§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Donald Thompson.]12.28 pm
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
Two years ago this month the guns stopped firing in the south Atlantic. Since then, depressingly little progress has been made in patching up our quarrel with Argentina. I therefore welcome this opportunity to debate in the House of Commons Britain's foreign policy for the south Atlantic and to put forward ideas, which I believe will find support in all parties, on what action the Government should take.
One major event has taken place during those two years. It is a most ingenuous paradox that the invasion of the Falkland Islands, which was designed to buttress the military regime in Buenos Aires at short notice, in the event led to its unexpected and welcome downfall. Today, Argentina is blessed with one of the most liberal Governments in South America. It follows that hon. Members on both sides of the House have a natural interest in welcoming and supporting the return to democracy in Argentina.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, following our visit to the Falkland Islands early in January 1983, reported to the House a year ago in these words:Your Committee do not believe that present policy, however necessary it may be in the short term, offers a stable future for the Islands. Not only are its material and political costs burdensome, but the policy itself is reactive and inflexible, and carries with it unfortunate implications for the wider conduct of foreign policy both now and for the future.The passage of time has made the shortcomings of the present policy more apparent. It runs the danger of delivering the initiative to Argentina. Starting from a position of moral and military strength, in some ways we now find ourselves on the defensive. Sir Anthony Parsons was recently reported as saying:I think the international community will be waiting to see how much willingness we are showing to improve the situation. I do not think that means people are necessarily expecting us to make concessions which we would regard as being against our principles and interests. I think that what the international community, which is sympathetic to us, would like to see, would be progress towards normalisation of our relations with Argentina.That is the theme of my brief comments.
It is a fact that every year this topic will come before the General Assembly. It is important that the number of countries supporting us does not start rapidly diminishing. I believe that our friends and allies want seriously to see whether we are behaving as we have traditionally in the past when we have had disputes with other countries, or whether we are suddenly and curiously becoming intransigent.
During the crisis the European Community was helpful, although some countries, particularly Italy, had close political ties with Argentina. I am told that even France, last time the subject came before the General Assembly, at one stage was seriously thinking of not supporting us. One must have regard to the position of the United States. I gather that it is still extremely unpopular in Argentina; it will wish to patch up relationships with that country and others in South America. No doubt it will say to the British Government that it hopes they will play their part in patching up their quarrel.
While I am grateful for the help given by the protecting powers, direct talks between diplomats from the United 589 Kingdom and Argentina are long overdue. That view has been supported in an early-day motion, which I tabled, by over 30 of my hon. Friends.
Sir Anthony Parsons was also reported as saying:In my United Nations experience, intermediaries ultimately develop a momentum of their own, and become part of the problem.The impression has been given in this country and abroad that we are one beat behind the band. Opinion polls have shown regularly for over a year that Government policy is out of step with public attitudes. I am sure that the Foreign Office will have the information to back up that statement. In January 1983, The Daily Telegraph reported a Gallup poll which showed that 63 per cent. of Conservatives felt that attempts should be made to reach agreement with Argentina. The public suspect that there is a way forward, but wonder whether there is a will.
For two years a number of commercial and industrial concerns which had previously traded successfully with Argentina have suffered and jobs in this country have been lost as a result. Meanwhile, other countries have been able to take advantage of our weak position in that country. My hon. Friend the Minister will be in a better position than I to report on the huge potential market for British goods in Argentina and in South America generally as other South American countries tend to take their cue from their important and powerful neighbour.
I wish to deal briefly with what is becoming a hobby horse for me — the defence aspects of Fortress Falklands. Defence correspondents suggest that about five destroyers or frigates are regularly deployed around the Falkland Islands. We send the latest and best of the approximately 55 that we now have, to be reduced to about 50 in the next few years. Buffeted by the Atlantic gales on the 8,000-mile journey south, on patrol, and on the homeward journey, the vessels have to spend some time in dock on their return. Meanwhile, Admiral Sir William Stavely, Navy Commander-in-Chief, Channel and Eastern Atlantic, complains that he has only half the ships needed to cover his NATO responsibilities, and BAOR brigades go on exercises in Germany without their sapper squadrons, which are doing a magnificent job in the Falklands. There are also strains on the Royal Air Force, which has coped brilliantly with the problem of the air bridge, and a new base is being built on the Ascension Islands to help with the problem.
Throughout the past two decades there has been a steady withdrawal by defence forces to north-west Europe and the north Atlantic. I fear that if we are not careful Britain's defence policy will become seriously distorted. For all too long in the post-war period the politicians have given the forces too many commitments and too few troops. Let us make sure that we do not make the same mistake in the 1980s and the 1990s.
That historical withdrawal took place partly for economic reasons and took into account our international industrial performance. Yet Fortress Falklands has opened up a vast new area of public expenditure at a time when restraint and cuts have been the order of the day. The House of Commons Library research department tells me that this financial year every taxpayer in Britain is paying about £40 for Fortress Falklands. That is an expensive way to carry out our obligations to some 350 families and I cannot help thinking that in due course my right hon. 590 Friend the Chancellor, or some future Chancellor, will wish to move in on that obvious growth area of public expenditure.
There are three clear stages before us. First, we must restore diplomatic and commercial links with Argentina without further delay. That would be in Britain's interest. It would be in the interests of the Falkland Islanders, as it would reduce tension and assist development. It would also be in the interests of President Alfonsin, who needs to cut his defence budget so as to make more money available for health and welfare and to pay off his country's vast debts.
When that stage has been reached, we shall need a new communications agreement between the Falkland Islands and Argentina, as Lord Shackleton made clear in his two admirable economic studies. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs stated:The present situation poses other problems for the population of the Falkland Islands themselves: they are cut off from air links with the South American mainland, deprived of the local educational, health and communications services previously available to them, and dependent for all these, and for the continuation of their normal economic activities, on an expensive, complex and time-consuming life-line over 8,000 miles of ocean to the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
May I, as one who has the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman, say that those who have followed this subject seriously think it is a crying shame that, after all the work he did and the integrity that he displayed, the hon. Gentleman was not re-appointed to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
§ Mr. Townsend
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment.
Finally, although probably not until the 1990s, there will have to be moves towards fruitful negotiations between Britain, the Falkland Islands and Argentina so that a just, honourable, lasting and peaceful solution to the problems of the south Atlantic can be found.
The previous Select Committee put forward various long-term options, and I suspect that the present Select Committee will do the same when it reports to the House of Commons in a few weeks' time. The present position is artificial. Undoubtedly, and rightly, the House of Commons will always insist on protecting the British way of life of the islanders.
My hon. Friend will know that the South Atlantic Council, which embraces all political parties, and includes business men, academics, former diplomats and churchmen, is determined to play its part in working towards a peaceful solution. To this end, on two occasions, we have had talks in the United States with members of the Argentine Council for International Relations. On the most recent occasion, in April, we welcomed two Argentine Congressmen to our deliberations. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and I discussed in detail with them the possible moves that might be made by both sides to get round the present impasse. It is incredible that, although President Alfonsin has been in power for six months, the Foreign Office has still not been able to arrange a visit to the Argentine war graves on the Falkland Islands under the sponsorship of the Red Cross. I hope, too, that it will be made easier far Argentine fishermen to fish their traditional fishing grounds inside the protection zone.
It has been suggested to the Argentines that they should declare, first that they will not use force again and, 591 secondly, that there is now an official end to the hostilities. On the second point, the Argentines are inclined to remind us that the United Kingdom did not sign a unilateral cessation of hostilities after Suez in 1956. The United Kingdom adhered to a United Nations pronouncement.
On the former point, the President and Dr. Caputo have on a number of occasions made statements on the lines that might have been expected. For example, according to The Daily Telegraph, during his visit to Venezuela, Dr. Caputo said:We commit ourselves formally before the international community not to use force except of a dissuasive or defensive character".Again, he was quoted in a Chilean publication as saying that Argentinashall not take initiatives in the sense of using force to recover the Malvinas islands".During a visit to Mexico, Dr. Caputo said that Argentinashall try to make her sovereignty over the Malvinas effective by diplomatic means, not by force".What more could one expect him to say?
During the week beginning 25 June I hope to be in Buenos Aires with the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and Lord Kennet as part of a delegation from the South Atlantic Council. Our hosts will be the non-governmental Argentine Council for International Relations, which has been most helpful. We want to meet as wide a spectrum of public opinion, within and outside the Government, as possible. We hope that a goodwill fact-finding visit by parliamentarians at that time will assist the discussions being carried out through the protecting powers. We look to the future rather than to the past.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will be a little more forthcoming than have previous Foreign Office Ministers about the present state of the discussions. Of course there are continual comments in some detail in the papers, but the House is worried at the apparent lack of progress. When does he feel it will be possible for British diplomats to be able to talk direct to Argentine diplomats, rather than through Brazilian or Swiss diplomats? Surely he agrees with the reported remarks of Dr. Caputo thatthe important thing is to get around the table".It is clear that our diplomats are more than capable of solving the problem of what is on the agenda. The House is anxious to learn of agricultural and economic progress in the Falkland Islands. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs advanced several proposals on constitutional reform. I understand, at least from the press, that movement has been extremely slow. Why?
I was surprised to read in The Observer a quotation of David Taylor, the new and able chief executive of the Falkland Islands Government, who said:I cannot say that I have any clear vision of what this place will be like in 10 years' time.Above all, I believe that the House and the country will want to hear how and when we shall restore diplomatic and commercial links with a country with which we had extremely cordial relations for more than 100 years.
I believe that this is a period of opportunity. The present time is propitious for normalising relations, and the Government of President Alfonsin is well supported throughout the country. The military is discredited—many of its former serving officers are in prison awaiting 592 trial. Of course there could be substantial areas for disagreement, but let us have courage, offer hope and end this disastrous trip into deadlock.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
It is strange for me to be here on a Friday. In the 10 years during which I have been a Member of Parliament, I cannot recall being here more than three or four times on a Friday.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. It is rather unexpected, as it has come about because of previous business collapsing.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on his initiative and courage in raising this matter. It is two years since the Argentine invasion and the British response to it. Two years is a long time in politics. I vividly recall and shall never forget the Saturday morning debate immediately after Argentina's invasion. The House assumed an exited response. Although the Government's action was greatly supported, the House was not at its rational best. I had just about completed an academic paper for a conference on the role of the legislature in foreign policy and defence decision making. Before the paper was typed, my conclusions were that the legislature should play a much more significant role in foreign policy making, defence decision making, the cessation of hostilities, the starting of conflicts and ratifying the treaty afterwards.
After the Saturday morning debate, I telephoned my secretary and told her not to type any more because I was changing my conclusions. Having seen the House that morning, I felt that a legislature, in the immediate aftermath of an event such as the invasion of the Falklands, was not the best body to make a rational decision. I was highly sceptical about sending the task force. I opposed it being sent, not on pacifist or neutralist grounds or because I regarded the Argentine action as legitimate. That action was repugnant and illegal. It is ironic that those who perpetrated the invasion are paying a heavy price for their illegal action. The trouble is that more than 1,000 people are lying dead in the sea or on the Falkland Islands, having paid the heaviest price for General Galtieri and his junta's decision.
My scepticism about the sending of the task force was based on an analysis of the military dimension and a consideration of the forces available to us. I realised that our naval forces had been run down and that during the past 20 years we had concentrated our defence effort on Europe and NATO and had abandoned our out-of-area commitment to police the world. When I saw the forces available to the Argentines, I came to the reluctant conclusion that the consequence of meeting violence with the threat of violence could have been a complete disaster for the British armed forces. Although we were humiliated when our tripwire philosophy patently failed, the consequences of military failure—we could have failed—would have rendered that initial humiliation almost trivial in comparison.
Thanks to good fortune and to the great qualities of our armed forces—good luck played a great part in it—we survived and achieved our objectives with, in terms of past battles, limited loss of life. That sounds callous, but if one examines wars of the past and foresees wars of the future, the loss of life in the Falklands was limited—although that is no consolation to the families of the 260 British servicemen who died. We were exceedingly fortunate.
593 Although I was nowhere near the Falklands on that occasion—I visited it subsequently with a parliamentary delegation—that experience scarred me. I do not want our forces to be engaged in such a venture two, five 10 or 20 years from now, because next time we may not be so fortunate. I am privileged to be a member of the Select Committee on Defence, which is just completing its third inquiry into the Falklands. The first was on the relationship between the media and the Ministry of Defence; the second was on the defence of the Falklands; and the third inquiry considers the lessons to be learnt by our armed forces from that war. My conclusion is that we were lucky to get away with it and I do not want our troops to be put in such a position again.
The Committee has analysed the lessons of the war and tried to capitalise on the experience gained, and the Argentines have been doing likewise. Although President Alfonsin has significantly cut defence expenditure, and although the military is rightly in disgrace and believed to be completely incompetent, the Argentines have nevertheless completed an inquiry into the war. They have learnt their lesson and have paid a heavy price for their foolishness.
Although Argentine defence expenditure has been cut, much of the equipment lost in the Falklands war has been replaced. I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Defence immediately after the Saturday morning debate telling him that, although he might not know it, I had just returned from the Dassault factory in Merignac and had seen 12 super Etendard aircraft with Argentine flags on their sides ready for delivery. Thankfully, those aircraft were not delivered. Had they been, most of out navy would be at the bottom of the south Atlantic. That was the difference between magnificent victory and total humiliation. The Argentines have learnt the lessons; they have rearmed to a certain extent, and the recipe for a conflict five or 10 years' hence is apparent for all to see.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend will recall that when the delegation was turned back with a great fanfare of trumpets on the instructions of President Mitterrand, it returned to the factory at Bourges and made a seven-hour telephone call to the engineer at Bahia Blanca, whose name was Mr. Hervé Colin, giving him instructions on how to marry a surface-to-surface Exocet to the wing of an aircraft. The French arms manufacturers perceived where their long-term interest lay, and it was not with us.
§ Mr. George
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. However, while the French are well known for their arms exports—although they have been less successful recently than in the past —the co-operation that the French gave to the United Kingdom during the Falklands conflict has not been well publicised and rightly so. We should not kick the French over their actions—quite the reverse. President Mitterrand ensured that the arming of the Exocets was not done officially. It was done unofficially. We should pay tribute to what the French did, but some of it is best left unsaid.
It is my scarring experience and my worry every day that our navy would end up at the bottom of the sea that has coloured my analysis of the position in the south Atlantic. Like the hon. Member for Bexleyheath, I was privileged to go to a seminar a couple of months ago organised by the university of Maryland. It was not an 594 official meeting, and we did not seek permission from anyone to attend, but we had interesting discussions over three long days with Argentine parliamentarians.
It was obvious that there is a great difference between our respective Governments, and between ourselves and them. We were on the British side in no frame of mind to say to them that what they had failed to secure by the sword, if they would wait a little while they could secure by the pen. We put it to them clearly, and left them with on illusion, that if they wished to proceed, it should be only by patience and negotiation.
The Argentines were exceedingly patient over many decades in negotiation. I am not putting their case for them, but if we do not give President Alfonsin the possibility of genuine negotiation, we shall have a re-run of the inevitability in Argentine politics. I hope that that has been broken, but we may again see the military, who are sulking and skulking in corners, return, if the Argentine economy continues to deteriorate. Their excuse will be that the democratic Government had done nothing to secure the position of the Falklands. The military will be back in office and we shall have son of Galtieri or grandson of Galtieri. The consequences could be disastrous.
Perhaps not immediately, but soon, there should be a move towards negotiations. We still have strong and vivid memories, and the British public would not countenance any British Government in the immediate future seeking what might be construed by the The Sun or some other rag as a sell-out. Any Government, even if they were willing to negotiate, should be wary of doing so under the present circumstances. However, the Government are not willing to negotiate genuinely.
It is obvious from a number of public opinion polls commissioned over the past 12 months, that the public realise that things have changed. There is a greater willingness to enter into a dialogue with a democratically elected Argentine Government. Few British people would want to negotiate with an Argentine dictatorship. The Labour party policy on the Falklands and Argentine before the last general election made it clear that there should be no negotiations with an authoritarian Government.
The Government of President Alfonsin is different. They are a democratic Government struggling to eliminate the stranglehold of the military in Argentine political, social and economic life. The British Government would be unwise to isolate that man and his Government, thereby giving the military a chance of a comeback. People should realise that we should never sell the Falkland islanders down the river. That would be unwise and immoral. But I hope that we shall not fail to recognise that, while the wishes of a handful of islanders are important, they should not be paramount. Our interests are important as well as theirs. We should try to secure a solution that would be in the interests of the British public, the Falkland islanders and—dare I say it?—the Argentine population.
Some might misconstrue those words as a sell-out. I would not argue for a sell-out. In our discussions at the university of Maryland we unofficially explored where negotiations within certain parameters might lead at some stage in the future. Some constitutional opportunities one would dismiss completely but there are some parameters within which future negotiations could be concentrated. We need what in military terms is known as a window of opportunity. That happens rarely. It is like the eclipse of the sun. It happens at certain times, the difference is it is 595 unpredictable. When that window of opportunity is created, I hope that there will be sufficient co-operation between the British and the Argentine Governments and between the British and the Argentine public to be able to capitalise upon that opportunity. That means that there must be an incremental and patient approach. It means first developing cultural and sporting contacts and the gradual exchange of diplomatic officials. It means that unofficial meetings will have to take place and a gentle process of resuming what has for much of the time in the past been a good relationship with the Argentine republic.
That better feeling or better ethos of a relationship will have to be built upon slowly. When the right opportunity emerges, negotiations may be possible. They will not be dramatic. They will not come this week, next week or next month, but I hope that they will come in the not-too-distant future. The British Government must realise that there are many arguments against the maintenance of existing policy. We pay a heavy price in diplomatic terms. Our ally the United States has paid a heavy price in relation to its own Latin American policy. We are paying a heavy price in terms of our defence policy. Why should we have much of our Navy deployed in the south Atlantic when the principal threat to the United Kingdom is not there but in the north Atlantic. We pay a heavy price economically and domestically. The arguments against a perpetuation of the fortress Falkland policy are overwhelming.
Therefore, I hope that this Government, or the next Government, will not set their face against negotiations with Argentina but instead ask how we can proceed to negotiate. My solution—it is not an easy one—hovers around a lease-back arrangement. There could be joint titular sovereignty for Argentina for a long period, subject to negotiation. We would argue for 99 years, they would argue for five years and perhaps we could settle on 40 years. I am not putting that forward as a solid proposal but that is the sort of proposal that could be contemplated in the future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on his speech. I hope that the words of those who argue as we do are not misinterpreted. They are meant to be in the best interests of the Falkland islanders, who cannot gain from having their security protected by thousands of soldiers. A defence policy is more than the counting of soldiers and warheads. It is a combination of foreign and defence policy — what one might call a national security policy. Wise diplomacy can ensure that the security of the islands is guaranteed without recourse to the Army, the Air Force or the Navy, which ought to be elsewhere.
Diplomatic skills remain, on both sides, and I am sure that at some time in the future the window of opportunity will appear. When it does, I hope that we have the courage and intelligence to capitalise upon it and create genuine security in the Falkland Islands and south Atlantic.
War is a disaster for all concerned. I do not want British forces to be involved in another war in the south Atlantic, because that might result in far more than 260 casualties.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
The House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for choosing this vital subject.
596 When one day, now remote, the complete and unexpurgated political history of the prolonged Anglo-Argentine crisis and eventual conflict over the Falkland Islands is related—it will certainly not be anticipated with eagerness by all who were involved in that saga—that historian would be as justified in entitling his work "The Unreal War" as Churchill was in describing the Second World War as "the unnecessary war".
Over the entire affair, until harsh and cruel reality manifested itself, there hung an atmosphere of unreality that has still not fully dispersed. At that time it was difficult to believe that the unthinkable was happening; that the Royal Navy was experiencing its first major battle since 1945, and was re-learning very painfully and valiantly some very old lessons; and that on land, sea and air, war was actually taking place 8,000 miles from these shores, in which personal friends and relatives were engaged and being sorely tested. Behind the gung-ho patriotism—sometimes carried to excess by some of the popular press—there lay a strange and unforgettable admixture of an intense and serious national determination to win, coupled with unhappiness that it was happening at all. Looking again at the video recordings of the conflict and re-reading the debates in the House and the truly excellent account by Mr. Simon Jenkins and Mr. Max Hastings in "The Battle for the Falklands" is in itself a strange and salutary experience. Did it really happen? It is there on film, on paper and in the records. But did it really happen?
The fact is, of course, that it did happen. Even if it was, as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) emphasised, like Waterloo, "a damned close-run thing", we won, although when one meets the widows and children of those who died it makes one ponder again upon the nature of victory. The conflict itself was a triumph of political leadership in Britain and was a military epic which engrossed and astonished world opinion. But although the full story, from both sides, cannot yet be related, the time has surely come for a sober reassessment in Argentina and in Britain of that conflict, its antecedents, and the situation that we now confront.
The odious military junta, the butchers of their own countrymen and children, have fallen. For the time being the Argentine military is humiliated and reviled. In President Alfonsin we have a man who was one of that relative handful of brave Argentines who publicly denounced the invasion of the Falklands — which required real courage, and not only political courage.
In that stand he was joined by the former Foreign Minister Oscar Camilion, the present Argentine ambassador to the United States and the then head of the west European desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They were all heard with the same impatience and scorn with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, now the Secretary of State for Transport, was heard in the House on that deadly day, 2 December 1980, when he was excoriated by official Labour and Liberal spokesmen and some Conservative Members when, among other things, he spelt out the possible option of lease-back for the islands. It made a great deal of sense at the time, but when my right hon. Friend said in private at a meeting that a failure to settle would result in war, no one believed him. He left the Foreign Office nine months later on promotion to the Treasury. Camilion was deposed 597 as Foreign Minister at Buenos Aires and we were on a slither to a war that was unnecessary and tragic, and whose cost in lives and treasure is literally incalculable.
§ Mr. Dalyell
No one imagined that a British Prime Minister would send the battle fleet as a result.
§ Mr. Rhodes James
Looking back, and with all the wisdom of hindsight, I have no doubt that, notwithstanding the debacle of 2 December 1980, we should have stuck with the lease-back option. For one thing, it might have prevented the arrival of Galtieri, the satanic Costa Mendez and all that, and given heart to the responsible elements in Argentine politics and its Foreign Ministry.
The simple fact is that we lost our political nerve and dropped the best opportunity we had for a sensible settlement. The cruel madness of the Galtieri regime in invading cannot entirely mitigate our responsibility. We should have persevered with lease-back. All that is history, although recent history. The fact that the war, however unhappily and unnecessarily, did take place, is the cardinal political reality. Lease-back today is as unreal in British political terms as is the abandonment of the claim to the islands by Argentina. Neither Government could survive politically if either or both followed such a course. But dark forces in Argentina are watching the democratic experiment of Alfonsin with eagerness to pounce, and it is in British and western interests that that experiment succeeds. Re-equipment of the Argentine armed forces is under way. If we have learnt a great deal from the conflict, so have they. The resumption of the war for the islands is not immediate, but in my judgment it is inevitable one day unless two countries and Governments, which now have so much in common, move together.
Sovereignty of the islands is now impossible as a subject for discussion, let alone negotiation. The Argentines, whatever they may say in public, know that very well. They also know that the conflict left remarkably few scars between the nations. Although wars usually leave long-standing rancour, especially with the defeated, it should be noted that this war did not. The Argentines treated the islanders badly, but not cruelly. Their worst humanitarian crime was to scatter mines indiscriminately once they knew that they would be defeated. The almost suicidal courage of the pilots of the Argentine air force salvaged at least some national pride from the abject performances of their navy and army. There is real and sincere praise in Argentina for the professional skill, valour and humanity of the British armed forces and medical staffs.
Argentines are in a similar psychological condition to the Germans in 1945. The nightmare of brutality, murder, military despotism and civil war is over, and it was so ghastly that they also have a sense of unreality that it ever happened. As one of the victims and real heroes of the Argentine resistance, Jacobo Timerman, has recently written:Like the Germany of 1945, the Argentina of 1984 asks itself about guilt: Who should be punished? And it asks itself about causes: Where was God?Above all, there is real gratitude in Argentina for the indisputable fact that their defeat in the Falklands conflict brought down a terrible regime, and led to democracy. It is a fragile plant in that soil, and one which we should nurture and assist, building upon an infinitely greater respect and goodwill than we have ever had before in Argentina or South America.
598 Thus, out of the unreal war, something strong and durable could be created. This requires on both sides real statesmanship and imagination. The Prime Minister's congratulatory letter to President Alfonsin—however ill-recognised publicly by that Government — and our support of a relaxed view of Argentina's formidable external debt problems have been noted and appreciated, and private contacts at all levels have been discreet and positive. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has referred to some in which he was involved, and I have been involved in others.
Thus, we have the basic elements for the renewal of full diplomatic relations, but whose first steps—they will be large ones—on the Argentine side must be a firm and categorical assurance of the end of military tension, deliberate harassment and vindictive pettiness, not least in public statements and posturings that are foolish and hurtful; postive assistance in the clearance of the minefields, and a courageous acceptance, with whatever reservations, of the status quo in the islands.
For our part, we must respond with the hand, if not of friendship — it is too soon to do that — at least of understanding. In spite of the arrival of a democratic: Government in Argentina, it remains a South American and international pariah. It feels this acutely, and we are in the best position to assist Argentina to return to the comity of nations with respect and honour. None of this will be easy. We cannot pass an act of oblivion on what has occurred, nor should we, but we are dealing with a new Argentine government, not the old one.
Above all, what is required is a willingness on both sides to agree that the finest memorial to those who served and suffered in the war over the Falklands would be a lasting and understanding peace between our countries, whose principal and immediate beneficiaries would he the Falkland islanders.
Let us open a new chapter while we have the opportunity before another and uglier one may be opened by others. To quote Timerman again:The whole country seems to be the antithesis of George Orwell's 1984. Debate is intense and open. Pluralism explodes into a broad spectrum of ideas and positions … Everyone is amazed … After half a century of militarism, a great democratic possibility has opened up.There is no harm at all in repeating one of Winston Churchill's favourite quotations:Agree with thine adversary quickly whilst thou art in the way with him.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
In recent weeks I have been invited on three occasions to the county of Kent to speak on the subject of the Falklands, once to the south Thanet constituency Labour party, once to the Royal Tunbridge Wells constituency Labour party and once to the political school of my sponsoring trade union, the National Union of Railwaymen, at Frant.
On each occasion I said to them what I repeat now, which is that on this subject—indeed, on some others too—I have nothing but respect for the guts, courage, integrity and application of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). In other words, I say nothing here on this subject that I do not say to my party and trade union.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), the author of a distinguished book on Albert and of a great book on Lord 599 Roseberry, whose son, the late Earl of Roseberry, was kind to me as a young hon. Member, whose grandson is my constituent and friend and whose great granddaughter's wedding I shall be attending on 23 June.
The hon. Member for Cambridge and I part company on some important matters in relation to the Falklands, but I cannot emphasise enough what he said when he turned to those dark forces, for the truth is that President Alfonsin has not been able to stop the level of military spending. Is it not a fact that they have spare parts for the Skyhawks; that they have access, heaven help us, to American Sidewinders; and that they have Otomelara mines, those awful mines which can be activated from 30,000 feet? It is certain that they have Meko 360 and Meko 140 frigates powered by Rolls-Royce engines, with David Brown gearboxes and Decca navigational equipment, all made by us. These are formidable weapons. We also know that they have German submarines built by Blohm and Voss. They have two of those, with possibly six under licence in Buenos Aires yards. When, therefore, the hon. Member for Cambridge said that time was not on our side, he could not have been more correct.
The Minister will have my ineradicable respect, whatever else may happen between us, for what he did from the fourth Bench back on Saturday 3 April 1982 when, courageously, he spoke his mind in the most difficult of all circumstances. I wonder where now are some of those who barracked him on that occasion?
I ask that because those of us who have remained with this subject were not among those who shouted on that occasion. Neither the hon. Member for Cambridge nor the hon. Member for Bexleyheath shouted.
It is worth recalling that many of those who were the most strident in their criticism—and who took part in Parliament, as the Prime Minister is always telling us, in despatching the task force—have gone to other political pastures.
It is interesting to note that those whose interest has remained have reached a certain common ground, though I would not put it higher than that.
I begin with two questions relating to books which have recently been published. I do so because the Falklands has become a chronicle of deception which has besmirched the name of our country. If, in this debate, we are talking about the future, let us be clear that until we are honest with ourselves about the past, we shall not be able, as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath said, to concentrate our minds on looking to the future.
Bluntly, there is no chance of forcing the Prime Minister to go down the road that the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and I would wish her to go down, and start negotiating, unless, by an exhumation of the past, she is forced to do so. She has got to be forced to do what has to be done to secure a safe future for the Falkland islanders, a less expensive future for the British taxpayer and, above all, peace.
My first question is specific. It relates to a biography of the Prime Minister that has been published by the reputable London publishing house of Hamish Hamilton. The author is Bruce Arnold. On page 72 he says:Truth wrestled with fact, in that 'Nationwide' exchange on May 24th, and truth triumphed. Margaret Thatcher told a lie. Just one. But a lie, nonetheless, visible, inescapable, related to an issue which should have been part of the campaign, but had been hardly mentioned".600 What will the Prime Minister do about that? Hamish Hamilton has libel lawyers, and I cannot imagine that that publishing house would have allowed that to go into print under its imprimatur unless it had believed it to be true. The issue is the veracity of the Head of Government, and that is an important matter for the House so long as she occupies No. 10 Downing street. The truthfulness of a British Prime Minister, as long as she is there, is a matter of consuming importance to every Member of the House.
I tried to raise the matter with the Leader of the House. He said that he would refer the query to No. 10 Downing street sometime after the summit. There should be a statement about what action will be taken. I understand why Prime Ministers are unwilling to become embroiled in the courts, but when there is a direct accusation of lying, it cannot just be left. Something must be done. At least an apology should be asked for if the Prime Minister does not wish to go to court.
The second book to which I refer is published by the publishing house, no less reputable, of Macmillian. The book is by Michael Cockerell, Peter Hennessy and David Walker. It is called "Sources close to the Prime Minister requires some action. On page 182, the authors write:When she finished reading the Franks Report, the Prime Minister was greatly relieved at its conclusion. She wanted to ensure that these would be what the press and broadcasters stressed. Mrs. Thatcher decided that no embargoed copies of the report should be issued in advance to the press or journalists. The ban she had imposed over the Falklands honours list would stay in force. Instead, the report would be issued at 3.30 p.m. on 18 January, at the same time as Mrs. Thatcher unveiled it in the House of Commons. And Mr. Ingham was encouraged to arrange a special meeting for the Lobby correspondents at 2.45 at which he planned 'to point out the important paragraphs in the document'.There is a great deal more but I do not want to abuse the time of the House by reading the book. I shall, however, turn to page 186, which says:Three weeks after the Prime Minister and her press secretary had achieved their considerable presentational success with the Franks Report they decided to restore the embargo system. In the run up to the general election, the government wanted to re-establish the normal cosy relationship with the Lobby correspondents and to ensure maximum publicity for White Papers and ministerial statemens. All such material would be carefully prepared with a single purpose in minda second term of office.It is stated on page 187:Mrs. Thatcher's office requested the BBC to assign Mr. Brian Hanrahan to cover her general election tour. The BBC declined and sent Mr. Nicholas Witchell, who had been with her in the Falklands, instead. Hanrahan was sent to cover Mr. Foot's tour.Some comment is required on that, particularly in view of the statement in paragraph 152 of the Franks committee report, in a part of the report that is not often looked at by those who did not have time to read it properly when it was published:On 3 March, the British Ambassador in Buenos Aires had reported further comment in the Argentine press on the unilateral communiqué — (see paragraph 139). When the Prime Minister saw this telegram, she wrote on it, 'we must make contingency plans'.In answer to oral question No. 4 on 12 May 1983, which was not an open question, but was specifically about the Falkland Islands, the Prime Minister said that she did not know about the Falklands invasion before it came out of the blue on Wednesday 31 March. How could the right hon. Lady say that? The issue is the veracity of the Head of Government. Just as this has become a topical issue in another context that I shall not stray on to, it is very 601 important, as I said to the Leader of the House at business questions, that a statement is made soon about the truthfulness of the head of Government. I leave it at that, because there are specific matters to be raised.
§ Mr. Dalyell
All of us are accountable for what we say in public. This is an interesting and legitimate question, because politicians who tell untruths should face the music—even more so when the occupant of No. 10 Downing street is concerned. There may be explanations, but we are not doing our jobs properly as members of the House of Commons unless we extract those explanations. I hope that I do so in courteous terms.
I reply thus to the hon. Gentleman. If truthfulness is not to be the standard below which Heads of Government do not fall, does that not do great injury to democracy? If I were untruthful as a Member of Parliament, it would be pompous to suggest that that was an injury to democracy. If I were untruthful, I would take the rap, face the music, and possibly be shoved out of the House of Commons, but that is another matter. However, with the Head of Government, it becomes almost a matte of sacred principle in being whiter than white.
In the detailed and complex subject surrounding the sinking of the Belgrano and the much more identifiable and, possibly, more straightforward subject of what was done in relation to the miners' dispute, it seems that standards have fallen. There may be explanations, but on the Belgrano and the Daily Mirror article on the miners it is important, in the view of many of us—I speak for many of my colleagues who are in their constituencies or on the Euro-campaign—that there should be a candid statement from the Dispatch Box next Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, or whenever, explaining those things. Heads of Government should not be tainted, or democracy in this country is injured.
Time does not usually permit the arguments to be fully deployed and often they are truncated to the point of distortion. Unless the full argument is properly deployed, it may not be possible to force the Prime Minister to think again. Therefore, I make no apology for going back to the year 1910. In that year, as the Minister will recollect, the then British Ambassador to Buenos Aires asked for guidance as to what he should do about an exhibition in which India, the Sudan and the Gold Coast were all in red but the Falkland Islands were not. The matter went as far as Asquith's Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, later Lord Falloden, in whose career I confess to having a special interest as he was my mother's godfather and the family knew him well during her childhood at Foulden in Berwickshire.
Sir Edward Grey and his senior officials asked for a lawyer's report and Gaston de Bernhardt produced a 17,000-word document which basically came down on the side of the Argentine claim, to the great consternation of senior Foreign Office officials. In this context, I refer to the scholarly work of Dr. Peter Beck who, I believe, has not been accorded the full honour due to him for his work on this. He said:The effect of these surveys, which were used as the basis for policy formulation, was to shake official perceptions regarding the strength of the British case. For example, in July 1911 Ronald Campbell (assistant secretary) minuted that 'the only question is who did have the best claim when we first annexed the islands … I think undoubtedly the United Provinces of Buenos Aires, 602 while in December 1927 Sir Malcolm Robertson, the British ambassador in Argentina, wrote 'if you read with care the Foreign Office memorandum of December 1910 you must surely have realised that the Argentina attitude is neither ridiculous nor childish …'.Against that background, it was astonishing to hear the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) say on the so-called Panorama "Traitorama" that the British claim was "rock solid". The Foreign Office was perfectly aware that Jules Goebel's 470-page book of turbid history and law published in 1927 came down on the side of the Argentine claim and that in the 1930s Britain would not go near the international court because, as Gerald Fitzmaurice, then legal adviser to the Foreign Office, said on 6 February 1936, in the language of tactful understatement for which the British Foreign Office is so famous,Our case has certain weaknesses.In 1940, the Willingdon commission producedproposals to re-unite the Falkland Islands with Argentina.I have been told in a parliamentary answer that that file, entitled "Reunite," is not to be made available until 1991. I do not know why it should not be made public after all this time. It would be far better to open up all the files. It cannot be claimed that the case is rock solid. Lord George-Brown recognised that when he was Labour Foreign Secretary and I believe that it is now accepted that a senior Foreign Office official indelicately put it to the Argentines that whereas rape was unacceptable, seduction was to be encouraged. That was the background which led Tony Crosland, when Foreign Secretary, to suggest that he would really have to grasp the nettle. I talked to Susan Crosland, who wrote a very good biography of her husband in which there is a brief reference to his determination, shortly before he died, to do something about the Falklands. I was chairman of the education committee of my party when Tony Crosland was Secretary of State for Education, and, knowing him as I did, I know that he would indeed have done something about the question. For many reasons, it was a sheer tragedy that he met a premature death.
I should like gently to ask the Minister a question. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) claims that, in 1977, when he was faced with a tricky situation and intelligence that there might be Argentine action, he sent a submarine. I am asking for a letter or a reply as to what is now the view of the Foreign Office of my Prime Minister's claim. In particular, does the Foreign Office think that the Argentines received any warning about the submarine—assuming that it was sent? I do not doubt my right hon. Friend's word. He is indeed a right honourable Gentleman. However, this is a historical point that ought to be cleared up one way or the other for the sake of future progress.
I have now no doubt whatever that the plans for moving equipment to the south and the first discussions of an Argentine invasion of the Falklands, which was decided on on 12 January 1982, was known very early to our intelligence services and was probably leaked to them. I must here refer to the famous statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) during the debate on Saturday 3 April 1982. My hon. Friend said that he had a disclosure to make. He said that we had been reading the enemy's telegrams for years.
603 That was the subject of the Prime Minister's outburst on "The World this Weekend". It is interesting in passing, to note that politicians are often more enraged by leaks that are embarrassing or potentially embarrassing to ourselves than by finding that information has been passed to, say, the Russians.
If we had been reading their telegrams for years, are we really saying that in January 1982 we did not have an inkling of Argentine intentions? I believe and I assert that we had such an inkling, because I believe that the British intelligence services, then as later, did not fail to do their job. I also assert that the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service knew in February 1982 that there was every possibility of going to the Falkland Islands. Anyone casting a critical look in my direction should remember what John Nott said in his reply to the debate on Saturday 3 April 1982. In a little-noted passage at the end of his speech, he made it clear that preparations had been going on for weeks.
I refer again to paragraph 152 of the report of the Franks Committee. Despatches had arrived from the ambassador, Anthony Williams, on 3 March, and had been noted in the Prime Minister's own handwriting. I gather from Lord Hunt, a former Cabinet Secretary, that what the Prime Minister writes in the margin of such a despatch from an ambassador has the force of a Cabinet minute. It is extraordinary that the Franks committee, to which I gave evidence, should regard these matters as matters of exoneration.
I am often asked, "Why rake over these issues again?" I shall answer that question by reading a letter that I have permission to read from Patricia Potter of Oriel Cottage, Stafford road, Fordhouses, Wolverhampton, dated 8 March 1984. She wrote:Dear Mr. Dalyell, Thank you for your unswerving determination to keep up the pressure on Mrs. Thatcher regarding the sinking of the 'General Belgrano'. My dear nephew, Adrian Anslow (Fleet Air Arm) aged 20 years was lost at sea when the 'Atlantic Conveyor' was sunk by an Exocet missile on May 25. This was in direct retaliation for that dreadful act, which successfully put paid to the Peruvian peace plan.It was apparently chaff on the 'Invincible' which deflected the missile from its intended target. The Conveyor was a sitting-duck, as were so many of our ships. Sheer luck prevented our losses from being greater. Many of our lads had virtually no protection.I expect that sometimes it must be hard to withstand the guffaws from hon. Members when you broach your questions. Many people I am sure join me in gratitude to you for your persistence and doggedness to secure some answers.The Falklands have become unfashionable now. Jingoism is hard to sustain over two years. For some of us we can never forget those calamitous days. Adrian wrote letters which we received after his death asking, 'When will politicians make up their minds? A lot of young men are going to die.'It is in his memory, a fine young man of the highest principles, that I write to you today. Please do not give in. You speak for him and us.There are other letters of that type that I could read.The whole shame-making story of the sinking of the Belgrano has been exposed in an unanswered book printed by the reputable publishing house Secker and Warburg and written by Arthur Gavshon and Desmond Rice. There has been no answer to what they have said. Because the Select Committee will consider these matters, I want to put on the record quite clearly, the different explanations that have been given for the sinking of that ship. The first was given by John Non in the House on 4 May 1982. He said:The next day, 2 May, at 8 pm London time, one of our submarines detected the Argentine cruiser, 'General Belgrano', 604 escorted by two destroyers. This heavily armed surface attack group was close to the total exclusion zone and was closing on elements of our task force, which was only hours away."—[Official Report, 4 May 1982; Vol. 23, c. 29–30.]Only two torpedoes were fired at the cruiser.
The second explanation was given in the Ministry of Defence White Paper "The Falklands Campaign: The Lessons" which was presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Defence in December 1982. It said:On 2 May HMS Conqueror detected the Argentine Cruiser, General Belgrano, accompanied by two destroyers, sailing near to the total exclusion zone. Other Argentine ships were also thought to be probing our defences to the north of the zone. The Belgrano, and her escorts armed with Exocet missiles, posed a clear threat to the ships of the task force. She was therefore attacked and sunk by torpedoes".The third explanation was given by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) at a press conference on 1 May 1982 in Washington D.C. The official Foreign Office transcript says:I would like to say here that you can count upon the truth and validity of any communique that we issue from the Defence Ministry in London".The fourth explanation is given on page 16 by Commander Wreford Brown in "Our Falklands War" by Geoffrey Underwood.We were tasked to look for and find the General Belgrano group. It was reported to consist of the cruiser and escorts. We located her on our passive sonar and sighted her visually early on the afternoon of May 1. We took up a position astern and followed the General Belgrano for over 30 hours. We reported that we were in contact with her. We remained several miles astern and deep below her. We had instructions to attack if she went inside the total exclusion zone … She was 20 to 30 miles outside the TEZ and, in everyone's eyes, posed a threat to the Task Group. The scenario changed from one of following to one of going in for an attack.The fifth explanation was from the Prime Minister in her letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) on 4 April 1984:HMS Conqueror, on patrol south of the Falkland Islands, detected an Argentine oiler auxiliary which was accompanying the Belgrano on 30 April. She sighted the Belgrano for the first time on 1 May when it was accompanied by two destroyers armed with exocet missiles … The essential point is that it was on May 2 that we had indications about the movements of the Argentine fleet which led the Task Force Commander, Admiral Woodward, to request a change in the rules of engagement to permit the Belgrano to be attacked outside the TEZ.The sixth explanation was from John Nott in the House of Commons on 5 May 1982. He said:The actual decision to launch a torpedo was clearly one taken by the submarine commander." —[Official Report, 5 May 1982; Vol. 23, c. 156.]Explanation No. 7 was from Admiral Woodward at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies lecture on 20 May 1982, quoted in the Prime Minister's letter to my right hon. Friend, the Member for Llanelli on 4 April 1984. He said:Early on the morning of 2 May, all indications were the 25 de Mayo, the Argentinian carrier, and a group of escorts had slipped past my forward SSN barrier to the north, while the cruiser General Belgrano and her escorts were attempting to complete the pincer movement from the south, still outside the TEZ. But Belgrano had Conqueror on the trail. My fear was that Belgrano would lose the SSN as she ran over the shallow water of the Burdwood Bank, and that my forward SSN barrier would be evaded down there too. I therefore sought, for the first and only time throughout the campaign, a major change in the Rules of Engagement to enable the Conqueror to attack Belgrano outside the Exclusion Zone.Explanation No. 8 came from Lord Lewin on the BBC radio programme "The World This Weekend" on 30 January 1983. He said: 605The Belgrano was a media embarrassment. But it was a necessary thing to do … (On 1 May) there was an air attack (on the Task Force ships.) We assessed from intelligence reports that this was part of a co-ordinated attack plan … which would include aircraft from the carrier, which we knew was at sea, with escorts, an attack from the surface ships from the Argentinian navy, all of which were equipped with exocets, surface to surface missiles, and perhaps also a submarine attack. The first of these took place, the air attack took place. And then we had this report from one of our submarines, the Conqueror, that she was in touch with the Belgrano … The Conqueror found the Belgrano with its two escorts heading towards our Task Group. The escorts were equipped with exocets. The Belgrano was just outside the total exclusion zone. And the rules of engagement we had given to our submarines did not permit them to attack outside the exclusion zone, at that stage. They had to report that they were in touch with the enemy and they would then get instructions. I got this information when I was calling in at Northwood to get the up-to-date intelligence on my way to Chequers for a War Cabinet meeting. So I went on to Chequers, reported the situation, and requested approval to change the rules of engagements to allow the Belgrano to be attacked. Because she was without doubt a threat to our Task Forces and had hostile intent … I got approval for the change in rules of engagement, I telephoned it through to Northwood, it was immediately passed to the submarine, and a few hours later the Belgrano was sunk. The approval was immediately forthcoming and was taken with legal advice in terms of international law. We were within international law and the attack was justified under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which permits you to take action in your own self defence.The interviewer then asked:From the time that the Conqueror sighted the Belgrano to the time that it sank the Belgrano, how long did it take?Lord Lewin said:A matter of hours. Communications with nuclear submarines are not continuous and a hundred per cent. because this would restrict the nuclear submarine's operations. But on this occasion the communications worked very quickly. What I would say is that the effect of the Conqueror sinking the Belgrano was that the Argentinian navy never again came outside its twelve mile limit. And so it was justified by that alone.Explanations Nos. 8 and 9 are somewhat different. The Prime Minister said in May 1983:The Belgrano was sunk for military reasons and the threat was real. News of the Peruvian proposals did not reach London until after the attack." —[Official Report, 12 May 1983; Vol. 42, c. 918.]That is a bit different from what Lord Lewin had said. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), the Minister's predecessor said:a thorough investigation of the records confirms that an outline of the American-Peruvian framework proposals was first communicated to London in a telegram dispatched from Washington at 22.15 GMT on 2 May, over three hours after the attack on the Belgrano. I can tell the hon. Gentleman further that … 15 minutes later, our ambassador in Washington specifically stated that my right hon. Friend"—that is the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East—was on his way from Washington to New York … It is clear that there was no telephonic consultation … Why does anyone suppose that my right hon. Friend should have felt compelled to leap to the telephone to tell his colleagues in London about a rough scheme of ideas, by no means fully elaborated or fleshed out that Mr. Haig had outlined to him, as if it represented the one and only opportunity for peace in the south Atlantic". —[Official Report, 13 May 1983; Vol. 42, C. 1038.]That was said from the Dispatch Box, but we now know from "Panorama" that there is a different story. Sir Anthony Ackland, the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office, was permanently there, reporting back the whole time. There was constant telephonic communication. What kind of stuff was served up from the Dispatch Box on 12 and 13 May 1983? I object to any Ministers misleading us from the Dispatch Box.
606 Explanation No. 11 comes from a confidential Foreign Office document dated 27 March 1984. It says:On 1 May, Mr. Pym flew to Washington to discuss with Mr. Haig the new situation created by Argentina's rejection of Mr. Haig's negotiating efforts. During their brief discussions the following day, Mr. Haig gave Mr. Pym a brief outline of new ideas which he said the Americans and Peruvians were discussing, but agreed with Mr. Pym that further clarification was needed. Mr. Pym also made it clear that he would have to discuss any new proposal with his colleagues in London on his return. The results of these discussions were telegraphed to London at 22.15 GMT, thereby providing the British government with the first news of the new proposals. Three hours ealier, in response to the perceived military threat, the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, had been attacked in the South Atlantic. Meanwhile Mr. Pym flew to New York for discussions with the UN Secretary General.The difficulty is that these 11 explanations do not add up with what we now know. I shall start with my visit to Peru on 20 October. I make it clear that I paid for it myself, so I am nobody's preacher. For 75 minutes, President Belaunde Terry sat in his office explaining that the British knew at every point that various changes were made in the Peruvian peace proposals. I sat in the House of Manuel Ulloa, the Prime Minister of Peru at the time, in the Mira Flores district of Lima, Peru in the avenue Calderon. He was sure that at every point in the negotiations from the Saturday onwards, the British knew what the Peruvians were engaged in.
Oscar Maurtoa, who spent two years at Pembroke college, Oxford and so had no problems of language, was the head of Belaunde Terry's office. He made it clear that the whole Government of Peru had come to a halt while they did this thing. It would have been impossible for the British not to know at every stage. Arias Stella was interviewed on "Panorama" and I shall go over his discussions with Mr. Emery. He said:The first panic button … was pressed not in Argentina, but in Lima, Peru. President Belaunde Terry, fearing a bloodbath for his old ally Argentina, got on to Haig to begin that Saturday what became the Peruvian peace plan.Dr. Stella said:I was in my office, more or less, at midday on Saturday about 12.30 to 1 pm—that was the moment Mr. President was also getting in touch with the State Department. And since that moment, Mr. Haig there has had a lot of experience in the negotation procedures weeks before, start to work directly with President Belaunde on a formula, some sort of proposalEmery said:Did you, as Foreign Minister, on Saturday have any contact with the British Government?Stella:I kept informed of every step of our attempts both to the Ambassador from Argentina and to the Ambassador from Great Britain.That is what the Peruvian Foreign Minister said. To make it clear, Emery said:You told Mr. Wallace, the British Ambassador in Peru?Stella:I kept him informed what we were doing and we have very close contact, we were very good friends—we are very good friends—and I keep him informed by telephone.Emery:But Wallace told 'Panorama' it was Saturday evening before he heard anything. Immediately excited, he telexed London. Haig, though, was talking on Saturday.So the Peruvian Foreign. Minister Stella said on Panorama that from 1 pm on Saturday he kept Ambassador Charles Wallace informed by telephone of every step of our efforts. That is exactly what I myself was told by 607 Belaunde Terry when, with Willie Makin, I sat in his office in the presidential palace in Lima on 21 October and what I had been told earlier by Prime Minister Ulloa.
Are we to believe that an ambassador who is given the important post in Montevideo did not do his duty and report to his Government? Inconceivable. Besides, the Peruvians know that he did report back to London. After repeated refusals to be interviewed by "Panorama" Wallace telephoned "Panorama" from Montevideo out of the blue the day after the Prime Minister's letter to my right hon. Friend for Llanelli. He said on the record that the first he had heard of the Peruvian peace proposals was Sunday evening at 6.30 pm. Who pressurised Mr. Wallace to make such a telephone call? British ambassadors do not suddenly ring up "Panorama" from half way round the world. The official cover up seems to extend to Montevideo.
If one is not prepared to believe South Americans, what about the Prime Minister's own admirer — Alexander Haig? he said on "Panorama":Yes, I did think so. I had the feeling that while we had no control over it, that these actions came sometimes at crucial points in the negotiations which were unfortunately a detriment to those negotiations.Is it just sheer coincidence that every time there was a prospect of a negotiated peace an incident would be created? Haig had his suspicions. He said:Well, I took it very seriously from the outset. After all, our desire was a negotiated settlement and a termination of the conflict. And when the head of state of a neighbouring country that clearly was very close to Buenos Aires made such a propsal it could not be taken trivially and we didn't. In fact, I worked rather intensely to arrive at some language which I felt was within the area of acceptability to Great Britain in those simplified points.If an American Secretary of State is working rather intensely—that is, sweating his proverbial guts out on a plan to get acceptability to Great Britain—are we to believe that London had no indication of what he was doing until 36 hours later? Besides, as Mr. Woody Goldberg, Haig's assistant would put it, that would not be General Haig's pattern of working. Of course, the British embassy in Washington knew exactly what Haig was up to on that Saturday and was frequently in touch with London. Are we to suggest that Sir Antony Acland or his senior Foreign Office colleagues never bothered to let the Prime Minister know what Al Haig was doing? Of course they told her.
Again, in "Panorama" it was stated that in Washington that Saturday night the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East and Haig were apparently not yet in contact. Haig was in his den developing a plan with Belaunde and the Peruvian Prime Minister, Dr. Ulloa. Haig's book places this on Sunday, but when talking on "Panorama" he confirmed that it was Saturday.
There were phone calls. The phone rings:Hello-General Haig.Fred Emery: For Haig, it was a fruitful night's work.How much progress did you make on Saturday in dealing with President Belaunde on his proposal for some new effort to negotiate?Alexander Haig: It would be difficult to say in hindsight. At the time, of course, there was enthusiasm on the part of President Belaunde, on my part and I think on the part of Great Britain, that here there may have been an opportunity for a break through.608Alexander Haig (continued): It involved really a simplification of the basic proposals we had worked on, so it was not a whole new 'ball of wax', so to speak, for the Argentinians to have to mull over, but rather a simplified version of earlier negotiations.Fred Emery: What made you think though—staying up all night as you did, what made you think that there was a chance of something here when you had been through all that … and the talks had just broken down and the war had started, if you like …?Alexander Haig: and sometimes that fighting has a sobering impact on those who are dealing with the problem. Also there was clearly a great deal of enthusiasm on the part of the President of Peru. He has a new state of mind, at least as far as President Galtieri was concerned.How would Haig get it into his head that there wasenthusiasm on the part of Belaunde, on my part and I think on the part of Great Britain that there may have been an opportunity for a break throughif he had not discussed the Peruvian proposals with someone representing the British commander? At what level was such an impression of enthusiasm gained? Can we really suppose that the former NATO commander, an American Secretary of State, not unaware of his own importance, was content to deal with someone at junior level? That is unlikely to the point of impossibility. Who gave Haig such an impression? That matter should be settled by a tribunal of inquiry under the 1921 Act.
It is public knowledge that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East will go before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I wish to discuss the right hon. Gentleman's role. During that "Panorama" programme we heard a long interview which I cannot read into the record but I should like to. Part of it went as follows:Fred Emery: That same Saturday in Washington, Concorde arrives, bringing Francis Pym. One of the complexities of this weekend is that the former Foreign Secretary maintains he was not in contact with Mr. Haig for over 12 more critical hours.Rt. Hon. Francis Pym M.P.: I don't recall any conversation with Haig that evening, and I don't think that there was any …I am absolutely sure that the former Foreign Secretary's memory is lacking and there was a conversation shortly after the right hon. Gentleman arrived in Washington and that Haig is right. I assert that there were discussions on that Saturday evening when the right hon. Gentleman arrived in Washington.
The interview continued:Fred Emery: He thinks he must have got in touch with you … [No …] when you arrived to tell you about what was developing on the Peruvian peace proposal.Francis Pym: Well, if he did get in touch and there was a telephone call, which I do not recall, I am sure it did not include anything about proposals which we discussed at ten o'clock the next morning. If he said that he conveyed to me, on Saturday evening, outlines of Peruvian proposals — that is not my recollection …Fred Emery: It seems odd.Francis Pym: I think there was no contact that evening at all and the first—and this is quite logical—because we had the date to meet next morning.Fred Emery: It seems odd to the outsider that you would go by Concorde to the United States, arrive there in early evening on a peace mission on furthering the whole business of negotiations and not even sort of have a phone call with the Secretary of State until next morning.Francis Pym: Well, it was … if … if … there was no particular proposition that I had to put to him. Our purpose was to meet together, to see how we could carry it forward, and I had various ideas and it transpired in the morning that he had these ideas worked out or in the process of working out, with Peru.Fred Emery: He says he spent all night. He was up all night on the phone …609Francis Pym: Well, he may have been up all night on the phone …Fred Emery: Do you remember him telling you that?Francis Pym: Well, he may have been up all night on the phone … [interruption] … perhaps that confirms the fact that there was no contact between us on Saturday night. Perhaps he wanted to take the thing further that night and told me about it in the morning—which he did.It is not true that there was no contact between the right hon. Gentleman and Haig on the Saturday night. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted that he did indeed talk to Haig on the night that he arrived—it would have been extraordinary had he not done so. Does the British taxpayer send Ministers by Concorde to twiddle their thumbs in Washington and do nothing at a critical moment when a war is in progress?
Reports were sent back to London. On Saturday night the Prime Minister received the Peruvian proposals—a full day before she told the House of Commons, in answer to parliamentary question No. 4 on 12 May—that no news of the Peruvian peace proposals had reached London until three hours after the Belgrano had been sunk.
Where does all that leave the Minister's predecessor, the former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who answered the Adjournment debate on 12 May 1983 on the sinking of the Belgrano? He must be responsible for the whole cacophony of statements to the House that are turning out to be untrue. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman must have known while he spoke from the Dispatch Box that they were untrue.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have had long experience of these matters. He knows that he should not make such an accusation.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not wish to get into any difficulty over the use of parliamentary language, so if "untrue" is an unsatisfactory word——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman said that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) knew the statement was untrue. He must withdraw that remark.
§ Mr. Dalyell
All right. I have considerable respect for the Foreign Office civil servants, who have shown great patience with me. I cannot but think that those competent and efficient people did a proper briefing.
The interview continued:Fred Emery: That anticipation was not all guess work: intelligence that the 'Belgrano' would turn north into the zone and perhaps complete the pincer movement was, we understand, signalled to the submarine.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Raymond Whitney)
It would be of advantage to the House if we clarified whether the hon. Gentleman was withdrawing the allegation that he made against my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).
§ Mr. Dalyell
Yes. This is far too serious a matter to argue about honour.
If fleet headquarters at Northwood knew about the orders for a pincer movement on 1 May in anticipation of a British landing in the Falklands, equally it knew about the countermanding orders to go to the Argentine coast. As Conqueror could telephone or be telephoned by Northwood at any time, there were no communications difficulties. Indeed, we know that the countermanding 610 orders were decoded at GCHQ in Cheltenham. When the order to sink the Belgrano was given, it was known, first, what the countermanding orders were and, secondly, that the Belgrano had been steaming westwards for at least 100 miles, being tracked by the Conqueror. I put that on record without apology, because the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East will be coming to the Committee on Monday and will surely be able to speak for himself.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East should also pay attention to other aspects of the Panorama programme.Fred Emery: Following having lunch together at the British Embassy, Haig telephoned Pym urgently and the story gets more complicated. Before the 'Belgrano' was sunk, Haig's book states, Belaude gained acceptance in principle from both parties.Pym: Haig had rung to say that he wanted to impress upon me—and this is having left after lunch—the importance he attached to the Peruvian proposals and I, because I didn't want to miss the plane and had my date in New York, authorised Sir Nicholas Henderson to ring back and to tell Al Haig to he in no doubt whatsoever that I regarded that proposal and I would regard any other proposal as extremely important and that no stone would be left unturned, as far as I was concerned, in the search for an agreement. So, that was the nature of the conversation.I ask, what in heaven's name was so important about his catching the plane, and his date in New York, that the right hon. Gentleman could not himself take an urgent call from Secretary of State Haig? All right, he might have missed that plane. Planes between Washington and New York are not exactly infrequent in high summer. He could have caught another plane. Anyhow, what could be more urgent in New York than talking to Haig, when the Secretary of State had initiated an urgent call, to impress something on the right hon. Gentleman, than at least talking to Haig? More likely, the right hon. Gentleman felt that the last thing in the world he wanted to do at that moment was to talk to Haig. Why? Because by that time he knew that the request had come through to change the rules of engagement and he would have felt that he had to reveal this to Haig, and Haig would have ticked on as to why the rules of engagement had been changed, and blown his top, ordering the British to do no such thing as sink the Belgrano. The right hon. Gentleman, now in the know about the Belgrano, made his excuses for not talking to Haig,because he had a flight to catch.What a frivolous excuse in the circumstances!Fred Emery: Understood. But Ulloa says he asked Haig, can you get on to the Brits and see if they can hold off on warlike actions and offensive operations and so on. Did you everhear about that?The reply came from the right hon. Member for Hertsmere:We knew all the time that there were continuing processes. I said Francis was away because he was seeking a diplomatic solution, but what we had to decide that day was something very specific. I believe it was essential to the success of diplomatic initiative that we maintained our military credibility and I think the sinking of the 'Belgrano' was a necessary part of maintaining that credibility.Again the right hon. Member for Hertsmere let the cat out of the bag. So the sinking of the Belgrano was not because Belgrano wasan immediate threat to our Task. Force".The right hon. Gentleman agreed with Lord Lewin.Fred Emery: When did she become an immediate threat?Lord Lewin: She didn't become an immediate threat because we sank her.How then can the Prime Minister have it that the Belgrano was "an immediate threat"? The right hon. Lady ought to 611 apologise to Mrs. Diana Gould, a housewife of Cirencester, who has written an excellent little book called "On the Spot", because it was clear in her replies to Mrs. Gould during the election that the words "immediate threat" were used.Emery: Did Haig say: the Peruvians tell me that they've got Galtieri virtually agreeing now?Pym: I don't think 'virtually agreeing', but it was certainly perfectly clear that the Peruvians were in touch with the Argentines, of course they were, and that naturally the Peruvians were hopeful that the plan which was theirs, it was a mixture of American and Peruvian plans with the plans that the Peruvians regarded as their own, you know, had a reasonable chance of success. Well, naturally, they would take that view and that was a hopeful sign.Emery: But it had gone from a sort of outline, in your words, very vague sort of ideas, to suddenly something that was terribly serious.Pym: I don't understand that question——Emery: After lunch?Pym: No, it happened after lunch. All he rang me back to say was would I please realise how important he— Al Haig—regarded these proposals. And Sir Nicholas Henderson assured him that I did indeed regard them as very important, so far as they went, and that they were the basis upon which I would work.From his demeanour on television, the right hon. Gentleman understood Emery's question only too well. "Panorama" laid bare the truth in a way that only television pressure can; the written word can be evasive. If they were so important, why did the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East go to New York? It was to get out of the light while the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet went about their work to sink the Belgrano.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that others wish to speak in the debate? For how long does he intend to continue? When does he believe that the Prime Minister and her colleagues decided to sink the Belgrano?
§ Mr. Dalyell
At Chequers at lunch time on 2 May. They knew for over five hours, from early that morning, about the course of the Belgrano.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman said that it was before the then Foreign Secretary left for the United States.
§ Mr. Dalyell
No, not before he left for America because he left on the Saturday. The decision to sink the Belgrano was made on the Sunday morning. Timing is all-important.
I shall try to be brief, but I must add that on the "Panorama" programme, the right hon. Member for Hertsmere spilt the beans, because Emery said:Before your meeting, Haig had been up all night, talking to the Peruvians. Dr. Ulloa, who was the Peruvian Prime Minister, tells us that he was on the phone to Haig. He had Francis Pym in his office that Sunday morning while you were at Chequers on the phone. Now, was that mentioned at your meeting?The right hon. Gentleman replied:We knew that all sorts of people were … people who wanted to see a peaceful solution, which we wanted to see, which the prime example is … President Belaunde, trying to take up where General Haig had left off but we couldn't …Emery said:You knew on that Sunday, 2 May?So the right hon. Gentleman knew about the Peruvian peace proposals. A prime example he said, was President Belaunde. If the right hon. Gentleman knew, how come the Prime Minister did not know?
612 The difficulty that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East will be in when he comes to the Select Committee is that in the Daily Mirror of 20 May 1983 he wrote:If the Peruvians had prepared a treaty ready for signature on the evening of May 2, they certainly gave us no indication of this either in Lima or in London. Nor did Mr. Haig say or suggest any such thing to me.That was written when the right hon. Gentleman wished to remain Foreign Secretary, during the general election, but what he wrote was clearly not the fact. I refer again to the book "Sources Close to the Prime Minister," which states at page 154:'Within days of Mr. Pym's appointment, Cecil Parkinson, fellow member of the War Cabinet, was walking the Commons corridors telling everyone who would listen that Pym was no good. He even told Labour MPs. Pym was being undermined from the top'.The dissension between Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Pym was to continue throughout the year after the Falklands victory and, as the following chapter shows, was to reach its climax during the 1983 general election. 'Mrs. Thatcher's poisonous acolytes', as Mr. Pym called them, were to make full use of the Lobby system, as did his own closest associates.That is why there should be some discussion of this whole issue.
I do not make too much complaint about it, but there has been a refusal by the Secretary of State for Defence to answer any more of the detailed questions that I asked in my letter of 19 March. In a letter of 18 April the right hon. Gentleman wrote:Thank you for your letter of the 19th March asking some questions about the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the General Belgrano. Since you wrote this letter, you will have seen the Prime Minister's letter to Denzil Davies of 4th April and you have yourself had a further round of correspondence in your letter of 5th April and the Prime Minister's reply of 12th April. There is nothing that I can usefully add.I replied to the right hon. Gentleman on 1 May and he replied:Thank you for your further letter of 1st May. Your purpose in asking the questions you put to me is to pursue your campaign that the Belgrano was attacked in order to destroy the prospects for peace negotiations rather than for the military reason that she posed a threat to the Task Force. I do not believe that there is any point in prolonging this argument by a further round of detailed correspondence.Those questions could be answered easily by a simple reference to——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting on to defence matters. The debate is on foreign affairs and a Minister from the Foreign Office is here. In fairness to other hon. Members, I ask the hon. Member keep to the subject.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I returned to that point because the argument on defence aspects has been brilliantly set out by Richard Norton Taylor in Time Out under the article entitled, "What really happened to the Belgrano".
§ Mr. Dalyell
I did not write it. It is by Richard Norton Taylor and he is no one's creature.
I come to another book that is to be published. I have the permission of the author, Mr. Greg Philo of the Glasgow university media group to say something about it. It is about yet another peace negotiation that was discovered on 4 June. It is to be published by Glasgow university media group "War and Peace News", by the Open University Press. A report of the book states: 613that Argentina did make such an offer, but Britain rejected it, and most strangely that people in this country were not told about it. The occasion was a major effort for a cease-fire made at the United Nations on June 4—ten days before the fighting finally ended. On the Security Council nine nations voted for the plan—a crucial number since this would have made it mandatory on Britain to accept along with Argentina. Even the US at first voted against and then indicated that it wished to abstain. Britain alone stood out against it. What had made the plan so compelling was that Argentina had finally accepted UN Resolution 502.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If it is not true, the Minister will have to reply to it. He dismissed my points. I hope that the Foreign Office will study Mr. Greg Philo's book because it has been carefully researched. The report on the book continues:This resolution had been the basis of British policy all along, since it called upon Argentina to withdraw its forces. In a crucial move, Argentina had sponsored an amendment to the cease-fire plan indicating its acceptance of 502.Outside Britain, this was interpreted as a major concession by Argentina as they were now prepared to accept a cease-fire on British terms. The Washington Post reported on June 4 that:'The Argentine diplomat behind the resolution also accepted the interpretation that the Spanish-Panamanian resolution would require Argentina to commence unilateral withdrawal of its troops simultaneous with the ceasefire … One Western diplomat who backs the British position interpreted the Argentine concession to mean that Buenos Aires is desperate to achieve a cease-fire, even on British terms …But this view did not become public in Britain.'That view did not become public in Britain. Greg Philo and Lucinda Broadbent point out thatwith the exception of a few references in the quality Press, the details of the proposed cease-fire did not emerge. Astonishingly on television news there was no mention that Argentina had agreed to Resolution 502 and was apparently contemplating unilateral withdrawal. The public were informed sumply of the official Foreign Office view that the plan 'would have left the Argentines on the Falklands, worded as it was.' (BBC-1, June 5, 1982). On the same night ITN reported that:'The UN resolution was in their view (the Government's) not at all close to being acceptable, as Mr. Haig had suggested, because it didn't link a ceasefire to withdrawal.'These reports did not mention a 'missed chance for peace' or discuss why Britain was now isolated in the United Nations.Instead, the reports concentrated on the anger of the United States.
Sooner or later someone will have to reveal the truth of what did happen. I do not apologise for going into such details, because generalisations will not do. This is not past history. The Sunday Times figures show that we are spending £3 million a day. That may be an underestimate——
§ It being half past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournement of the House lapsed without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Archie Hamilton.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to be fair, so I should like to remind him that the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), who raised the subject of the Adjournment, is entitled to a reply from the Minister. The Minister will want time to reply, and another hon. Member wants to intervene.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall leave the costs. I leave the question of the runway, to which we are taking 6,600 tonnes of rock and sand, on which I have tabled a parliamentary question. I leave the matter of the danger of a replay. We are whistling in the wind if there is not a negotiation about 614 sovereignty. Only by outlining and exhuming those uncomfortable facts will the Prime Minister be overcome by those in the Foreign Office and elsewhere who woud like to do the rational thing.
In the end, there is the vital matter of truth. We cannot simply sit here and say that bygons should be bygones. As long as the Present Prime Minister is in Downing street, what she does in the name of this country is a matter of considerable importance. The truthfulness of what she says is of equal importance, because the Prime Minister, who strides the world stage, represents our country in relation to honour and politics. I choose my words no less carefully than my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) did yesterday. I believe that there has been a calculated misrepresentation. I shall not search around for parliamentary words.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Many accusations go from one side to the other about misrepresentations and so on, but it is not for any hon. Member to say whether something is calculated or deliberate. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw what he has just said.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This puts us into great difficulty. I do not want to take up time over a row about parliamentary manners, so I shall leave it at that.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for letting me join in his Adjournment debate.
I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that it is wrong, in parliamentary terms, that my hon. Friend is not on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The way in which he spoke in introducing the debate shows that he is the sort of person to whom another should give way. So far as I am aware, with the exception of the Chairman—the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs have not spoken, which shows that on occasion the arrangements for selecting members of the Committee should be subject to pressure from the House as a whole.
§ Mr. Spearing
The Chairman is the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw). I am just a member of that Committee.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) in due course.
I hope to speak for about five minutes on the future situation in the south Atlantic, because that is the subject of the debate. Much as I should like to cover both sides of the south Atlantic and include southern Africa, I shall confine my comments to our relations with Argentina.
First, however, in a spirit of friendliness and gentleness, I put it to the hon. Member for Linlithgow that his lengthy comments will do two things. At a time when there is direct and indirect pressure on the British and Argentine Governments, the hon. Gentleman has made what would have been a most helpful debate less effective, in that such coverage as it attracts may be taken up with a repetition of the many issues which the hon. Gentleman constantly raises. Of course, the hon. Gentleman has every right to make his own speech. As he says himself, he must stand by what he has said and answer for it. Nevertheless, I believe that the impact of his speech today has been to 615 undermine the objective that has brought us together—to make possible now more things that will become right in the future, or to make possible in the future more things that would be right now—because what he has said cannot be allowed just to run by without some comment from my hon. Friend the Minister.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow said in his speech — I apologise for intervening twice in it — that he believed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) got out of the way while the Government decided to sink the Belgrano. The only possible interpretation of that is that my right hon. Friend left London at a time when the War Cabinet knew that it was going to take that decision. That may not have been what the hon. Gentleman meant or intended to say, but I judged from his demeanour when I intervened that he was on very shaky ground. I would simply sweep away the assertions that the hon. Gentleman made on television about my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, save to say that in interpreting demeanour the hon. Gentleman either made a slip of the tongue or was attempting to make a more general case in which a slight looseness of language suited his purpose. I may be quite wrong, but it is as difficult for the hon. Gentleman to correct me on that kind of interpretation as it is for the many people on the receiving end of his accusations today and on other occasions.
I served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) when he was a Foreign Office Minister during part of the campaign conducted by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. No doubt there are Parliamentary Private Secretaries who see all kinds of secret information, but I was not one of them. On no occasion in discussions with civil servants at the Foreign Office or with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking did I ever get the suspicion, let alone any halfway substantial evidence, that anyone was trying to hide anything from the hon. Member for Linlithgow when he was taking every possible parliamentary opportunity to put forward his version of events and, indeed, going a stage further and putting forward as gospel versions of events from other people's articles and books.
I have great personal respect for the hon. Member for Linlithgow as a tennis player, as a Member of Parliament, and in many other respects, but towards the end of the last Parliament I heard him support accusations made by people with no standing in the Falklands affair about what the Ghurkas and others were doing to people — I apologise if I have the specific example wrong, but there was a whole series of accusations — and demanding detailed replies from Ministers even on events which turned out to be non-existent.
There are also the events that really took place. If I had more time I would ask the hon. Gentleman at what time the Argentine air force first tried to bomb a ship that was part of the British force. I suspect that the answer that I would receive would be that it happened before the sinking of the Belgrano. I would then ask the hon. Gentleman whether it was by design that the bombs aimed at one of our ships missed. I would ask whether that happened during the time when, according to some of the books and television programmes referred to by the hon. Gentleman, the Argentine authorities had not heard of the Peruvian peace proposals, or whether it happened at the time when 616 they were considering those proposals. I suspect that the decision would have been taken not only at a time when the initiative of the Peruvian President was known, but days, if not weeks, after the American proposals were known—and, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Peruvian proposals were the American proposals simplified.
We seem to be agreed on one small essential—that the Argentine authorities authorised an attack which would have had exactly the same effect as the sinking of the Belgrano, if we accept the hon. Gentleman's arguments.
I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman's demeanour. I have dealt with some of the accusations that he has made. I have dealt with the Argentine position over the Peruvian peace proposals. I have dealt with those points in an hour and five minutes less than the hon. Gentleman took to put them forward. I hope that he will now forgive me if I talk for five minutes about the future.
A remark of mine about the Select Committee's meeting with the Argentines in New York was quoted in "The Times Diary" —not perhaps the most substantial part of The Times I had been asked what my view of the meeting was, and I said that I was all in favour of it. The journalist reported the conversation reasonably accurately. He suggested to me that the Government did not seem to be in favour. I said that it was perfectly reasonable for the Government not to be in favour, as they did not have even correct relationships with the Argentine Government at the moment. The Government were not likely to rush around expressing approval of other constitutional bodies having meetings at other levels. The Government's response was perfectly reasonable, formal and open. I said that no one seemed to mind the Government's attitude very much. It was not for the Government to tell Parliament what to do. In the end, it is for Parliament to tell the Government what to do. That seems to be a remark to which no one should take exception.
We do not need to set out—as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said in his good speech—exactly what should happen at every stage. What we need to do is to require—and not only require, but make possible by our speeches here, impassioned or otherwise, and our activities outside—that our relations with the Argentine should improve, and that the restoration of diplomatic relations should make that improvement manifest. It is not only important that we should do this soon because of the possibly precarious nature of democracy in the Argentine. We should also do it because we need to have diplomatic relations with Argentina, whether or not democracy thrives there. Although other occasions may arise when diplomatic relations have to be broken off again, we should now be moving fast towards the establishment of diplomatic links. I hope that today I am making a small contribution towards bringing that about.
We are not trying to push Government leaders further and faster than they wish to go. We are not saying that we know more about it than the Government and that they should catch up with us. Clearly, we do not know more about it. The restoration of diplomatic relations is required as an expression of the interests of the people of this country. I hope that my hon. Friend will not feel obliged to deal with the question of diplomatic relations in great detail today. That might hinder the process. I simply want the message to be understood. Secondly, we must get discussions going. Tbere is no need to wait for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. I hope that it is 617 possible for our officials and the Argentine officials to have talks about diplomatic relations and other matters, and perhaps for those talks to be expanded. I do not want to talk about negotiations. I shall only say that, as matters progress, it will be important that people should show the courage and the realism which were talked about in a speech on 3 April 1982.
I could have made a speech which would have been regarded as brave and controversial, which could have been an extract of a speech made by my hon. Friend the Minister. Leaving out some of the details about the events of 3 April, the arguments are as good now as they were then, as they realistically examine our long-term interests, those of the Falkland Islands and those of Argentina.
There were two big mistakes in the Falklands war. One was made by Argentina, thinking that it could invade and get away with it. Our mistake was in letting Argentina think that. I fully support the military spending that is intended to ensure that that will not happen again.
In regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) said about our right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and his reception at a meeting outside the Chamber and his reception when he reported to the Chamber, both sides of the House will require courage to make it politically possible for the Government to put into effect what is necessary and right. With the exception of one hour's speech, today has been a great parliamentary occasion. When history is written it will be seen that it is those who are willing to risk short-term disapproval on whom the future of the south Atlantic depends.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ray Whitney)
I should like to join others who have spoken in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on introducing what has turned out, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said, to be an important and memorable debate. We all recognise the deep interest that my hon. Friend has devoted and continues to devote to this topic. I recognise his commitment to our common ambition to find a happy resolution of the problems of the south Atlantic.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, in a spirit of gentleness, that this would have been an even better debate if not quite so much time had been used exhuming the past. I recognise the deep sincerity of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I do not want to sound patronising — I recognise his commitment to these matters. However, it would be wrong if this debate went down in history as exhumation rather than a forward-looking debate. With the exception of the past, which was raked over minutely, we have a good deal to be satisfied about. We sincerely welcome the opportunity to hear from hon. Members with different points of view who have taken a long-term and dedicated interest in this important issue.
However, hon. Members have not been kind enough to the Government in their sense of timing. I do not expect kindness from the Opposition, but I should like to draw attention to some of the achievements that we have recorded.
All hon. Members must consider the matters with which we had to deal. The hon. Member for Walsall, 618 South (Mr. George) said that it was two years since those sad events of the spring of 1982, but developments could have started only from the installation of the democratic regime in Argentina in December last year. Before that the country had a military regime whose actions were condemned by almost the entire world and by almost all hon. Members. It would have been impossible to make progress in any direction while that military regime survived. Therefore, we are talking about perhaps six or seven months, and I invite the House and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes-James) — who, as always, made a distinguished contribution to the debate, and who is a distinguished historian—to recognise that six months is a very short time, given the background against which we are operating and given the impact of those events on the lives of the Falkland islanders, on Britain and certainly on Argentina.
The Government can take considerable credit for what has been achieved so far, and I reject accusations of intransigence in our basic propositions, which have the support of the great majority of the British people. They are that we shall stand by our commitments to the Falkland islanders, but that we are determined to seek a normalisation of relations with Argentina — a country with which, as many hon. Members said, we have had such good relations for more than a century and, indeed, since the republic of Argentina was created.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister welcomed the installation of democracy and sent a message that surprised the world at the inauguration of President Alfonsin——
§ Mr. Whitney
The hon. Gentleman has had a very long time, so perhaps he will allow me to continue. We sent that message and then we entered into further exchanges, which are continuing. The House would not expect me to discuss the details of those exchanges, because at this stage in our relationship no exchanges could make progress if they were not confidential. We look forward to the time when we can begin direct talks with the Argentines, although we are grateful for the efforts and contributions made by the protecting powers on both sides.
However, we would be wrong and would forsake our responsibilities to the Falkland islanders, the British people and, indeed, the Argentine people if we entered another level of talks on a false prospectus. That perception is what caused the trouble last time, but I shall certainly not follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow down the path of exhuming the past. We must learn from that part of the past. If we led the Argentine Government into any idea other than that we shall stand by our commitment to the Falkland islanders, trouble would arrive very quickly.
I recognise the force of pressure in Argentina and the importance of its democratic regime surviving. I spent more than three years in Argentina, and I know that, as during the past half a century, it has been governed by an elected regime, for only a short time, democracy must take root. It is a long process, and six or seven months is a short time. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that pressure, as well as the pressure to which they have referred, arid the responsibility that we have for the continuing development of democracy in Argentina. We applaud and support that process. We hope that the economic problems that the Argentine 619 Government have to tackle will be solved. Through the IMF, we have played our part in meeting the external debt problems of Latin American countries, including Argentina. That, too, is part of our contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) referred to the visit to the graves. It has been made clear that that must be arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross. We cannot have propaganda exercises by people such as Mr. Destfanis or his ilk, but we stand ready to work with the families. We cannot emphasise that too clearly.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow tempts me greatly to follow him down the path of exhumation—I keep using his word—of the past. He knows that that is pointless and that his path is a dead end. The suggestions that he has made this morning have been refuted in detail. He has had detailed letters from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Commonwealth Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. He has been given answers from the Dispatch Box on many occasions. I am glad that he was able to withdraw the accusations that he made against my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). The record is clear. We had a job to do at the time of the Belgrano. Everyone understands what we had to do.
620 The hon. Gentleman referred to the "Panorama" programme. On that programme the Argentine Admiral Lombardo recognised that the Belgrano was not withdrawing but was working a pincer movement. He said that if he had been in charge of the British forces he would have taken the same action and attacked the Belgrano.
As to the British claim to the sovereignty of the Falklands, there is no doubt about that. These are complex issues stretching over many centuries, and I am aware that if the hon. Gentleman wishes he can find the odd official who has put a different interpretation on a particular aspect. However, no British government of any political complexion have ever been in any doubt about our claim to sovereignty, and that remains the same. We stand by our commitment to the Falkland islanders. We recognise that there are costs but we are prepared to bear them because the Falkland islanders are as important now as they were in April 1982.
However, while we continue to stand by the Falkland islanders, we look forward to re-establishing normal relationships with a democratic Argentina and to returning to the friendship which for so many generations we have enjoyed with that country.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock.