we found it easy to divest ourselves of.
838 The position is now different because we have acquired a kind of moral reason for staying in the Falkland Islands, and that is the protection of our kith and kin from a particularly nasty dictatorship. The reason for staying in the Falkland Islands is that of bad government in Argentina, which has forced us into the position which makes it appear that 1,800 islanders have a kind of veto upon British foreign policy.
That brings me to the second difficulty. Most of us—I include myself—simply did not understand the sort of people that we were up against. The Argentine army is a ladder to success for the poor boy. Like the medieval church in Europe, it is almost universally recruited from disadvantaged classes and enjoys only a barrack room education. The officers come almost exclusively from that class of society which in almost every country forms the hard core of Fascism. The result is an officer corps financially on the make, politically illiterate, never at war except against its own people and a disgrace to the profession—nothing more than a Mafia in fine uniforms. To negotiate sovereignty or anything else with such people is hopeless and destined to fail—ask Chile, Brazil, or any of its neighbours.
But what would have been said if we had steadily refused to negotiate at all? We would have been heavily attacked both at home and abroad, and with some justice. Still more would we have been attacked if we had dispatched a task force sufficient to the job. One can imagine the uproar at the United Nations. Here at home we would have been bitterly divided. I doubt whether any Government could have long sustained a large task force in the Falkland Islands without the trauma of war.
I do not blame the Foreign Office or successive Governments for trying to negotiate. They could not have done less. We were wrong about the Argentines. They were and still are not to be negotiated with. Therefore, we have two choices—the Fortress Falklands or evacuation. It has been suggested this afternoon that the United Nations might take over, but there is not much future in that. They would not defend the islands. Indeed, they would probably give them away to Argentina very quickly and the Argentines would soon move in.
It has been further suggested that our NATO allies might take some interest in the matter and that the Argentines would hesitate to engage other countries as well as Britain. That is not realistic. I cannot see German troops being deployed in the Falkland Islands. One has only to put that proposition to see how hopeless it would be.
Perhaps powers interested in Antarctica might play some part so that we would be solid with them, but I see grave difficulties there. I cannot see Japan undertaking the defence of the Falkland Islands. We do not trust the Argentines: they will shortly arrive, whatever kind of pretend regime is erected, unless British troops stay there, and we must therefore keep troops there for the time being.
There is the difficulty that the more we implement the Shackleton report, the more money we spend there, the more people we persuade to go there, the more difficult it will be to get out. Perhaps one day an Argentine Government will emerge with whom we can negotiate, but so far that is not apparent and the House would delude itself if it thought that there was any clever way of getting out of our difficulties.
Fortress Falklands is the only policy left, with all its expense and diplomatic drawbacks with South America 839 and the Third world. However, it is not all drawback. Because of the Government's action, which was supported by the House, our NATO allies and potential enemies—the world—know that we are people of our word. They also know that there are no better fighting men in the world.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I have not commented in public on the Franks committee or accepted television or radio interviews as I believe that this debate in the House is the proper place for witnesses, who were asked to give oral evidence to Franks to put their view. I should like to comment on the courtesy of Lord Franks and his colleagues when I gave oral evidence before them on 22 October and to comment on the exceptional and exquisitely skilful drafting of the report. I do not know who did it—whether it was Lord Franks, Sir Patrick Nairne, or the Secretary of the Committee, Mr. Rawsthorne. It persuades me that the committee's work is worthy of far more than instant comment the day it was published.
I should like to put it on record that I do not in any way share the criticism that has been made of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) or Lord Lever in their work on the committee by some sections of my party who, on other matters, have agreed with me in this issue. I have no doubt that they both worked extremely hard and conscientiously, although I had doubts as to whether a member of the shadow Cabinet should be a member of the committee. However, any doubts that I had I should like to withdraw. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South worked jolly hard on the committee. It may be that the committee's terms of reference should have been different and that they should have included the conduct of the war but that was Parliament's decision and not a fit subject for criticism of Lord Franks.
Before I embark on what some will see as a rather cynical and unpleasant interpretation of events, but none the less one which goes some way to explain the astounding lack of ministerial meetings, and explains paragraph 147 and why on 5 March the Prime Minister's request for contingency plans was not followed up, and why this unpleasant explanation that I offer about paragraph 152—the Prime Minister's reaction to the ambassador's letter of 3 March—was not pursued, may I tell the House that I have given notice to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that I shall refer repeatedly to what I see as his key role in the events. First, I register a query of fact in connection with page 92. Assertion number 7 to which the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) referred, saying that the assertions had been dismissed, says:On 11 March 1982 an Argentine military plane landed at Port Stanley to reconnoitre the runway. The incident was reported by the Governor as suspicious".I have no means of knowing what other witnesses said to Franks, but when I went before the committee on 22 October I referred to the Hercules incident, and suggested that it had been reported to London on 12 March, although, to my knowledge, by others than Governor Hunt.
Let us consider how the Franks committee dismissed that assertion—incidentally, reported in the clear by 840 "Latin American Weekly Report" of 19 March, specifically in terms of a try-out for the invasion. Franks says:He"—that is, Governor Hunt—has subsequently confirmed that the landing was preceded by a 'May Day' call and that, after the aircraft landed, fuel was seen to be leaking from it".If you, Mr. Speaker were in the crew of an aircraft and you had a genuinely leaking fuel tank, would you take off that very afternoon to the south Atlantic without waiting for repairs or doing something about it? I suspect that anyone would try to strip the engine, or at least wait for repairs. I say that because I have first-hand evidence from Patrick Watts, who shares few of the views that I have put forward, who actually saw the crew of the aircraft go to the house of the Argentine superintendent, Mr. Gammon, have coffee and cakes, or whatever, and two hours later go back into the aircraft and take off. That is not exactly the action of people who have serious leaking tanks.
I knew also at the time that I gave evidence that the Hercules had landed in 1981 at Port Stanley, but I am also told that the Hercules which landed in March was fully laden and far heavier than any previous plane. I simply give that as an example of some dismissals in the report which are too easy and which have been truncated to the point of distortion. The fact is that the Hercules incident was one of a number of serious warnings that had been given in early March. Franks is wrong to dismiss it.
There is another matter that needs some explanation. On page 82, paragraph 300 says:5 March was about the last moment at which, given that the invasion took place on 2 April, it would have been possible to sail a deterrent force to be in place in time".As Franks himself says, the SSNs could have got down there at a speed of 28 or 29 knots in 13 or 14 days. Is it suggested that, had they been there, the invasion would have taken place by Hercules and not by sea? I know that there are references to airborne landings, but, after all, airborne landings presumably would have needed the airstrip, and the marines who were there could easily have blocked that or used the mines that they had available. Therefore, explanation should be given about a number of rather important details in the Franks report. The suggestion is that there were all sorts of warning signals.
I say bluntly to the Prime Minister that, if nothing else, the Franks report reveals the extent to which, in some respects, she has misled the House and the country.
On Tuesday 26 October, in answer to question No. 1, the Prime Minister confirmed what she had said to George Gale in a major interview in the Daily Express that the Falklands crisis—not South Georgia, or anything of that kind—had come out of the blue on Wednesday 31 March. She put that on the record. She said "out of the blue". On page 43, paragraph 147, referring to Friday 5 March 1982, says:Mr. Ure"—that is John Ure, the superintending Under-Secretary for North America and South America—recorded that the Cabinet Office had said that the Prime Minister would like the next Defence Committee paper on the Falklands to include annexes on both civil and military contingency plans".A Prime Minister who claims that the crisis came out of the blue on Wednesday 31 March was asking for military contingency plans 26 days earlier. By what semantics of the English language can that be explained? I hasten to add that if there is an explanation for joint 841 theatre plans and paragraph 109, either the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister, in winding up, should give it. I ask that as a direct question. If I am wrong, there should be an explanation. If the Prime Minister did not follow that up, by negligence, it would be entirely out of character.
Why did the right hon. Lady not put the Falklands in the first week of March on the agenda of the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee of the Cabinet? Certainly that needs to be explained, because the Prime Minister's harshest critics could hardly say that she was lazy in such matters. Moreover, she knew from the very week when she entered Downing Street that the Falklands presented one of the most potentially dangerous situations that she inherited. I understand that the Cabinet Secretary—the late Professor John P. Macintosh, and others have told me—briefs every incoming Prime Minister on the really thorny issues, and it is inconceivable that she was not briefed on this matter.
Was the Falklands a subject of which the Prime Minister knew nothing? The charitable explanation would be that a busy Prime Minister could hardly be expected to know about every crisis. However, the Prime Minister has had an all-pervasive, ever-present human reminder of the critical nature of the Falklands issue ever since she crossed the threshold of Downing Street. At the last reshuffle of Ministers, it was widely reported that the hon. Member for Eastbourne would become a Minister of State, if not propelled into the Cabinet itself. When no such event occurred—I gave the hon. Gentleman warning that I would refer to this matter—one of the Prime Minister's senior colleagues gave an explanation in public print on 9 January:Why on earth should he move—he is at the moment the most powerful MAN, repeat Man, in the Conservative Party".If no one else knew very much about the Falklands and the dangers lurking in the situation, the hon. Member for Eastbourne knew a great deal about them, because he went there in the autumn of 1978, in the congenial company of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie), and he knew the importance and significance of the situation. And she knew full well.
The Falklands may have been a faraway, peripheral issue even for the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Sir J. Nott)—the then Secretary of State for Defence—the chiefs of staff, the Foreign Secretary and many of the officials in the stratosphere of the Foreign Office, but the hon. Member for Eastbourne and the Prime Minister knew exactly what the score was. If there was one thing on which those two were not ignorant, it was the Falklands.
The Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastbourne must have been sensitive to the position described in paragraph 95 of the Franks' report. The final paragraph of the JIC assessment of 9 July 1981 stated:If Argentina concluded that there was no hope of a peaceful transfer of sovereignty, there would be high risk of resorting to more forcible measures against British interests, and that it might act swiftly and without warning. In such circumstances, military action against British shipping or a full scale invasion of the Falkland Islands could not be discounted.I do not share the views of some speakers about the supposedly incompetent actions of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet. With the hon. Member for Eastbourne at her side, the Prime Minister knew exactly what she was doing from an early stage. He and she had that litany of information, described by Franks that never reached the Cabinet.
842 My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right to draw attention to paragraph 291 of the Franks report, which uses the words "never formally discussed".
My right hon. Friend said that that was unbelievable. The paragraph also referred to "no meeting until 1 April". The cynical view that I advance at least has the merit of explaining why the subject was not discussed for 15 months with Cabinet colleagues.
There are two possible reasons for that, or a combination of both. The hon. Member for Eastbourne and the Prime Minister turned their Nelson's eye to the warnings in the belief that it was too expensive and impracticable to maintain a substantial garrison and that, come the inevitable exhaustion of Argentine's patience, they would have to negotiate on behalf of the Falkland Islands as best they could, whatever the taunts of their own Right wing, abetted by the cynical support given by both parties when in opposition to the Falkland Islands committee lobby during the past 17 years. That would have been a reasonable position if they had not launched a task force.
The alternative scenario is that the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastbourne decided early in March that they were not averse to lying "doggo" and letting things run, to savour the discomfiture of the Foreign Office. The Foreign Secretary need not look disbelievingly at me. I spent the 1960s as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the late Dick Crossman and I know only too well how one major Department can conspire against another in government. That happens in all Governments.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne and the Prime Minister were not over-concerned about the discomfiture to Lord Carrington but if things went wrong they did want to ensure Britain would appear as an injured party if Argentina took military action.
I am not alone in that view. Hugo Young of The Sunday Times perceptively reported:A Cabinet Minister had explained that the purpose of the apparently intense search for peace was to make the British understand why they had to go to war.Later he said:On the whole, the Minister said it was a great relief to the Cabinet that by the time the British settlement offer was made, the Argentinians were in no mood to talk.The question that arises throughout is how serious and sincere were the Government in their efforts to avoid having to regain the Falkland Islands by force? From a very early stage, the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastbourne—[Laughter]—perceived an opportunity, having established Britain as an injured party, to test our military preparedness. No other explanation of 5 March exists.
Before hon. Members laugh again at the important role that I ascribe to the hon. Member for Eastbourne, may I say that I was one of the few hon. Members to take the trouble to visit the Prime Minister and went on 21 April at her invitation. She said, very courteously, that she would see the awkward squad right away. Who was there? The hon. Member for Eastbourne—[Laughter]. Do not underrate him, because he knew exactly what was happening in the Falklands.
Even the Franks report wonders aloud why the Prime Minister's note of 5 March was not followed up. Whatever explanation is given—it may be different from that which I put forward—some explanation must be found. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has asked that question, as did the right hon. Member for Plymouth, 843 Devonport (Dr. Owen) in The Observer. They have not received any reply. At least I am giving a coherent, if cynical, explanation. If it is wrong, let there be an answer in the speech in reply to the debate.
In the Franks report, which for its drafting skill, unlike many of its critics, I have come on fourth reading greatly to admire, there is a litany of occasions when Franks reveals that, knowing what they did, there is no other explanation why the Prime Minister—with the hon. Member for Eastbourne at her side—failed to warn or to act and was content to allow nothing to be done. It might have been fine had they not contrived to give the impression of taking a malleable attitude and then adopting the astonishingly hard attitude of dispatching the task force. In life and diplomacy it is accepted that one can take a compromise position after a hard line. However, it is bordering on the criminal to take a hard line having given the impression that one will take a soft line. That, to borrow the phrase that I used to the Franks committee, and which I pinched from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), is "luring the Argentines on to the punch." Let us examine paragraph 152 on page 45. On 3 March—the day after the breakdown of the talks—the British ambassador in Buenos Aires reported further comment in the Argentine press on the unilateral communiqué. When the Prime Minister saw that telegram, she wrote on it:We must make contingency plans.Let it not be said that paragraph 147 or 152 was the usual business of the Cabinet Office wanting something and asking for it in the Prime Minister's name. The point is that, the Prime Minister, in the first week of March, was personally involved or she would not have written notes asking for contingency plans. Is that the action of a Prime Minister for whom the crisis was to "come out of the blue" on 31 March? Hardly! Paragraph 153 states that on 8 March the Prime Minister—the same Prime Minister for whom the crisis was to come "out of the blue" on 31 March as she confirmed to the House—spoke to the then Secretary of State for Defence and asked him how quickly Royal Navy ships could be deployed to the Falkland Islands if required. A Prime Minister who supposed that there was no possibility of an invasion in the near future would not have asked her Defence Secretary that question. However, we should consider the reply. Incidentally, it took four days in the middle of the week. It was:Passage of time for a frigate deployed to the Falklands, which would require Royal Fleet Auxiliary support, would be of the order of 20 days".Twenty days would take her up to 28 March. The Prime Minister, solemnly warned of the need to make contingency plans which she had accepted three days before, on 5 March could have had frigates and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the Falklands by Sunday 28 March.
In a perceptive article in the News of the World on 23 January, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said:I have not noticed any reluctance on her part previously to impose her political will on the Civil Service".That is an important and accurate statement. By doing nothing, she is acting out of character.
That brings me to another of the Prime Minister's untruths. On Sunday 28 March Jim Slater and Jim Jump 844 gave my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and me photostats of letters from Michael Flockhart, the shop steward on the RFA Fort Austin that complain of the decision to send his crew to the south Atlantic after five and a half months in the sweltering Gulf. How did the barpersons of Gibraltar have better information than the Prime Minister about the destination of the fleet, some of the ships of which were carrying nuclear weapons to a potential theatre of fighting, according to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) in an interview on "Newsnight"? The answer is that the Prime Minister knew everything that the barpersons of Gibraltar knew and more. She should be challenged for misleading the House by telling us that the invasion came "out of the blue" on 31 March. The barpersons of Gibraltar, the crew of the RFA Fort Austin and the submarines knew about it three days earlier.
In my oral evidence to the Franks committee, I told Lord Franks that he had a duty to make it clear whether he believed that the Prime Minister, to use a phrase which I told Lord Franks that I had borrowed from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, not being averse to a fight, should such a situation develop lured the Argentines on to the punch. This is a question which Franks did not face.
But references to the Franks report, which I shall telescope for reasons of time, give substance to that cold view of the Prime Minister's behaviour, that she was not averse to a fight. It is up to her to answer these points if I am wrong. Paragraph 157 concerns personal messages from Lord Carrington to Alexander Haig that were sent on 8 March. Did she know nothing about that? Paragraph 155 refers to the draft telegram from Lord Carrington to Senor Costa Mendez on 18 March. Did she know nothing about that? Paragraph 169 refers to Foreign Office and Defence Ministers agreeing, on 20 March, that HMS Endurance should sail to South Georgia. Paragraph 187 refers to Lord Carrington's minute to the Prime Minister on 24 March. In a major interview with Mr. George Gale, the Prime Minister was asked:Did the Falkland crisis come at you more or less out of the blue?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Out of the blue."
That is not true; there is no other word for it.
We must examine the nature of a just war. One characteristic is that all solutions should be tried. In this case, that did not happen. Moreover, proportionality is important. All this has been for 1,800 people and we are further from a solution than ever before. The conditions of a just war were not fulfilled. The diplomatic channel was not exhausted.
That is in keeping with the Prime Minister's behaviour after 2 April. Why, when one knows that the American Secretary of State is in mid-air on his way to discuss peace on 7 and 8 April, does one take the provocative step of announcing a military exclusion zone which is to go into force on Monday 12 April, by which time the submarine Spartan would have got down there, without hearing what Alexander Haig had to say? Either it had been decided that there was little or nothing that the British Government could do to prevent an invasion, in which case the Government should say so, or, in their private thoughts, the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastbourne—the most important man in the Conservative 845 party—decided to let Britain become an injured party in the expectation of a righteous little fight from which the Iron Lady would derive personal and political advantage.
If that is a great distortion, we must examine circumstances a little later on. That is why Franks' terms of reference were unsatisfactory. Why have I asked so many questions about the General Belgrano? Because the answers have been contradictory. The reasons for its sinking are untrue and have been changed. I am not asking for a lot, just for an explanation why the Prime Minister, behind her Foreign Secretary's back—he never denied that he knew nothing about it and was in New York at the time—and without warning the American Administration who were deeply worried by then about hemispheric relations, and in the knowledge that there was a decision by the army council in Buenos Aires to withdraw from the Malvinas and it now transpires, from the fleet air arm pilots of Aviacon Naval who have accused Anaya of treachery to withdraw the navy from the Falklands that was endorsed by Peru and the Americans. The Prime Minister who was at Chequers personally ordered the Conqueror to torpedo the General Belgrano on Sunday 2 May at a time and in a position when it has now been established by parliamentary questions the General Belgrano and her escorts were no immediate threat to our sailors.
We should have a point-by-point reply to those allegations that have now been taken up by some sections of the press, such as Tribune on 7 January. There may be an answer but it has not been forthcoming. All the evidence can be found in c. 897 of Hansard for 21 December 1982.
The difficulty is that it was not a case of buttressing negotiations by using force. The decision to send a task force circumscribed negotiations. In reality there may have been no way of preventing an Argentine swoop, but it was a way of postponing the conflict of interest.
We are now talking about a bloody nose. What does that mean in reality when it is stripped of rhetoric? A bloody nose could be interpreted as sending commandoes to the south American mainland or carrying out a bombing raid.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The right hon. Gentleman says "Right". In that case, we should discuss with the United States Administration taking revenge or striking before attacking the South American mainland. Ironically, it is not now Britain but Argentina that has the strength as we face the continual threat and heavy costs. The ball is at its feet. That point was made movingly by James Cameron and Paul Rogers, on Channel 4 on Saturday evening.
On reading between the lines in the Franks report, one has to draw the conclusion that there should be an inquiry, along the lines, possibly, of those which followed the Crimea war and the Boer war, into the entire conduct of what happened in May and June 1982. There were many opportunities when an honourable peace could have been had for the asking. What do we have? We have the legacy of Fortress Falklands. We have opted for a military solution when such a solution is no solution at all.
I conclude my cynical and possibly unpleasant speech. I fear that I am the first hon. Member who has given any sort of coherent answer to the questions that have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, 846 Devonport (Dr. Owen). They have properly asked the questions and I have given answers. If I have not given the right answers, someone must explain what the truthful answers are. There are many questions surrounding the Belgrano and other incidents in the Falklands war. As before and now today, we find that the idea of reconciliation and some constructive solution is not in the Prime Minister's vocabulary. She must give some answers.
§ 8.1 pm
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
I hold myself lucky to be called after the Philippic that we have heard from the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell;). He has lifted the veil on a deep conspiracy, and a very worrying one. I should have thought that with his experience of the House he would know that the Government Front Bench is entirely decorative and that our affairs are really run by a committee of Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
§ Mr. Amery
No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) plays a prominent role. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be replying to the debate tomorrow evening. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne will be able to inspire the proper reply to that to which the hon. Gentleman has just treated us. I wish it were as complicated as his.
When I obtained a copy of the Franks report, before reading it I consulted a wise and valued friend who I knew had already perused it. He said to me, "It is a question of 'Albert and the Lion'". Those who are familiar with that cautionary tale—it was popular in Lancashire many years ago—will remember that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsbottom took their little boy, Albert, to the zoo at Blackpool, where, whether through negligence on the part of the parents, inadvertence or because the bars of the cage were too wide apart, Albert was devoured by a lion called Ponto. There followed an inquest at which the magistrate said that no one was really to blame.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
The right hon. Gentleman is mixing his Hilaire Belloc with the tale in question. Ponto is the lion in the other story by Hilaire Belloc, "Jim".
§ Mr. Amery
No, I shall not give way.
On first reading the Franks report I was inclined to think that no one was really to blame. When I read it again more carefully, I had to admit that it was a devastating indictment of this Government in particular and of the previous Government. But, rather worse than that, we are all to blame. The report puts its finger on a schizophrenia which has bedevilled the conduct of British foreign policy for more than a generation.
Before the second world war we said that Hitler must not be allowed to take over Austria and Czechoslovakia. Everybdy was agreed on both sides of the House, and in all parties. But very few people were prepared to vote the 847 necessary defence credits. Everyone was agreed that Nasser should not take over the Suez canal—Hugh Gaitskell just as much as Anthony Eden. However, very few were prepared to keep a garrison in the canal zone.
There were two options from the beginning for the Falklands. One option was to surrender sovereignty on the best terms that we could get. I think that Lord Carrington was right when he said that that option was never open to us. The sense of responsibility towards the islanders would have forbidden it. Abhorrence of the different Fascist or military juntas in the Argentine would have also forbidden it. Our interests in the Antarctic and the development of it would similarly have forbidden it. That option was never seriously open to us politically.
The other option was to defend the islands. No Government, Labour or Conservative, did anything about that between 1964 and 1982. We never lengthened the runway. The only aircraft on the island when the blow came was the Governor's private aeroplane. We did nothing about the harbour. There was no ship ready to defend the island except HMS Endurance, which had been scheduled for withdrawal. There was a purely token garrison with no stockpile of weapons or reinforcements. I think that most hon. Members were in the Chamber for the debate on 2 April. I think they will remember the state of our communications with the islands on that day.
Successive Governments willed the end—"The Falklands must remain British and the wishes of the islanders are paramount"—but no one was prepared to vote the means. And so we fell back on negotiations. Negotiations make sense if one is trying to achieve a definite aim, but if the negotiations are aimless they get nowhere. I allowed myself, in a private colloquy, to say that in this instance and in others Lord Carrington had mistaken diplomacy for foreign policy. I said it in private but nothing that one says in private nowadays stays private for very long. He replied during the weekend and said, "The trouble about Julian is that he mistakes nostalgia for reality."
§ Mr. Amery
I shall consult the House on its opinion. We can consult reality only too well now, but I put it to the House that capital costs and the running costs of building a runway to Lord Shackleton' s prescription, of having a squadron of aircraft, of having the odd ship on patrol—perhaps a nuclear submarine—and of having a battalion of troops on the island over 10 years would have cost between 3 and 5 per cent. of the bill with which we are now landed. It is all very well to talk about nostalgia, but we must remember what the Treasury has lost and the number of lives that have been lost.
I think that realism is on my side. The tragedy flows from thinking that diplomacy is a substitute for foreign policy. However, I must make an admission. The negotiations kept everything going for about 15 years. They were helped by repeated changes of Government in the Argentine. There was General Lannusse and President Campora, the latter being the first dentist to become a head of State. There was General Peron and Mrs. Peron and then control returned to juntas. There was President Viola and then President Galtieri.
848 But the policy of negotiation and being ready to discuss sovereignty carried in itself the seed of its own destruction. Once it was clear that the Government were prepared to negotiate over sovereignty if they could overcome the hurdle to which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred, the Treasury was reluctant to produce any money for sensible plans such as the Shackleton plan. The Ministry of Defence, with its hard-pressed budget, did not see why it should defend a commitment which we might at any moment give away. The Falklands Island Company, instead of reinvesting its profits, tried to repatriate as much of them as it could. We were on a slippery slope. Shackleton was turned down first by the Labour Government. I am glad to say that the Conservative Government of which I was a member did not do it, but the present Government did and were prepared to discuss sovereignty with the Argentines. We hid behind the islanders.
The readiness to discuss sovereignty bred a curious insensitivity. I am sorry to introduce a rather ugly parallel, but I am sure that hon. Members will have read of very old people who, with age, become insensitive and, in deprived conditions, while they sleep have their feet eaten away by rats and do not even notice. That was my impression when I attended the debate in the House on 2 April. No one had the faintest idea of what was going on. The tapes said that the islands had been occupied by the invaders. The then Lord Privy Seal, at 11 am, and the Leader of the House, as he then was, at 2.30 pm, could not confirm it. They were in touch with the governor, they said, yet the governor had been in the bag for about five hours. A curious insensitivity weighed over the whole affair. It was the result of trying to pursue a policy of keeping the ball in the air without making up our minds whether we wanted to keep the islands or to get rid of them. For political reasons it was impossible to get rid of them. Yet it would not have been difficult to defend them.
The Franks report attaches a great deal of importance to the date of 2 April and states that the Government could not be blamed for not expecting the invasion on that day because all the indications were that the invasion would come in midsummer. But politics is not like grouse shooting. The likes of General Galtieri do not say that they will not start shooting until 12 August.
It is a strange doctrine that decisions of the Government should be dictated by intelligence or, indeed, by diplomatic assessments. Intelligence is like a fieldglass. It helps one to focus more clearly, on what one can see but the business of a statesman is to judge what is on the other side of a hill. We have been singularly bad at this over the years. Lord Halifax was an absolute child in his assessment of Hitler. It took Sir Anthony Eden quite a long time to find out about Nasser. Lord Carrington was a little slow in getting on to the nature of General Galtieri. Of course, Galtieri would not have been a suitable member of the Turf club or even of the Carlton club, from which I understand Lord Carrington has resigned, but it is the job of the Foreign Secretary to try to get into the minds of the people with whom he has to deal.
Surprise has always been the weapon of dictators. We had no inkling as far as I know, of the invasion of Austria by Hitler, or of Czechoslovakia, or of Albania by Mussolini. The intelligence people would say that it could happen and that the possibility could not be discounted, but no one told us on the day before that it was going to happen.
849 When General Galtieri came to power in December 1981 that was the moment when the Government should have said that we had better begin to take steps to preserve the islands, even without having done what they should have done, without the airfields and so on. That was the time to send reinforcements, to send a batalion group or perhaps a nuclear submarine, and to have anti-aircraft weapons deployed.
In January, there was plenty of time. February was already a little late. It was the middle of March by the time that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote the minute about contingency plans. It was already very late then with 20 or 30 days' sailing time between Britain and the Falklands. So we came to the sorry farce at which we assisted of 2 April and what Lord Carrington rightly described as a national humiliation.
What about the future? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that, for the time being, Fortress Falklands is all that we can expect, and she is absolutely right. What surprises me is that, in spite of the response which her handling of the task force and the operation of the task force itself evoked from the country, all the defeatists who did not want the task force to go, who criticised all through, are raising their heads again, are saying that the expense will be terrible and that as a result we shall have no contact with Latin America.
Surely we have to face the fact that, having incurred enormous expenditure to liberate the islands, the cost of maintaining Fortress Falklands ought to be pretty modest in terms of a proper runway, a stockpile, a squadron of aircraft and perhaps a slightly larger garrison, but nothing beyond our means when compared with what we have spent. Those who criticise what was done are saying, "Do not try to defend it." "Negotiate" is the great cry. We hear it with industrial relations. We heard it with Hitler and Stalin. We get it today, with Andropov. Those who are crying that from the rooftops have forgotten nothing and have learnt nothing.
But what about the opportunities? Should we not think about them? The Falkland Islands are the gateway to the untapped wealth of the Antarctic and the south Atlantic over which we have extensive claims. We should have links with the mainland, yes, but I do not suppose it will be impossible to have links with Chile. We had them before Argentina came in on the act. The normal communication with Latin America in the main, was from the Falklands to Chile. I do not see why in due course we should not produce, and perhaps take the lead in creating, a south Atlantic community in which Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay and the riparian African States might all take part.
The fundamental lesson that I should like to stress is that world war 1, world war 2 and Suez all ensued from our determination to stand by a principle and our failure to build up the strength to stand by that principle. We willed the end, but we failed to will the means. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has redeemed us from this national humiliation by her superb leadership in the actual conflict with Argentina and by the fantastic performance of our armed forces. Without her, with all respect to my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench, and equally to right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches, I am not sure that we would have pulled it off. She saved us from disaster.
But may I say this to my right hon. Friend? One can make mistakes at home and put them right. It costs money, 850 but the errors can be retrieved. Mistakes abroad can be—this one nearly was—irreversible. I commend thoroughly my right hon. Friend for wearing the apron of good housekeeper in domestic politics. When it comes to matters abroad, I hope that she sticks to the armour of the Iron Lady.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
On page 103 of the Franks report, there is the record of an exchange between myself and the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). I put the question to the right hon. Gentleman:Is not the Government's argument that the interests of 1,800 Falkland Islanders take precedence over the interests of 55 million people in the United Kingdom?He replied:There need be no conflict between the two, especially if a peaceful resolution of the dispute can be achieved.In fact, there is a fundamental conflict between the two. Any reading of the Franks report as a whole bears this out.
The United Kingdom has no overriding diplomatic, military or economic interest in the possession of the Falkland Islands—none whatever. There is a major conflict of interest, as it is perceived by the Falkland Islanders' between the people and the Government of this country. The Franks report contrasts usefully the period of 1965–79 with the subsequent period of the Administration now in office. In the period between 1965 and 1979, there were four Governments and three Prime Ministers. By a process of skilful diplomacy and cautious defence, they carried forward, inch by inch, the situation over the Falklands between the United Kingdom and Argentina and avoided the catastrophe that has occurred under this Government.
There were a series of agreements in that area. In 1971, there was the communications agreement, which carried with it not only important agreements on communications between the islands and Argentina but also agreeement in matters of health, education and travel and a good many other issues. In 1972, there was the airstrip agreement which was important for the well-being of the Falklanders. In 1974 there was the petroleum products agreement under which Argentina expended money on providing a service for the supply of oil for the Falkland Islands. In 1976, there was the wide-ranging Shackleton survey on the economic development of the Falklands.
In 1978, not long before the present Government took office, there was a further agreement on scientific co-operation which was, I believe, negotiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands). Within that period, despite setbacks and difficulties, there was some inching forwards towards a modus vivendi between the United Kingdom and Argentina on various issues. It was very small—perhaps, some would argue, insignificant. Nevertheless, there was a series of agreements in this difficult and controversial territorial dispute.
In the period between 1965 and 1979, it was made abundantly clear that sovereignty was an issue for negotiation. This is shown clearly by the Franks report. In 1967, the sovereignty issue was made a negotiable issue. Paragraph 22 of the Franks report refers to this. In 1968, sovereignty again was made a negotiable issue. Paragraph 23 points that out. In 1977, sovereignty was again put on the table by the United Kingdom as a negotiable issue. 851 Paragraph 60 refers to this. In 1977 again, the lease-back proposition—I am not sure whether for the first time—was brought significantly into the argument as a possible settlement. Paragraph 61 refers to this.
At the same time as these negotiations, incorporating agreements between the United Kingdom and Argentine Governments, there were some signs on the part of successive Governments that the defence of the islands was in the mind of the Government of the day. That was the reason for maintaining HMS Endurance on station, and for sending the submarines and ships referred to in paragraph 65 of the report.
There was a cautious and skilful diplomatic effort, and I repeat that this was under a series of Governments. I am not claiming that a Labour Government had special insight in these matters—there was more than one Government, and there were three different Prime Ministers. However, there was a period of sensible and skilful diplomacy without abandoning, and without giving the world the appearance that we would abandon, the defence capability of this country if there was open and active aggression on the part of the people with whom we were negotiating. It was probably this combination of diplomacy and defence which, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, meant that in this period of 14 years not one person was killed in the dispute.
The Franks report goes on to describe the period from 1979 to 1982. There was a process of diplomacy, but there were no agreements. I cannot recall, from my reading of the Franks report, any agreement on any point being reached with the Argentine Government during that time. It is true that there was a ventilation of the lease-back proposition but, after a rebuff in the House, it was not pursued seriously by the Government. On the diplomatic front, unlike in the earlier period, the Government made no progress in terms of agreement, and no progress in coming to any modus vivendi, in diplomatic terms, with the Argentine Government.
In other respects, such as defence and certain other political matters, the Government took a series of steps—at least 10 of them are catalogued in the report—that gave the impression, or must have given the impression, not merely to Argentina but to the world, that whatever our diplomacy meant, we had no serious intention of continuing to hold the Falkland Islands, and that, come the crunch, we were putting ourselves into an impossible position because we would have neither the capacity, nor, it appeared, politically the will, to defend the Falkland Islands.
There was a basic contradiction within our posture with the Government on the one hand proclaiming that the wishes of the Falklanders were sacrosanct but on the other hand taking a series of decisions that undermined the United Kingdom position vis-a-vis the islands. I shall list those actions as they are listed in the report.
There was the decision to withdraw HMS Endurance, a decision which has been amply ventilated in the debate and which I shall not pursue. There was the rundown of the surface Navy, which led to the sacking of a junior Minister and a ferocious argument about defence policy, which is continuing. There was also the sale of HMS Invincible.
With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), his argument is undermined 852 by the sale of HMS Invincible, because how the Prime Minister could seriously have postulated a deliberate war at the moment when she was selling off one of the essential armaments for that war, seems to me to be—
§ Mr. Hooley
From 5 March or not, I do not think that even my hon. Friend is claiming that the Prime Minister was so clairvoyant that she could foresee the exact date on which war would break out. To sell Invincible when there was the possibility of a war with Argentina was an act of barminess beyond my comprehension. There was the decision to withdraw Endurance, the rundown of the surface Navy and the failure to deploy any naval forces, even though the Cabinet and the Prime Minister knew that that had been done on a previous occasion.
There is a great deal of inconsistency in the Franks report. He said that in 1977, when ships were deployed, the Argentines knew nothing of it. He then said that had the Conservative Government deployed ships, the Argentines would have been bound to know about it. That is an odd argument, for which Franks must answer. The Government were willing to sell arms to Argentina and also to train Argentine personnel in Britain. That was extraordinary behaviour when Argentina was one of the three countries with whom we had a territorial dispute.
There were other non-military failures. The Government did nothing about the Shackleton report, which was surely a signal to the Argentine Government that Britain was not concerned about the future of the Falkand Islands. There was the failure to do anything about the runway on the islands, which had civil, economic and military implications. But the most vicious and deliberate act of policy was the British Nationality Act—a most evil piece of legislation that must surely have been interpreted by the Argentines as meaning that Britain no longer cared a damn about the Falklanders. We deprived them of the one thing that cost us absolutely nothing, which we could have allowed them to retain without any difficulty whoever governed the islands—their nationality. The Government deliberately deprived them of that, yet expected the Argentine Government to draw no conclusions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) drew attention to the total failure in January 1981 to convene the Overseas and Defence Committee. Although the Argentines would not know a great deal about that, it was nevertheless a serious failure of government.
There were 10 failures—Endurance, the rundown of the Navy, the sale of Invincible, no deployment of the Navy, arms sales, military training, no action on Shackleton, no action on the runway, the British Nationality Act, and no action on the Overseas and Defence Committee—yet Franks concluded that the Government were not responsible for the disaster.
As an essay in logic, the report is a remarkable document. If Franks had left its narrative and reached no conclusion, it would have read more powerfully and sensibly. But to reach the conclusion that it did, after narrating all the items to which I have referred, was incredible.
What stands out is that, on the major issues of policy, the Prime Minister cannot be exonerated. The British Nationality Act was a major act of Government, in which she was implicated. It was her job to convene the Overseas 853 and Defence Committee. The policy on the Navy was part of her defence strategy. She must have known about the arms sales and the military training. There is a powerful degree of prime ministerial responsibility in all those matters, which contributed to a disastrous war. That was the first time this century that this country went to war absolutely alone. The Prime Minister must accept the responsibility for that disaster.
Two other themes run through the Franks report. The first is the behaviour of the Falkland Islanders themselves. They were intransigent and unco-operative and made no effort whatsoever to appreciate, meet or accommodate the clear problem which existed between the United Kingdom and Argentina. That is a clear example of the white colonial settler mentality that led to war in Kenya and civil war in Rhodesia.
The overseas kith and kin argument means that somehow the metropolitan home country owes people a living and must sacrifice money, lives or anything else to preserve their immediate interests. That is not a policy or attitude that the House should endorse or confirm.
I have the honour to represent 65,000 electors. I shall not support the proposition that the sons, husbands and brothers of those 65,000 electors shall be sent to die to satisfy the wishes of the Falkland Islanders. Of course we have an obligation to the Falkland Islanders. We had an obligation to maintain their nationality, which the Government cynically threw away. We have an obligation to protect them as far as is feasible, to look after them and to come to some sensible agreement in the circumstances in which they exist.
Some hon. Members may preach to me about the high moral responsibility of this country to islanders overseas, but what happened to the high moral responsibility for Diego Garcia? What happened to those wretched, unfortunate people who were no threat to this country at all but who were cleared out and dumped somewhere else and who had to beg and argue for any reasonable compensation for the bestial way in which they were treated? There was not much high moral principle then.
We must consider carefully what our future obligations are to the Falkland Islanders. I believe that there are three. First, they have an absolute right to British nationality and nothing must be allowed to undermine that. Secondly, if in the future this country comes to some accommodation with Argentina, we must make sure that the Falkland Islanders exercise a free option as to whether they wish to stay in the Falkland Islands, come to the United Kingdom or go elsewhere. Thirdly, we must be generous and forthcoming in any financial compensation which may arise from those decisions. We do not have an obligation to maintain the Falkland Islands as a 19th-century colony in perpetuity simply because we repeat parrot fashion that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders are paramount.
I represent the wishes of 65,000 electors. They are the people whose wishes are paramount, and I must balance those wishes against the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Has the hon. Gentleman asked those 65,000 electors for their views on the Falkland Islands? How did he do it, and what was the result?
§ Mr. Hooley
From the conversations I have had, I am quite sure that they did not want their sons, brothers and husbands to die in the South Atlantic. I am prepared to stand by that judgment.
854 The United Nations is mentioned in the Franks report. Paragraph 51 states that the General Assembly resolution of December 1976 asked the United Kingdom tofacilitate the process of decolonisation and to promote the wellbeing of the population of the Islands".That resolution was carried by 102 votes to one, that one being the United Kingdom. The significance was not the 102 votes in favour but the 35 abstentions. On that occasion, not one ally or friend came into the lobby with us. No member of NATO, the European Community or the Commonwealth was prepared to take the stance that we took on the Falkland Islands. That was just as true last autumn, although there were one or two exceptions.
One of the tragedies is that successive Governments did not make a serious attempt to use the machinery of the United Nations to resolve this particularly difficult dispute. There have been endless propositions since the war about how the United Nations might be used, but it was never seriously used beforehand.
On any sensible reading, the Franks report is an indictment of the indecision and incompetence of the Prime Minister. It is a warning that the price of empire is blood and treasure. Unless we abandon the few pretensions to empire that still exist, more blood will be spilt and more treasure wasted. The only sensible conclusion to draw from this disastrous episode is that in the future we should pay more attention to the advice, help and assistance that we can obtain from our allies and friends as well as more serious attention to the considered opinions of the international community.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) was probably right in saying that successive British Governments gave Argentina the impression that we would not defend the Falkland Islands if and when it came to the crunch. We tried to string them along, and succeeded for a long time, but eventually the Argentine junta lost patience with our delaying tactics and chanced its arm with the invasion.
Like all hon. Members, I have read the Franks report with great care, and it seems to me that the Opposition have a problem. They can either attack the report as an establishment cover-up, as some hon. Members have done, or they can only criticise the Government on the relatively minor points to which the Franks committee drew attention.
To attack the report as a cover-up would be insulting to Lord Franks and to the much-respected Labour Privy Councillors who signed it. I am personally delighted—because he is an old friend and because I thought that he was so good—that Lord Carrington and the other two Foreign Office Ministers were completely and unanimously exonerated by the report. Their insistence on resigning was honourable, just as that of Lord Crathorne was honourable some years ago over the Crichel Down episode, but it was not justified on the merits. The only result is that we have lost the services of one of the best Foreign and Commonwealth Secretaries that in my experience we have ever had, as well as the services of the two other able ministers concerned.
In my view—I know that it is not shared by Labour Members—the Prime Minister also emerges, as I expected she would, vindicated and virtually unscathed from the inquiry. I pay my own tribute to her courage, determination and leadership from the time she took 855 charge of the operation after 3 April. In retrospect, I believe that I was wrong and the House was wrong to have criticised Ministers as violently as most of us did on 3 April. I rather regret parts of my speech.
In mitigation of that mistake, I believe that many hon. Members, including myself, can claim that we were right on one point. Many of us had begged the Ministry of Defence, publicly and privately, not to withdraw HMS Endurance. It gave the wrong signal to Argentina, and was one of the few mistakes made by the Government in the lead-up to the invasion. It was not Lord Carrington's mistake. He had asked three times for the retention of HMS Endurance in the south Atlantic. It was the mistake of my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence who insisted on that rather petty economy.
The only other criticism of Ministers that I venture to make is that, like the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I was surprised to read that the Overseas and Defence Committee of the Cabinet did not discuss the Falkland Islands over a period of 15 months. It seemed odd, to say the least. It was not my experience when I occupied a junior position 20 years ago in the Colonial Office. The Committee met frequently then and often on rather less serious matters. But even if the Committee had met, I do not believe that the invasion could have been foreseen or prevented at the date when it took place. That seems to be the point and the vindication of the Government in the Franks report.
I turn now to the future. Although I yield to no one in my support of the islanders, I cannot envisage any real development of the islands' economy—the fisheries potential, which is probably considerable, and the oil potential, which might be considerable in the future—without an eventual arrangement with Argentina. No commercial firm would start boring for oil and putting up an oil rig if it could be swept away in a lightning raid by the Argentines.
The last chance of achieving an agreement with Argentina before the Falklands war was through the leaseback proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in 1980. I urged then that the proposal should be considered favourably by the islanders, and I sent messages to the Falkland Islands to that effect. I did that genuinely because I felt it to be in their own interests. The lack of a positive response from them and the consequently hostile reaction in the House killed that proposal politically. I believe, still, that something along the lines of lease-back will have to be resurrected if there is to be any long-term economic development of the Falkland Islands.
Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), I do not believe that 'Fortress Falklands' is a viable or constructive policy for ever, or that the cost of such a permanent military commitment should be borne indefinitely by the British taxpayer. Nor have I ever believed that the wishes of the 1,800 islanders should be paramount, if that implies a veto for all time on the defence and foreign policy of Great Britain. It is an unrealistic concept. I am sorry to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in that basic attitude and with many other of my hon. Friends.
856 I accept that there can be no question of an arrangement with Argentina for several years to come. But, as Sir Nicholas Henderson wrote in the Sunday Times this week, quoted by the Leader of the Opposition today:Without a negotiated settlement with Argentina, the economic development of the islands will remain stultified; and Britain will be saddled with a continuing military threat that can only be met by a considerable diversion of our military resources.As the Leader of the Opposition also quoted, Sir Nicholas went on to say:in some way, at some stage, the problem will have to be internationalised. Other countries will have to be brought in, not least to remove the prospect of an indefinite security problem".I wonder whether the creation of a south Atlantic treaty organisation might be the answer and should be considered in the long term, although I acknowledge that it would pose its own problems, such as whether South Africa should be included or excluded. There would no doubt be many difficulties, but there would be internationalisation and South American and other countries involved would be brought in. Those matters are for the future consideration of the British Government of the day. Meanwhile the present Government deserve the support of Parliament for their effective handling of a very difficult problem.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
An arrogant and misguided American politician said a few centuries ago that there was evidence that American institutions had reached the peak of perfection known to man. Listening to the Prime Minister, and reading Franks and the White Paper on the future defence of the Falkland Islands, I feel that that sentiment has been transmitted to this side of the Atlantic.
In my interpretation of events I am guided partly by Franks. We must remember that within that document is not the whole of human knowledge on Anglo-Argentine relations. In it we are not privy to much information. However, a great deal of information is available from other sources with which we can supplement our analysis. I have read the document carefully and am not entirely persuaded, because I believe that there was a series of failures.
The fact that war took place at all was a failure. It was a failure of intelligence and a failure to respond to intelligence. It was a failure of institutions, decision making and communications. The price of that failure was high in terms of lost lives, equipment and resources that would have been better deployed elsewhere, damage to our relationship with other countries and damage to our allies and their relationships with other countries. It is damage past, damage present and damage in the future. Could it have been averted? Contrary to Franks, I argue that it could and should have been.
One of the few advantages of war is that it gives us an opportunity to modernise the institutions that otherwise would not have been modernised. There have been major reforms after investigations. Wars such as the Boer war and the Crimean war provided a stimulus and created greater efficiency in our military structures. However, if one views the last war thinking how clever one was, there is no impetus to look carefully at the changes that need to be made to economic, military and political institutions. The will is not there. Few changes to intelligence will be 857 mounted, we have heard. If one looks dispassionately at the evidence, the conclusion that one reaches is not foursquare with that of Franks.
For success in military ventures the rewards historically have been high. For failures the rewards have been disastrous, ranging from execution to courts martial, but we as a nation have a capacity to learn from our mistakes. I hope we shall reappraise and learn, but this document, far from being a stimulus to reform, might retard it. Are we to believe the central thesis in paragraph 339:Taking account of these considerations, and of all the evidence we have received, we conclude that we would not be justified in attaching any criticism or blame to the present Government"?Is one to believe the other central thesis in paragraph 261, that the Government could not have known that the invasion was about to happen? I am not convinced.
Franks had an advantage over us in that he had access to much information that we do not have. Can one believe Franks, that a ramshackle regime that had not fought a war for over a century could do something that no other military system had been able to do, and conceive, launch and successfully prosecute an invasion within a day and half from a standing start? That is impossible. If anyone believes that, he must have a degree of naivety that is mind-boggling. If we were talking about a finely constructed military machine, it might be possible, but I very much doubt it. We are talking about a military system that has not been used for generations other than to put down and to kill off the indigenous population in the last century, and its own citizens in the last decade. That regine quite simply was not capable of carrying out such a momentous decision so successfully and so quickly.
The truth must be that plans were being discussed for many years, and certainly from the beginning of last year. I see the events from 1 January up to the invasion as the gradual unfolding of a plan. It may not have been a sophisticated master plan but nevertheless there is ample evidence that there was an intention to invade, and many of the events must be interpreted in that light.
The fact that the Argentines were able to invade and surprise us is a clear indication of the failure of our intelligence services to respond. According to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), if anything was said, someone would get to know about it. Is that the case? The Argentine junta clearly believed that it could keep its cards close to its medallioned chest, and it succeeded. As a nation we have shown during the last few years a chronic inability to hold on to our own secrets, a stupidity matched only by our inability to find out anybody else's secrets. That anyone in a regime such as Argentina could keep from our intelligence services a momentous decision to invade is something that I regard with incredulity.
There was a failure of intelligence. It may not have been of the magnitude of the failures in relation to Pearl Harbour, the Yom Kippur war, the invasion of South Korea or the fall of the Shah, but it stands pretty high in the list of intelligence failures.
If one analyses those failures, some similarities appear. The greatest similarity perhaps is that the fault lies not so much with the intelligence gatherers as with the consumers of intelligence. So many signals were passed to the intelligence services and to those people supposedly superior to them that they could not interpret them. Signals to invade rarely appear in neon lights. The information 858 rarely comes packaged in a coherent recognisable form. It is often contradictory and comes from different directions, and an adversary can try deliberately to mislead. The failure of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Cabinet Committee, the Cabinet, the Prime Minister and her advisers to pick up the many warning signals leaves the Prime Minister much more culpable than this document would have us believe.
Information flowed in but there was a failure of the system to analyse and dissect, to respond and act. I understand that NATO has about 700 indicators to watch for which can result in various stages of alert. That is based on the principle that no aggressor can launch an invasion without taking fundamental preparatory steps which it is the task of intelligence to identify and transmit to the military and political decision takers. That is an activity which we were completely unable to undertake.
Some of those signals have already been mentioned and I shall deal with them briefly. Obviously the 150th anniversary of our retaking the islands was a sign that something was going to happen, as was the junta's desperate economic, political and constitutional crisis—a crisis of its own making. Such crises would almost invariably lead to a diversionary action which, as has happened so often before in world history, takes the form of a diversionary war. There are the warnings in public statements and informed newspaper reports and by bodies such as the semi-official Islas Malvinas Institute, which all pointed to the possibility of military action should negotiations fail.
The list of reports that I have seen differs from that which the Prime Minister quoted from earlier. One could see that if negotiations failed there was a likelihood of a military response. The Government were too clever by half in looking at the statements and wrongly interpreting them as being ancillary to Argentina's diplomatic effort. It is like reading "Mein Kampf' wrongly. The message was there. Argentina was going to invade, it virtually told us time and time again, and we failed to see it coming. That is a chronic failure.
One does not have to be a reader of Spanish newspapers. One can look at the "Latin America Weekly Report" of 12 March 1982. It said:The Argentines are considering a wide range of options for 'unilateral action', according to sources in Buenos Aires, if Britain fails to make concessions. These include initiatives in the United Nations, a break in diplomatic relations and, in the final analysis, an invasion of the islands".Other editions gave equally clear warnings. One can see numerous instances which in isolation may be of no consequence but which together should surely have shown even the dimmest intelligence officer that this was not the normal crisis, the normal huffing and puffing of an Argentine Fascist dictatorship, but that something different was coming.
Not having access to much of Lord Franks' information, I spent an interesting day looking at the public record office files of the 1952 "task force" and the Hope bay incident. That was an incident very much like that of the scrap merchants over 30 years later. I believe, as did the Governor of the Falkland Islands, that that could have been the prelude to an invasion but firm action by Churchill's Government scotched such a possibility, as did action by the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) a few years ago, in 1977.
859 Another obvious signal which Lord Frank dismisses is the Hercules C130 landing at Stanley. He asks why that should have been done when the properties of the runway were known. But I spoke to people on the Falkland Islands and they knew that it was very different—that it was not a diversion by a group of pilots in distress but a dummy run. Senior officers wandered round the airfield and the town. That by itself was not a devastating signal but in conjunction with everything else it was one which the Government should have picked up.
Lord Franks dismisses the maps, two of which I have in my possession. Five hundred maps were left in Government House. They were not forgeries. Perhaps, as Lord Franks said, they were not bought in one go, but surely someone should have noticed that the supply of Falkland Islands maps from official sources was diminishing. We all know where they ended up.
One should also look at the stepping up of diplomatic activity in an attempt to divert attention. The diplomatic activity was an attempt to build up support among several non-aligned nations. Did we spot that that was not merely an attempt at diplomacy but an attempt to justify an invasion that was obviously to follow? We knew that in January the Argentine ambassador was recalled to Buenos Aires, not for discussions with the Foreign Minister but for well-publicised discussions with President Galtieri, and we all know what was on the agenda. Was that noted? There were many warnings from intelligence services, even contained within the Franks report. Did anyone believe that Davidoff was an isolated entrepreneur, acting on his own? No, he was part of the conspiracy. He visited naval headquarters, and certainly he sailed to South Georgia in a Navy ship. So the incident of the scrap merchants was part of the process that unfolded in the months before the invasion.
Then there is the matter of navy manoeuvres. According to Franks, our naval attaché learned about them from reading press reports. There were many factors that were obvious, and I cannot understand how anyone can argue that the Government had no warning.
When one considers the immediate events before the invasion, one sees the signals coming thick and fast. According to paragraph 193, the Argentines were going to intercept HMS Endurance. There was the withdrawal of half a billion dollars from the City. How can one mislay half a billion dollars? Again, Franks is rather dismissive of that. However, there is an organisation called the Economic Intelligence Organisation and Committee which supposedly performs a financial JIC role, and it should have informed the Government that Argentine funds were being withdrawn. That is another signal that was ignored. The Government ignored—not deliberately, but for other reasons—many signals that should have been picked up.
There was guilt in terms of omission. Why did we not pick up signals of movements of men and material in Argentina? Were there unusual procurement purchases? Was there, as I am sure there was, additional signalling between the military? Were there meetings of senior military officers? Did we pick that up? Were there unusual and additional meetings of the junta? Was there additional military traffic near the ports and airfields? Of course there was. Was the information passed on? I very much doubt it.
860 Here we have a catalogue of failure that as yet may not have been exposed, but undoubtedly in the months that lie ahead there will be revalations, either from the United States or from Argentina, that will totally discredit these theses. Once one knocks down the one thesis that the Government did not know about it, or should not have been expected to have known about it, the whole edifice crumbles. This was not a re-run of old crises. There was not an absence of signals: there was an overload of signals. It was a failure of intelligence. It was a failure of institutions. It was a failure in political response. Thank God it was not a military failure.
Few changes are planned. We should not expect too much from the institutional changes, but as one observer, who is an expert on intelligence throughout the world, has written:The use of intelligence depends less on the bureaucracy than on the intellects and inclinations of the authorities above it".The blame lies with the authorities above it, with the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Cabinet advisers, and the Cabinet Committee. They may not be culpable now in the public eye, but I believe that at some stage they certainly will be.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made the theme of his speech the failure of intelligence. Of course, he speaks almost entirely with the benefit of hindsight, which he did not acknowledge. However, he did acknowledge, very modestly, that he did not have available to him information that was available to the Frenks committee. Yet, having made that modest remark, he now alleges, without the evidence to back it up, that the Franks committee got the intelligence aspects of the report entirely wrong. I know which of the two sources I prefer to place reliance upon.
The Franks report does two things, and it was necessary that both of them should be done. The first is that it is a report, not just to Parliament, but to the nation, about a sequence of events in which, alas, many British lives were lost. We owe it to the nation, to all those who went down there, and to the relatives and friends of those who have not returned, to give the fullest explanation of the events that led up to that dreadful tragedy, and we owe them an honest assessment—the best possible—of whether it could have been avoided.
There is no equivocation in the report of those six good men and true. Those who call the report a whitewash and say that the six men were not the right ones to conduct the inquiry, beggar belief. All of them are men of the greatest eminence in their areas and all of them had a perfectly simple mission—to get at the truth and to make the best judgment they could about it. They have done that, and rightly so. Much to everyone's relief, the case has been explained. That is, therefore, a good thing.
The second thing that the report has done is to lay several wild rumours and allegations to rest. I am especially pleased that the annex to the Franks report catalogues some of the worst and wildest rumours, because ministers at the time could not challenge the rumours of incompetence, dishonesty and duplicity that were circulated, especially against Foreign Office staff. All of those lies have been firmly nailed. It has been shown—I am not making a party point—that all those who 861 had been involved in the tortuous business of trying to sort out the Falklands problem during the past 15 years acted honestly, effectively and to the very best of their abilities.
I shall touch on only one aspect of this long and complicated saga where perhaps an examination, which has not yet been heard in the House today, will help. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) is not in his place, because the subject formed a large part of his speech. It is the comparison that is made between the 1977 negotiations and the dispatch of the frigates and the submarine by the then Labour Government and the 1982 negotiations and the alleged and implied failure of the present Government to take the same action.
Earlier in the debate I referred to the paragraph in the report which said that the two events were not similar and that there was no justification for sending a military force at the time. However, the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Devonport implied that, at the very least, a bad decision was taken not to deploy something very shortly afterwards. I hope that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) will touch on that matter tomorrow and answer some of my questions.
The right hon. Member for Devonport, who at the time was Foreign Secretary, went even further. He said that two frigates were despatched to a distance of 1,000 miles over the horizon and out of Argentine range. That was good advice. He said that the nuclear hunter-killer submarine went to the heart of the matter and was given instructions about what to do and rules of engagement. He spelt out those rules. I shall not quibble about the distances. He said that if the Argentines approached the Falkland Islands they would be blown out of the water at a distance of 50 miles. He implied that that would have been a prudent decision for the present Government to take in early March of last year after the breakdown of the talks and after the repudiation by the Argentines of the communiqué from New York.
I ask the House to consider what the position would have been had we sent a submarine at the time—I am not going into the tactics, but the principle—with some rules of engagement. Had those rules of engagement said that it would open fire on an invasion force at 100, 50, 20, or 10 miles is not the point. The point is that once we had committed ourselves to doing that, we would have been the first to take covert and aggressive action.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)
The hon. Gentleman is referring to paragraph 329 of the report, which states:Lord Carrington also told us more generally that, although the situation had become more difficult, he did not believe that the prospects of continuing negotiations at that time was hopeless.The last sentence states:With hindsight he wished he had sought to deploy a nuclear-powered submarine to the area at an earlier stage, but on 5 March it did not seem to him that the situation had changed".If the Government had done that, the position would have been exactly the same as that described by the right hon. Member for Devonport.
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I am not trying to argue with him. I am trying to trace the probable consequences had that taken place. That is the real point, because only one thing came out of the despair 862 and the dreadful position on 3 April—no one could point the finger of aggression at any of us. The aggression was entirely General Galtieri's.
§ Mr. Healey
The world could have pointed the finger of aggression at us in 1939 because we failed to take action in the preceding years that might have prevented the second world war. The point that the hon. Gentleman still has not noted—it was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—is that the Government sent a submarine on 29 March when they did not know that a full-scale invasion would take place. Presumably they believed that the submarine could be useful in relation to South Georgia. I think that General Mates has got his knickers in a twist over this.
§ Mr. Mates
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his incorrect form of address. I am being generous in giving way to distinguished hon. Members, and I hope that I shall not get a rocket for speaking for too long, but I wish to reach the end of what I am trying to put across.
Nuclear submarines can undertake useful roles. No one argues that. Their greatest use stems from the fact that they can remain submerged for long periods, in secret and unknown to a potential enemy. But that is different from sending a nuclear hunter-killer submarine, with rules of engagement which presumably would be carried out, so that the first shots in the war would result in the blowing out of the water of an Argentine ship on its way possibly to invade the Falkland Islands.
I beg hon. Members to get into perspective the sinking of the General Belgrano. By that time British lives had been lost and the Argentines were on the islands, yet there was uproar and it was said that we had over-escalated the matter and that hundreds of people had been killed in exchange for only a handful of British lives. What the Labour Government said that they would do in 1977 would not have been an act subsequent to invasion or the considerable loss of British lives, but the opening shot in a war. There is no alternative with a nuclear submarine. One can no longer fire a shot across the bows, because the shot corrects itself and hits the ship. The nuclear submarine could not have been a warning or a deterrent. It was there to act violently or to do nothing.
Had a submarine, with the rules of engagement which the then Labour Government say they ordered, opened fire on an Argentine ship—however small—and sunk it would we have been able to carry out the brilliant diplomatic manoeuvre that Sir Anthony Parsons achieved that night in New York when he obtained a resolution from the Security Council upon which all of our foreign policy hung for the following months? That would have been out of the question. International opinion would have been outraged on learning that the first event had not been a landing on the Falkland Islands by the Argentines, but the sinking of an Argentine ship by a British nuclear-powered submarine. Those who are trying to argue that this was a sensible way to bring international opinion with us in a struggle against an unreliable and unpredictable aggressor have their facts wrong. That is my main point about today's debate.
Like other hon. Members, I shall now deal with the future. We are faced with Fortress Falklands. There is no choice at the moment. We may have opportunities to amend that as the years go by, but in the meantime we must make sure that it is clear to the Argentines that any 863 attempt at an exercise against our sovereignty of the Falklands or its dependencies will give them a bloody nose. The rest of the world must also know that. I rejoice in the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was so robust about that recently.
I ask the House to take the excellent advice that was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins). Before any firm decisions are taken, we must wait for some of the temporary wounds to heal. Ours are perhaps to our pride that the Argentine invasion should have taken place, theirs are the defeat and the chaos that will exist in that poor country for as long as the junta is in power.
We should wait for a couple of years for the world to put the events in the Falklands into a better perspective so that we can then decide how to proceed in concert with our allies and friends. It was only because we acted in the way that we did throughout the campaign—with complete integrity—that we have those friends, who I am sure will help us in the final analysis.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
The Prime Minister again quoted the conclusions of the Franks report today, but it is now widely accepted if press reports are to be believed that Franks' conclusions are greatly at variance with its own evidence. If that is so, the real question is what the conclusions should be.
The answer to be found in the fundamental political realities that have underpinned the Falklands crisis in the past 17 years is that there have been only two ways out of the Falklands impasse. The central question then is, if the preferred route became blocked, was sufficient effort made to unblock it? Even if it were, was the second option fully and properly adopted, whatever may have been the implications in terms of cost and commitment? The case against the Government and for reflecting what many people regard as the whitewash of Franks' bland exoneration is that careful reading of Franks' own narrative makes the answer to both questions in the negative.
The first of those options was always to encourage the self-sustaining economic development of the islands. The Shackleton report made it quite clear that a precondition for that was some type of negotiated settlement with Argentina. Any serious long-term investment in the islands, especially the exploitation of their main resources—oil and fish—could not be brought about unless there were an end to the continuing political uncertainty. For that, the lease-back solution was the only serious runner.
The only other option was to face up to the continuing military threat that Argentina was bound to pose, which could be met only by a sizeable diversion of military resources, with implications—however regrettable—of a massive and permanent subsidy from the British taxpayer.
It is not surprising that both Labour and Conservative Governments have opted for the former alternative. As we know now, Lord Carrington did so and remained of that view throughout the end of 1979 and 1980. There is a serious political charge that must be levelled at the Government and it is one that the Franks report glosses over complacently. The charge is that the Government backed off from lease-back far too readily and failed to 864 launch a major public education campaign against their critics as they should have done. Having backed off from lease-back and failed to grasp the nettle, they failed also to meet the requirements of the other alternative.
Indeed, as anxiety grew over the mounting confrontation, it was decided to withdraw Endurance. Thus the Government decided simultaneously to continue to negotiate yet to concede nothing, and at the same time to drop their guard. I suggest that that is the source of the muddle and the drift that led ultimately to war.
In the light of what we all know, the responsibility for this calamitous slide cannot be lightly brushed aside as the Prime Minister might like. First, there is the allegedly fearful mauling which it is said the right hon. Lady gave the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at the OD Committee in November 1980, which emasculated his brief and prevented him from going on the important visit that he paid to the Falklands with a clear mandate and firm Government support for a settlement of the sovereignty issue. Had the Minister been given a firm mandate and reasonable terms by the Prime Minister, many islanders have said to friends that they believe that he might have gained even majority endorsement on the Falklands at that time for lease-back. That was one extremely important opportunity for a negotiated political solution that was spoilt.
Secondly, there was ministerial failure to respond to advice which we now know was given clearly by the Foreign Office in the middle of 1981. The Franks report states:the only feasible option was lease-back preceded by an education campaign both in the Falklands and at home".Why was that not done? Why did Lord Carrington, who favoured that option himself, believe that there was no prospect of carrying the lease-back proposal at home? Was that because he knew that if he carried it to the Cabinet it would run straight into the flat opposition of the Prime Minister? A Mr. Ure, the senior Foreign Office official, added that if an education campaign was unacceptable,consideration should be given to preparing fuller contingency plans for the defence and development of the Islands".We must ask again why that was not done either. Was that because the Prime Minister was not prepared to expend any political or military capital on what she then regarded as a marginal issue? We understand that if she had gone for lease-back she would have run straight up against her own party. On the other hand, if she had gone for Fortress Falklands at that stage it would have made a pretty bad dent in her public expenditure cuts. However, neither of those considerations can possibly condone the political failure to choose neither one nor the other, but instead to adopt a high-risk non-policy drift which led to war, and which at that time was predicted to lead to war.
Thirdly, there was no Cabinet or OD Committee reappraisal of this astonishing state of drift for a whole 15 months after the collapse of lease-back in January 1981. That is almost unbelievable for those of us who read about these matters now. Why did that reappraisal not take place? The reason is clear—that the Prime Minster did not want the subject on the agenda and the responsible ministerial chairman knew that it would be a waste of time because it would run straight up against the Prime Minister's opposition.
This is a serious charge. Such an erosion of Cabinet government would not matter if the results were not 865 serious. They were extremely serious. Ever since September 1981, the chiefs of staff had contingency military plans in the event of aggression by Argentina. According to Franks, they were never considered by Ministers at any stage. It is useless for the Prime Minister to write, as has been mentioned several times in the debate, in March 1982,We must make contingency plans",if, at the same time, she runs her Government in a manner that results in contingency plans already made never being considered by Ministers. That is surely the main point.
Franks says:Officials were looking to Ministers to review the outcome of the contingency planning they had done".The failure to accomplish this, with all the enormously serious consequences that flowed from the failure to consider those plans, can only be placed at the door of the one Minister who was directly responsible for the OD Committee—that is, the Prime Minister. For these reasons, I believe that the cause and responsibility for the events that led up to the Falkland conflict derive ultimately from political failures that go far deeper than simply misreading signals in the last month beforehand, serious though that may have been.
Even at that stage, in March 1982, culpable political mistakes were still made. Had they not been made, contrary to the received wisdom of Franks, there is reasonable expectation, although not, as Franks wants, absolute certainty—there never is that in this world—that war would have been averted. One must ask why, in particular, the invasion was brought forward by Argentina when we know now that it was intended for later in the year. Instead of an unprovocative public front to Argentina, combined with the dispatch of a deterrent submarine when the Argentine negotiator, at a crucial point at the beginning of March, was repudiated, which was clearly what was needed, along the lines of what happened in 1977, the politics of the situation this time was handled completely wrongly. We had a submarine—
§ Mr. Meacher
I am sorry; I am not giving way. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman spoke at length on this matter and that we could argue the issue. I have said, however, that I wish to be brief. On this occasion, a submarine was dispatched on 29 March. Not only was that very late, but there was also the provocation that news of it immediately leaked, which must undoubtedly have helped to precipitate an immediate invasion.
The most serious political charge against the Government's handling of the whole episode remains what I think it has always been—that a military triumph cannot in any way offer an escape from a political impasse. With 1,000 dead and £3 billion either spent or committed, the Government will still be forced to adopt one of the options which they should have grasped more readily three years ago. If they had grasped it then, there is reasonable expectation that war could have been averted. It is that which should be the chief lesson of Franks for the nation.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
The Franks report unanimously exonerates Her Majesty's present advisers. The terms of reference, however, authorised the Committee of Privy Councillors to take accountof all such factors in previous years as are relevant.866 Since the acts and omissions of Ministers and, in particular, of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has been subjected to a good deal of extravagant abuse by the Opposition, have been called in question, I should like to make some remarks about some earlier Governments before trying to say something more constructive for the future.
Paragraph 70 of the report states:The Labour Government made clear in 1977 that sovereignty was an issue for negotiation".Of course, that Labour Government was not the only Government to place sovereignty on the negotiating table with Argentina. The difficulty about negotiations on sovereignty is that they are meaningless unless it is presumed that in certain circumstances the sovereign power is prepared to abandon sovereignty. That point was made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who took us back to 1968. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) also took us back to 1968. The right hon. Member for Down, South, made the point that respect for the wishes of the Falkland Islanders was not, and may not be, a sufficient safeguard of British sovereignty in the Falkland Islands and the dependencies and of British interests in the south Atlantic.
I have memories of 1968. I can remember the small hours of 29 March, partly because it was a rare occasion when I was beckoned to sit on the Front Bench—the hour was late—and because the late and loved Goronwy Roberts, who was in the unfortunate position of being put up to explain the unacceptable policy of his masters, repeatedly refused my repeated requests for an assurance that sovereignty would in no way be ceded against the wishes of the Falkland Islanders. At that time the Labour Government were not even willing to say that they would have regard to the wishes of the Falkland Islanders. They would not give that assurance.
The Franks report, in annex F, quotes Hansard and a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who were highly critical of the idea of lease-back. The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) who was recently in the Chamber, was one of those who opposed the lease-back idea. I believe I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman was his party's official spokesman on foreign affairs between 1979 and 1980.
We now come to more recent dates. On 22 January the right hon. Gentleman was questioned in the BBC 2 programme "Saturday Briefing" and said:It has been party policy, expressed publicly and in successive annual conferences and various documents, that in no circumstances would we cede sovereignty to the Argentines while they remained as they are … It is inconceivable that we should do so.If it had been anyone else I should have been surprised to hear those words, but it seems that the right hon. Gentleman is as strange in his statements on sovereignty as he is in his statements on sterling.
I was much moved by the appeal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that we should look forward and learn the lessons for all of us. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said, we are, in a sense, all at fault in this matter. The most important lesson to be learnt is, alas, one that we should have learnt already. Repeatedly, in what Churchill called this terrible 20th century, we have had to learn, at a high cost in blood and treasure, that aggression is deterred, not by words, and not by negotiations, so much as by the certainty of a resolute response. All the 867 impressions given, and all the signals—to use the "in" word, of which I am becoming tired—did not impress upon Argentina that a response to aggression would be resolute and effective.
There were those who said that the Falkland Islands could not be retaken. In that splendid operation, which has redeemed at high cost the mistakes of the past, it was done. Now there are those who say, and some of them are the same people who said that we could not retake the Falklands, that we cannot hold them. Two facts have a bearing on this. One is that until the invasion the Falklands were never a drain upon the public purse of this country. They were never a burden on the taxpayer. They were a net gain in normal times.
Secondly, with regard to the military cost, this repeated use of the phrase "Fortress Falklands" is intended to convey the impression that there is to be an enormous drain on the armed forces of the Crown. However, what is required is up-to-date early warning systems, a modicum of missiles and the troops to operate and protect them, and immediate air access, hitherto not provided because of dereliction by successive Governments who did not follow the recommendation of many hon. Members and of the Shackleton report.
A book has been published in Argentina called "Los Nombres de la Derota," which means "names of defeat". It is said to be wholly based on a long interview with an officer widely assured to be General Leopoldo Galtieri. It says:Perhaps the most important error was not to have considered as probable the real magnitude of the British military reaction.That was the error of Galtieri. In a sense, it was the error of this country as well.
To a degree I agree with those who have said, from different points of view, that the wishes of the islanders are not the paramount consideration. Wishes can waver, and can be made to waver. What should be paramount to a British Government is British interests in the islands, which command Cape Horn and are the gateway to the Antarctic. In this connection, my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) proposed certain possibilities for the security of the South Atlantic region but he freely admitted that these possibilities were not practical politics today.
In 1968, to return to the year that I know so well, some of us were successful in scotching the then Government's manoeuvres to surrender sovereignty. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was Secretary of State for Defence. In reply to a parliamentary question of mine he said:These Islands do not have any contribution to make to our future strategy."—[Official Report, 3 December 1968; Vol. 774, c. 443.]That statement was one of those not lost upon Buenos Aires. Let us suppose that the USSR, or a potential enemy was in possession of these islands or, perhaps with the connivance of a future Argentine Government, could enjoy facilities in these islands. The whole world would see the point and would perceive the folly of such words and of such an approach.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) that we should learn a lesson from what occurred in the Falklands 868 last year. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have given their impressions of the lessons that should be learnt from the Franks report.
When I read the report, I was struck by the parallels and similarities with the diplomatic and international events that preceded the outbreak of previous wars, especially that of 1914–18, or even the Franco-Prussian war. Albeit with hindsight, there appears to have been a dismal inevitability about the Falklands hostilities. The eventual clash of arms appears to be implicit in the unfolding of the events that proceeded it.
The Prime Minister has based her claim that no blame for what happened attaches to her essentially on short-term arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) dealt effectively with that claim. The report concluded thatwe would not be justified in attaching any criticism or blame to the present Government for the Argentine Junta's decision to commit its act of unprovoked aggression in the invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982.But judgment of the Government's responsibility cannot be based on the conduct of affairs during the period immediately preceding the invasion, but must be made over a longer period. The report makes it quite clear that Ministers, officials and persons with special knowledge of and interest in the area all stated that they did not think that the invasion was likely. But according to paragraph 40 of the report, the JIC as far back as 1975, when it prepared a new assessment, stated:a deliberately planned invasion of the Falkland Islands in the near future still seemed unlikely but could not be wholly excluded".From that time, that remained the position. The problem did not go away, and it was not resolved.
Any Government should have known that invasion was always on the cards. Any Government had to act on the basis that that invasion might take place. The question is whether the Government, when they took office in May 1979, behaved in a manner that was likely to minimise the possibility of a war materialising. Since that date, diplomatic representation has suggested to observers that Britain would welcome the opportunity to shed the problem, but was unable to persuade the islanders that they should accept that. That is perfectly clear. The conclusion of intelligent Argentine observers must inevitably have been that the Government were inhibited by the islanders and by hon. Members from following the policy in which they truly believed. They really wished to dispose of the islands.
The Prime Minister recognised that the Argentine junta wanted sovereignty. It was an encouragement to the junta's aspirations that the British Government made no clear statement that they were not prepared in the last analysis to hand over the islands. In that respect, the Government stand condemned.
The question was whether the British Government, if an attempt was made by the junta to resolve the issue by force, would put up any resistance. It is quite clear that all the signals indicated that the British Government were unlikely to resist.
The 1981 Defence Review proposed the withdrawal of HMS Endurance, which is dealt with in paragraph 114 of the report. Lord Carrington wrote to the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Sir J. Nott), urging the retention, but it was rejected. As a 869 result of that rejection, it was quite reasonable for the Argentine junta to conclude that Britain was withdrawing from the area.
§ Mr. Newens
This brings me to a vital point that is not dealt with in the Franks report.
Throughout this period no attempt was made to limit the supply to Argentina of arms that could be used for the invasion of the Falklands. On the contrary, British arms manufacturers vigorously sought contracts. I have been opposed to arms supplies, and hon. Members will have heard me voice my objections on many occasions. For reasons other than objections to the human rights policy of the Argentine Government, one would have thought that the British Government would have stemmed the supply of arms to Argentina had they been concerned about the Falklands issue.
The list of arms supplied to Argentina is devastating—the former aircraft carrier Colossus, six minesweepers, one type 42 frigate, Seacat ship-to-air missiles, 12 Sea Dart ship-to-air missiles, 22 Tiger Cat surface-to-air missiles and so on.
In addition, we supplied components for a variety of military equipment that the Argentines bought from other countries.
During the war, some British Service men were killed by equipment manufactured in this country. The Government bear a heavy responsibility for allowing those arms to be supplied, knowing that they would be used ultimately against British Service men.
The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), while in office, attempted to persuade the head of the Argentine air force to buy arms from this country. I took a strong stand against that, as did many of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Newens
President Carter's decision to ban arms supplies did not lead to any move in Europe to do likewise. Instead there was a rush to take advantage of the opportunities that would thereby arise to gain contracts.
The Prime Minister argued that the sending of one or two ships just before the invasion would have exposed them to an appalling threat, but that threat was fuelled by the supply of arms from this country. The Government must bear the full responsibility for that.
Even more condemnatory of the Government is the fact that since the end of hostilities they have refused to take effective action to prevent the supply of arms and components to Argentina. At present, six frigates being 870 built by Blo'hm and Voss in Hamburg have been supplied with Rolls-Royce engines, Hawker Siddeley engine room controls and David Brown gear components, all from this country. In addition, I understand that only last week the Dutch radar firm was putting pressure on British components suppliers to speed up that supply so that those warships could be sent to Argentina in February.
If the Government are not to be condemned, why have they not changed that policy, even at this late stage? The Italian firm of Aermachi supplies jet trainers with British engines. A number of my hon. Friends have already mentioned the Exocet missiles, whose plastic nose cone is manufactured by British Aerodynamics, and whose optical equipment—which enables it to skim the surface of the sea—and radar equipment have been supplied by subsidiaries of the British-based firm of Philips.
The Government, who maintain that supply of arms and refuse to cut it off, cannot divest themselves of the responsibility for what occurred previously or what may occur in the future. The supply of arms to Third world countries, dictatorships and countries with appalling human rights records is criminal. In fact, we are sowing dragon's teeth which will produce a harvest of death in many countries, and we should not be surprised if we reap some of that harvest, as we did in the Falklands.
The Government's attitude to the policies pursued by Argentina never gave the slightest sign that they condemned the appalling infringement of human rights perpetrated by Argentina, nor had they any reservations about its undemocratic character. In fact, the Government were prepared to join Argentina in giving a clean bill of health to the E1 Salvador elections at the behest of President Reagan. The Government have never shown any sensitivity about unprovoked aggression in the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia. They supplied arms, and are continuing to do so, to Indonesia. They never showed any sensitivity about the plight of the islanders in Diego Garcia.
We had to take a firm stand against the aggression committed against the people in the Falklands. I have never made any bones about that, despite my views. However, the facts that I have endeavoured to outline, and those that my hon. Friends have marshalled, far from exonerating the Prime Minister and the Government from responsibility for the events that led to the Falklands war, make it clear that that war arose out of the policies that they pursued. What is worse is that the Government are still permitting that supply of arms and by adopting a Fortress Falklands policy they have clearly not yet learnt the lessons that they should have learnt.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Major.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.