HC Deb 18 February 1985 vol 73 cc733-826 3.38 pm
Mr. Speaker

Before we enter upon this important debate, I quote some wise words from "Erskine May": Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language. Parliamentary language is never more desirable than when a Member is canvassing the opinions and conduct of his opponents in debate. Today's debate raises very important issues on which hon. Members feel strongly. I hope that they can be fully discussed within our long-established rules governing orderly debate. I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I propose to apply the 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 pm and 8.50 pm.

3.39 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I beg to move, That this House recognises that the sinking of the General Belgrano was a necessary and legitimate action in the Falklands Campaign; and agrees that the protection of our Armed Forces must be the prime consideration in determining how far matters involving national security and the conduct of military operations can be disclosed. The House will understand that I must make a lengthy and detailed speech on what is an important issue involving the rights of Parliament and the duties of Ministers, our national security, and the relationship between Ministers, their colleagues, and civil servants.

It may be helpful if I summarise at once the ground that I intend to cover and the approach that I intend to adopt. I intend to outline the background that led to the decision to sink the Belgrano. I shall set out rather more fully the events that surrounded the decision itself.

I was not involved in the decision to prosecute Mr. Ponting. Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces had any contact, directly or indirectly, with the Law Officers or their officials in that context. In general, with one exception, we were not consulted about the case or the papers submitted to the court. The Attorney-General has set out the position to the House in the clearest language. I have nothing to add to his statement. My only involvement in the conduct of the case came many months later, when it was necessary to consider requests from Mr. Ponting's lawyers that classified documents belonging to my Department should be disclosed to the court. I was consulted over the disclosure of one of those documents—the one now known as the "Crown Jewels". After consultation with senior colleagues and the Government's security advisers, it was decided to provide that document under special conditions.

The disclosure of a number of internal Ministry of Defence documents to the court creates a most unusual situation. Advice to Ministers on policy matters is disclosed to this House only in carefully defined areas, such as the outcome of studies related to efficiency. It is a wholly necessary position carefully to restrict such disclosures.

If civil servants are to have confidence that they can put their views fully and honestly to Ministers, if the concept that advice given to one Government is not made available to another is to be maintained, and if the proper accountability of Ministers—and not civil servants—to Parliament is to be preserved, we must maintain that position. Failure to do so would change fundamentally the position of the Civil Service. Particularly, it would rapidly lead to the politicisation of the Civil Service, which very few would want. [Interruption.]

The essence of the debate centres on the allegations made by a civil servant about the behaviour of Ministers. Mr. Ponting has made the most serious allegations—many of them repeated yesterday—about my conduct in discharging my responsibilities as the Secretary of State for Defence. Most extreme and unfounded allegations have been made about the Prime Minister and about my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. [Interruption.] In those quite deplorable circumstances, the Government have decided — exceptionally — to reveal the advice given to Ministers by officials. I have no option but to quote from the advice that Mr. Ponting gave me. When I do so I shall make available the full text of his advice to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and place copies in the Library of the House.

I further intend to enable members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to have access to the document known as the "Crown Jewels", under appropriate security arrangements, and I propose to discuss with the Chairman of that Committee how best that can be done.

The House will want to judge Mr. Ponting's claims in the light of the advice that he gave to Ministers at the time. I shall deal specifically with the events associated with the letter written on behalf of the shadow Cabinet by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), the letter that I received in March from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the preparation, in the light of those letters, of the document known as the "Crown Jewels", and the subsequent handling of the questions of the hon. Member for Linlithgow. I shall refer in particular to the suggestion that has been made, quite wrongly, that Ministers misled the House in May in answer to parliamentary questions.

I shall want to deal also with the events that occurred later, when the Foreign Affairs Committee requested a note of all changes in the rules of engagement issued to Her Majesty's forces in the South Atlantic in the Falklands campaign. Our response to that request, which has become known as the "Stanley Memorandum" — although the request and the reply were approved personally by me—is that specific subject of the Opposition amendment today. It is that memorandum which, until yesterday, Mr. Ponting appeared to argue had finally persuaded him to leak documents and breach the trust of a civil servant to Ministers. For him, that memorandum was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back. On that basis the Opposition have been persuaded, I presume, to draft their rather narrow amendment. We shall see whether the House believes that it was any better served by Mr. Ponting than I was.

When I first became personally involved in this matter I had no first hand knowledge of the events that had taken place in the South Atlantic in 1982, save as a member of the Cabinet involved in general policy discussions, or as a result of media coverage. I recall that the decision to send the task force was given all-party support by the House in 1982. However, the House will also remember that the hon. Member for Linlithgow never agreed with that judgment. Some would regard that independence of mind on his part as an act of personal courage. No one would question his right to reach such a view, however much one disagreed with it, and no one could disagree with it more profoundly that I did, and still do.

The views of the hon. Member for Linlithgow were clear from the outset. On 7 April 1982 he told the House: Some of us believe that the fleet should turn round and come back to Portsmouth and Rosyth as soon as possible." —[Official Report, 7 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 1037.] On 19 April the hon. Gentleman told the House: Is it not an illusion to think that the Amercans will be less than evenhanded".—[Official Report, 19 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 25.] On 13 May the hon. Gentleman told the House: The Argentines have a very tough marine corps of at least 6,000 officers and men who are highly regarded by professional marines in this country. The conscripts will fight as if they are fighting in a holy war. There will be massive casualties; that fact should be faced."—[Official Report, 13 May 1982; Vol. 23, c. 983.] On 8 June the hon. Gentleman suggested that Britain was slithering into a British Vietnam in the South Atlantic."—[Official Report, 8 June 1982; Vol. 25, c. 32.] By 21 December 1982 the hon. Gentleman was telling the House: The sinking of the Belgrano, when the right hon. Lady knew what she did about peace proposals, was an evil decision of an order that it would not have occurred to me to attribute to any other … politician of any party since I have been in the House".—[Official Report, 21 December 1982; Vol. 34, c. 901.] During my earlier days as Secretary of State for Defence, from the beginning of 1983, it was the hon. Gentleman alone who pursued a campaign based upon that hostility and with changing centres of attack. The Government's position was clear. Towards the end of April 1982 the first elements of the task force were moving towards the Falkland Islands. As they moved southwards from Ascension Island, they were vulnerable to attack. While an exclusion zone had been established around the Falkland Islands to avoid Argentina consolidating her illegal occupation, measures to defend our own forces had overriding priority.

On 23 April the Government issued a warning to the Argentine Government which was conveyed to them by the Swiss. I shall read it in full. It was as follows: In announcing the establishment of a maritime Exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands, Her Majesty's Government made it clear that this measure was without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom to take whatever additional measures may be needed in the exercise of its right of self-defence under article '51 of the United Nations Charter. In this connection, Her Majesty's Government now wishes to make clear that any approach on the part of Argentine warships, including submarines, naval auxiliaries, or military aircraft which could amount to a threat to interfere with the mission of British Forces in the South Atlantic will encounter the appropriate response. All Argentine aircraft including civil aircraft engaging in surveillance of these British Forces will be regarded as hostile and are liable to be dealt with accordingly. That was the end of the warning.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

From that time on, why were the rules of engagement changed at all if they were so clear?

Mr. Heseltine

The rules of engagement govern the orders and discipline within which the British Fleet operates. The warning that I have read was given to the Argentines.

At the end of April the task force was close to the Falkland Islands. It had limited defences against attack, particularly from the air. It was operating 8,000 miles away from home against forces operating close to their own mainland. Argentina could bring to bear both land-based aircraft and those on the aircraft carrier the 25th of May, which greatly increased the reach and flexibility of the Argentine air threat. Argentine ships could move quickly from the safe haven of areas close to the Argentine coast to positions where they could threaten our forces. The Royal Navy had no such easy options.

The first hostilities around the Falkland Islands took place on 1 May. That day Vulcan and Sea Harrier aircraft attacked Argentine positions on Stanley airfield to enforce the total exclusion zone. The task force itself came under attack for the first time from the Argentine air force and some Argentine aircraft were shot down. There was no doubt in Argentina about what was happening. Argentine radio on 1 May claimed that they had attacked the task force.

On 2 May there were clear and unequivocal indications that the task force was under further threat from a strong and co-ordinated pincer movement by the major units of the Argentine navy, including the cruiser General Belgrano and the aircraft carrier. The Prime Minister and her War Cabinet were advised of the threat in the light of the best military and intelligence assessments and were advised by the Chief of the Defence Staff that the rules of engagement should be changed to permit attacks on Argentine warships outside the exclusion zone.

No Prime Minister could have hesitated in the face of that advice. The rules of engagement were changed, not only to cope with the threat from the Belgrano but to cope with that from other Argentine warships on the high seas. Argentina had been clearly warned on 23 April that a threat to interfere with the mission of British forces would encounter the appropriate response.

On 4 May, Sir John Nott described to the House the circumstances of the attack on the Belgrano, saying that she had been detected at 8 pm on 2 May when the group of ships of which she was a part was closing on elements of our task force. Both the Falkland campaign White Paper and Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse's official dispatch also referred to detection on 2 May. We know that, in fact, she was sighted on 1 May. I will explain how the Prime Minister and I came to address this error in March of this year. The Prime Minister in her letter to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has fully explained the background to Sir John Nott's statement on 4 May.

Interest in these and other questions was heightened by the publication of a book on the sinking of the General Belgrano by Messrs Gayshon and Rice. From the time of publication in March 1984 a range of detail was available that raised a host of issues and questions. Two particular issues emerged: first, the date on which the Belgrano was detected; secondly, the course of the Belgrano and the orders under which she was operating from the time when she was first picked up by HMS Conqueror to that when she was sunk.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli wrote on behalf of the shadow Cabinet to the Prime Minister on 6 March 1984. His letter focused mainly on the issue of when the Belgrano had first been located and sighted, but also asked about the ship's course when it was sunk. His letter was referred to Mr. Ponting as the head of the appropriate division for advice and for a draft reply. I personally gave no guidance to Mr. Ponting about the advice that he should provide. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces went further and asked that the option of admitting for the first time that the Belgrano was sighted on 1 May and not 2 May should be addressed. Mr. Ponting submitted his advice through my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and it reached my office on 21 March. I intend to quote from Mr. Ponting's advice and also from the manuscript note written on that advice by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I will, as I have said, make these documents available.

Mr. Ponting wrote: You asked for a draft reply to send to No. 10 for the Prime Minister to send to Denzil Davies and the Shadow Cabinet. Minister (AF) asked me to prepare a draft admitting for the first time that the Belgrano was sighted on 1st May and not 2nd May, this is draft 2 attached. I have however prepared an alternative reply, draft 1, which maintains the existing public line. There are no operational or intelligence reasons for withholding the 1st May date and the choice between the drafts is therefore essentially political".

Mr. Ponting went on to set out the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative course, but left the issue to me. He said in his advice that the choice was "essentially political". My right hon. Friend added a manuscript note making it clear that it was he who had sought drafts on both bases in referring the matter to me.

It is plain beyond doubt that my right hon. Friend was determined that I, not he, should be able to make a proper judgment about how the Prime Minister should be advised to reply to the shadow Cabinet. It is also clear that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was the first person whose name is associated with a policy of more, not less, disclosure. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces did not seek to take the decision, and merely ensured that I had the options in front of me.

In practice, I did not put either of Mr. Ponting's alternative drafts to the Prime Minister. The explanation is simple. On 19 March the hon. Member for Linlithgow wrote me a letter asking nine questions. In one respect the hon. Gentleman repeated the question about the date of the detection of the Belgrano, as had the letter from the right hon. Member for Llanelli. But the hon. Gentleman went on to ask a number of other questions concerning the course followed by the Belgrano, the details of the attack on her, and others relating to the Argentine aircraft carrier.

I decided that, as a result of the events that I have described, I could not properly discharge my duty to Parliament unless I had before me an account of events in the South Atlantic in a detail that no one until that time had considered necessary. Mr. Ponting was asked to prepare that document—the document known as the "Crown Jewels".

I must now read to the House the instructions that were sent to Mr. Ponting about what was required. The House will remember that the central issue of this debate is whether Ministers sought to cover up the events that we are discussing. My private secretary, Richard Mottram, wrote to Mr. Ponting on 22 March. I quote two passages of his minute: The Secretary of State wishes to know the substance of what happened at the beginning of May 1982 in relation to the Belgrano and the Argentine aircraft carrier in order to judge how much of this can properly be made public without security implications. For the purpose of considering the substance, he would be grateful for a detailed chronology of the events leading up to the sinking of the Belgrano. This should cover the answers to the questions raised by Mr. Dalyell in his latest letter together with those to the following questions. Having listed a range of other questions that might be worth exploring, Richard Mottram went on: This list of questions"— that is, his list of questions— is simply those which occur to me and is not meant to be exhaustive. What the Secretary of State is seeking is a comprehensive account of events which covers all the information and not just that which underpins the main defensive line we have used hitherto. I would be happy to have this in log form with the relevant documents enclosed — given the possible sensitivity of some of the information involved there would be no need of course to copy it widely within the Department.

Additionally, I should be grateful for a draft reply to Mr. Dalyell's latest letter together with advice on whether the line proposed to be taken with Dalyell affects the line proposed to be taken with Denzil Davies. Mr. Ponting's reply—[Interruption.] The House is fully aware that it would be inconceivable if the Civil Service were not to ensure that, if the Prime Minister is answering specialist questions, what she says is consistent with the advice from the specialist Department concerned. Mr. Ponting's reply to the minute is the document which is publicly known as the "Crown Jewels". It consists of Mr. Ponting's advice, an unclassified draft reply to the letter of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and a log, and supporting documentation, dealing with highly sensitive operational and intelligence aspects of the sinking of the Belgrano. The document is classified "Top Secret. Codeword". That classification would have been applied by Mr. Ponting, reflecting the classification of some of its source material.

Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)

What is the difference between determining the line and telling the truth?

Mr. Heseltine

"Determining the line" is simply the language that is commonly used in the Civil Service to describe the advice that Ministers are given for public disclosure. The hon. Gentleman will remember those words from his experience as a Minister in the Labour Government.

I should like to deal first with the conclusions which Mr. Ponting reached. He concluded that, on the basis of the information in the "Crown Jewels", the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and his supporters could be refuted, but, because of the classification of the material, it was not possible to use it in public to refute detailed allegations.

As to what should be said to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, Mr. Ponting's advice was that the draft reply was simple because, whatever general line was taken, these issues related to detailed operational and intelligence information. He therefore submitted a draft reply to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, which read as follows: Thank you for your letter of 19th March.

As I expect you know the Prime Minister has, in a letter to Denzil Davies, confirmed that the Belgrano was sighted on 1st May. However, the other questions you have raised in your letter all concern detailed operational and intelligence matters on which I am not prepared to comment. Those are not my words, but Mr. Ponting's. They represent Mr. Ponting's considered advice to me on 29 March as to how I should reply to the hon. Member for Linlithgow. That advice presented me with difficult problems in carrying out my responsibilities to Parliament for the defence interests of the country and my responsibility to Parliament to provide it with as much information as is compatible with that security.

Mr. Ponting's role in the "Crown Jewels" is clear. He informed me that the long running arguments of the hon. Member for Linlithgow did not stand, that an effective negation of his case was incompatible with national security and that the hon. Gentleman should be sent a six-line reply closing down that line of inquiry. I could simply have accepted Mr. Ponting's advice that day and sent a reply on the basis that he proposed, but I refused to accept his advice.

I was scheduled to leave for a NATO meeting the following Monday, so there was therefore great urgency. I called a series of meetings on Friday 30 March and Sunday 1 April. Their purpose was to address how far information could be disclosed in answer to the right hon. Member for Llanelli and the hon. Member for Linlithgow without security implications. We had before us Mr. Ponting's advice, which leaned towards disclosure on when the Belgrano was sighted, but which was categorically opposed to answering the questions asked by the hon. Member for Linlithgow, on grounds of operational and intelligence security.

The first meeting ended inconclusively. I decided that I would report matters to the Prime Minister. However, after the meeting broke up, I discussed further the form of my advice to the Prime Minister with my permanent secretary, Sir Clive Whitmore. My private secretary was also present. The conclusion that was reached was recorded and I am making available a copy of that record. My problem was to define as responsibly as I could the line up to which I could reveal information to Parliament, but beyond which I could not go without damaging national security.

The conclusion that I reached provisionally was that it might well now be possible to reveal that the Conqueror first detected the Belgrano group on 30 April 1982, and first sighted the Belgrano itself on 1 May, but that the Government should not allow themselves to be driven beyond that point, whatever the pressures. Those conclusions were made known to Mr. Ponting at that time. He never queried them. They are totally inconsistent with Mr. Ponting's account in The Observer yesterday.

Mr. Dalyell

If this is the line that the Secretary of State is taking in relation to Mr. Ponting, as counsel said in court, he was not counsel for Mr. Dalyell but counsel for Mr. Ponting. Nevertheless, if this is the line, does the Secretary of State not think that he ought to have gone to court No. 2 at the Old Bailey himself, rather than send Richard Mottram, and submitted himself to examination by counsel?

Mr. Heseltine

I think the hon. Gentleman will understand on reflection that, as I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General have made clear, I had no part to play in the conduct of the case against Mr. Ponting. With the sole exception of the question arising out of the release of the "Crown Jewels" on security grounds, if it had been considered necessary or desirable by those conducting the case to have called me to the court, I should, of course, have been prepared to go. They did not ask me to go or consult me about whether they should ask me to go, and I was not called. I believe that that is a complete answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

I reported my preliminary conclusions that Friday afternoon to the Prime Minister, but I was still not wholly satisfied. I was determined to talk to the head of the appropriate intelligence agency and other intelligence experts outside the Ministry of Defence, in addition to my own advisers on these matters. That I did on the afternoon of Sunday 1 April. That meeting addressed in full the intelligence background to the action taken by the Government on 2 May 1982 and what might be said in response to the claims which were being made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow, Messrs. Gayshon and Rice and others about the interception of Argentine orders to its fleet. The House will appreciate that the information then appearing in the British press and in the books that I have mentioned was largely the product of Argentine sources, which were anxious, no doubt, to probe the scale of our understanding of their activities.

It was obvious that once the Government had confirmed that the Belgrano had reversed course at 9 am on 2 May and had headed for a number of hours in a westerly direction, the focus of attention would be on the intelligence assessment which led to the decision to sink the ship and upon allegations about Argentine orders to recall the fleet to port, and whether these had any connection with the so-called Peruvian peace initiative.

It is possible to answer a question on a matter of fact which is not of itself classified, but if that single answer then becomes, as one would anticipate that it might, a precedent for a series of similar questions, that series could lead rapidly into matters that are classified. As events have shown, the disclosure of information about the movements of the Belgrano has led precisely to detailed questions, the answers to which would breach national security. The advice put to me by the Government's intelligence authorities at the time was that it would not be possible safely to comment on these matters. They gave me their reasons, which were compelling, and Mr. Ponting was present. I concluded, therefore, that the preliminary judgment that I had reached on Friday 30 March should stand—that we should not enter into a debate with the hon. Member for Linlithgow about events at the beginning of May 1982. That judgment reflected Mr. Ponting's advice.

It has now been alleged that that decision was to do with political embarrassment. I deny that allegation utterly. At that time I recommended that we should face political embarrassment involved in correcting the date when the Belgrano had been detected. I concluded that to maintain the statement made originally to the House by Sir John Nott was no longer right. I therefore advised the Prime Minister, who immediately and without qualification agreed.

Consequently, the Prime Minister replied to the right hon. Member for Llanelli on 4 April essentially on the basis of the advice that I had given the previous Friday. I had a further brief word with my right hon. Friend on Monday 2 April, at which my right hon. Friend the Minister for State for the Armed Forces was present. That was the only occasion on which he discussed these matters with the Prime Minister. He did so at my invitation and in my presence. The Prime Minister's reply was in much fuller terms than Mr. Ponting had originally recommended and along the lines that I had suggested.

The dispatch by the Prime Minister of her letter to the right hon. Member for Llanelli opened the way for me to deal with the original nine questions of the hon. Member for Linlithgow in his letter to me of 19 March. I was about to do that when the hon. Gentleman wrote to the Prime Minister pursuing issues raised in her letter to the right hon. Member for Llanelli. The hon. Member for Linlithgow wrote a four-page letter which covered the Belgrano's course, our intelligence capability, the motivation behind the decisions and issues concerning the rules of engagement. When referring to the Prime Minister's letter the hon. Gentleman said: You stressed that on 2nd May we had indications about the movements of the Argentine fleet which lead to Admiral Woodward's request for a change in the Rules of Engagement. What precisely were those indications? … My information is that the Argentine fleet was by that time under orders to return to base and you knew that. Gayshon and Rice in their book set precise times (2007 hours on 1st May and 0119 hours on 2nd May) when those orders were sent by Admiral Allara, and by the Naval Command in Buenos Aires. The text of one of those messages is included in their book. The hon. Member for Linlithgow, within one day of the Government's response to the shadow Cabinet, was attempting to draw us precisely into those areas of security which we had anticipated he would and on which we knew we would not be able to comment. We could not have had a speedier or clearer vindication of our judgment that the hon. Gentleman would not rest until our security and intelligence protection was stripped away.

In line with the approach that I had previously discussed with the Prime Minister, it was suggested that my right hon. Friend should reply very briefly to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, making it clear that his purpose in asking these questions was to establish his contention that the attack on the Belgrano was related to Peruvian peace proposals—all of the allegations appeared yet again in his letter. In those circumstances, it was not useful to prolong the exchanges. That was what Ministers decided. The Prime Minister replied along those lines on 12 April, but before she did so, Mr. Ponting, as one of the responsible officials, was invited to comment on the approach that she was considering. On 10 April he said that he would not dissent from the suggestion that the Prime Minister should avoid detailed exchanges with the hon. Member for Linlithgow and that a general reply would be sufficient.

The House will realise that, because the hon. Member for Linlithgow had written on 5 April to the Prime Minister and attention was focused on her reply, I had at this stage yet to reply to the nine questions in the hon. Gentleman's earlier letter of 19 March, which had been at the heart of the "Crown Jewels" exercise, during which Mr. Ponting had already submitted to me one draft reply, which I have read to the House.

On the same day that the Prime Minister sent her general reply to the hon. Member for Linlithgow —1 April — Mr. Ponting submitted further advice on the questions put to me on 19 March.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)


Mr. Heseltine

The advice that Mr. Ponting gave me was diametrically opposed to that in his earlier draft. Although he told me on 29 March that it was not possible to answer the questions of the hon. Member for Linlithgow because they touched on operational and intelligence matters, on 12 April he told me that the answers were not classified and should therefore be given.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, having read Mr. Ponting's advice, minuted me to point out that it was inconsistent with the line that the Prime Minister had just taken with the agreement of all involved, including Mr. Ponting, in her reply to the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

Mr. Sheldon


Mr. Heseltine

I shall give way, but not in the middle of a sequence of events which it is important for the House to hear in one piece.

My right hon. Friend the Minister could not have behaved more properly or more speedily. But it would not have made any difference if he had not sent me a minute, because I was already fully aware of the background to these issues and that for no apparent reason Mr. Ponting had changed his advice and now sought to reverse my earlier decision.

Mr. Sheldon

The right hon. Gentleman is making a great deal of the fact that Mr. Ponting was giving advice of a kind that fitted in exactly with what the right hon. Gentleman wished. Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that civil servants do that all the time? When I was on the Fulton committee, I saw that happening all the time. Parliamentary secretaries always provide the sort of information that they know will be required by a Minister. That happens all the time and is not a cause for surprise.

Mr. Heseltine

That is one of the most scurrilous attacks on the Civil Service that I have ever heard. [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker: Order. I call the Secretary of State.

Mr. Heseltine

The House has heard me read my private secretary's instructions to Mr. Ponting to provide me with the truth. There was no possible, conceivable pressure on Mr. Ponting to do anything but to tell me the whole story at the time.

As I said, Mr. Ponting, for no apparent reason, had changed his advice and sought to reverse my earlier decision based on that advice. I therefore replied in general terms to the hon. Member for Linlithgow on 18 April in line with the decision which the Prime Minister and I had taken on the basis of the advice of our most senior advisers on matters affecting national security, and in conformity with Mr. Ponting's earlier advice and agreement. Mr. Ponting made no protest about my answer, either to me or to his superiors through the established channels of complaint open to members of Her Majesty's Civil Service.

Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Minister ever had a coherent explanation for Mr. Ponting's change of advice, until yesterday. In The Sunday Times Mr. Ponting gave his explanation. He stated: When the 'Crown Jewels' were actually written, I had four days to do it in. It was very complex and I did not have time for analysis. It was only later that I realised that much of the information was not classified and could be released. For the House to judge the credibility of this explanation, I shall set out the actual time scale of Mr. Ponting's involvement. Mr. Ponting had been looking into some of these issues since the letter of the right hon. Member for Llanelli was referred to his division at the beginning of March. Certainly he had been the head of the division only since 9 March, but he was an experienced official and could draw on the advice of other experienced officials. He had far more time to analyse these matters than the Ministers who had to account to Parliament and to draw on his advice and the advice of the other experts concerned. In any case, on 10 April, after about five weeks in the job, he was advising that the Prime Minister should send a general reply, and two days later he proposed that I should do the exact opposite.

We should now move on to the heart of the Opposition's amendment—that my memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee provided a misleading account of changes in the rules of engagement during the Falklands campaign. We should move on, not only because it is specifically referred to in the Opposition's amendment, but because until very recently it was said to have been Mr. Ponting's shock at Ministers' handling of that evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that forced him to overturn all the instincts, after 14 years in the Civil Service, that told him that loyalty was to Ministers and to the Department. Those words came from The Observer yesterday. We should move on if we accept Mr. Ponting's version of events—that is, his version of events until a week ago.

Far from acting in protest against the Foreign Affairs Select Committee memorandum, we were still 11 weeks away from the submission of that memorandum. Far from being driven to near breaking point by ministerial consideration of the handling of parliamentary questions in mid-May, Mr. Ponting began the process of breaking his loyalty to Ministers and to the ethics of Her Majesty's Civil Service on 24 April, when he sent an anonymous letter to the hon. Member for Linlithgow. As I have told the House, I had replied to the hon. Member for Linlithgow on 18 April in line with the policy advice that Mr. Ponting himself had originated, and which the Prime Minister and I had accepted. For no good reason, Mr. Ponting later tried to persuade me to change that position. He failed. Within days of receiving a copy of my letter to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, he began the process of feeding ideas and questions to the hon. Member for Linlithgow anonymously.

Mr. Dalyell

The ideas on the rules of engagement came from me, as will be witnessed by the discussions that I had with Professor John Erickson of the University of Edinburgh. As we are on this subject, let me quote a letter from the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee — [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]—1 June 1984. It stated: Dear Tam, Thank you for your letter of 19 May, to which I am sorry not to have been able to reply sooner. I will certainly keep confidential the letter you were kind enough to send me. I would doubt whether it really alters the situation. That situation will be reflected in the answers to your questions and I regard the letter as more in the nature of an encouragement than a breach of any confidence. That was the view of a senior member of the Conservative party.

Mr. Heseltine

In no way would I wish to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman. I think I heard him say that the letter he wrote was dated 19 May, but the anonymous letter that he received was on 24 April. I think the hon. Gentleman said that the ideas about the rules of engagement were his. I hope the House will remember that the hon. Gentleman has claimed those ideas for his own, when later I explain certain factual contributions. I shall take the opportunity to remind the House of that precise intervention later in my speech.

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Gentleman should get his officials to phone Erickson.

Mr. Heseltine

As I said, within days of receiving a copy of my letter to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, Mr. Ponting began the process of feeding ideas and questions to the hon. Gentleman anonymously.

On 19 August 1984 the hon. Member for Linlithgow was quoted in The Observer as having received three documents, the first of which was dated 24 April and sent to him at the House of Commons in a plain envelope similar to that containing the other papers which he subsequently received in mid-July. When this article appeared in August, there was little that those concerned with security in my Department could be expected to do. No one knew at the time where that anonymous letter had originated.

On the night of Mr. Ponting's acquittal—a week ago today, on Monday 11 February—"News at Ten" carried an interview with Mr. Ponting which was, I believe, a shortened version of one shown earlier that evening on Channel 4. The film showed Mr. Ponting typing a letter. It showed the envelope in which it was sent, addressed to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and postmarked 24 April. I shall place in the Library of the House a copy of the contents of that letter transcribed from the copy shown on the television screen.

I shall now read the contents of that letter — [Interruption.] I should alert the House to the fact that the envelope on the screen was clearly dated 24 April. Again, I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Member for Linlithgow. He says that the letter was undated, but the envelope was dated by the post officials, and I think I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman later admitted that he had the letter on 24 April. I do not think that there is any difference between us on the technical question of when he got the letter, although there may be differences between us about what happened as a consequence.

In reading this letter I must now fulfil my undertaking to remind the House of what the hon. Member for Linlithgow said a few minutes ago—that the ideas about the rules of engagement originated with him. The letter stated: Dear Mr. Dalyell, For what I hope will be obvious reasons I cannot give you my name but I can tell that I have full access to exactly what happened to the Belgrano. You have probably seen by now that Michael Heseltine has not covered any of the questions that you posed in your letter in March. This was against the advice of officials but in line with what John Stanley recommended. None of the information is classified and to get answers you should put the questions down as PQs. The answers will be quite interesting. In addition you might like to consider another linked question. Did the change in the Rules of Engagement on 2nd May refer only to the Belgrano or did they go wider? When were the Rules of Engagement changed to allow an attack on the 25 de Mayo? Was this on 2nd May or was it earlier. If so, when?

You are on the right track. Keep going." It will be seen that this letter was sent on 24 April. If Mr. Ponting is the author, as he claims he is, it is not consistent with his argument that he was driven to leak by my behaviour or by the behaviour of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in May or July. In the news programmes in which it was shown, the impression was created that he was forced to write anonymously because of the exchanges that he had had with the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in May about the handling of parliamentary questions. I shall come to that issue in a moment. The only problem with this version of events is that not even my right hon. Friend can take actions in May which provoke a civil servant to write anonymously in April. I know that my right hon. Friend is regarded in some quarters as having the most extraordinary powers. He was even accused two weeks ago by the hon. Member for Linlithgow of managing to doctor Admiral Fieldhouse's official dispatch in 1982, while at the time he was serving the Government as a highly successful Minister for Housing and Construction.

Mr. Dalyell

Remember his Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies' connections.

Mr. Heseltine

We have the highest regard for my right hon. Friend, but even we do not think that he has powers of this supernatural quality.

What was the true sequence of events? As I have said, Mr. Ponting appears to have written anonymously to the hon. Member for Linlithgow very soon after he had seen the terms in which I had written to the hon. Member. There was not much time devoted to agonising. As we know, since the full text of the letter became available a week ago, he suggested that the hon. Member for Linlithgow should do two things: first, that he should put down for answer in Parliament the unanswered questions from his letter of 19 March; secondly, that he should ask some new questions about changes in the rules of engagement.

As we now know, the hon. Member for Linlithgow acted on the first suggestion separately from the second. He put down as questions to me some of those left over from his earlier letter. He also asked a related question to the Prime Minister about how many times contact was made and lost between Conqueror and the Belgrano on 1 and 2 May, what were the reasons for the loss of contact on each occasion, and if she would make a statement. At the same time, on 1 May, he wrote me a further letter asking me to answer his questions.

The answers to the parliamentary questions were addressed first and came in the normal way to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. All but one of the questions in the event fell by the wayside because the hon. Member for Linlithgow was suspended from the House. The one that remained was to the Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was in touch with No. 10 Downing street about it.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces asked for Mr. Ponting's views on 9 May on the suggestion that the Prime Minister should reply in part: It is not our practice to comment on military operational matters or the details of military operations. Those who regard that phrase as sinister might reflect that Mr. Ponting himself had recommended some six weeks previously that the hon. Member for Linlithgow's questions should not be answered because: all concerned detailed operational and intelligence matters on which I am not prepared to comment. The hon. Member's question, if answered in full, would have gone to the heart of our submarine capability. An answer, if given, would add nothing to the essential story about why and how the Belgrano was sunk. Mr. Ponting put up advice on 9 May saying that the formula suggested by my right hon. Friend could not be sustained and recommended again that I should answer the hon. Member for Linlithgow's questions.

There was no reason to change the approach agreed earlier. It misled no one—certainly the hon. Member for Linlithgow was under no illusions about what it meant. It was not necessary to deploy the sentence to which Mr. Ponting objected. It is ridiculous to suggest that there was no operational sensitivity about disclosing details of Conqueror's sonar stalk of the Belgrano. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered the question on 17 May, she followed the strategic approach which I had agreed with her, but the sentence to which Mr. Ponting objected was not in the answer. In other words, the real lesson of these events is that I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces went to some lengths to consult Mr. Ponting and to try to take account of his views. He, meanwhile, was conducting an argument with us, having already started writing anonymously to the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

Before we leave the anonymous letter of 24 April, it is worth recalling the second of Mr. Ponting's suggestions. This is the point at which the hon. Member for Linlithgow was telling us that he had originated the process of interrogation. Mr. Ponting offered the hon. Member for Linlithgow some new questions on rules of engagement. When the hon. Gentleman wrote to me again on 27 May, there, as large as life, were Mr. Ponting's anonymous questions repeated word for word. So much for the suggestion that it was the hon. Gentleman who conceived that these were questions that should be asked.

The constitutional novelty that the House is expected to support, if the Opposition have their way, is that the most trusted civil servants, in the most secure parts of our defence establishments, should be free anonymously to draft questions for Opposition Back Benchers to submit to Ministers on which the self-same leaking civil servants may then brief the Ministers on the answers which they consider appropriate. The Opposition may perhaps be beginning to wonder whether they have been any better served by Mr. Ponting than I was. I now come, finally, to the issue of the memorandum that I submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee on rules of engagement.

I say "I submitted" deliberately, because that memorandum has come to be called the "Stanley Memorandum". The memorandum was presented to Ministers by Michael Legge, head of defence secretariat 11, and his minute is known as the "Legge Minute."

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the right hon. Gentleman sure about him?

Mr. Heseltine

If it helps the hon. Gentleman in his characteristic attempts to denigrate everything that is said in the House, I must tell him that Michael Legge is an exemplary and talented civil servant.

I made it clear to the Foreign Affairs Committee, when I gave evidence to it, that it was a memorandum which I approved and which is therefore my responsibility. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces certainly advised me—that is what he is there to do—but I decided to send in the memorandum, and I am wholly responsible for what happened.

So what did happen? The Foreign Affairs Committee was not investigating the sinking of the Belgrano. The terms of reference of its inquiry are clear. They were: To examine progress towards the restoration of diplomatic and commercial relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina since June 1982; to examine the future constitutional and economic development of the Falkland Islands; and to examine the prospects for a negotiated settlement of the UK/Argentine dispute over the Falkland Islands in the light of the establishment of a democratic regime in Buenos Aires and in the light of previous failures to secure such a settlement. In his letter of 28 June the Clerk of the Foreign Affairs Committee——

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Select Committee decided to conduct two inquiries, one with the terms of reference that he has just quoted, and the other on the events arising out of the happenings on 1 and 2 May. There were two separate inquiries.

Mr. Heseltine

If what the hon. Gentleman says is the case, I unreservedly accept that point. [Interruption.] However, that does not change the significance of the letter that we received in the Department from the Clerk of the Foreign Affairs Committee. This letter set the terms upon which the original advice and memorandum were placed. It asked for: A note of all changes in the Rules of Engagement issued to HM Forces in the South Atlantic between 2nd April and 15th June 1982 and confinning the accuracy of Mr. Pym's statement to the Committee on 11th June that changes in the Rules of Engagement: 'happened quite a number of times in the course of the war.' This request presented my Department with a difficulty. A comprehensive list of all the changes in the rules of engagement would have been classified, but we were advised that the Committee would prefer the note to be unclassified. Ministers therefore received a draft addressing the issue which had provoked the original inquiry, but in a document which was not in itself classified.

The memorandum was not misleading. It never purported to be a comprehensive list of all the changes in the rules of engagement, and it could never have been read as such. If the Foreign Affairs Committee wished, in the light of our advice, still to receive a comprehensive list, it had a simple remedy open to it, and that was to ask again for such a list. I would have supplied it on a classified basis and, indeed, subsequently I did.

The House will realise that I discussed the matter with the Foreign Affairs Committee when I appeared before it. It would be quite wrong of me to anticipate its views, but I must provide for the House my views on the significance of the so-called Legge minute advising me how to respond to the Select Committee's request.

Paragraph 1 of that minute sets out the basis of the request from the Committee which I have read to the House. Paragraph 2 gives five reasons why I should not comply with the Committee's request in full. The first reason transcends all the others, and I shall read it to the House: Firstly, the rules of engagement themselves are classified and are drawn from the Fleet operating and tactical instructions, which is a classified document. The Committee has indicated that they would prefer the note to be unclassified. The second reason leaves no responsible Secretary of State any discretion, and I shall read it to the House: Secondly, some of the rules of engagement are still in force for our Falklands garrison. We run the risk of undermining their effectiveness if they were published and debated openly by the Foreign Affairs Committee. The third and fourth reasons are about the time involved and the problems of converting the rules to layman's language. They are not compelling.

The fifth reason is presumably that which motivates the Opposition today. It reads: In addition, a full list of changes would provide more information than Ministers have been prepared to reveal so far about the Belgrano affair. Taken out of context by someone unaware of the circumstances, that sounds damaging. But in the context of the first two reasons it is clearly not the reason why I did not give the Foreign Affairs Committee a full list of rules of engagement changes. My duty, first and foremost, is to national security. The House will realise that in this case Ministers followed the official and expert military advice of the Department, and I have never doubted that it was right.

The House will know that as soon as the memorandum had been sent to the Select Committee, Mr. Ponting leaked it to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, who took to the Foreign Affairs Committee the document containing the advice of his, Mr. Ponting's, colleague, Michael Legge. Mr. Ponting's explanation is that this was the straw that broke the camel's back; that his sense of integrity no longer permitted him to hold back from sending papers that he leaked to a wider world. Of course, he had been writing anonymous letters before that, but that is the explanation about which we have been told.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)


Mr. Heseltine

There is one small gap in the logic of Mr. Ponting's position. Perhaps it would have a momentary credibility if Mr. Ponting's first exposure of his colleague Michael Legge's work was when it was presented, beyond Mr. Ponting's influence, to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The facts are diametrically opposed to this version of events.

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Heseltine

Michael Legge's name appears at the bottom of the Legge memorandum. Michael Legge was the head of defence secretariat 11 at the time. But the memorandum was not the sole product of Michael Legge's division. It was the joint work of two civilian divisions, together with military advice. Michael Legge was one of those divisions.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Michael's leg was pulled.

Mr. Heseltine

It was, by Mr. Ponting. But the truth is that the leg that has been pulled further and faster in this debate is the leg of the Opposition, and it is not surprising that they have not even one leg left on which to stand.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State is not giving way.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) can see for himself that the Secretary of State is not giving way.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may be that you can see that the Secretary of State is not giving way to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, (Mr. Dalyell). But, through you, may I ask whether the Secretary of State has seen me seeking to intervene?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the Secretary of State saw the hon. Gentleman rise, but he can say that for himself.

Mr. Spearing

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene?

Mr. Heseltine

No. I hope the House will feel that I have given way to hon. Members at points which have not interrupted the flow of what is a complicated explanation. It is very important that the House hears this critical analysis, because this is at the heart of the Opposition's amendment.

As I was saying, this memorandum was the joint work of two civilian divisions, together with military advice. Michael Legge's was one of those divisions. The other division was Mr. Ponting's. Michael Legge submitted his first advice to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces on 6 July. On the same day, he sent me a copy. He also sent a copy to Mr. Ponting, whose junior officials had co-operated in its production.

Ministers made no change to the basic approach in that draft memorandum. It was ready to be issued to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 16 July. Mr. Ponting, upon whom I was entitled to rely for advice, spent 10 days in absolute silence. He made no protest to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. He made no protest to me. He made no protest to any of his senior colleagues, only some of whom had been involved in earlier discussions. If he had had this sense of outrage about what his own colleagues were advising, why did he not challenge their advice? Why did he not try to stop the memorandum from going to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the first place?

I was entitled to expect that a man in such a position of trust would give me his full and dispassionate advice, but he did not. Parliament is expected to believe that, before Ministers make statements to the House or its Committees, civil servants in senior positions will advise on the text of such submissions. Mr. Ponting did not.

So we have another constitutional novelty. A senior and trusted civil servant upon whom Ministers were entitled to rely for loyal and conscientious service claims it proper to sit in silence believing that Ministers are deceiving Parliament so that at the moment that it happens he may leak anonymously the advice of his own Civil Service colleagues which he has done nothing to counter.

The Government, the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and I, and those official advisers with whom we have worked in a spirit of trust and mutual loyalty, have fully discharged their duties and have misled no one. The House will judge whether Mr. Ponting can say the same.

What lay, and still lies today, at the heart of these issues is the safety of British service men serving in the South Atlantic. Ministers were faced over the weekend of 1–2 May 1982 with clear evidence that the Argentine navy was planning to attack the task force. A major part of that threat was the General Belgrano. The task force commander decided that he must respond by attacking the Belgrano and so remove that source of danger to his ships. Exactly when the Belgrano was first sighted and exactly where she was when sunk were not relevant to the starkly dangerous and uncertain situation that our forces were in.

Ministers would have behaved with the utmost irresponsibility if they had rejected the advice of the Government's military advisers and not given the task force commander the authority that he had sought. They gave me that authority. HMS Conqueror sank the Belgrano. The Argentine navy was effectively knocked out of the conflict. The Government have already published a great deal of information about these events of nearly three years ago. I should like to be able to give the House every single detail, but I cannot today, just as my predecessor could not at the time. Some of the crucial information came to us from the most sensitive sources. Those sources are as vital to us and to our armed forces now as they were in 1982.

I, as the Secretary of State for Defence, have to balance my responsibility to give information to this House with my duty to safeguard national security, and in particular the security of our forces. That is a difficult line to draw. But I and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have always made it clear that that was what we were doing. Ours have not been the actions of people engaged in a hole-in-the-corner cover-up, in an attempt to mislead this House. Ours have been the actions of Ministers exercising the highest and most difficult responsibilities of our office.

4.50 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: believes that, by seeking to conceal information from, and to purvey distorted and misleading information to, the House of Commons and its Foreign Affairs Committee on the subject of the sinking of the General Belgrano, Ministers have betrayed their responsibility to Parliament.".

As was to be expected, the Secretary of State tried to carry out a character assassination of Mr. Ponting. Indeed, it was entirely to be expected because that, at the end of the day, is the only case which the Secretary of State can try to put at that Dispatch Box. He gave an account of a very unreal world in the Ministry of Defence. This terrible man Ponting, who had been given the Order of the British Empire on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, was trying to prevent information from being disclosed to Parliament when over a period of three years these innocent Ministers—the Secretary of State, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister—were desperately keen to let Parliament have all the information that they could about the Belgrano. That is the unreal world in which the Secretary of State seems to have been living, because the world at the Old Bailey a few weeks ago was quite different.

The Opposition do not condone breaches of trust by civil servants or by Ministers who have a duty to account to this House, but at the Old Bailey a civil servant, who had spent 14 years in the Civil Service, risked prosecution and a gaol sentence of at least six months. That was the kind of sentence that Sarah Tisdall received when she was prosecuted by the right hon. Gentleman's Government. This civil servant apparently did not want to disclose any information. He carried out the wishes of Ministers. Then, by some kind of magic catalyst, he ended up at the Old Bailey where his whole career and future were put in jeopardy. That is the kind of unreal and selective account which the Secretary of State has tried to put before the House this afternoon.

The Secretary of State referred to the trial. He could have challenged some of the evidence given by Mr. Ponting at his trial at the Old Bailey—[Horn. MEMBERS: "How?"] How? By calling witnesses to refute that evidence. Is the Secretary of State saying that counsel for the Crown and the Treasury Solicitor did not know what evidence was being given when they sat in court day after day? The right hon. Gentleman could have refuted that evidence.

Mr. Heseltine


Mr. Davies

I shall give way to the Secretary of State in a moment.

That evidence could have been refuted where it should have been refuted. The first place to refute it was before an Old Bailey jury on oath. The right hon. Gentleman did not have the guts to go to the Old Bailey——

Mr. Heseltine


Mr. Davies

I shall give way when I have completed this part of my argument. The Secretary of State did not have the guts to go to the Old Bailey. Instead he sent his poor, unfortunate private secretary. Those of us who have served in Government know of the difficult and conflicting loyalties faced by a private secretary: that on the one hand he has a loyalty to his Minister and that on the other hand he is a member of the Civil Service. It is a very difficult job. The Secretary of State, in a cowardly way, sent his private secretary to give evidence for him at the Old Bailey.

Mr. Heseltine

I realise that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) does not understand how — [Interruption.] I have no idea what papers were put before the court. I have not seen the transcript of the trial proceedings. I was not asked to go to the court. The conduct of these matters is wholly outside the influence or control of Ministers.

Mr. Davies

Nobody is asking Ministers to influence or control anything. My point is that if the Secretary of State objected to the evidence given by Mr. Ponting—and now he has objected to it—why was Mr. Ponting's evidence not objected to at the time it was given? Obviously the Secretary of State has not read the newspapers during the past few weeks. He did not know what was going on at the Old Bailey and it did not interest him, although his Department was heavily involved. Although his private secretary was at the Old Bailey, the Secretary of State knew nothing about it. I remind him of what was said at the Old Bailey by Queen's Counsel for Mr. Ponting at an early stage in the trial.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)


Mr. Davies

Mr. Ponting was acquitted by the Old Bailey jury. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State was heard in silence. If the shadow Minister does not give way, hon. Members must resume their seats.

Mr. Davies

Mr. Ponting was acquitted. I should have thought that the party of law and order would have some respect for courts of law and British juries.

Perhaps I may remind the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, who apparently did not read the newspapers, either, although he featured in them almost every day, of what Mr. Laughland, counsel for Mr. Ponting, said right at the beginning of the trial: Let me make our position perfectly plain. This trial is not about spying. It is a matter of lying, of misleading Parliament. That is what the trial at the Old Bailey was about. This debate is about the consequences of that trial and about the not guilty verdict; it is about the extraordinary revelations, which the Secretary of State has not refuted, about the conduct of Ministers that came out at that trial; it is about a conspiracy to withhold information from this House for a period of almost three years; and it is about the breach by Ministers of the sacred trust of accountability which we believe they owe to this House. Let us be quite clear. The trial at the Old Bailey was not in reality the case of Regina against Ponting; it was the case of Thatcher, Heseltine and Stanley against Ponting. Much to the chagrin of the Secretary of State, the jury held for Ponting.

The Secretary of State went over the history of the matter and I shall try to do so, I hope, at shorter length, although I am not criticising him for the length of his speech. The whole tangled web, as the House knows, which the Government have sought to weave, as we believe, over almost three years in this matter follows from a statement that many of us in the House heard on that fateful day, 4 May 1982. Sir John Nott, the then Secretary of State for Defence, told the House that the battleship, the General Belgrano, had been first sighted on 2 May and was sunk the day it was sighted.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)


Mr. Davies

No, I shall not give way at this stage. I should have thought that that is a fairly uncontroversial statement.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

The General Belgrano was a cruiser, not a battleship.

Mr. Davies

I am sorry.

The statement which Sir John Nott made was untrue. But we have always accepted, and we say it again now, that that statement—that untruth—was a genuine error which was made without any bad faith, in the heat of armed conflict and armed battle.

I believe that there are few hon. Members—at least, I hope so—if any hon. Members who would argue that the high standards of accountability which the House demands of Ministers should be lower in time of war than in time of peace. But most hon. Members would also recognise that in time of war it may well be much more difficult to maintain those high standards. However, the duty on a democratic Government is to put the record straight immediately it is possible for them to do so, and, by putting the record straight, discharging that duty which a Government owe to the House of Commons.

It would be dangerous for our democracy if Governments felt that they did not have to put the record straight and it would be very dangerous if we in the House were to condone that behaviour, because then we would be saying that the standard of accountability is lower in times of war than in times of peace.

The first charge that we make against the Government is that the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, fell down on that duty of accountability and failed to set the record straight as soon as it was possible to do so. There were plenty of opportunities to do so. There were plenty of opportunities for the Government to set the record straight about the incorrect date of 2 May which, as I have said, was not given in bad faith.

First of all—perhaps not first of all, but certainly there was the White Paper published in December 1982 which repeated the same false statement about the date of 2 May, although Ministers, certainly at the Ministry of Defence if not other Ministers, knew at the time that that date was wrong and knew when the Belgrano was detected. Again, the same false statement was put into the London Gazette. We have read the accounts about Admiral Fieldhouse. Whether he wanted the date changed, I do not know, and I do not propose to go down that particular road.

Another 15 months went by during a period, as the Secretary of State has said, of controversy, of questions in the House, of statements by people outside the House, of letters to newspapers, articles and books written, and nothing at all was said or done about the matter. Finally, on 4 April 1984 the truth was dragged out of a reluctant Prime Minister—15 months after the White Paper which could have contained the statement.

As the Secretary of State has said, the truth came in a letter from the Prime Minister in response to a letter which I sent to her on behalf of the Shadow Cabinet. That letter said that an auxiliary oiler accompanying the Belgrano was spotted on 30 April 1982; the Belgrano group was detected on 1 May and the Belgrano was sunk on 2 May.

Mr. Hickmet

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I want to ask him a serious question which is central to the motion and the amendment thereto. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there was no alternative but for the Conqueror to sink the Belgrano? Does he further accept that that ship was not sunk in an effort to scupper the so-called Peruvian peace proposals?

Mr. Davies

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when the statement was made on 4 May but I shall answer his question. I made a statement on the BBC "Today" programme in my capacity as deputy defence spokesman for the Labour party the morning the Belgrano was sunk. When asked about the sinking, I said that if the General Belgrano was a threat to the Royal Navy and to our task force, appropriate action should be taken. But I said at the time that I did not know—I did not have the facts to know — whether it was a threat or not. Unfortunately, with all the prevarications and cover-ups that have been going on, we still do not have the facts. But when we get all the facts I shall make up my mind whether it was a threat. [Interruption.] I see that the Prime Minister finds this amusing. But let me return to the letter. She did not find the letter very amusing, as I shall try to show in a moment. During the whole two years, not only did the Government deliberately fail to give us those three dates instead of 2 May, but the Prime Minister had the effrontery to stand at that Dispatch Box on 21 February 1984 and try to pretend to the House that we had all the facts about that available to us in the House.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall read the exchanges which took place on 21 February at Prime Minister's Question Time between my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the Prime Minister on that very matter. My hon. Friend said: As the captain of the Conquerer has said in print that he was following the General Belgrano for at least 30 hours and the Government persist in claiming that the General Belgrano was detected on the same day as it was sunk,"— that is the very point— who is telling the truth or, bluntly, is it the submarine commander or the Prime Minister who is lying? Mr. Speaker said: Order. The hon. Member must not use that word. I am sure that he will rephrase that final comment. My hon. Friend is adept at rephrasing his questions, so he asked: Is it the submarine commander or the Prime Minister who is telling the truth? The Prime Minister said: The full facts were given in several replies in the House and, I believe, in an Adjournment debate, in an article by my right hon. Friend the former Foreign Secretary and one by the former ambassador to the United States. All the facts are there. They support the Government's case." — [Official Report, 21 February 1984; Vol. 54, c. 695.]

I wrote to the Prime Minister on 6 March and she replied for the first time and gave the dates on 4 April. All the facts were not there. [Interruption.] Or perhaps all the facts were there, but they certainly were not here, in the House. Perhaps now at least—I put it very kindly—the Prime Minister will have the good grace to come to the Dispatch Box and say that on that occasion her statement was wrong—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Davies

The right hon. Lady at least owes the House an apology for that. I was about to say what happened after that single revelation of the truth. However, according to the Secretary of State it was Mr. Ponting who was stopping Ministers from divulging any information. That terrible man Ponting again — the Secretary of State straining at the leash and Ponting holding him back. But the reality — not the unreal account that the Secretary of State gave us this afternoon —is that pretty soon afterwards Ministers decided that they would not really answer any more embarrassing questions about the Belgrano. Whatever the motive, that is what ultimately led to the sending of the Legge memorandum by Mr. Ponting to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), and to the prosecution and acquittal of Mr. Ponting at the Old Bailey.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I shall not give way, as I wish to develop the point. It is worth recalling——

Viscount Cranborne

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I shall not give way.

Although the Secretary of State has been very reluctant even to look at the transcript of the trial, it is worth recalling what Mr. Ponting said on oath and under cross-examination on day seven of the trial about Ministers and the Legge report. Moreover, our court procedures are respected in this country. What Mr. Ponting said under oath about the Legge report sums up the whole problem facing the Government. He said: I thought it —the Legge report— was clearly showing that ministers were misleading a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and that they had misled the House of Commons consistently for two years before that." The Secretary of State did not know that. Apparently he did not know that Mr. Ponting had said it. But there it is —he said it in the Old Bailey.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Davies

There are no prizes for guessing who those Ministers were: the Secretary of State for Defence, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and, indeed, because of her ultimate responsibility, the Prime Minister. I do not think I need spend too much time on the position of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The trial evidence speaks out clearly and devastatingly about his position in all this. The Secretary of State did not try very hard to retrieve the Minister's position for him. He did not manage to do that this afternoon.

I shall quote further from the transcript. Incidentally, that trial was instigated, of course, by the Government and the Attorney-General. It was the Government's trial. They brought Mr. Ponting to court. Perhaps it was not the Prime Minister. She knew nothing about it. The Secretary of State did not know anything about it. No one else knew anything about it, but the Attorney-General did, and he decided, on behalf of the Government, to prosecute Mr. Ponting. Therefore, I think that I am entitled to read out Mr. Ponting's evidence, which was given on oath in that trial, as it directly relates to Government Ministers and to how they acted throughout this affair.

On day six, this is what happened: Mr. Ponting described how Mr. Harford"— we have not heard about him, but apparently he was Mr. Ponting's deputy— told him that the government was concerned over a letter"—the famous letter again— that had arrived from Mr. Denzil Davies, MP … Mr. Laughland"— the Queen's Counsel defending Mr. Ponting— asked Mr. Ponting what Mr. Harford, his subordinate, told him that he was doing about it … He told me that he was working on the two drafts as requested by Mr. Stanley … What had been—did he tell you—his instructions from the Minister for the Armed Forces? I must say that the Secretary of State's account of minutes written by civil servants when he did not tell us what ministerial instructions they had received shows that he lives in an unreal world. I shall repeat that question again.

What had been—did he tell you—his instructions from the Minister for the Armed Forces? The Minister of State will have his opportunity. He did not take it in court, but he will get his opportunity. Indeed, he did not take the opportunity to try to refute these statements. He did not adduce any evidence to try to refute them. The answer to the above question was: That he was to prepare two draft replies, one of which would give a truthful account of the events and the correct date of sighting and detection and one of which would not, and Ministers wished to be able to choose which one they would use. So there were to be two sets of replies, one true and one false, two sets of passports and two sets of accounts. According to evidence given on oath, that is apparently what civil servants are being asked to provide. The statement continues: It was unusual; I had never come across such a practice before in my Civil Service career"— Mr. Ponting had been in the Civil Service for 14 years— Did Mr. Harford do as he was bidden? … Yes, he produced the two drafts for me, together with a covering letter, minute"— to which the Secretary of State has, I believe, referred. Indeed, he received it. Later Mr. Ponting added, referring not simply to the letter but to other matters as well: Because the line suggested by Mr. Stanley was neither truthful nor correct, and it was an attempt to refuse to answer any future parliamentary inquiries whether from the dreaded Mr. Dalyell or from any other Member of Parliament. So there was a refusal to answer questions. That was what was said on oath at the Old Bailey, and it was not challenged by any evidence called by the prosecution. That is the position — [Interruption.] Conservative Members are getting excited.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I shall give way in a moment.

The House can judge between the Secretary of State's version this afternoon which was given after the trial, after the hoped-for conviction had not been obtained and after Mr. Pontin's acquittal, and the evidence that was given on oath at the trial. As far as I am concerned the answers given at the trial show that the Minister of State acted wholly dishonourably in this regard. After that, he cannot command the confidence of the whole House when he makes statements and——

Dr. Hampson


Mr. Davies

I shall give way in a moment, but this is an important part of my speech.

The Minister cannot command the confidence of the whole House when he makes statements, drafts answers and makes speeches. Without any personal malice or gratification on my part—there may be more malice on Conservative Benches — I say to the Minister that he should take the honourable course and resign the high office that he holds.

Dr. Hampson

The right hon. Gentleman is dealing with a central and critical point. Despite the recollections of Mr. Ponting in court, my right hon. Friend said what the instructions to civil servants were, that the documents would be published in this House and that we should then see exactly what was instructed to civil servants. It sounded to me—and I think that it would have sounded to most hon. Members in the Chamber today—that it was perfectly clear that the only reason why two drafts were done—one, in Mr. Ponting's words, more truthful than the other—was that the Minister for the Armed Forces asked for that second draft to be written.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Davies

That is precisely the point we are making.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I urge Opposition Members to let the shadow Minister be heard.

Mr. Davies

I am sure that we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), the Secretary of State's former Parliamentary Private Secretary, for helping us in the matter.

I now come to the part played by the Secretary of State for Defence who, rightly, gave an account of the letter of 6 March, a copy of which no doubt arrived on his desk from the Prime Minister's office, and presumably he was asked to prepare a draft. As he said today, the right hon. Gentleman then asked for an inquiry to be carried out into the whole matter, a perfectly proper thing for him to have done as he had not been Secretary of State at the time when these matters took place. He is reported to have said that he wanted to satisfy himself that there was "no Watergate here" — an interesting choice of phrase — and Mr. Ponting, the trusted civil servant, one of the faith, was put in charge of that general inquiry.

Eventually we got the truth. At the end of the day, after much beating of breasts and heart-searching, the correct date was given. I understand that so many problems were involved that even the hapless Lord Whitelaw was called to Chequers on a Sunday to try to advise on these matters. I think that I see the Prime Minister shaking her head in dissent. Maybe that was not true, and she may wish to deny it. If the Prime Minister indicates dissent, I believe her. I had better believe her because I do not have the secretarial facilities to do otherwise. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Davies

After that brief moment of candour, down came an iron curtain and it was decided, not by Mr. Ponting but by Ministers, that all further embarrassing information about the Belgrano, apparently even information which was not classified, was to be withheld from Parliament. No more embarrassing questions were to be answered, not from my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow or from anyone else. To borrow a phrase from Watergate, Ministers decided to "tough it out" and, on the subject of the Belgrano, to suspend all or most democratic and parliamentary accountability.

Who decided that? Was it the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister? Did the Minister of State, through the faithful former Parliamentary Private Secretary, relay all the requests and orders to the Secretary of State? I do not know the answer, but the Prime Minister must have known about them. She could not possibly not have known about the decision.

Thus, the decision was taken to "tough it out" after that one moment of revealing the truth. The Secretary of State did it quite well, although he tried to obfuscate matters and put out a bit of smoke this afternoon. His first act, as we know, was not to answer — he tried to pretend that somehow it was because of a letter that had gone to the Prime Minister — those nine questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow.

We have been told an interesting doctrine about refusing to answer. It goes something like this: "We cannot answer this question because, if we do, this terrible fellow who is asking it and with whose views we do not agree may not be satisfied with our reply. He may make a speech about the matter. He may have the effrontery to stand up in the House of Commons and attack the Secretary of State. We cannot answer his question No. 1 because he may then ask question No. 2. Perhaps we shall not be able to answer that, or, if we are able to do so, question No. 3 could be difficult." That was the strange, almost potentially dangerous, doctrine that apparently the Secretary of State enunciated from the Dispatch box this afternoon. It was extraordinary. Why not answer questions on their merits? Why not answer seven or eight, or however many, of the nine questions if certain of them involved classified information, and then worry about the other questions later? That would have been the proper way of doing things in this House.

Mr. Baldry

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that a balance must be found between full accountability on the one hand and national security on the other? Where is that balance to be found?

Mr. Davies

I shall come to the question of national security shortly.

As well as blocking questions, the "Stanley memorandum", as it was called— as the Secretary of State said, he approved it — went to the Select Committee. It was sparse and the Legge memorandum said, in effect, "We cannot send a more full account partly, though not entirely, because it would not be consistent with the line that Ministers have taken in the past." I accept that there were other reasons——

Mr. Heseltine

indicated dissent.

Mr. Davies

It is no good the Secretary of State shaking his head in dissent; it is in the Legge memorandum. One reason why there was not full disclosure was that Mr. Legge—and maybe Mr. Ponting as well — said that if the Select Committee got the information, then, to paraphrase, the line that Ministers had taken in the past would be breached.

It was not denied this afternoon that the Government were concerned to try to block questions and withhold information. Their case at the end of the day, as always, is, "We had to do those things. Government responsibility is difficult and there is the higher and greater good. It is all being done for the sake of that higher and greater good." Apparently the content and scope of that higher and greater good is to be decided solely by the Government, being judge and jury.

Let us consider what is this higher and greater good. It has had different incarnations from time to time. The first incarnation we could call national security. Mr. Amlott, the Government's prosecutor—I need not quote from his speech, it was reported widely in the newspapers —made it clear that national security was not involved.

We move on to the next issue, which is the terrible issue of intelligence, which presents a difficult problem. It is clear that there was a difficulty there——

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

The right hon. Gentleman has a difficulty there.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Davies

Not as great a difficulty as I suspect the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) has.

In considering the question of intelligence, I quote for the last time from the Ponting trial. On day 7, Mr. Amlott, the Government's prosecutor, pressed Mr. Ponting hard. I could read five or six pages from the transcript on the subject of intelligence. Possibly the final question in the cross-examination was: Do you accept that Mr. Heseltine was basing his decisions upon sound and sensible arguments that were put to him. Mr. Ponting replied: No, I do not. The basis of this decision was clearly political, that to reveal this information would compound the political difficulties that the Government were in in changing their explanation. Nowhere in any of the documents inside the Ministry of Defence or produced in this court —I am sure that must be true— is there any written explanation that the reason the Government will not reveal this information was that at some point it would touch on intelligence information. That explanation has been given only subsequently, namely, since September of this year. Indeed, in the Prime Minister's letter to me of 4 April, where she tried to justify the change of date—the letter, according to evidence that was given, was beefed up a bit when it got to the Prime Minister's Office, but I do not make any criticism of that — did not mention intelligence. On that occasion operational matters were the higher and greater good used to justify the failure to give information.

Then as the last refuge — it is in the motion—we have the protection of our Armed Forces"—— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] Yes, we all agree with that. But it was not protection of the armed forces: it was the protection of Ministers.

Ministers at various times over the two or three years have misled the House about the date of the detection of the Belgrano, about the course on which it was sailing when it was sunk, about its course 11 hours before it was sunk, and about the changes of course of the Belgrano. They have refused to answer legitimate questions where no matters of national security were involved, and they did not give full and frank information to the Select Committee. It was all about the protection of Ministers, the protection of the reputation of Ministers, and the protection of the reputation of the Prime Minister herself.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

To buttress the right hon. Gentleman's point, is it not a fact that if the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Fieldhouse, had thought it right to mention in his dispatch the true date of the first sighting and also of the detection of the General Belgrano, surely there could not possibly be any risk to the fleet or any security risk for the future. That is why the Prime Minister should have corrected the matter in the defence White Paper six months afterwards.

Mr. Davies

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If Admiral Fieldhouse felt that there was no problem, what were the operational matters 15 months later that apparently caused the Government to refuse to give the full information?

The Prime Minister must accept her full responsibility for the affair. She told this House—we have been over it and I mention it again—that we had all the facts when we did not. She failed to correct false statements in official documents. She said in a television interview, in the middle of the general election campaign, that the Belgrano was not sailing away from the Falklands when it was. She certainly was part of a decision—if not the instigator—to try to "tough it out". She has zig-zagged far more on this matter than the old General Belgrano ever did. The whole shameful business is a consequence of her style of government, I am sorry to say.

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Member suggested that the concept of intelligence arguments had not been brought into the justification until rather recently. I remind him of the letter that I quoted to the House. It was associated with Mr. Ponting's first findings on the matter—the draft letter that he wanted me to to send to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). In that letter he said that the other questions you have raised in your letter all concern detailed operational and intelligence matters on which I am not prepared to comment. It was on Mr. Ponting's advice that I took the original decision.

Mr. Davies

I did not say it; Mr. Ponting said it on oath. That evidence could have been produced in court but the prosecution failed to do so.

We have a style of government that demands total fealty from all individuals and all groups. It is a style of government that shows contempt—the Secretary of State talked about the Civil Service—for civil servants and for their advice. [Interruption.] If the Prime Minister does not know it, perhaps she should start talking more widely among civil servants. If they have shown the faith, then they are all right. The irony was that Mr. Ponting had shown that he was one of the faith. Apparently Sir Derek Rayner gave him a book to read called "Your Disobedient Servant." Mr. Ponting read it rather too well, it seems. He was of the faith; in fact, he was apparently summoned to meet the presence in the inner sanctum. The trouble was that when he got there he did not like what he saw. It is a style of government that I believe will get shriller and more strident as Britain's economic decline sadly accelerates.

I suspect that the events of the past few weeks and the economic clouds that are gathering mark the beginning of the end for the Government, and I suspect that the Prime Minister in her heart knows it, too.

5.36 pm
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has missed a golden opportunity — one of the opportunities that probably come only once in a whole political lifetime. He heard the devastating exposition of the facts by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. If the right hon. Gentleman had risen in a full House, with the country listening to the debate, and had asked leave to withdraw his party's amendment, he would have dispelled the largely unfair belief that the Labour party did not want to see us win the Falklands war. [Interruption.] He had the chance and he did not take it.

The right hon. Gentleman accused my right hon. Friend of character assassination against Mr. Ponting. In the remarks that followed, I shall not say that he condoned, but he went very far towards condoning, Mr. Ponting. Indeed, we have seen the spectacle of two Privy Councillors from the Opposition Benches appearing on the same platform as Mr. Ponting. Are we to have the canonisation of Mr. Ponting? Is he to be the next Labour candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney?

I hope that the Labour party will forgive me if I venture to say that it has not conducted its campaign on the Belgrano issue with great skill. The Leader of the Opposition began by alleging that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had exercised political pressure on the Attorney-General to bring the prosecution against Mr. Ponting. I should have thought that any leader of the Labour party would think twice about making such an allegation. After all, that is the charge that the Conservatives brought against the Labour party in 1924 in the Campbell case — that the Cabinet had exercised pressure on the Attorney-General not to bring the case. The difference between the right hon. Gentleman's tactics and ours is that we defeated the first Labour Government, and his torpedo misfired.

I shall deal now with the sinking of the Belgrano itself. There is not a great deal that one can say in detail about the problem of intelligence. I know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is a man of honour. I can think only that he might have been naive in that matter. Had all the questions that he put been answered, it might have been of assistance to hostile forces. I can only hope, although I do not believe that it is so, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not already gone too far in meeting his requests.

With regard to the politics of the matter, only two charges could conceivably be made against the Government. One is that the sinking of the Belgrano scuppered the Peruvian talks, and the other is that the ship was outside the exclusion limit. The only thing that I ask right hon. and hon. Members to consider is this. Suppose my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her colleagues in the War Cabinet had ordered the Conqueror not to torpedo the Belgrano; suppose, as a result, we had incurred heavy casualties, although not necessarily defeat; and suppose that some hon. Member with the assiduity of the hon. Member for Linlithgow had researched the matter and found that we had deliberately not taken the opportunity to sink the Belgrano. Can one imagine what the reaction of the House would have been if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had come to the Dispatch Box and said, "I did not do it because I hoped that we might get an agreement through Peru," or "I did not do it because it was just outside the legal exclusion limit."? Does the House think that the Leader of the Opposition would have hesitated to attack? I think that even he and the right hon. Member for Llanelli would have made mincemeat of us on such an occasion, not that their gladiatorial skills are all that great.

Mr. Dalyell

At all times the Government knew the position of the Belgrano. They knew that it had 6 inch guns with a range of 13 miles. They knew that the Hipolito Bouchard carried the M38 Exocet guidance system made by us, so they knew that the range was 20 miles. At all stages the capability of the Argentine service group was known, so what the right hon. Gentleman is saying is purely hypothetical.

Mr. Amery

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know that war is a matter of risk. We had to take risks. We took a tremendous risk in launching an invasion of islands 8,000 miles away without proper air cover. In that case, we could not take any extra risks, just for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

I come to the matter that is of deep significance and underlies the debate. Regrettably, it has come to light in the debate. It is the relationship between Ministers and officials. It is a matter to which we must give important thought. Many of us in the House have held office of one kind or another, and we know what a strange experience it is when one is sent to help to preside, or to preside over a Department. One is a Member of Parliament. That is one's authority. One is responsible to the House. One is appointed by the Prime Minister, who has the support of the majority of the House. Two or three of us at the most go to the Department and find ourselves surrounded by hundreds or, in the case of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, thousands, of officials and officers.

Who are these officials and officers? They are not elected; they are selected. They are chosen by other officials. They are deployed and promoted by other officials. Of course, occasionally if some are more congenial than others, political favour gets them advanced to one place or another. Indeed, that happened to Mr. Ponting. But, by and large, they are an autonomous body. They are the servants of the Crown, on loan to the Ministers of the day. They enjoy very special privileges. Broadly speaking, they have a freehold on their job until the age of 60. They cannot be sacked unless convicted of felony, habitual drunkenness or bankruptcy, or previously sodomy, but that does not apply any more. They cannot be dismissed; they are there until the age of 60 and at the end of it they have an indexed pension. Moreover, they enjoy great influence over the formation of national policy. And they are immune from criticism.

Anybody who has been through the experience of government knows that one can get things done only if a good relationship can be achieved between the Minister and his officials. It must be based on frankness and fullness of discussion, often late at night. It must be hardheaded, but also sometimes lighthearted. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton, (Mr. Clark), has been taken to task for talking about Bongo Bongo land at a private meeting. Unless one can do such a thing and talk on those terms with one's officials —[Interruption.] I hear some hon. Members laughing, but it is a great deal better than the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who talked in public about his critics being stoned out of their tiny Chinese minds. One must be able to talk absolutely off the record and absolutely frankly. If that breaks down and one no longer has the confidence that Ministers can discuss tactics and options with their officials, and their officials can do so equally with them, we come to a serious crisis in constitutional government. It is not just a question of confidentiality; it goes to the root of our parliamentary government.

What is the story? Over the years, the Sovereign has ceded almost the entirety of the power of decision to Ministers representing the majority in this Parliament. That is the way in which we are governed now. The prerogative, if it remains at all, is very small. The Sovereign has surrendered the power of decision, and so have the Sovereign's servants, the officials. They advise and carry out things, but the Ministers decide. An official who tries to override Ministers, whether subversively or openly, is trying to claw back some of the prerogative which, over the years, the Sovereign has surrendered to Parliament.

Therefore, when right hon. and hon. Members sit on the same platform as Mr. Ponting, they are lending themselves to condoning someone who has struck at not only the confidentiality between employer and employee, but at something which goes much deeper than that; indeed, the rights of Parliament. What we claim as Parliament is that we and we alone have the right finally to decide the policy of the nation. If we condone what has been done by Mr. Ponting, Miss Tisdall and the others, we are striking at the root of the privileges on which we depend as the elected representatives of the people. It is the coalition between the permanent Civil Service, descending from the Sovereign, and the temporarily elected majority of the country that is the basis of our current national unity.

5.57 pm
Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Very little has been said so far in the debate about the use of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act and the decision to prosecute Mr. Ponting. I want to begin by making it clear that when the Secretary of State said today that Mr. Ponting had betrayed a trust, that could not be denied. Of course, he betrayed a trust. Let us be clear about what he did. He did not seek to betray his country. He was not seeking financial gain by selling stories to the newspapers. He was not giving away secret information. He was seeking to relay non-secret information to a Member of the House. So why was he betraying that trust? He was betraying it because he wished to expose what he believed to be a breach of a higher trust—that which should exist between Ministers and the House of Commons. It is important to put it in the right context. It is for that reason that I take the view that officials in the Ministry of Defence were right in their initial approach to Mr. Ponting, which was that he should be subject to disciplinary procedures within the service rather than prosecuted.

I do not want to go back over the ground of who did or did not authorise the prosecution, because it is consistent for Ministers to say that that matter was entirely for the Law Officers and they were not involved. Of course, I accept that. However, equally well known is the Prime Minister's view of such conduct. The Secretary of State was quoted by Sir Ewen Broadbent as saying that, if he had anything to do with it, he believed that the Director of Public Prosecutions should proceed to a prosecution. Therefore, it is clear that civil servants, Law Officers and the DDP were operating within a climate in which they knew that the political masters wanted to get Mr. Ponting through the courts. That was a mistake.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

In the light of what has happened and what we now know, if the right hon. Gentleman were a Minister, would he employ Mr. Ponting as a civil servant?

Mr. Steel

I have already dealt with that point. I have made it clear that Mr. Ponting was guilty of a breach of trust, so inevitably he would have to leave the service. I then went on to deal with the prosecution and use of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It is important to make a clear distinction between the action that should have been taken in each of those areas.

Second, I wish to consider the sinking of the Belgrano itself. It is a truism that in time of war unpleasant things happen. It is even more true that in time of war unpleasant decisions have to be taken. In time of war too the Government of the day are entitled to the benefit of the doubt and the support of the House. I hope that the Secretary of State accepts that the Government received the benefit of the doubt and the overwhelming support of the House throughout the operation of the task force. It is going slightly beyond that and something of a nerve, however, for the Government to ask the House in their motion tonight to recognise that the particular decision at a particular time to sink the Belgrano was necessary and legitimate when they have openly admitted that they are denying us the information on which the decision was taken.

The House was not told of the background to the War Cabinet's decision, so we must assume that the War Cabinet believed that it was important to immobilise a major section of the Argentine navy early in the dispute to protect the task force, that the original intention was to go for the aircraft carrier but that at the end of the day the Belgrano happened to be the chosen target. As we were not members of the War Cabinet, we do not know. That is merely one possible and logical explanation.

Mr. Heseltine

It may be possible and logical, but it is not the explanation that the Government have given. We have made it clear that there was clear evidence that the Belgrano posed a threat. That is the explanation. The right hon. Gentleman is being very fair, but in doing so he must recognise that Governments sometimes have to take decisions and that the whole explanation can never be made public.

Mr. Steel

I accept that. That is why I say that those of us who were not in the War Cabinet could only wish Ministers well and hope that they took the right decisions. Of course, the Belgrano and other ships were a threat. I hope that the Secretary of State is not suggesting that the Belgrano was peculiar to that category.

The fact remains that in the heat of the battle the then Secretary of State, Sir John Non, gave the wrong information to the House. It is clear that that was not his fault. Nevertheless, Parliament was given the wrong information about the circumstances in which the Belgrano was sunk. It was after that—I do not know at what stage — that Ministers became culpable. In the White Paper published in the autumn the true facts were still concealed from the House. A year later, in a "Nationwide" question programme during the general election campaign in May 1983 the Prime Minister specifically said that the Belgrano was not sailing away from the Falklands".

As we now know, that was the exact opposite of the truth.

Throughout 1983 and early 1984, in a whole series of answers given in the House, in broadcast interviews and in letters to Members, a familiar phrase appeared to the effect that the Belgrano and the task force could have been only a few hours apart converging on each other, leaving a somewhat ambiguous impression that they were in fact converging, although we now know that they were not.

The House is entitled to ask two questions which the Secretary of State has so far failed to answer. I hope that the Minister of State will answer them when he winds up the debate. First, at what point in the saga did Ministers discover that the information given to the House was wrong? Secondly, how long would they have continued to give the wrong information to the House if the truth had not been dragged out of them by a series of letters and questions from Members, with or without the assistance of Mr. Ponting? Those are the important issues on which the House should concentrate.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The right hon. Gentleman has already agreed that these things happen in war. Does he also agree that information which could on the face of it seem innocent may be impossible to disclose because it leads on to other information which could help the enemy?

Mr. Steel

I am coming to that. The House has never asked for intelligence information across the Floor, but that is a very different matter from the non-classified information that was constantly misdirected to us.

I believe that there are three important reasons why Ministers were wrong not to correct the information at the earliest opportunity. The first, putting it crudely, is the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). As is well known and as the Secretary of State has fairly said, the hon. Member for Linlithgow has pursued a particular line of reasoning and attitude to what happened to the Belgrano. He has been virtually alone in the House—others may agree with him, although I do not know of many—in suggesting that the Belgrano was deliberately sunk as a political act to prevent the conclusion of the Peruvian peace proposals. That is a very serious charge. Because wrong information was originally given to the House and bits of correct information dribbled out in subsequent months, credence has been given to the hon. Gentleman's charges and great damage has been done to the interests of the Government and of this country, especially in its relations with South America. Far from damage limitation, I believe that the Government have been guilty of causing damage in that respect.

The second reason is a parliamentary reason. I have always been a keen supporter of the Select Committee system. Looking back over the many years of the Falklands saga, I believe that if a Select Committee had considered the matter dispassionately some years ago a solution might have been found. The appointment of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is most important, but it will be hobbled in its opportunities to work properly if Ministers refuse to produce the information that it requests. There is a well known tradition and precedent, that security information is sidelined when it comes before a Select Committee, so I see no reason why, as late as July 1984, the full information was still not volunteered to the Select Committee. The Secretary of State now says that he will talk to the Chairman of the Select Committee with a view to producing the information, but what is so different in the quality of that information as between July 1984 and February 1985? I believe that there is a very good parliamentary reason for concluding that the Government were wrong to continue to act as they did.

Mr. Heseltine

I went into this at some length and I quoted the request. We were asked for a non-classified response to be published. That is the point. Had we been asked for a classified account or one that could be sidelined, we would have provided it, as we subsequently did. The record is clear. We were asked for a non-classified document.

Mr. Steel

My experience of Select Committees is that a sidelined document is not a classified document. The Secretary of State should have responded with the quality of information sought by the Select Committee, removing security and intelligence matters from it.

Mr. Spearing

It is important to have the record straight. The request was made and inquiry was made of the Clerk, who said that the Committee would have preferred it to be non-classified, but that in no way excluded the possibility to which the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) has referred.

Mr. Steel

I was not aware of that as my party is not represented on that Select Committee. Nevertheless, I have every confidance in it and I believe that its importance and its requests should have been more seriously heeded by Ministers.

Third, I believe that Ministers were wrong because the result of their attempt to conceal information from the House was that information on movements of the fleet, signals and so on — some from naval sources — was dragged into screaming headlines month after month. Far from the issue being disposed of once and for all last year, it has continued to be a running sore, not just in our political system but in our military system. There is a clear analogy with the way in which the Government treated GCHQ. Until the Government started acting against it, GCHQ was a relatively secret headquarters. All that the Government achieved by blunderbussing away at union rights there was to advertise the place to the whole world. There is a clear analogy between their clumsy treatment of that issue and their clumsy treatment of this issue.

For those three reasons, I believe that Ministers acted incorrectly in misleading Parliament. I draw an important distinction. If the House had been given correct information from the beginning, it would have been quite fair for the Secretary of State to say at the Dispatch Box that at a certain point the Government must draw the line and that the House must accept that they cannot answer further on military and security matters. That would have been an honourable position. However, when the House has been given wrong information from the beginning, it is not honourable to hide behind a smokescreen of military operations and security. That is the difference. The House should not accept the use of such camouflage.

There are some lessons to be learnt from this escapade. First, national security simply cannot be what a Minister says it is. There must be some other way of judging what national security is. I do not wish to embarrass the Leader of the official Opposition, but I understood that the Leader of the official Opposition was always consulted on security matters. I very much hope that the poison penfriend correspondence of the last week or so will not endanger that tradition. Under the normal conventions of the House, the Leader of the official Opposition, at any rate, is entitled to be shown the full information, which he has not so far seen.

Second—we have argued on security matters before, and I am not making a new point—there is a case for a small committee of senior Privy Councillors representing the different parts of the House to overview security matters. That would give the House some confidence that national security is not the same as avoiding the political embarrassment of a Minister.

Third, after this case, we must surely see the last of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It is not good enough for the Government to say that others have tried to change the law before, that there have been White Papers, Green Papers and Bills, but that the matter is terribly difficult. There should be, in this country, a public right to information with certain specific and limited exempt categories such as national security. I hope that the Government will learn that lesson and comment on that point tonight.

6.3 pm

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

In a short speech, I wish to refer briefly to four of the personalities involved in the matters under discussion. First—to get him out of the way—I take the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I heard the hon. Gentleman on the radio this morning—when does one not?—saying that there would be no slanging from him today. I hope that that will turn out to be the case, but if it does, it will be a departure from form. This debate falls not long after yet another of the hon. Gentleman's vicious personal attacks on the Prime Minister.

I did the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of warning him that I would find it necessary to speak about him today.

When he made a personal attack on me on 8 June 1984, he showed me no similar courtesy. Nor, after that episode, did he make any apology to me.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Onslow

The hon. Gentleman need not apologise. I do not expect it from him.

Mr. Dalyell

On 12 or 13 May the hon. Gentleman had called me a political aerosol. That was my reason.

Mr. Onslow

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman remembers what he said to me on 8 June. If not, I will remind him. He said, having referred to me as having 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." —[Official Report, 8 June 1984; Vol. 61, c. 609.]

That was a more serious charge than the—I confess—somewhat dismissive comparison that I made with reference to the hon. Gentleman. I do not insist on an apology, because I do not expect one. In what he has done in this affair, the hon. Gentleman carries no credibility and does not deserve a great deal of attention.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made it clear to the House what an obsessive campaign the hon. Member for Linlithgow has pursued on the sinking of the Belgrano. For once, perhaps, I may pray in aid Mr. Ponting, who made it clear that in his opinion—as in the opinion of a great many others—the whole idea of a link between the Peruvian peace proposals and the sinking of the Belgrano was totally ludicrous. I trust that the hon. Gentleman read the report of that part of the trial, and I trust also that in future he will stick to some harmless cause such as proving that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays. Inside and outside the House, the hon. Gentleman is generally recognised as being as daft as a brush.

The Leader of the Opposition would like to be taken somewhat more seriously. I hope that he will be kind enough to listen to me for a moment, because I wish to refer to his prepared and rehearsed response during Prime Minister's Question Time the other day. He said—and meant, in saying it, to be offensive —that he did not believe my right hon. Friend. Such words are, of course, in order, but I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman understands precisely how offensive they were. If the right hon. Gentleman were to say to the House that he confidently expected to be the next Prime Minister, most of us would say that we did not believe him, but there would be no offence. It would be a simple difference of opinion. There would be nothing unparliamentary or unusual there. However, let us suppose that I said that I believed that the right hon. Gentleman had been a party to the conspiracy to unseat the Labour Chief Whip from his constituency. The right hon. Gentleman would, I am sure, hotly deny it. If I were then to say to him, with no evidence one way or the other, that I simply did not believe him, he might think that I was being offensive. That comparison may help the right hon. Gentleman to understand how damned offensive he was the other day. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had every right to be angry. Either the right hon. Gentleman did not understand, or he did not care. In either case, he is clearly unfit for his office, which is taking him further and further out of his depth.

Thirdly, I wish to refer to a split, or dual, personality—to the leader of the Liberal party, and to the leader of the Social Democratic party, who is still with us. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) made a curious speech, in which he made some superficial and uninformed references to GCHQ. To suggest that the Government, by their actions against the unions, went out of their way to advertise the existence of GCHQ begs the question of what the unions themselves thought they were doing when they went on strike. The right hon. Gentleman is no great expert on such matters. He was the wrong chap to make the alliance speech.

If hon. Members study the Order Paper, they may also agree with me that the alliance has not been clever in framing its amendment. The alliance simply wishes to tag the official Opposition's amendment on to the Government's motion. That is a classic example of alliance politics, always trying to have everything both ways. It is a beautiful example of boneless wonderism, but no doubt the two right hon. Gentlemen consider that they have been very clever.

Of course the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) could have found words of his own. On 13 February he wrote an offensive letter to the Prime Minister. It did not attract much attention, but it is still on the record. Not for the first time, he accused my right hon. Friend of a systematic attempt to mislead the House. Despite my right hon. Friend's replies to the accusations, the right hon. Gentleman, like the hon. Member for Linlithgow, simply goes on repeating the same old dirt.

The right hon. Gentleman was Foreign Secretary for two years or so. It may be that he would not be included in any shortlist of great Foreign Secretaries, but that may be simply because he did not have very much to do. However, there was one matter which must have created a little work for him — attempting to achieve a settlement in Rhodesia. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would say of his conduct of those affairs that there was never an occasion on which he concealed or withheld a single fact from the House. Is he prepared to say that he never did that, even for good, understandable and entirely patriotic reasons? I doubt it very much. If he admits that there are times when concealment and the withholding of information are in the national interest, why does he prate so much about systematic attempts to conceal? He is too disingenuous by far, and the country is beginning to rumble him.

I should like now——

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Come on, Scargill next.

Mr. Onslow

That comment is typical of the hon. Gentleman.

I should like now to consider Mr. Ponting. I imagine that the whole House, even the leader of the Liberal party, probably agrees that the Civil Service is better off without Mr. Ponting. A lot of his fellow civil servants think that he is no loss to them. Right hon. and hon. Members who have read today's Daily Telegraph will have seen that the general secretary of the Ministry of Defence Staff Association, Mr. John Wilks, has said some things in fairly clear terms about Mr. Ponting's conduct.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

He would, wouldn't he?

Mr. Onslow

The hon. Gentleman has no knowledge of these matters, but he might be a great friend of Mandy Rice-Davies for all I know. He said: it is the duty of MPs to control ministers, and added: It is not a duty of civil servants, however senior, because they are not elected by anyone. They are employed and paid to do the job defined by Ministers and Parliament. They are, and they should be, very much at the 'beck and call' of Ministers. The kind of reasoning which places the civil servant above his civil master is the kind of reasoning which is swiftly leading to the destruction of our system of demoratic elected government. Mr. Ponting should take those words to heart.

It is not wholly unknown for people who join the Civil Service to change their views as they go through their career. There is more than one hon. Member who was formerly a civil servant and who must have taken a view about his position as a servant of government which led him to come here. Perhaps I can bore the House for a moment with my own experience. At the time of Suez, it became clear to me that there would be times during my Civil Service career when I might well find myself unable conscientiously to put forward the point of view of the Government of the day. It was a fairly short step from that to recognise that the right thing to do was to leave the Civil Service. I was fortunate enough to get here.

Perhaps Mr. Ponting also has ambitions to get here, but the Labour party has spurned him and the SDP has so far said nothing—it might be open to offer——

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

He is a member of the SDP.

Mr. Onslow

Is he? The point here is that Mr. Ponting should have thought these things through much earlier in his career. If he had done so, he should have been able to see that he too might have a crisis of conscience. In that case, he need never have undergone the conflict to which he now claims he had to submit himself. He is not a great loss. A man of greater intellectual honesty would not have brought any of this upon himself. The most important legacy he leaves us is the task of considering, not how to reform section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, but the essential feature of the conduct of government—how to re-establish the mutual trust and confidence between Ministers and their advisers, which Ponting has deliberately and arrogantly done so much to destroy.

6.13 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

It was perfectly fair for the Secretary of State to outline my opposition to the Falklands war. It is quite true that, on 2 April, I contacted my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) about his being cornered by Brian Widlake on "The World at One" into saying that the Labour party would use force in certain circumstances. It is true that, on 3 April, I interrupted the Prime Minister during her speech to ask her who she imagined our friends were in Latin America on this issue. It is true that, on 4 April, I made a long and well-reported speech in Scotland to my constituency party in which I said that this was the most ill-conceived expedition to leave these shores since the Duke of Buckingham went to La Rochelle. It is also true that I went to see the Prime Minister on 21 April to express deep concern about air cover in the light of what happened to the Prince of Wales and the Repulse.

It is also true that I did not in early May get concerned with criticisms about the Belgrano. It so happened that, on 4 May, I had tabled the following question to the Prime Minister: if she will make a statement on the Falkland Islands. The Prime Minister replied: My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and for Defence will be making full statements after questions on recent diplomatic and military developments respectively. I then asked: When the Prime Minister referred to political control, did she herself, personally and explicitly, authorise the firing of the torpedoes at the General Belgrano? The right hon. Lady answered: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the task force is and was under full political control."—[Official Report, 4 May 1982; Vol. 23, c. 16.]

A lot of this is about crisis management. The truth is that I did not start asking questions about the Belgrano until early July, and I did so because there was a report in The Scotsman to the effect that, when he was asked a question that flowed exactly from what John Nott had told the House — why he had sunk the Belgrano — the submarine commander said that he had not sunk the Belgrano off his own bat, that he was a first-time submarine commander and that he did it on orders from Northwood.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Quite right, too.

Mr. Dalyell

Right. That is deeply different from the line of the statement that John Nott made in the House. We have checked the tapes, and John Nott's statement came over as the Belgrano was closing on the task force. "Elements of" the task force was added later. In view of what the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) has said, I should like some Government statement on the position of Glamorgan, Arrow and Ardent. That matter ought to be cleared up in the Minister's winding-up speech.

The sinking of the Belgrano was not simply a matter of 368 lives and the escalation of the Falklands war from second to fifth gear. She who ordered the sinking is also she who has her finger on nuclear weapons. As long as she remains our Head of Government, what happens at a moment of possible humiliation and defeat is a matter of lasting importance. We should therefore not have any of the argument, "This all happened three years ago." The difficulty is that the truth was not told. For more than two years we were told repeatedly that the submarine Conqueror had detected the Belgrano on Sunday 2 May. I knew that that was not true, and I think that it is better to be completely candid with my parliamentary colleagues of all parties. In August 1982, I was told by a member of the family of one of the crew of the Conqueror that I had better delve into what happened. In September 1982, quite voluntarily, I must report to my colleagues, I was given the diaries of a member of the crew — Lieutenant Nahrendra Sethia. I must admit that I was a bit suspicious at first because they were beautifully written and I wondered how it was possible to write such a coherent account, given the circumstances of a submarine. However, I made cross-checks.

I should like to say something bluntly to all my parliamentary colleagues. The House might be wondering why the hon. Member for Linlithgow has been the receptacle of so much information, only latterly from Mr. Ponting, but from many other sources, including members of the task force. It was not because of the colour of my politics. [Interruption.] I received the information because many people felt that the position was not quite right. Members of the Royal Navy said that the sinking of the Belgrano was not cricket.

It became clear to me from cross-checking that the diaries were right and that the Belgrano and her escorts, far from being detected on 2 May, were detected before 1600 hours on Friday 30 April on her passive sonar by the submarine Conqueror. That was later admitted in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). After 1600 hours, at periscope depth the Conqueror closed in on the Belgrano and her escorts. Throughout the morning of Saturday 1 May at a distance of 4,000 yd, the Conqueror monitored the Belgrano and her escorts "razzing"; that is, replenishing at sea. Therefore, the submarine had the Belgrano at her mercy. If it is true that the Belgrano had to be sunk because it was an immediate threat to the task force, why was it not done on that Saturday? Why was it postponed? That is the question the Prime Minister must answer.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)


Mr. Dalyell

We had Admiral Lord Lewin's word on 30 January 1983 that there had been no communications difficulties.

Mr. Mates

This stake goes to the heart of the hon. Gentleman's point, as it is about political control. The captain of the Conqueror was not authorised to attack Argentine surface ships outside the exclusion zone on that day. For that reason, Admiral Woodward sent him home to Northwood, which sent him to the Chief of the Defence Staff, who asked the War Cabinet—the political control —to have the rules changed.

Mr. Dalyell

The Secretary of State knows that that is an own goal. The Secretary of State emphasised in his opening remarks that the original rules of engagement were to cover everything. Therefore, either the Secretary of State or the hon. Member for Hampshire, East is right.

Mr. Heseltine

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes this matter extremely seriously. The reason why there was no question of the sinking taking place when he described it was that the Government had not been advised by their military advisers to do so.

Mr. Dalyell

The difficulty is that, as one scrapes, all sorts of new creepy-crawlies come to light. The Belgrano was far more of a threat at that time than later. Therefore, why does the Prime Minister say that it was an immediate threat? The narrative is important— —

Mr. Heseltine

When the hon. Gentleman says that the Belgrano was far more of a threat at that time than later, to whom does he think the Government should listen—to the hon. Gentleman or to the Chief of the Defence Staff?

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Gentleman talks about listening. I suggest that he should listen to our excellent communications centre at GCHQ. That is where the listening must be done.

At a distance of 10,000 yd the Conqueror followed the Belgrano for more than 30 hours. If we are to be told that the Government did not know exactly what was happening, heaven help their political control. At 8.07 —the Secretary of State got it wrong, and we must be accurate—an order went out from Walter Allara, the operational commander on board the carrier on 25 May, to return to Statten Island. That was confirmed by the naval command in Buenos Aires at 1.19 the following morning. Both those orders, like every order, were intercepted and sent back to Ascension Island by AD470 high-frequency Marconi transceiver equipment, through Chile, and through the Americans, who had a satellite in polar orbit.

That brings me to a direct question. The Observer of 6 January states: The intercepted Argentine signals were decoded and telexed at the time directly to Navy HQ at Northwood and to Mrs. Thatcher's office at Chequers. The paper did not get that information from me. There were other sources. Indeed, it would have been odd if there had not been. Therefore, for more than five hours those at Chequers and the Prime Minister knew perfectly well what the orders to those ships were. The question therefore arises: why was the order given at lunchtime on 2 May when the Belgrano was far less of a threat that it had been earlier and when its direction was known? It was because—I disagree with the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) about this — the Prime Minister knew something else that Sunday morning — that the Government of Peru had put forward peace proposals.

Mr. Bowen Wells


Mr. Dalyell

For the sake of argument, I can concede that reasonable men can have differences of opinion about whether the Peruvian peace proposals would have worked. I believe, on the basis of a great deal of research and from talking to people, that they would have succeeded. Other reasonable people may not believe that. However, what the Prime Minster and the hon. Member for for Woking said in the debate was that no news of the Peruvian peace proposals reached London until three hours after the sinking of the Belgrano. Ever more precisely, in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli and to the shadow Cabinet the Prime Minister said that the first sign of the Peruvian peace proposals reached London at 11.15 pm on Sunday evening. That is not true.

Mr. Bowen Wells

rose— —

Mr. Dalyell

On 21 October, after some correspondence and, in case there is any misunderstanding, at my own expense on an academic fare, I went to Lima for four days. I sat for 75 minutes in the office of Belaunde Terry, who told me that the Argentine had been extremely close to the British, that he had received great kindness from the British and that Peruvian and American troops were at first proposed. The Peruvians were not acceptable to us and the Americans were not acceptable to the Argentines and, therefore, the troops were to be Canadian, Mexican and West German. The Argentine soldiers were to leave the Falkland Islands, and the task force was to turn back. In that case the Prime Minister would have been deprived of her military victory, which the Falklands issue is all about, as I made plain at an early stage.

I sat in the house of Manuel Ulloa, the Prime Minister of Peru at the time, and the chairman of the development committee of the World Bank. There were no language problems as his daily reading was the Wall Street Journal. He said, "What do you take us for? We were negotiators, and as serious people we were in touch with both sides." I specifically ask about the role of Lord Hugh Thomas. Oscar Mauortua, the head of the President's office, spent two years at Pembroke College, Oxford. There were no language problems there. He said that the whole Government of Peru came to a stop at that time, and added, "I know that your Government knew all about it all that Sunday and probably that Saturday."

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Dalyell

No, I shall not give way.

It may be that the Peruvian evidence is not sufficient. We should therefore look at the American evidence. In his memoirs, the Prime Minister's admirer, Alexander Haig, said that acceptance was gained in principle from both parties or, pressed by Emery, down to one or two words. We had better be clear about Gayshon. For 30 years he was head of Associated Press in London, and his interest in this subject was aroused because never in all that time had he known so many inconsistencies in British Government explanations.

Mr. Onslow


Mr. Dalyell

Haig was supported by other senior Americans. If Conservative Members do not like the American evidence, they should consider what happened here. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) is not taking part in the debate, and I am particularly sorry that the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) is not present. It was the right hon. Member for Hertsmere who let the cat of of the bag. When pressed by Emery, he said that he knew all about the Peruvian peace proposals, and added, "Primarily those of President Belaunde." If the right hon. Member for Hertsmere knew, did the Prime Minister not know?

Mr. Onslow

rose— —

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Member for Woking and I remember brass tacks. The hon. Gentleman let it out of the bag. I asked him about this and he told me that the Foreign Office knew on the Sunday morning. In that case, did not the Prime Minister know? Let us have an explanation.

Mr. Onslow

Now, as then, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he does not listen to the answers that he is given. It is clear that he flatly refuses to accept my word about anything, and on that basis I am under no obligation to accept his. The hon. Gentleman knows that evidence on this whole matter has been taken by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Is he content to abide by its judgment, as I shall be?

Mr. Dalyell

Many of these issues cannot be decided tonight. In some ways it would have been wiser to await the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, but again I ask whether, if the Foreign Office knew, the Prime Minister knew.

Mr. Bowen Wells


Mr. Dalyell

It would have been much better had the Government come clean on these matters, because, who knows, there may be a diplomatic version of Clive Ponting. Certain people know the truth. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Traitors."] The word "Traitors" is not very sensible in relation to people whose priority is to Parliament rather than to Ministers.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

rose— —

Mr. Dalyell

People have asked, "Why rake all this up?" The least important reason is that we are spending £3 million a day, and, unless the truth is out, how will the Prime Minister and the Government ever be forced to change policy? There are other considerations.

The Argentines are now far better armed than they were in April 1982. They have the Otamelara and the Meko 360 frigates, powered by Rolls-Royce engines and using David Brown gearboxes, Decca navigation equipment — all made by us. They have the Israeli adapted Nesher 5s which can actually loiter and fight. Therefore, this is not a question of the past—[Interruption.] Alfonsin will not start another conflict—[Interruption.] That is the answer to the Falklands. Juan McCafferty and Pablo Llewelyn are the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh communities. I agree with our excellent ambassador in Peking, Sir Richard Evans, who said that the legacies of history should be solved by peaceful means. There are differences between Hong Kong and the Falklands. One is that there are 1,000 million Chinese and 3 million front-line soldiers, and one does not send a battle fleet against that.

Legitimate questions have been asked time and again, and we have seen the legacy of untruth. Exactly what is there to hide? What will we be if, as Members of Parliament, we do not insist on getting the truth when we know we are being lied to? If we do nothing, democracy itself is injured, and that is why some of us go on.

6.35 pm
Mr. Mark Robinson (Newport, West)

I welcome this opportunity to take part in the debate because I believe that we are tackling an issue that is central to the relationship between Ministers and their civil servants. I wonder whether at any stage following a war this House has ever considered in detail an action in that war in such detail as the action that we are again considering today.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) again repeated nearly all the arguments that he has put before the House on previous occasions. It is regrettable that in doing so he should issue an open invitation to civil servants in the Foreign Office to come forward—presumably to him—with further leaked information. If I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he seemed to indicate that that might happen, and as well as saying that in his speech, I heard him say it last night on television.

The relationship between a civil servant and his Minister is very much under the microscope in this debate. If Mr. Clive Ponting really had his conversion on the road to Damascus at the moment the memorandum was to be presented to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, what on earth was he doing in April when he was playing with that typewriter? If this was a man of great integrity, why for two months did he embark on a process of obvious deception of Ministers for whom he was working and of civil servants with whom he was working? That question needs to be, and should be, answered.

If a Minister cannot trust his senior civil servants—and Mr. Clive Ponting was a senior civil servant—the corollary is that Ministers will start to look for people whom they can trust in senior positions. That is what happens in the United States, and that is why each time there is a change of Administration in that country there is a change in the entire top echelons of the civil service.

I do not believe that any hon. Member of any political party would like to see that situation prevail in the United Kingdom.

There has to be trust between Ministers and their civil servants. If civil servants disagree with their Ministers, procedures are open to them to make their views known. What is astonishing in what we have been told this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is that Mr. Clive Ponting at no stage seems to have recorded his reservations on, his objections to, or his displeasure with, what was going on. Far from it—he continued to advise Ministers and to put drafts in front of them which it now appears he may have believed were the drafts which the Ministers wanted to see. That can be the only explanation for his behaviour if, at the same time, he was putting contrary information into the hands of the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

We have also had, not quite so vociferously this afternoon following my right hon. Friend's speech, a concerted attack on my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces—we have had it in the media as well. We have been led to believe that my right hon. Friend was personally responsible for everything that is alleged to have been going on. We are told that he has been operating behind the back of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in some kind of collusive arrangement and liaison with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence left me in no doubt where responsibility for the decisions that have been made lies. It lies at his door, and he was at pains to point that out.

My right hon. Friend was also at pains to point out that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces tendered his advice, as he should do as junior Minister, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his final decision. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was able to weigh up the value of that advice, of the advice that he received from his civil servants and, in one instance, the value of the changed advice that he received from one particular civil servant.

The other issue that has come up, and the hon. Member for Linlithgow raised it in his speech yet again, is the Peruvian peace initiative. Having had the opportunity to work in the United Nations, in the Secretary-General's office, and to see how these negotiations go on, I find it incredible that this or any Government would conceive it necessary to take a decision to sink a cruiser purely to scupper a peace initiative that was reportedly going on in Peru. If our diplomats are not capable of dealing with such initiatives if our Governments disagree with them, what are they earning salaries for? It is absurd to pretend that negotiations of that nature could in some way bind a Government who were not a party to it. Any settlement of such a dispute can be achieved only if the two or three parties—in this case the two parties—concerned are in agreement with it.

At the time the discussions were going on, we were faced with the decision of what to do about the General Belgrano. I cannot believe, when the advice was that that cruiser was a threat to certain ships within the task force, that the Government would say that they would not listen to such advice because they felt that they should wait another 24 hours or 48 hours, even if it meant a ship being sunk, to see what the outcome of the Peruvian initiative would be. The Government and the War Cabinet had far more important issues on their minds. In the light of that advice, I do not see how any Minister, or the Prime Minister, could have come to the House after the event to defend not sinking the cruiser if there had been some tragedy within the intervening period.

Another issue, which the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) has already raised, is that of the Official Secrets Act, which has come under much scrutiny in recent weeks because of this case. It is suggested that the Government should look again at this Act to see whether section 2 should be scrapped and replaced. It is worth recalling that in 1979 the Protection of Official Information Bill failed in its passage through the House of Lords and had to be withdrawn. There is every reason for the Government to look at the Official Secrets Act afresh, because if they do not do so it is likely that in a few years' time we shall be confronted with another situation such as this.

The only sensible way forward would be for all parties to co-operate and try to decide what instrument needs to be put in its place. The confidential relationship between civil servant and Minister has to be protected if we want to continue with the type of Civil Service that we have, of which we are so proud, and which many other countries envy us for having.

6.46 pm
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The point that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson) has made about reform of the Official Secrets Act is important. It is sad that, in the light of the court's decision that Mr. Ponting was not guilty—although one would not have thought so — and the fact that the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General mounted the prosecution, the Government did not say anything about that this afternoon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), in my time as an Army Minister 20 years ago, when I was in the Northern Ireland Office and then when I was Home Secretary, has chased me and was often a damn nuisance. The way that some Conservative Members who were tittering and giggling about the role of my hon. Friend is a reflection on them. If it had not been for him, this question would not have been discussed. He is an honourable man and some of those hon. Members who giggled are not fit to clean his boots. I could tell the House of the issues on which he has been wrong, but the best thing to tell the House is what he has been right on—and if he has forced civil servants to sit up and answer the question, he has done us all a service.

During the Crimean war, there was a radical, Independent Member of Parliament for Sheffield called John Roebuck. Some 110 years later, when Asa Briggs wrote his book about Victorian people, he reported there were still people in Sheffield who said to their kids when they kicked up rough, "Don't come the old John Roebuck with me." Not many of us will be remembered in 110 years' time for being in the awkward squad. My hon. Friend is in the awkward squad, and when I saw the Secretary of State for Defence giggling about him I felt slightly sick.

All this business started about nine months ago I know one thing, which is the beginning of the answer to the hon. Member for Newport, West. Ponting should not have been charged under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. He should have been dealt with by the administrative procedures of the Civil Service—for the moment I am begging the question of the House of Commons. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) or my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) had been Secretary of State for Defence when this happened, Ponting's feet would not have touched the ground as he left the Department. We should not have dealt with the matter under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. There has been talk as though we were discussing Mata Hari, section 1 or spies, but as the Government said in the case, we are talking about an incident in which no security was involved. Mr. Ponting goes out into the world knowing that he was found not guilty by a jury at the Old Bailey, but found guilty today by the Secretary of State, with no suggestion that the right hon. Gentleman should be cross-questioned.

During the trial, I was asked to appear as an expert witness because I had served on the Franks committee in 1972 and had signed its report, just as I signed the report of the Franks committee about the origins of the war. It recommended that there should be only one narrow band in which anyone was prosecuted under the criminal law, and that the remainder should be dealt with by the due processes of the Civil Service.

I am not prepared to change my mind. I do not say that because I am in opposition. I told those who asked me to bear in mind three matters. First—and here I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow—once the task force had sailed, the lives of service men should not have been put at risk. That is clear in my mind. My father died as a result of the first world war. I was brought up to despise flag-wagging politicians and flag-wagging newspaper proprietors. The right hon. and hon. Members who were shouting earlier in the debate are the ones who never heard a shot fired anywhere. I feel strongly about this matter.

If politicians send service men 10,000 miles from home, those men have to be protected. If my kids had been there, I would have expected the politicians to protect them. Like my hon. Friend, I accept that we do not know the half of it, but I know one thing, because I was on the Franks committee. It was the Argentine navy which "potched" around for those four or five days. No one knew what those ships were doing. They could quite easily have sent signals saying that they were going home, knowing by that time that their signals would be picked up. I would not have trusted the Argentine navy. I told the court that that had to be made absolutely clear, and incidentally I was told that Ponting felt exactly the same.

There is another reason for my view. I played a part in the Cabinet and the OPC in 1977 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) and others, including the 'right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), sent a submarine and two frigates to the South Atlantic with rules of engagement. The implication was clear. I knew what I was doing when I agreed. If it had gone wrong and there had been any action, they were there as a deterrent. I am not prepared to change my mind.

I am not involved in the Belgrano incident. I regard the first part of the Government's motion as irrelevant. I had to be clear that there was no security involved, and the man prosecuting on behalf of the Government admitted that no security was involved in any shape or form.

To me, security is of the greatest importance. When I became Home Secretary I realised that the problem with any official secrets legislation is who is to define what is and what is not security. However, there are matters which no parliamentary Committee would drag out of me. That will have to wait until the expiry of the 30-year rule or the 50-year rule. There are some matters on which I took personal decisions which were right, but I would not reveal them to anyone.

Security matters to me, but it did not matter here. There was no breach of security. So why all the fuss about the Select Committee having these documents? Now it can have them. But it could have had them in the first instance. When they get into the Old Bailey, there can be no security about them.

The Ponting case is not a security matter. I have told the House what was recommended by the Franks committee, but there is another reason why I say that. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) knows it, because I took the opportunity to raise it with him the other day.

On 22 November 1976 when I had been Home Secretary for two months, I announced in the House that the Government intended to legislate to repeal section 2 on the basis of the Franks report. It was my first policy in that office. I had Franks on my mind, and I wanted most of all to repeal section 2. I told the House so, but argued the case that there should be a degree of liberality about Cabinet documents.

Before I made that announcement, the Attorney-General of the day talked to me from that distance that all Attorneys-General talk. Everyone was in favour of my proposal. There had been previous debates. Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House were in favour of it and it was not party political. The Attorney-General said to me that, just as the House had decided on a free vote against capital punishment and the Home Secretary had said that he would not be using his prerogative to recommend that anyone should be hanged, on the same basis I should tell the House that, when he looked at the public interest, there should be no prosecutions for anything other than serious breaches of security. Therefore, it is not surprising that I think exactly the same way now.

There is no Law Officer present today, and I understand why. However, Sam Silkin's letter to The Times last year was called in aid by the Prime Minister. Sam Silkin said that the Prime Minister asserted that 'the Law Officers did not seek the view of, or consult with, any other Minister, nor was the view of any other Minister conveyed to them, before they took their decision to prosecute Mr. Ponting'. As a statement of fact I do not question this assertion. Had it been incorrect the Law Officers would certainly have corrected it. It is unfortunate that the impression has been given during the past 10 days that the Law Officers should not consult Ministers. According to Sam Silkin, this has been the convention for 50 years.

Sam Silkin came to me about two cases. I can remember the details of one because I have been writing about it quite recently. A Ministry of Defence official in Northern Ireland gave some documents to a civil servant. We did not know where they came from. As my mother used to say, "Sins catch you out", and the police found out. That man was not prosecuted. Sam Silkin came to me and asked me what I thought in the public interest. I replied, "Leave it alone, Sam"—not "play it again, Sam." "It is not worth prosecuting." The outcome would have been exactly the same as the Ponting prosecution.

Then we had the ABC case. I was Home Secretary. I knew nothing about it. The idea that the police tell the Home Secretary about a case is not true. It was not my job as Home Secretary to know what it was about. Sam Silkin came to me in that same diffident way saying that he was considering the case. I asked whether it involved section 2 or section 1. He said that section 1 was involved. I replied that I did not want to know about section 1. I said that if it were section 2 and serious, on the basis of what had been said from the House the case should proceed. It did, and the men got off.

I do not understand what happened last week. It is quite proper for the Law Officers to say that they did not consult. The question is: why did not they consult? No one's views were sought. There was no consultation. Apparently no Private Office minutes went to No. 10 Downing street. Anyone who has been in government knows that a Minister does not breathe in his Department without news of it getting to No. 10. But apparently nothing was done in this case. Ewen Broadbent went to the Director of Public Prosecutions but did not say a word about the views of the Secretary of State. That is fair enough, but it is the first time that that has been done for a very long time.

As The Times said last week, what makes the Act work is that, unless great care is taken, everyone will be in court. It is only the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General saying, "Don't be daft. Leave it alone as a matter of political judgment," as The Times described it—more correctly, "in the public interest"—that prevents a great many more prosecutions.

So what happened? Apparently the Solicitor-General sat in a room, pulled all the curtains, locked the door and considered the public interest. He would not talk to anyone. He decided to consider the public interest. But did he rely on political osmosis, or did he rely on extra-sensory political perception? In any event he got it wrong.

When I listened to what was said last week, it was a case not of the dog having barked in the night but of the dog not having barked in the night. The Government got it wrong. There should not have been a prosecution. The Government made a mistake. The Prime Minister and the whole bang shoot should have made their view known to the Attorney-General or to the Solicitor-General. The Solicitor-General should not have taken the decision by himself.

I want to ask one question. I have checked with Mr. Speaker that I can raise it. Lord Lewin is being investigated under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. Right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches shouted today that male Mata Hari had been done and that Ponting should be crucified on the hill of Golgotha. Nobody would dream that the man had got off. I imagine that it was rather like what happened during the French Revolution. Those who shouted at that time had their heads cut off eventually. I have been looking at the Conservative Benches to see who is going to be done. Is it not the joke of the century that Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Lewin, is to be looked at because he has spoken to journalists and broken the Official Secrets Act? Even if one blows in the wind, one breaks section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. So Lord Lewin is going to be done. But the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General will not consider the public interest. They will sit down close together and the answer will be that they will not prosecute.

There is a section of the Official Secrets Act that has not been mentioned by any hon. Member. Do hon. Members know that one can self-authorise oneself if one is a Cabinet Minister? Therefore, the Official Secrets Act is not being broken throughout all the chat on a Thursday afternoon, for when one gets up the line one is self-authorising. I say to the House that Admiral Lewin is also self-authorising. I shall not say what Admiral Lewin would say, because it would be unparliamentary. He is not going to be done, but the Government say that they are looking at it. How crazy can the Government be when they say that one of their trusted advisers, a man whom I greatly respect, is going to be looked at to find out whether he has broken the Official Secrets Act?

The whole Ponting affair was a grave mistake. It was wrong to prosecute. It was badly handled. The Government's attitude to secrecy has been completely revealed. This is no way to stop leaks. I do not enjoy leaks by civil servants. A day or so ago civil servants apparently leaked what had happened in a Cabinet sub-committee. They leaked that, as a result of what a general had said about chemical warfare, the Government had decided to reconsider it. It is indefensible that civil servants should have leaked that information, but I do not want those involved to appear at the Old Bailey on criminal charges. When the Government find out that something like this has happened, they ought to get shot of such persons. They ought to be moved.

I did not have the chance to argue this case in court. They did not ask me about it. There I was, all prepared, and nobody gave me the chance.

Mr. Baldry


Hon. Members

Sit down!

Mr. Rees

I have a question to put to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. What a rotten title! I used to be Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Army, and then for the Royal Air Force, which was bad enough. Minister of State for the Armed Forces sounds like Chile or Czechoslovakia. It would be better if we returned to the system whereby somebody was responsible for individual services, for which one had an emotional responsibility. I know that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will be more partial towards the Royal Air Force than towards any of the other services. I understand that, but it is a different matter.

It was announced over the weekend that the Ministry of Defence police are investigating whether Mr. Ponting committed perjury. That has nothing whatever to do with the Ministry of Defence police who are accountable to the Minister. The Metropolitan police are not accountable to the Home Secretary for operational matters. They are completely independent. Who told the Ministry of Defence police to investigate whether Mr. Ponting had perjured himself? It has nothing whatever to do with the Minister or with anybody else. Who told the information department at the Ministry of Defence to assume the sort of role played by Eastern European police forces? The great glory of our police system is that on operational matters they are independent. In Northern Ireland it was not always like that. We had to pull it back from political control.

Over the weekend another meeting took place. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) is here. Last night I watched him on television, and he said, "I've got a leak. I'm joining in." The press got on to the Ministry of Defence, which said, "It's got nothing to do with us. We never comment on leaks." We have been so immersed in this in our house over the last week that we said, "Poor old so-and-so, he's going to be up for breaking the Official Secrets Act as well."

Mr. Mates

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is entertaining the House hugely, but surely he is not trying to make a serious allegation. If he is, he is suggesting that it is one and the same thing for a private citizen, a Back-Bench Member of Parliament like myself or, indeed, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), to divulge information that has been brought to us. We are not civil servants or Ministers and therefore are not subject to the Official Secrets Act.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. A great number of hon. Members are waiting to catch my eye. Long interventions make for long speeches.

Mr. Mates

A personal attack, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has just been made on me. Surely I am entitled to answer it. The right hon. Gentleman must understand that it is often our duty as Back-Bench Members of Parliament to bring into the public domain information which is of concern to one's own constituents. That is quite different from Mr. Ponting.

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Official Secrets Act covers every man and woman in this country. The hon. Gentleman broke the Official Secrets Act. Good luck to him. I say that because I was schooled to believe that if it is serious, let the law do what it likes with such people, but if it does not matter, do not potch around with the criminal law. Under the Official Secrets Act, if one reveals who supplies the cakes to the Ministry of Defence canteen, one can be done under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It is only the Attorney-General who can prevent that from happening. He can say that to prosecute is not in the public interest. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman is prosecuted, I promise to go and give expert evidence at the Old Bailey when this person appears there.

Mr. Baldry

If the right hon. Gentleman finds the Official Secrets Act so abhorrent, I just cannot understand why the last Labour Government did not take steps either to repeal or to reform it.

Mr. Rees

I have had a note which says "Sit down," but very quickly I shall tell the House. First, we did not have a majority. Secondly, I said to my colleagues that there was no point in going ahead with it. I got into trouble in 1969 over the reform of the House of Lords, when the Home Secretary said to me "You take it, Merlyn. We have got an agreement with the Opposition". I ought to have known what that meant. He had been around a long time and the Bill was dead. The Opposition did not co-operate. I have been in Northern Ireland and the Opposition did not give us any help then over pairs and so on, and I was not prepared to take on the Official Secrets Act.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am listening attentively and, indeed, I am very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but the 10-minute rule is now in operation and the right hon. Gentleman has really reached the end of his time.

Mr. Rees

I simply say that there is good reason for not prosecuting Pouting. I have here notes from people who have written to me telling me about heads of the Civil Service who have done what Ponting did in the past 30 years. One of these thought that if he were caught he would get 14 years, which must have been for an offence under section 1, but he did not. There might come a time when a civil servant has to say that Parliament is being misled. Pouting is not on the scale of the big issues in Germany. I accept that. But the House had better put its mind to what will happen if the House is misled. Mr. Brian Walden says "Humbug." That tells us more about Mr. Walden than it does about his ministerial knowledge. The House was misled. The information was only dragged out. That is why I certainly will not vote for the first part of the first motion, but I shall vote gladly for the second.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the House that the 10-minute limit is in operation. If hon. Members give way to interventions there will be no additions for injury time.

7.11 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The speech of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) began well but the knock-about turn which constituted the last three quarters of it was, candidly, unworthy of him and unworthy of the importance of the occasion. I wonder whether the public at large will be satisfied with our proceedings today. We are discussing a matter of the utmost importance and it may well seem to the public that either we are raking over dead men's bones about the sinking of the Belgrano, or, perhaps, that Her Majesty's Opposition and the alliance parties have pursued the personal obsessions of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) ad absurdum.

We should be discussing today how the House can seek to exercise a measure of parliamentary control and monitoring of the Executive in time of war and how Her Majesty's Government in time of war can exercise control on behalf of Parliament of operations conducted by Her Majesty's forces in the field.

I remember the first debate that we had on the Falklands war following the invasion of the islands when my boss, the then Secretary of State, John Nott, made perhaps the only major mistake in his reports to the House in that he adopted a partisan tone and it was fatal. From then on deliberations over the important matters that ensued were essentially bipartisan. This was one of the aspects of our parliamentary consideration that most impressed the British people. It saddens me that now, instead of drawing the appropriate conclusion, we have lapsed into the worst aspects of partisanship.

I do not want to go back in history too far, but it is worth recalling the immensity of the task that faced our armed forces. The armada that the King of Spain sent to the English shores in 1588 did not stand a lesser chance of success than our task force in setting off for the Falklands. We had no strike carriers. We were critically vulnerable to Argentine land-based air power and carrier-based air power. The Argentinian aircraft carrier The 25th of May was a major threat. In addition, we were operating at extremities of range with no bases of our own. In those circumstances it was critically important to put the Argentine navy out of the war, to ensure the maximum air cover for our fleet in difficult circumstances and to provide a sufficiency of air superiority to enable our forces to be put ashore on what had then become hostile islands in adverse sea and climatic conditions.

On 1 May we already had the first sign of how extreme the threat was. The Argentine air force was thrown into action against the task force for the first time. There was a major air engagement. Winston Churchill said about our crews in the battle of Britain in August and September 1940: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. The same applied in full measure to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Harrier crews embarked on HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. They had only 19 aeroplanes, very few air crews and had to operate round the clock for considerable periods against repeated attack.

On 1 May the Glamorgan was bombed. Luckily, the bombs did not strike home. Arrow was strafed. The first personnel casualty was incurred and it was clear that unless a major Argentine capital vessel was put out of action and soon, the risk to Her Majesty's task force would grow. In those circumstances, the Cabinet was right to modify the rules of engagement to allow the commander of Conqueror, who had been shadowing the General Belgrano, to attack, sink and destroy the vessel. There is no doubt that the destruction of that ship, which was second only to the carrier The 25th of May in importance in the Argentine navy's order of battle, put the Argentine navy out of the war and constituted a dramatic turning point in the conduct of the operation.

Mr. Steel

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a second ago the Secretary of State for Defence interrupted me and denied that sequence of events? He said that the Belgrano was a threat. I put forward the same theory as the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wilkinson

I regret that I gave way. The right hon. Gentleman's intervention was as inconsequential as his speech.

The point at issue is that throughout the war the Secretary of State had the difficult task of reporting to Parliament, often at extremely short notice because the Argentine radio and other propaganda media were transmitting their version of events. For example, when HMS Coventry went down we had the difficult decision of whether to make a report immediately to the House or whether to try to analyse such reports as could be obtained from the South Atlantic and to make a more considered report. The Secretary of State always tried to make a report at first opportunity.

At the instance of the sinking of the Belgrano there was an error both about the course being steamed by the Belgrano and about the timescale of the sighting and the attack. As the Argentine Government did not rescind the state of hostilities that, formally at least, still applied, Her Majesty's Government were right not to modify the statement that Sir John Nott made. The Government did so when it appeared later that the intelligence and security criteria were not as valid as had previously been the case. But we should not delude ourselves about the imporance of what is said and done here in the House.

My time is short but I want to make one observation. I well recall an occasion when John Nott came to my party's defence committee. In the course of that meeting he made no reference to the future conduct of operations on East Falkland, and that was after the San Carlos landing had taken place.

Yet the next day it was suggested in the press that John Nott had perhaps hypothesised that the next line of advance might be to Goose Green. Then, of course, when Two Para had the very difficult engagement there and sustained heavy casualties while capturing Goose Green, it was alleged that it was because John Nott had leaked and divulged sensitive information to our Back-Bench defence committee, and that the Argentines had got wind of the line of our forces' advance and had been prepared for the attack. This, of course, was not so. It was purely a bit of conjecture on the part of a particular journalist, and demonstrates the importance of very strict security control over statements made to the House.

In the last analysis it should be remembered that the House is charged with great responsibility. If we had so voted, we could have prevented the task force from sailing and could have interrupted the course of operations. But once such operations are engaged upon, it is the duty of every hon. Member to act responsibly and to bear in mind security considerations. I believe that the Government have done that, and that the amendments of the Opposition and their alliance friends are wholly irresponsible.

7.20 pm
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The debate focuses attention on the relationships between Ministers and their civil servants, between the Government and the House of Commons and between the Government and the country.

First, I must take issue with the Secretary of State, and with the way in which he tried to accuse Mr. Clive Ponting by using such phrases as badly serving both him and the House, making the most extreme and unfounded allegations, breaking his loyalty to Ministers and the ethics of the Civil Service, and so on. Mr. Ponting is one of my constituents. He did not act in a particularly saintly way, but he faced the genuine human dilemma of whether to keep silent or break the supposed trust that Ministers had in him. In my view he made the right decision. He should have been disciplined for it, but he should not have been prosecuted for it as a criminal. For the Secretary of State to come to the House and to try to portray him as some sort of criminal simply in order to deflect criticism away from the actions of Ministers is unworthy of his office and of the duty that he owes to the House.

Mr. Mark Robinson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

I shall not give way, as I have only a short time in which to speak, and there are important points to be made.

The Secretary of State indulged in a selective rewriting of history. I shall give a brief example. He spoke about the Legge memorandum and about the way in which it had supposedly been some sort of joint production between Mr. Ponting's department and that of Mr. Legge. Of course, there was some consultation with officers under Mr. Ponting in the course of drawing it up, but it is to rewrite history to try to extrapolate from that that there was a joint effort at work, and that Mr. Ponting was somehow putting his whole effort behind it while at the same time going behind the Minister's back to criticise it.

The Secretary of State made great play of the element of trust and loyalty that he expected from his civil servants. But one is entitled to ask, "Trust and loyalty to what?" It is one thing for a Minister to require trust and loyalty in the genuine service of the Government and the country in an honest way that demands integrity. That is the sort of loyalty that civil servants should display. But no Minister has a right to demand such trust and loyalty when it is required in order to aid and abet the deception of the House. That is the key point.

In that connection, it is worth reflecting on what the judge said at the trial. In his summing up he defined the interests of the state as being entirely and solely the policies of the Government of the day. That was the most dangerous thing that a judge could say in defining the interests of the state. I remind the judge of a pamphlet written by Sir Patrick Devlin, now Lord Devlin, in 1956. He wrote about judges and juries and said two extremely important things. First, he said: the executive has found it much easier to find judges who will do what it wants than it has to find amenable juries. Secondly, he said: trial by jury … gives protection against laws which the ordinary man may regard as harsh and oppressive. The jury decided to give Mr. Ponting protection not simply against the act that he had committed but against the nature and use of the provisions of the Official Secrets Act under which he was prosecuted. The judge said that the interests of the state were synonymous with the decisions of the Government of the day. Of course, if that doctrine was taken to its logical conclusion it would point the path of tyranny. As democrats, hon. Members on both sides of the House should be wary of that.

The arrogance of power which assumes that the Government are always right, and which dislikes and tries to clamp down on all sorts of dissent in a democracy, is aided and abetted by section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, and bears the stamp of everything that the Government have done in the past few years. It was that arrogance that led them to deceive the House and to prosecute Mr. Ponting. The lesson to be drawn is that when Governments try to withhold information and to treat Parliament and the nation with the arrogance that says that they and only they have the truth and are right, it is often impossible for the general public to make any assesment of the tangle that ensues, or of how right or wrong the Government and their decision-making processes are.

That is why section 2 is nonsense. It is not just nonsense because of its catch-all quality or because, as has been noted, someone can be prosecuted for revealing who supplies the tea to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but because it can be used by the Government to defend their arrogance in power and to defend political decisions that have nothing to do with genuine national security. Of course, there must be protection for genuine national security matters, but everyone, including the prosecution in the Ponting trial, agrees that on the two occasions when Mr. Ponting leaked information, national security was not in any way involved. That is the point.

Perhaps section 1 of the Official Secrets Act should be more clearly defined and tightened up in case national security is at stake, but let us get rid of section 2 and the uses to which it is put, including the use to which it has been put by this Government. They have used it purely for political ends and have not used it in the interests of the nation as a whole.

7.30 pm
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

In recent days, when I have seen accusations in certain national newspapers that the Prime Minister and others have been misleading Parliament and the people, I have kept hearing the words of a hymn that we used to sing at school:

  • "Once to every man and nation,
  • Comes the moment to decide,
  • Between the sides of truth and falsehood,
  • Between the good and evil sides."
Tonight the House must make something of that choice, and there seem to be some inescapable truths which we must take into account.

When the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands it was the first time, perhaps since the Nazis were expelled from the Channel Islands, that an alien power, by force of arms, had sought to invade sovereign British territory and to subjugate fellow British subjects under the rule of a foreign flag.

Argentina acted with unqualified aggression; aggression which had no possible excuse or justification. At the darkest of moments the people of the Falkland Islands were entitled to look to us in Britain, to defend their freedoms, to come to their rescue and to restore to them our protection.

A moment of decision had come in our nation's history. We could have fudged it. Perhaps under less resolute leadership, we might have fudged it. But the inescapable truth was that, at that moment, we had a clear duty to the men and women of the Falkland Islands and, further, a clear duty to the people of the whole world to demonstrate that aggression would not succeed. That duty demanded, if all else failed, a determination and willingness to use force to free the Falklands. Some could not see the clearness of the choice.

When, on 7 April 1982, Sir John Nott told the House of the sailing of the task force — of ships such as Brilliant and Broadsword, Hermes and Invincible, Alacrity, and Apple Leaf departing—and even as our sailors were setting forth for the South Atlantic, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was asking what was the cost of it all. What is the cost of freedom? Would we be free today if our fathers and forefathers had tried to give freedom a price? Freedom is beyond cost.

When our sailors, soldiers and airmen were in the South Atlantic, there were those such as the hon. Member for Linlithgow who spared no opportunity to encourage despair, despond and defeatism. On 7 April 1982, as the nation was praying God speed to the task force, the hon. Gentleman said: Some of us believe that the fleet should turn round and come back to Portsmouth … as soon as possible." — [Official Report, 7 April 1982; Vol. 21 c. 1037.]

On 14 April the hon. Gentleman questioned our air cover, spoke in detail of the planes in the Argentinian air force and reminded the House of the fate of HMS Prince of Wales. He recalled that the original Scharnhorst was sunk in the battle of the Falkland Islands and that, because of those seas, there had been few survivors. He asked for how long we could maintain a blockade 8,000 miles away from base in the Roaring Forties at the beginning of an Antarctic winter. We know the answer to that question. It was until we had won through. But what comfort those statements must have been to the enemy and what chill they must have caused to the families of those in the task force.

On 10 May the hon. Member called into question the support that we could expect from our European partners. On 13 May he told the House that the Argentine had a tough marine corps and that there would be massive casualties. On 20 May he sought to warn of defeat of the first magnitude and on 24 May he called into question the support we could expect from our American allies.

The hon. Gentleman must answer to history and his conscience for his statements. I say that we would do well to be wary as to how much credence we give to the accusations of those who seek to give freedom a price and whose words must have given comfort only to Britain's enemies.

We then come to the inescapable truth of the sinking of the Belgrano—that it was sunk solely because it was a threat to the task force and a threat to the lives of our sailors and soldiers.

As Mr. Ponting acknowledged at his trial, there was a clear military case for attacking the Belgrano. He said that he had seen the Foreign Office papers and he had seen nothing to suggest the contention that the ship was sunk to end any Peruvian peace plan.

Indeed, as the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) told the same court with candour: if 10,000 men were 8,000 miles from home, the politicians had to act quickly to protect them, even if that meant sinking the Belgrano. The simple and inescapable truth is that the sinking of the Belgrano was a necessary and legitimate act to protect British lives.

Contemplate the reaction of Parliament and people if the Belgrano had not been sunk and if the Belgrano had then attacked our ships, causing casualties and loss of life among our sailors. Is that what some hon. Members would have preferred? Because an enemy ship was sunk, many British service men are alive today who might otherwise have been at the bottom of the south Atlantic.

It then being clear that the sinking of the Belgrano was a legitimate and necessary act, it follows that there was no action that needed to be covered up.

The next inescapable truth is that, in dealing with the facts surrounding the sinking of the Belgrano, or with any other defence matter, we will always have to balance national security with public accountability. It is clear that any effective rebuttal of the case of the hon. Member for Linlithgow was incompatible with Britain's national security. That is because the hon. Gentleman was clearly determined to tear away all of this country's security and intelligence protection — a nine-question letter to the Secretary of State, for example, the answers to which could have been of considerable assistance to our enemies.

Later, the hon. Gentleman wrote: My information is that the Argentinian fleet was, by that time, under orders to return to base".

One can only speculate as to where that information came from. He continued: You state that on 2nd May we had an indication about the movements of the Argentinian fleet … what precisely were those indications? Confronted with such questions, the answers to which could only have compromised our nation's present and future security, Ministers properly limited the scope of their replies. They would have been failing the nation if they had done otherwise.

The last inescapable truth is that the motivation for these attacks by the Opposition, including the Social Democrats, is not because they really believe that Parliament has at any time been deliberately misled, but because of their desire to try to impugn the integrity of the Prime Minister.

The former Speaker of the House, Viscount Tonypandy, reminded us yesterday aptly of the Prime Minister's courage: I think that, had a man been Prime Minister, he would probably have lost his nerve long before. Any man would have gone back to the United Nations to make sure that he was not going to be ostracised by the world community, in much the same way as the Opposition were putting themselves in the clear if things went wrong.

Britain would have lost all influence in international affairs if Mrs. Thatcher had submitted to the pressure and gone back to the UN.

It would have meant that, never again, would Britain take any decisive action to defend her people. The Prime Minister showed remarkable courage and determination throughout … By her action, she saved the good name of Britain. We know that, the people of Britain know that, but the Opposition, realising the strength of her integrity, seek, by whisper and innuendo, to impugn that integrity.

That is what today's debate is all about. The Opposition will fail because the people of Britain will say of them as they have said of others before them: Frustrate their knavish tricks. Confound their politics.

7.37 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

I doubt whether this is a good occasion on which to refight the naval strategy of the Falklands war, first because the Ministers now responsible were not in office at the time.

I doubt whether it is a good idea, either, to try to reopen the Ponting case, because the jury has acquitted him. I doubt whether we are doing justice to the importance of the issues that face us if we think that the responsibility can be placed simply on the shoulders of what are quite minor figures in the story.

I shall, therefore, draw attention to what I believe to be the real importance of the debate, for which it will be studied in future years, long after the names of the participants, and maybe even the Falklands war are forgotten. That is that we are discussing today a central question, which must be decided, as to the proper relationship between the Cabinet, the Commons and the courts. That is what the debate is about—[Interruption.] —and if the House will listen, I will establish the point.

It arose, in the first instance, because the Cabinet, who are there by virtue of having won the election, and exercise the prerogatives of the Crown, believe, and have argued, that civil servants, once appointed, are bound in duty simply to work for the Ministers of the day, and that point was put powerfully by the Secretary of State in his speech.

I wonder whether hon. Members think that what happened in the Ponting case happened there for the first time. I remind the House of a report in the Daily Telegraph on 13 November 1976. Under the heading: Whitehall spies fed Churchill secrets in the 1930s" the article stated: Sir Winston Churchill received hundreds of secret documents surreptitiously removed from official files sent to him in breach of the Official Secrets Act when he was fighting appeasement as a back bench MP. Mr. Martin Gilbert, Sir Winston's biographer, reported that these documents had been found in the Churchill Archives at Chartwell and said 'there was total, consistent and persistent breach of the Official Secrets Act'. I do not know, looking at it now, whether Conservative Members think that it was wrong for senior civil servants to keep Mr. Churchill informed when he was a Back Bencher. I remember, as a boy, in 1937, seeing Mr. Churchill sitting where the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bexley and Old Sidcup (Mr. Heath), now sits. Were the civil servants wrong to inform Mr. Churchill? They thought they were doing a public duty. Mr. Churchill was getting information which allowed him to destroy the appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain, in much the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has undermined the credibility of the Government in regard to the Falklands war. But whatever view we take, we must not think that that question has always been resolved in one way.

I happen to think that civil servants, Ministers, Members of the House of Commons and political parties should never put their consciences in hock to anybody else. If we think that a course of action is wrong, we have a duty to say so. Our religious liberties in Britain would not have been won if people had not broken the law in order to worship as they wished. It was that which laid the foundation for our political liberties.

Was it right of the Attorney-General to prosecute Mr. Ponting when Mr. Ponting was informing a Member of Parliament? There is a precedent for that. I cited it the other day, Mr. Speaker, in a rather unhappy exchange with you about privilege. In 1938, Mr. Duncan Sandys, a Member of the House and a territorial officer, received information from a fellow territorial officer as a result of which he tabled questions in the House of Commons. Following that, Mr. Duncan Sandys, although an MP, was told to appear before a court martial. He sought the support of the House. The House, in a famous Select Committee report on the Official Secrets Act, published in 1939—my father was a member of that Committee, so I was brought up on the doctrine within it—made it clear that Parliament would not allow people to be prosecuted when their only offence was to tell Members of Parliament things that they should know in order to perform their parliamentary duties. Indeed, the House laid down clearly in that decision in 1939 that to prosecute in regard to information falling under the Official Secrets Act, when it is given to a Member of Parliament, is in itself a breach of privilege. Indeed, I believe that the Attorney-General, in bringing that prosecution, was guilty of a contempt of the House.

A great deal of correspondence took place last week between the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister concerning the method of prosecution. The Prime Minister spoke as if it were a terrible thing that there should have been any consultation. But the Prime Minister is head of the Civil Service and head of the Armed Forces — indeed, with the nuclear button, she is especially responsible, without any holidays as part of the package. The Prime Minister is also head of the security services and, of course, she is the head of the Government. Therefore, it is inconceivable with the Whitehall network that exists that any contemplated prosecution, under section 2 of the Act, of a most senior civil servant, known to the Prime Minister personally, would not have been reported to No. 10 along the network. The prosecution would not have taken place if the Prime Minister had not given assent. Perhaps, like Henry II, all she said was Who will rid me of this turbulent priest? and left it to others to do what was necessary. No one will persuade me that the Prime Minister was not involved. But in any event she should have been involved.

There is a precedent for everything. In 1924 the Labour Government fell over the Campbell case because the Labour Prime Minister intervened to bring about the dropping of a prosecution. There was a general election and Labour was defeated. Mr. Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister, in answering a question about prosecutions, said that when the proposed prosecution is of such a character that matters of public policy are, or may be, involved, it is the duty of the Attorney-General to inform himself of the views of the Government or of the appropriate Ministers before coming to a decision."—[Official Report, 18 December 1924; Vol. 179, c. 1214.]

Therefore, if the Attorney-General did not tell the Prime Minister of his intention, he was in breach of a clearly established rule set down by a previous Conservative Prime Minister.

There are other aspects, all of which bear on the relationship between the Cabinet, the courts and Parliament. Where a Minister says to a judge, "That is a matter of national security", I believe that the judge has a duty not to disregard fairness. In his judgment in the GCHQ case Lord Fraser said: The decision on whether the requirements of national security outweighed the duty of fairness is for the government and not for the courts; the Government alone has access to the necessary information, and in any event the judicial process is unsuitable for reaching decisions on national security. If a Minister, using the prerogative that he has temporarily acquired by election, says, "This is a matter of national security", the courts now will not even attempt to be fair. Indeed, in the Ponting case, Mr. Justice McCowan said that the interests of the state were the same as the policy of the Government of the day".

That is a doctrine that every dictator in history would have liked to enshrine in capital letters above his presidential palace. It would be a deadly danger for any party, Conservative, Labour or other, to allow such judgments of the courts to go unchallenged. If we were to accept, in the Commons, that doctrine about national security, the Commons would be capitulating to a Government who had decided to rule by prerogative instead of by accountability to the House of Commons. That is what the debate is about, and it is much more important than whether we can catch each other out with little quotations.

The Secretary of State for Defence has made great play —I am not being personal—about the need to protect the troops. What he is clearly saying is that the Government received all their information about the movements of the General Belgrano from United States intelligence. Everybody who knows anything about such matters knows that we do not have satellite intelligence in the South Atlantic; the Americans do. The Americans intercepted the Argentine messages and sent them to GCHQ. We are not talking about protecting a soldier from being shot tomorrow by a sniper. That is what is usually meant by protecting the boys in uniform in the middle of a war. At the insistence of the Americans, the Government are protecting the fact that it was American intelligence that won the Falklands war by giving us the necessary information. I believe that as a quid pro quo the trade unions at GCHQ—which is a part of that international intelligence system—had to be abandoned.

These are central questions that reopen matters that I was brought up to believe were settled in the 17th century — that the prerogative could not be used so that Ministers could take matters to the courts and get the judgments that they wished; that the prerogative could not be used in Parliament to buy the silence of the Commons in order to accept whatever a Government said; that the prerogative could not be used to put at risk a man of conscience who chose that course rather than his career. Unless this House comes back to those questions and resolves them, we shall find that the so-called Belgrano-Ponting case will turn the clock back not to Victorian days but to a much earlier, less glorious and less democratic period in our history.

7.48 pm
Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

I was not intending to mention the name Ponting in my short remarks because, unlike the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I want to concentrate on the main issue for debate tonight the Belgrano incident. (Interruption.] But I cannot forbear from mentioning one aspect that came out of the trial which has not so far been mentioned, because I feel very deeply that the worst offence that Mr. Ponting committed was when he was being questioned by Detective Chief Inspector Hughes. It was mentioned in court and I have the transcript here. Chief Inspector Hughes said: I have good reason to suspect that you are involved in passing confidential documents to Mr. Tam Dalyell … For that reason I am going to caution you".

Mr. Ponting said: Good God, you don't suspect me".

Then he went on to imply that his own personal staff might have photocopied and leaked those documents. He implied that Mararet Aldred, his principal, Nick Darms, his HEO, and even his own PA, Mrs. Ritchie, might have been the persons who committed the leak. If that is the way that that senior, trusted, civil servant behaved towards his own staff, we are well rid of him.

What saddens me is that two senior right hon. Members who have both held high office, the right hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees)—alas, only one of them is here, and I am friendly with and respect the other greatly—should rejoice and drink champagne with that sort of a man. It is not worthy of them.

The second thing that Mr. Ponting said, I am afraid, made my blood rise even higher and made me glad that I said what I said yesterday about some of the feelings within the Royal Navy about what was going on. This comes out of yesterday's edition of The Observer: I was asked to rephrase the letter (to be sent to Denzil Davies) placing greater emphasis on the Argentine attacks on 1 May. This proved somewhat difficult because the level of attacks had actually been very low and ineffective. What arrogance that from a comfortable seat in Whitehall Mr. Ponting can judge the effect that the Argentine air force had on our sailors down there who were trying to fight a war. That is why I said yesterday —I do not want to go all through it again today as there is not the time —that some constituents of mine who were down there and did fight came to tell me that they felt very badly indeed that the feeling is still around that all was not quite well over the sinking of the Belgrano. They were in the ships that were attacked. The particular individual who was down below in the Glamorgan when those two bombs went off thought that his end had come. He thought that either they had hit a mine or that they had been torpedoed, so great were the shock waves from those two 1,000 lb bombs from the Argentine air force. In nobody's mind who was there was that a minor or light incident. It was after that that they went to do another job away from the main part of the task force. They were closer to the Belgrano than perhaps has been admitted.

I do not take issue with the Ministry of Defence about that. I do not quarrel with its decision not to give away the position of any of our ships because once it has done that it must give the position of them all. It is the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) who has been constantly trying to find out where our submarines and ships were, all information that would be of the greatest value to the enemy, that would give away our——

Mr. Heseltine

There has been a certain amount of interest in this matter. My hon. Friend has taken a great deal of interest in it and asked some questions on the assumption that some of our ships were much closer than it was assumed that they were. We have examined the matter again, and I believe that that is not the case. The issue is clear. The House will understand that calculations were made not only on the precise position of the ships but on the rate at which they could close. Sir John Nott, who was Secretary of State at the time, gave the figure of about 200 miles. I think that it was probably more than that. Perhaps the closest was about 260 miles from the task force. The issue was one of calculation—how quickly the ships could converge. It was because the calculations within the Ministry showed clearly that the risk existed that the answers were given in the way that they were.

Mr. Mates

I do not wish to quarrel with what my right hon. Friend said, nor do I expect him to come out with any of the details. The reason why I am saying this is that I want to make this point. It was perfectly clear to every single member of the task force who was at sea that every single Argentine ship was a threat, wherever it was, because the ships were not out there for any reason other than to threaten our task force and to attack it. At the end of the day, when our men have come back home, they resent very deeply what the hon. Member for Linlithgow says, such as "The Belgrano was going home", "The Belgrano was no threat", "The Belgrano was too old to do any damage to any of our ships". Those facts are simply not the case. The threat was real and not imagined. From what I have been told, the fear in which those brave sailors lived was very real as well.

However, there is one source to which we can go. I know that this has been said before, but it was a long time ago, and most people, I believe, have forgotten it. It is what the Argentines said that they were doing. It all came out in a "Panorama" programme when Fred Emery was describing the events. He said: It was 'go' for the Argentine fleet. Then he described how the fleet set sail. Then the Argentine admiral Lombardo said: 'We thought that the British were going to concentrate near Port Stanley and we tried to attack isolated ships or small groups of ships out of that region'. That description applies exactly to the small group of ships to which I referred. He continued: The Air Force were going to attack the ships near Port Stanley".

Fred Emery said: and the same order to attack isolated British ships that was given to the 'Belgrano' and her ships as well? Lombardo said: Not up to this moment because she … and the other two escort ships, were going to make an—I don't know how to say in English … Fred Emery suggested "A pincer movement?" and Lombardo said "Yes". Emery said: That's the first Argentine admission the 'Belgrano' was part of the pincer movement to join battle with the British. What could be clearer than that? What could be clearer than the Argentine naval chief of staff himself setting out on British television what the Belgrano and its group were about? The interview goes on, and once again we refer to the words of the admiral. This is fairly crucial because it is connected with the change of course. Lombardo said that at about midnight the ships were given orders to come back. Emery asked, "To come back where?" and the admiral said: To their former positions. That is to say, the two groups in the north to their continent and the group in the south to their States island. Emery asked: Was that a political decision or just a military decision? Lombardo replied: "Military decision, sir." The fleet was ordered to turn around for military purposes for one reason and one reason only, that the Argentines had got our intentions wrong. We were not landing when the Argentines thought we were landing or where they thought we were landing. They realised, too late as it turned out, that they were in mortal danger of attack from the task force. That is the sole reason why the Belgrano was ordered to turn round. Anyone who says that it was going home on a Sunday afternoon, back to port, does not know what he is talking about because there it is out of the mouth of the Argentine admiral himself. The captain of the Belgrano himself, captain Bonzo, said: If I changed course, it was to complete an anti-submarine tactic so as not to maintain a predictable course for a long time. If there are hon. Members who will not believe my right hon. Friend or who did not believe Sir John Nott, and they can honestly tell us that they do not believe the naval chief of staff of Argentina either, all that I can say is they do not want to know the truth. The truth is that that ship was a danger. It was a great danger to our task force, particularly to those parts of it that were close to it. At the end of the war the fact that the Belgrano was sunk and the entire Argentine navy went home must have saved countless British lives.

In the middle of all that, for Opposition Members to quibble about the time, place and course, the detail and the distance, is to miss the main point because Opposition Members who were staunchly behind the Government during the war—I am happy to say that that is most Opposition Members—accepted the needs and risks of that war. It is only the few who have sought to make mischief, who have consorted with people who are prepared to deceive and to lie, simply to try to discredit my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's handling of the war, who do no service to this country. When they laugh and joke about mistakes and when they rejoice that errors have been made, they do no service to this country either.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will be as responsible and statesmanlike when he winds up today as he was when he spoke about the terrorist attack in Brighton. We would look forward to hearing from him that this war was conducted honourably and responsibly because he knows that that is the truth. I hope that he will share that truth with us.

7.59 pm
Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)

If it is thought that this debate should be about what happened during the weekend when the Belgrano was sunk, I should point out that there is no reason to have a debate on that today. We could have debated it at any time in the past year or so with as much knowledge and authority as we now have. The time to debate that matter is not now but in a few weeks' time when we have the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs which has been going into the matter in great detail.

When I hear dogmatic views expressed, as we heard from the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), I recall that having spent months going through a mountain of evidence I still cannot make up my mind about the truth of the matter and I look forward to considering it further. How hon. Members who have not looked at the evidence can be so sure and so dogmatic passes my comprehension. As a member of the Select Committee, I take the view that the Government are throwing a grave insult at that Committeee. Having already insulted it by withholding information from it, the Government are now gravely insulting the Select Committee by trying to get the House today to pre-empt and thus devalue its work and its report.

I appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that I may refer only to those parts of the Select Committee's work that are already publicly available. It is well known that the Select Committee has been working on this inquiry for some time — well known to everyone except, apparently, the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman said today that the only thing being investigated by the Select Committee—he even read out the terms of reference—was the future of the Falklands and the peace process. We concluded that inquiry months ago and issued a report. The Secretary of State himself gave evidence to the Committee. The report itself, under the heading Foreign Affairs Committee, Minutes of Evidence, Wednesday 7 November 1984, right hon. Michael Heseltine MP has the following title in bold type: The events surrounding the weekend of 1–2 May 1982". When it became clear that the Secretary of State did not even know to what inquiry he had given evidence, I began to doubt the creditworthiness of the rest of his speech.

We are still taking evidence and the Secretary of State has today promised us two further pieces of evidence. He seemed to be claiming some special credit for letting us see the "Crown Jewels" — more than somewhat belatedly, as we had to drag it out of him—but no credit is due to the Secretary of State as it would have been unthinkable for him to withhold that evidence from the Select Committee. If it was not devastatingly damaging for the judge, the jury, the lawyers and their staff and the court officials and servants to know what was in that document, there can be no reason to withhold it from two right hon. and nine hon. Members of this House. I am surprised that the Secretary of State is not requiring us to be vetted by an Old Etonian as was the jury in the Ponting case.

When the House has the Select Committee report, irrespective of the conclusion that we reach about the Belgrano—I do not yet know what conclusion that will be—the House will clearly be in a much better and more informed position to pronounce on the matter than it is today.

The justification for today's debate is a justification for a debate on a quite different subject—the revelations and the things that crawled out of the woodwork during the Ponting trial. Those disclosures have confirmed and supplemented what we already knew about the Government's lying to the House, lying to the Select Committee and lying to the country. I use the word "lying" advisedly, strong though it is, because it is a cardinal principle that suppressio veri is equivalent to suggestio falsi, if only because it violates the second of the three requirements—the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The Legge minute has been mentioned several times. In that minute, a civil servant advised his Ministers to deceive the Select Committee by withholding information. What must concern the House is not that Mr. Legge offered that shabby advice to the Minister for the Armed Forces but that the Minister, with the consent of the Secretary of State, accepted and acted upon it. We now know from the evidence that the Minister for the Armed Forces accepted it enthusiastically—a good deal more enthusiastically than his boss the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State today listed the reasons which Mr. Legge gave for deceiving the Select Committee and which the Minister accepted. Those reasons were wholly bogus, hollow and meretricious and were clearly exposed as such in the Select Committee's examination of the Secretary of State, to which I referred earlier. If any hon. Member doubts my word about that, he should read the evidence, which makes it absolutely clear that those reasons did not stand up under questioning.

As time is limited, I mention just one of the reasons given by Mr. Legge for withholding the information. He said that the rules of engagement would have to be paraphrased at some length since their format would be almost incomprehensible to the layman".

Yet those rules were given to the War Cabinet, and all the Ministers who were members of the War Cabinet were laymen. I cannot imagine why it should be thought that what was intelligible to the laymen in the War Cabinet would be beyond the understanding of those on the Select Committee. Was the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), for instance, assumed to be less intelligent and not so quick on the uptake as, say, Lord Whitelaw? The very idea is enough to make a cat laugh. The Secretary of State himself subsequently admitted that it was nonsense when, despite all the reasons that he listed for not giving the rules of engagement to the Select Committee, after much travail he finally gave them to us a few weeks ago. Layman though I am, I had no difficulty at all in understanding them.

One further matter arises out of the Ponting trial. I mention it again as it deserves special attention. A number of people have said that they could not understand why the Government made the mistake of prosecuting Mr. Ponting and that they could not understand what the Government hoped to get out of it. I was not sure myself when I first thought about it. In the light of what has happened, I now know what the Government hoped to get out of putting Clive Ponting in gaol. They hoped to establish, as the judge tried to establish, that their lying to the House was in the national interest. They wanted to protect themselves against any criticism from the Select Committee or anyone else and to be able to say that, however reprehensible the deed, it was done in the national interest.

The aquittal gets rid of all that well and truly. Twelve British citizens have summarily dismissed the judge's monstrous opinion — clearly shared by the Prime Minister and at least some of her Ministers—that the national interest is whatever the Government of the day want to do. That is a monstrous doctrine, because if confers on a Government a cachet of papal infallibility. I do not doubt that all Governments do what they judge to be in the national interest, but no Government have the right to assume that their judgment can never be wrong.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has reached the end of his time.

Mr. Mikardo

I shall just finish my sentence, Mr. Speaker, if I may. No Government should assume that they can never be wrong and that what they do cannot sometimes therefore vary from the national interest. As has been said, that is the cherished doctrine of General Pinochet and of General Jaruzelski. It is the codex of all courts in police states. Before the time of our present Prime Minister and Mr. Justice McCowan, that doctrine was unheard of in our country.

8.10 pm
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

First, I assure the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees)—for whom I and the whole House have great respect, and who made the only worthwhile contribution from the Opposition Benches—that I would not join in any chorus of criticism of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I have known the hon. Gentleman for a long time. I think that he is a bit cracked, if he does not mind my saying so, but I believe that he is absolutely sincere. However, the trouble with people who have bees in their bonnets—and it is right that there should be such people—is that they often find themselves unable to see the wood for the trees.

At least the hon. Gentleman's position is more honourable than that of the Opposition. He consistently opposed the sending of the task force to the Falklands. The Opposition were in favour of sending the task force. However, their amendment shows that they are not even prepared to agree that the protection of our Armed Forces must be the prime consideration in determining how far matters involving national security and the conduct of military operations should be disclosed. In that respect the Labour party suffers by comparison with the Liberal party, whose amendment recognises that factor.

As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, the Ponting trial is over and done with. It has given rise to a great deal of nonsense. Anyone who believes in trial by jury — as I certainly do — must accept the verdict, and that is the end of the matter so far as the courts are concerned. Whether it was right to prosecute is, with hindsight, a matter that can be discussed, but it would be a bad day for British justice if prosecutions authorised by the Attorney-General were automatically assumed to merit conviction, and it would also be a bad day for British justice if an Attorney-General were deterred from prosecuting for fear of an acquittal and a row in Parliament.

However, that is not the important issue, nor is the absurd accusation that the Prime Minister lied to the House. The antics of the Opposition over the prosecution were especially ridiculous. Everyone with the slightest intelligence knows that the Attorney-General authorises all prosecutions. The tedious correspondence has bored the pants off everyone and resulted in the Leader of the Opposition making an ass of himself and having to climb down. Likewise, Mr. Ponting himself is not the main issue. However, we are entitled to express nausea at the ridiculous attempt in some quarters to canonise a thoroughly dishonourable man.

Mr. Ponting talks about the right to know, but he did not want anyone to know of his sneaky activities. He did not have the guts to resign, he was prepared to employ double standards in the advice that he gave to Ministers, and he posed as a hero only when he was caught out. Far from regarding him as a hero, I believe that most people would regard him as an unprepossessing and sanctimonious creep. We need not worry about Mr. Ponting. He will soon be a gimmick candidate for the Social Democratic party and will appear endlessly on BBC panel and parlour games.

The Opposition have fallen over themselves to praise Mr. Ponting. I do not mind the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) defending his constituent. However, the Opposition's attitude is in marked contrast to the treatment of my constituent, Mr. Robin Page, a DHSS civil servant, when Labour was in office 15 years ago. Mr. Page was disturbed at the way in which the Labour Government were misleading the House over supplementary benefit frauds. He wrote an article — I accept that he was wrong to do so under a pseudonym —in which he criticised the misleading of the House. He was dismissed by the late Dick Crossman and threatened with the Official Secrets Act. He lost his job and all his pension and gratuity benefits.

The Labour doctrine at that time was as follows. The then Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, now Lord Ennals, said: It is intolerable for anyone to feel such confidence in his own righteousness that he is entitled to break the rules of the Civil Service confidence and at the same time stay in his job and denounce the Department in which he serves. I do not see how any Government could work if civil servants were permitted to behave in that way."—[Official Report, 23 February 1970; Vol. 796, c. 955.]

Will the Leader of the Opposition support the re-establishment of my constituent, who has written to him with that request, or will he apply double standards to the cases of the two civil servants? If he does so, the Opposition will be guilty of humbug.

The direction in which the Belgrano was sailing—or, indeed, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), its distance from our ships—is another irrelevancy. It is not of any more vital current importance than the direction in which the Bismarck was sailing in the second world war. The matter is interesting to military historians and to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, but everyone else — especially those whose relatives served in the task force — is simply relieved that it was sunk.

What Ministers reveal to the House is, however, a matter of importance. Undoubtedly the maximum information should be disclosed, but there is a very real dilemma that cannot be ignored. Not everything can be revealed. The public understand that, even if the media do not. Where the security of the nation and the safety of service men are at risk, the right to know must take second place. The public would never forgive Ministers who put at risk a single life merely to satisfy the whims of cranks and political opportunists.

As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, the important issue for the future is the relationship between Ministers and civil servants. When I was at the Department of Trade and Industry, I was warned by a senior civil servant that the old standards of loyalty were disappearing and that one would be wise not to rely on civil servants in the future as one had done in the past. I found that very sad. I did not really believe it, but that change of atmosphere led to the increased use of political advisers.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield brought in powerful Left-wing political advisers, who cocooned him from the civil servants. I do not think that he was wrong to do so, because I do not believe that the present leak will be an isolated case. Leaks will occur again, and will lead to parties, of whichever complexion, bringing in their own Civil Service, on the lines of the system in the United States, the French Chef du Cabinet system, or, indeed, the more extreme systems of other countries. I believe that that would be a retrograde step, as a responsible Civil Service acts as a shock absorber to ambitious and over-excitable ministerial springs. Our Civil Service has given us an enviable stability in comparison with other nations.

Ministers may disregard all the other nonsense talked in the debate, but they should address themselves to the problem of how to deal in future with relations between officials and Ministers. The Government must consider the general morale within a service upon which we depend. Is all well in that connection? Only Governments can put matters right.

I remind the House again of the wise words of Lord Ennals: I do not see how any Government could work if civil servants were permitted to behave in that way. I take precisely the same view of Mr. Ponting in this case. Much deeper issues are raised in the debate than what happened in the South Atlantic two years ago. Ministers should apply their minds to those issues, and the House should reject the Opposition's absurd amendment.

8.19 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) is absent, as he referred to the Lombardo interview on "Panorama". The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Select Committee on Defence and I assume that he has read the note written by one of the advisers to that Committee, which says of the "Panorama" interview: This interview has been seized upon by the government as confirming their fears of 1 and 2 May. It was mentioned for example in the Prime Minister's letter to Mr. Foulkes. It has, however, been suggested that Lombardo now feels his remarks were quoted out of context. The phrase 'pincer movement' is probably an overstatement. The Belgrano's Task Group 79.3, comprising some of the least modern ships of the Argentine Navy, was clearly not earmarked for a major offensive role. The sort of manoeuvres described do not conform to a classic pincer movement.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Has this evidence been published?

Mr. Douglas

It is not evidence. It is a note of advice given to hon. Members. I should not quote evidence.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must warn the hon. Gentleman that it is not normal to report the internal proceedings of a Select Committee.

Mr. Douglas

You have my assurance, Mr. Speaker, that I have not quoted evidence. It is a note or observation, and I am prepared to submit it to any hon. Member. I have quoted it merely to contradict some of what the hon. Member for Hampshire, East said.

I do not propose to follow the events of 1 and 2 May because the Select Committee on Defence and others might prise the information out of the Government in due course. I see no reason why the so-called "Crown Jewels" should not be made available to Select Committees that are interested in these matters. Having accepted that view, I trust that the Government will ensure that such information is speedily given to the Select Committees.

I accept that intelligence and operational matters must be kept secret, but the House has not considered how we were operating during Operation Corporate. We never declared war on Argentina but operated under article 51 of the United Nations charter. There might have been good reasons for our not declaring war. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) gave some. One is that, if we had declared war, the United States would have had to make its stance clear; and in those circumstances security and intelligence information from the United States might have been withheld. We should be clear about what we were safeguarding in trying to bottle up the events of 30 April to 2 May 1982. It is one thing to do that at the time, but quite another to do it two or three years after the event.

The kernel of the case against the Government has little to do with Ministers but a lot to do with the Prime Minister's presidential style of government. The nation will be suspicious that she, who is a tenacious lady—much respect has been paid to her today — surrounds herself with people who give her the answers that she wants. That is extremely dangerous. Hon. Members have referred to the dogs that have not barked. I do not mean to be disrespectful to Conservative Members, but some of those dogs are conspicuously absent from this debate. I refer to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) and the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins). When Lord Carrington and the right hon. Member for Spelthorne faced difficulties concerning Operation Corporate, they took the opportunity to resign, but the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East got no such opportuntity. The nation will recognise that in this cover-up. The Government operated under perhaps a mistaken view of the diktat of the Prime Minister. Ministers gave her the information that she wanted. That might have involved the Attorney-General. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) gave a potent view of what ought to have happened in regard to the political considerations that should have been in the Attorney-General's mind. There are real dangers in the Prime Minister's approach, which must be halted.

I should like finally to consider the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). One of the reasons why we have parliamentary privilege is to defend our constituents, not ourselves. I have told my constituents and my constituency party that if everyone else in the land thinks that they are wrong but they can convince me that they are right, it is my obligation, with the use of parliamentary privilege, to defend their interests in the House of Commons. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow takes the view that his responsibility is to prise the truth out of the Government. That might annoy or upset the Government, but that is what we come here for. There is a distinction between the will of Government, the will of the House and the good of the nation. Through this debate, we are getting a clearer understanding of how the Prime Minister operates. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) questioned the use of "civil servants" in Cabinet. We have a 10 Downing street Cabinet Office which is stacked full of yes-men and women for the Prime Minister. There are dangers in this form of elective dictatorship, especially when the party in government has a large majority.

I welcome this debate and the exposure of the Government's misleading the House and the Select Committee, but I shall welcome it even more if it is clearly understood that some members of the Cabinet should occasionally stand up to the Prime Minister.

8.27 pm
Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

What greater test can any Government face than to fight a military campaign and have a disloyal adviser in a key area of defence? I am reminded of the betrayal of the Spartans at Thermopylae to the Persians.

In what other country would the Government have to balance disclosure against national security in such a blaze of examination, comment and publicity?

Mr. Mikardo

The United States.

Mr. Browne

No, not the President.

Mr. Mikardo


Mr. Browne

What party would place its own fortunes so obviously above the national interest to try to bring down a democratically elected Government who, above all others since the war, have faced and continue to face our national interests with courage and integrity?

The Falklands campaign was relatively small but involved intelligence and tactics that still form part of the everyday and overall defence of our nation. We should never forget that, daily, we face a struggle to retain our freedom. Our armed forces must remain vigilant constantly. Our intelligence and tactics are of great interest to the enemies of our freedom.

The Falklands campaign was one of the finest feats of arms in our entire history, in which a decisive factor was the sinking of the Belgrano, which itself was based on intelligence. It would be greatly against the interests of our country to disclose the sources of that intelligence. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) talked brazenly about the United States being the source of that intelligence. What does he hope to achieve by saying that? If it were true, and I emphasise if it were true, its disclosure could only damage the interests and influence of the United States throughout Latin and South America. It would also damage our relationships with the United States.

We must remember that the Falklands campaign is still operational. We have soldiers, sailors and airmen there today, who must live in a state of war readiness. The disclosure of the source of the intelligence and the tactics are still appropriate to them.

The Government must daily live under the unenviable burden of balancing disclosure and secrecy in the national interests. I listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I am convinced that the Government have balanced disclosure and secrecy in the national interests. I wholly support them in continuing to do so. They have achieved this balance, despite a thoroughly devious and disloyal adviser in a senior position in a key Ministry.

Let us now consider what our constituents think about this matter. I do not believe that the general public care when the Belgrano was sighted, where it was facing when it was engaged, or how far it was from our ships. Most of them do not give a hoot. They are extremely glad that it was sunk.

Our constituents could be excused for feeling that Mr. Ponting was treacherous, especially in the light of our debate. It appears that he did not act in search of a political idealistic truth, nor even for political reasons, but for party political reasons. I accept the court's decision, but I have a big job in persuading some of my constituents to accept it.

The Ponting case has many effects. First, it adversely affects the relationships between Ministers and civil servants. We have an excellent Civil Service, which has extremely high standards, is basically non-political and acts in the national interests. We now have a problem of confidentiality, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) pointed out. Secondly, the case has the effect of causing potential delays in political decisions in future wars. That is serious. We face daily the problems of Queen's Order No. 2, and, as my right hon. and hon. Friends will know, I often ask questions about it. In certain circumstances, it may be considered too dramatic a move to mobilise our reserve forces under that order. It would take a major political decision to do that. That is the fear of many military planners, and that presents a genuine risk in our defence posture. The case will affect adversely difficult political decisions that will have to be made in future for the exercise of Queen's Order No. 2.

The debate makes it clear that the decision to sink the Belgrano was utterly correct. Even the Argentinian admiral agrees that he would have done the same in the circumstances. Nevertheless, correct or not, the decision took courage and decisive action. What of the future? We may not be in the fortunate position of having such a decisive and courageous Prime Minister. The effects of this scrutiny of and back biting about a tactical decision in a battle serve our country ill.

Finally, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) criticised section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. Many hon. Members realise that there are things wrong with it, but his credibility vanished when he made a naive statement about GCHQ. Many hon. Members have known about GCHQ, but we have also known that the institution had been infiltrated. It is a top secret location instituted for communications, yet union rules forbade even the searching of brief cases of those leaving the base. It was an amazingly insecure place. Undoubtedly it took courage to re-establish security there. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that section 2 needs to be replaced or substituted, but, until hon. Members can agree on an effective substitute, it should remain.

This debate has shown conclusively that the Government acted decisively, correctly and courageously, and they should be praised for it.

8.36 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Unlike the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), but like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken, I opposed the decision to recapture the Falkland Islands by force. All the information that has subsequently been given to the House has more than confirmed my judgment.

It was obvious to any layman at the outset that the task force was embarking on an objective which involved great dangers. The information shows that we were lucky that only 255 members of the task force and 754 members of the Argentine forces lost their lives. Many more could have been killed. Inherent in the decision to recapture the Falklands by force was the fact that the Government would subsequently embark on their Fortress Falklands policy. We are spending thousands of millions of pounds a year on that policy, which is indefensible. I say that not in an attempt to be wise after the event but because it is important that the House should learn the lessons of the Falklands exercise. In so far as I would criticise Governments about what happened in the Falklands, the main responsibility lies not with this Government but with all the Governments since 1965, who failed to respond to the resolution carried in the United Nations General Assembly, which called on Argentina and Britain to resolve the issue through negotiations. The sovereignty of the Falkland Islands should have been negotiated, and the best deal obtained, during those years when there were democratically elected Governments in Argentina.

The debate is not a general debate about the Falklands, nor the sinking of the Belgrano, but about the circumstances of the trial of Clive Ponting. This afternoon the Secretary of State went to great lengths to discredit Mr. Ponting. To some extent he seemed to attempt to retry him with himself as the prosecuting counsel. Most Conservative Members were clearly convinced by the Secretary of State, but I was not. Time will tell, but the crucial issue that the Secretary of State did not address himself to was the verdict of the trial. The decision was a historic vindication of the jury system. As the defence solicitor for Mr. Ponting said, it was a political verdict at a political trial. That decision is historic because the crucial issue in the trial was the constitutional one, which involved the decision of Ministers to provide misleading information to the House. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman seeking to make out that civil servants made suggestions that resulted in misleading information. That has been the policy for months. At one point it almost seemed as if the right hon. Gentleman was trying to criticise Mr. Ponting for coming forward with proposals to continue the Government's policy of misleading the House of Commons.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who opened the debate so effectively for the Opposition, quoted the answer which the Prime Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on 21 February. Indeed, my hon. Friend has pursued these matters diligently over the years. That was an important answer. It was not just a spontaneous answer to a supplementary question. It will be recalled that that question had stood on the Order Paper for two weeks. It specifically asked the Prime Minister why she would not set up a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Belgrano. We know that the Prime Minister's answer was far from the truth. There is also the whole question of the so-called Stanley memorandum.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said, this is not about the Legge minute or about what civil servants wrote. They were simply doing what the Government wanted. The issue is that the Government chose to submit the memorandum to the Select Committee. That memorandum was designed to mislead the Select Committee, which had asked for information on the changes in the rules of engagement.

Dr. Hampson

Surely the Select Committee asked for a document that was not classified, and that is what it got. When it asked for a classified document with full information, it got that.

Mr. Strang

If the hon. Gentlman reads the Legge minute, he will understand what I am referring to. That memorandum was at best intended to prevent the Select Committee from getting the information that it sought.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge that the Government have now decided to allow the Select Committee to see the document known as the "Crown Jewels". When the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Select Committee, he was most adamant that it should not see that document. It is obviously important that the Government have now decided to make it available. When the Minister of State replies, I hope that he will make it clear that there is no qualification other than that of the most elementary precautions that one might take, and that all members of the Select Committee will see the whole document.

The crucial issue is the Government's responsibility to Parliament. Our unwritten constitution does not work if Parliament cannot depend on Minister's telling the truth. They have not told the truth on this issue. Incidentally, I hope that the Select Committee will explain why the truth has not been told. I still find it mysterious that the Government should have maintained this deception for so long if, as the Secretary of State has said, there was nothing to hide. That is the task of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and we shall see whether it is able to provide an answer to that question.

This whole debate will be a tragic, wasted opportunity if it does not lead the Government to reconsider their position and to abandon the approach whereby they are prepared deliberately to mislead this House. That is the crucial historic lesson of that vetted jury which declared Mr. Clive Ponting innocent.

8.43 pm
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Three dates are crucial to the argument about the sinking of the Belgrano. The first is 2 April 1982, when Argentine armed forces invaded the Falkland Islands, engaged in combat with the British armed forces there, captured the British armed forces and expelled our governor. That was every bit as much an act of war as when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. From that moment onwards, the armed forces of the Crown were perfectly entitled to sink any Argentine warship anywhere, except in neutral waters.

They needed no permission in international law from the Prime Minister, or any declaration of war. War came into existence when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.

The second date — and this has not yet been mentioned in the debate—is 25 April 1982. On 26 April 1982 The Times carried an article from Nicholas Ashford, dated Washington, 25 April, and headed: Costa Mendez says it is technically war".

It stated: Senor Costa Mendez underlined how seriously he considered the situation when he told reporters on his arrival in New York that Argentina was now technically in a state of war with Britain. Therefore, for the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) to refer to the sinking of the Belgrano in a state of war as "murder" is forgivable only in someone who is not responsible for the words that he utters.

This is crucial. Why should the House want to debate the sinking of the Belgrano, any more than the shooting down of an aircraft? Time and again, at Question Time and in defence debates, Opposition Members have come back to the sinking of the Belgrano and have used words which they knew to be untrue when they described it. It was a perfectly legitimate act of war, as would have been the sinking of the aircraft carrier The 25 of May, whatever course she was on and whatever orders she had received. This is the central truth of the matter.

My only other comment is to invite the House to recollect how even the Israeli intelligence forces were wholly deceived by the signals put out by the Egyptians before they attacked in the last war between Israel and Egypt. If the House remembers those two things, it will have grasped the central point and the complete justification for the sinking of the Belgrano.

8.47 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is a long-term Member of the House. He will know that the Opposition are not refighting the war. We are concerned with the fact that Ministers have sought to conceal information from the House of Commons and its Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

If Conservative Members vote for the motion tonight, they will do so before having the benefit of a White Paper — which has often been called for—and before they have the benefit of the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to a number of matters relating to the attempt of Ministers to keep certain material from the House and its Foreign Affairs Select Committee. We know that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was not too keen on divulging material. Indeed, we know that he was less keen than was his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

We were told in court evidence last week that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces went to No. 10. The private secretary to the Secretary of State, Mr. Mottram, was examined by Mr. Laughland, counsel for the defence, and we know that Mr. Mottram wrote the following memorandum to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The evidence states: The Secretary of State"— for Defence— would prefer to reserve the argument that you could not reveal operational matters for those cases where it was the professional judgment of those concerned within the department that there were genuine security objections to giving that information? Mr. Mottram replied: Yes. It is a pity that neither Minister is here, because it is clear from that that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was, in common words, trying to use the formula of "operational matters", contained in this memorandum, rather than the well-tried formula, subsequently used by the Secretary of State, of, "I have nothing to add to the letter that my right hon. Friend sent to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies)." From that court evidence alone, it can be seen that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was attempting to keep information out of parliamentary answers, beyond rules and precedent.

I wish particularly to look at the matters relating to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. It was the Legge minute, about which we have already heard, that caused Mr. Ponting to reveal this information to the Select Committee, and so to the House. The Legge minute told Ministers that they should not reveal, or if they did it would be more than they had done already, the rules of engagement of 30 May and the extent of the changes in the rules of engagement of 2 May. These matters were in the Legge minute, and it was these matters which this afternoon the Secretary of State claimed were matters of security. I believe that he was attempting to put up a false front to defend, not the safety of our armed forces, but the conduct of Her Majesty's Government and, in particular, the conduct of the Prime Minister.

In the court case, evidence was given not only by Mr. Mottram but by the secretary who wrote that minute, Mr. Legge, himself. Mr. Legge was cross-examined by Mr. Laughland about the matter. Mr. Legge had received a minute on this matter from Mr. Darms of another Department, and Mr. Laughland said: No. Even that would show that on 30th April the Government had authorised what is called 'the engagement of', that means the attack on, the carrier even outside the total exclusion zone?

A. It was permitted, yes.

Q. Was there, to your knowledge, some disadvantage of a national nature, security nature, in revealing that that had been authorised from the 30th April?

A. Not that single piece of information, but the grounds on which it was taken.

Q. And also, of course, the danger to which you were being alerted was that the change on the 2nd May wasn't just to sink the Belgrano, but really authorised attacking all or any Argentine warships over a very large area, whether inside or outside the TEZ.

A. Again, the reasons — — The fact itself would not be sensitive, it is the reasons for the decision. The House will remember that this afternoon the Secretary of State—I am glad that he has now come into the Chamber — implied that he had declined to answer the questions of the Select Committee, which asked for the dates, the reasons for and the outcome of the changes of the rules of engagement, because security was involved. In the evidence from the trial that I have read, no less than the assistant secretary, on oath, said that those matters were not security sensitive. That backs up the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition because it shows, beyond question, that the Secretary of State, backed up by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, acting on the advice of Mr. Legge's minute, was attempting, and initially successfully attempting, to withhold information from the House. That is what my right hon. Friend's amendment is about.

If that is so, it is up to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces when he winds up the debate to deny those facts, or they stand. If they stand, they are bound to raise further questions, which Conservative Members should ask themselves. They will raise questions which the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs will be bound to ask. What is more important, they will raise questions which people outside the House will continue to want answered.

Before Conservative Members vote for the motion, they should ask themselves some questions. First, why has this motion been rushed on to the Floor of the House before a more considered one? Why are the Government trying to fight the battle of the Falklands again on the results on a court case at the Old Bailey? I can only suggest that the defence that they are trying to make—on security—is really a defence of the Government's past conduct rather than an attempt to defend the rights of the House and of the British people.

The last question that I put to Conservative Members is one that they will be asked in due course. Events will take their course, more will be revealed and there will be questions. At the next general election, this is one of the questions which the electorate will ask of all hon. Members who vote for the Government's motion: why was this motion put down, on what basis of evidence did you vote for it, and why did you not vote for the Opposition's amendment? The person who will have to answer those questions more than any other is the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), the Prime Minister.

8.56 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

I thank the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for having allowed me four minutes.

This is not the first time that we have considered an issue of this nature. The closest parallel was the sinking of the French fleet by the Royal Navy at Oran in 1940. On that occasion, 1,297 French sailors lost their lives. Sir Winston Churchill said: This was a hateful decision, the most unnatural and painful in which I have ever been concerned … No act was ever more necessary for the life of Britain and for all that depended upon it. That act was regarded as regrettable, but it was not regarded with remorse.

We should look on the Belgrano episode in the same light. I shall point out some evidence that has not yet been mentioned. Lord Lewin said in the Sunday Telegraph on 8 April 1984 that the Belgrano constituted a potential threat to the Task Force and she had been used to direct aircraft which scored near misses on Task Force ships. I take it that he meant by that that the Belgrano had been helping to direct the aircraft that attacked the Glamorgan, and only just missed it with two 1,000 lb bombs.

The role of the civil servant was referred to by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) at the conference that he addressed at the weekend. He spoke of Mr. Clive Ponting having a higher duty. It is only fair to remind the House of what the right hon. Gentleman said to me when he was a Minister some years ago and I thought that he had overruled his civil servants. On 17 June 1976, the right hon. Gentleman said: As the hon. Gentleman knows, officials of the Department give evidence on behalf of Ministers. Officials have no views. They are the spokesmen of the Government of the day." — [Official Report, Standing Committee D, 17 June 1976; c. 419.] If it was the view of the right hon. Gentleman on 17 June 1976 in the Committee which considered the Health Services Bill that officials had no views, it is obvious that he has changed his mind. But in the very unlikely event that he obtains office again, how may we be certain that he will not revert to his old role of treating civil servants as having no views?

When a great deal of circumstantial evidence is provided about an act—and during my brief stay with the Army this struck me very forcefully—it is possible to discern the pattern or secret behind it. But, to be absolutely safe, it is difficult to know with certainty how much evidence can be safely provided without revealing the nature of the secret or secrets. I suggest that where the lives of a great many British service men are at risk, they must be protected by keeping those secrets intact and safe. It is my view that the satisfaction of the obsessional curiosity about intelligence of anyone is not worth the life of a single British soldier.

9 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

This has been a debate in which there have been several speeches of high quality. However the most significant speeches are those which have not been delivered. In the Conan Doyle story, "Silver Blaze", Sherlock Holmes drew attention to what he called the curious incident of the dog in the night time. Watson replied that the dog did nothing in the night time, to which remark Holmes responded, "That was the curious incident." In this debate, there have been not one but two silent dogs — the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. Their silence is as significant as anything that they might have said had they spoken. It is as though we have sat through a performance of "Hamlet", but without Gertrude and without Guildenstern—though, of course, we are about to hear from Yorick.

With the failure of the Prime Minister either to speak today or to answer the detailed questions put to her in correspondence by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I suppose that we shall never know the full truth behind the decision to prosecute Mr. Ponting. What is perfectly obvious is that there are a lot of people who want to make it clear that they had nothing to do with it.

The Prime Minister memorably told the House last week that she was on holiday when the decision was taken. The Attorney-General owned up that he, too, was on holiday. During a press conference at Rosyth dockyard, the Secretary of State for Defence declared mysteriously that he was out of his office at the time, but the Prime Minister later said that he, too, was on holiday or, as she put it, "on leave" — rather appropriately for someone who likes to dress up in combat gear. As for the Minister for the Armed Forces, he was on holiday as well.

One can imagine the inter-office memorandum that flew around Whitehall that carefree August:

  • "We're all going on a summer holiday
  • No more working for a week or two."
The House will recall that the words go on:
  • "Everybody has a summer holiday
  • Doing things they always wanted to
  • So we're going on our summer holiday
  • To make our dreams come true."
All these vacationing Ministers have carefully worked out alibis. So what is the solution to the mystery? The answer is that the person responsible for the decision to prosecute was the Solicitor-General. Yes, the butler did it.

But we all know that the Secretary of State for Defence wanted it done. He told Sir Ewen Broadbent, his second permanent secretary, that in his view Mr. Ponting should be prosecuted, and I understand that a minute of that meeting was taken.

What was it that made the Secretary of State so convinced that this civil servant should be put on trial. After all, Mr. Ponting was not the only person who had prima facie broken the Official Secrets Act by revealing information about the sinking of the Belgrano. Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, the captain of the Conqueror, the submarine that sank the Belgrano, revealed the true date of the sighting of the Belgrano nearly a year before the Government admitted it. He was in clear breach of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, yet nearly two years later he has not been prosecuted. In June 1984, Lord Lewin, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, revealed to journalists details of the role of the top secret hydrophonic towed array system in detecting the Belgrano, information that the Secretary of State said today it was unthinkable to reveal. And eight months later Lord Lewin has not been prosecuted.

Even if one considers only the papers that Mr. Ponting leaked, the person who received those papers—my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—was liable for prosecution, yet he, too, remains at large. Nor has it been suggested by anybody that Mr. Ponting violated national security. Indeed, prosecuting counsel at the trial said specifically: It is not suggested that the disclosure, in fact, damaged national security. This assertion was clearly repeated by the judge at the trial who, it is fair to say, sought scrupulously not to bias the jury in favour of Mr. Ponting. The judge said: Mr. Amlott, for the Crown, has at all stages made clear that it is not suggested by the Crown that the disclosure made by the defendant to Mr. Dalyell in fact breached national security. So why was it Mr. Ponting who had to be put on trial and, if at all possible, sent to gaol? It was because he had committed the unpardonable sin of drawing the attention of a Member of Parliament to the fact that for months on end Ministers of the Crown had not only been misleading Parliament but that their action had not been inadvertent or accidental, for those two leaked documents demonstrated that certain information had either been deliberately withheld from Parliament, even though hon. Members had asked for it and it was not classified information, or else had been supplied to Parliament in a form and manner that were calculated to mislead. That is why the discredited section 2 of the Official Secrets Act had to be brought into operation, a section which the present Home Secretary in this House described, when in opposition, as "simply indefensible." Mr. Ponting had blown Ministers' cover and disclosed their cover-up, so he had to be the subject of a political trial—a show trial.

The hope of Ministers must have been that a verdict of guilty would vindicate all they had done. It could also be politically useful in reviving the patriotic fervour of the Falklands period itself. The Government, after a favourable verdict, could once again drape themselves in the White Ensign, even though their true colours were the Jolly Roger. So the Ponting trial was all set to be a triumphant revival of that successful favourite, "Oh, What a Lovely War!" Unfortunately for the Government, its real title turned out to be "The Man Who Knew Too Much." It has repeatedly been pointed out today that until April of last year the Government had consistently given the impression that the Belgrano was sighted on 2 May 1982, the day on which it was sunk. That was the information supplied to this House by Sir John Non, then Secretary of State for Defence, on 4 May when the sinking of the Belgrano was announced. In fact, the Belgrano was sighted on 1 May and located on 30 April.

It was only in her reply to a letter sent from my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli. (Mr. Davies) dated 4 April 1984, a reply that took more than four weeks to draft, that the Prime Minister finally admitted the correct date. That letter also purported to provide for the first time information relating to the change in the rules of engagement that authorised the sinking of the Belgrano. But even after that letter the Government still refused to give to the House details of the course of the Belgrano before she was sunk or of the public warning that was issued in connection with her sinking.

It was the problem of how to reply to my right hon. Friend, together with a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, that led to a series of grubby, squalid meetings at the Ministry of Defence and in Downing street.

Before the spring of last year, Ministers had regularly seen to it that false information about the sinking had been communicated to Parliament and to the country. On 14 December 1982 a White Paper on the Falklands war was published. Paragraph 110 of that White Paper opened with the words: On 2 May HMS Conqueror detected the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano". When Sir John Nott told Parliament, two days after the sinking of the Belgrano, that she had been sighted on 2 May when it was really 1 May that mistake was excusable in the aftermath of the engagement and taking into account possible difficulties in communication. But by the time of the publication of the White Paper the true date was known. What was a pardonable mistake in May had become an untruth in December.

Moreover, on that same date, 14 December, a dispatch on the war from Sir John Fieldhouse, the Chief of Naval Staff, was published in the London Gazette. Sir John had wanted to put the true date of the sinking, 1 May, into the dispatch, but his dispatch was doctored in circumstances which are still not clear, and the false date was substituted for the true one.

As time went on, further items of false information were supplied to the House by Ministers. Statements remained in Hansard, in a White Paper presented to the House and in the London Gazette which not only were misleading but which Ministers knew to be misleading. No effort was made in the usual and accepted way to correct them. They were simply left on the record. Not a single correction has ever been volunteered by the Government. Every admission has had to be squeezed out of them.

Then the letter arrived from my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli. The first reaction that came from the Secretary of State was creditable. Being relatively new to his post he wanted to know the facts about the Belgrano and that is why Mr. Ponting was asked to compile the background brief that became known as the Crown Jewels. The Secretary of State is reported to have said at the time that he did not want another Watergate. There is one considerable difference, among others, between this affair and Watergate. At least Nixon had the tapes to help him remember what lies he had told.

At the end of March, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State finally got round to considering what advice to give to the Prime Minister on the reply that she should send to my right hon. Friend. Two meetings were held at the Ministry of Defence, one on 30 March and the other on 1 April. What emerges clearly from the trial evidence, not simply from Mr. Ponting, but just as plainly from Mr. Mottram, the Secretary of State's private secretary, and also from internal memoranda which were produced, is that the aim of those meetings was not to decide how best to tell the truth to Members of Parliament. No, Mr. Speaker. The objective of Ministers throughout was to see what they could get away with; what they could palm off on Parliament.

Indeed, the Minister of State had asked for two draft replies to be prepared——

Mr. Heseltine


Mr. Kaufman

I shall give way when I have finished my passage, as the Secretary of State said.

The Minister of State had asked for two replies to be prepared, one of which would give a truthful account of the events and the other which would not. That request caused such bewilderment that the Minister of State confirmed his instruction in writing. Which draft did the Minister of State prefer? The game is given away by the documents placed in the Library today by the Secretary of State. In his minute accompanying those drafts, Mr. Ponting wrote: "Minister (AF)"—that is the Minister of State— asked me to prepare a draft admitting for the first time that Belgrano was sighted on 1 May and not 2 May, this is draft 2 attached. The Minister of State could not wait to scribble next to that the words No. Drafts on both bases were sought. Would he have scrawled those words if he was content with the truthful version?

Mr. Heseltine

The House will have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman has skipped time in order to give credibility to a wholly misleading account of the events. The purpose of those two meetings that took place on the Friday and the Sunday was to decide how to cope with the request for information in the light of Mr. Ponting's advice that the answers were to do with intelligence and operational information.

Mr. Kaufman

Mr. Ponting is not answerable to the House, but the Secretary of State is. It is he whom we are holding to account this evening. The trial evidence—

Mr. Heseltine

Why does not the right hon. Gentleman tell the truth?

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Gentleman can no doubt give lessons in that.

The trial evidence makes it quite clear that the Minister of State wanted the evasive version to be sent. The information that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli had requested was unclassified, but the Minister of State insisted that it was classified. When the meeting decided that at any rate the true date of the sighting should be supplied, the Minister of State disagreed. The Secretary of State, with the permanent secretary, then went across the road to see the Prime Minister. They left at 4.30 pm and returned at 7.30 pm. In his evidence to the Select Committee on 7 November 1984 the Secretary of State said: the only time that I have been to the Prime Minister to reveal something that I felt had to be put right in terms of the record of the House of Commons, she could not have been quicker in urging me to make the earliest possible rectification. Nearly three hours seems a long time to make a decision that could "not have been quicker".

Even so the answer sent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli was in part misleading due to the intervention of the Minister of State. It was he who recommended that there be inserted in the Prime Minister's reply an extract from a lecture by Admiral Woodward, which included the statement: I therefore sought, for the first and only time throughout the campaign, a major change to Rules of Engagement to enable Conqueror to attack Belgrano outside the Exclusion Zone. The letter from the Prime Minister went on: Ministers agreed to the proposed change in the Rules of Engagement at about 1 pm London time on 2 May. It is quite true that that is what Admiral Woodward asked for, but it is not what he got. The War Cabinet certainly agreed to a change in the rules of engagement, but the minute leaked by Mr. Ponting pointed out that the change on 2 May was not restricted to Belgrano but included all Argentine warships over a large area. Conservative Members cheer. But that is why Sir Clive Whitmore, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, supported inclusion of this passage with the memorable justification that it was "not a direct lie." Sir Clive is, of course, a former private secretary to the Prime Minister.

So, content that they were not telling a direct lie, the Ministers approved the draft and sent it across to the Prime Minister. She then, at noon on 2 April, held a meeting with Lord Whitelaw and the Chief Whip to consider the political aspects of the letter", or, to put it another way, to consider the political risks of telling part of the truth even if part of it was not a direct lie. That letter was duly sent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli.

The problem still remained of what reply to send to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. Mr. Ponting offered a draft which would have for the first time admitted that the Belgrano had reversed course on the day she was sunk. That information was unclassified, but the Minister of State opposed its being provided and the Secretary of State accepted the Minister of State's advice. In dealing with that letter, the Minister of State opposed providing the requested information and said in a memorandum: It is not our practice to comment on military operational matters. The memorandum went on: Mr. Stanley personally has no difficulty whatsoever on operational grounds in declining to give this information. The text of the draft letter to Mr. Dalyell attached to Head of DH5 Minute abundantly illustrates, in Minister AF's view, the depth of the water the Secretary of State would get into were he to send it. The Minister of State said that it would be "a danger to answer." A reply was sent which provided no information. My hon. Friend was not to be put off, and tabled a series of parliamentary questions. It was then that the Minister of State suggested that a reply should say: It is not our practice to comment on military operational matters or details of military operations. But Mr. Ponting pointed out that it was not possible to sustain that line because the Prime Minister had provided operational information. The Secretary of State rejected the Minister of State's suggested reply, but he did not provide the information that my hon. Friend had requested.

Again, seeking further to avoid providing information to my hon. Friend, the Minister of State sent a minute, which stated: The Minister has subsequently discussed a slight variation in the Secretary of State's answer with No. 10 so as to provide a justification for effectively declining to answer Parliamentary Question 3143C. On another occasion when two writers, Mr. Arthur Gayshon and Mr. Desmond Rice, put a series of questions on the Belgrano sinking to the Ministry of Defence, officials prepared replies. But the Minister of State prevented the replies from being sent, saying that he did not wish to encourage any debate whatever about the Belgrano.

Yet again the Minister of State held a meeting with Admiral Sir Peter Stanford, Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff. He asked Sir Peter to agree with him that all information relating to the Belgrano was classified. Sir Peter refused to do so.

In May of last year the Minister of State sent a minute to Mr. Ponting saying that all future questions on the Belgrano should be given the reply that it was not the Department's practice to comment on military operational matters. But that was not so. The Department frequently comments on military operational matters.

Then last June came the request from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs for a note listing all the changes which had taken place in the Rules of Engagement for the Task Force during the conflict, together with the dates and the reasons for the outcome of those changes. Such was the climate of deception and misinformation in the Ministry of Defence that one official, Mr. Baker, sent a minute saying: I should be grateful for any corrections of fact or emphasis, particularly from DS5B, with relation to the Belgrano aspects lest I have departed inadvertently from the public line and risk a breach in our united front. That was a united front against a Select Committee of this House — [Interruption.] — and Mr. Legge submitted another minute which offered a series of reasons for not providing the information requested, among which was: a full list of changes would provide more information than Ministers have been prepared to reveal so far about the Belgrano affair. The Secretary of State said that that reason was irrelevant. If it was irrelevant, why did Mr. Legge feel it necessary to give it?

So on the instructions of the Minister of State a draft reply was prepared for the Select Committee which very specifically and very deliberately did not provide what was requested. What is more, it repeated in paraphrase a passage in the Prime Minister's letter which had been dubbed by Sir Clive Whitmore as "not a direct lie". The Secretary of State agreed that that unsatisfactory and misleading memorandum should be sent.

It was not only the Minister of Defence who was involved; we have also to consider the role of the Prime Minister herself for a period of nearly two years. The Prime Minister, in a series of parliamentary answers and letters to MPs, provided information that was inaccurate, misleading or both.

The Prime Minister stated: The 'General Belgrano' and her escort had made many changes of course during 2 May." — [Official Report, 16 December 1982; Vol. 34, c.199.]

But, in fact, the Belgrano made one major change of course, reversing her direction away from the task force.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked the Prime Minister to make available, on Privy Councillor terms, a full account of the events leading up to the sinking of the Belgrano, the Prime Minister replied: No. There is nothing that can usefully be added to what has already been said."—[Official Report, 28 February 1983; Vol. 38, c.11.]

But there was a great deal which could usefully be added, and the Prime Minister herself added it, not on Privy Council terms but in letters to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli 13 months later and to my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) five months after that. So that reply from the Prime Minister was also misleading.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked about the circumstances of the sinking of the Belgrano, the Prime Minister said: The full facts were given in several replies in the House. All the facts were there."—[Official Report, 21 February 1984; Vol. 55, c. 695.]

But the full facts had not been given; all the facts were not there. Within six weeks more facts were given to my right hon. Friend, and in the following September more facts still were published, so again the Prime Minister's remarks were false.

On 4 April came the Prime Minister's letter to my right hon. Friend which included the alleged information about the rules of engagement—the information described as "not a direct lie"—so that was a misleading answer.

In a reply yet again to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, the Prime Minister said: The circumstances leading to the sinking of the Belgrano were described in my letter to the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) on 4 April."—[Official Report, 17 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 225.]

But, quite apart from the misleading passage in that letter, the right hon. Lady had not described all the circumstances that could be published, since more information was provided in her letter of 19 September to my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. My hon. Friend received that response following a letter that he sent to the Prime Minister after the documents leaked by Mr. Ponting had been published in the New Statesman. It was only at that very late point, with the facts already published against the Prime Minister's wishes, that the Prime Minister could bring herself to come clean, but even so she could not control her penchant for peddling misleading information. In a letter dated 8 October 1984 to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) she said: The Belgrano certainly made many changes of course during May 2nd. That reply was in direct contradiction to paragraph 10 of the annex to her letter of 19 September.

In the light of that conglomeration of misleading answers—[Interruption.]—how can the Prime Minister possibly justify the statement that she made last Thursday, when she said: There has been no attempt whatsoever to mislead the House. She was much nearer the mark when she said on the same day: I think that if there is a charge to be made against me, it is that I have given too many facts that might best not have been given." — [Official Report, 14 February 1985, Vol. 73, c. 479–80.]

Yes indeed. The trouble is that all the facts are different. The fact is that this Government prosecuted Mr. Ponting, but it is the Government who were convicted. The Government who prosecuted Mr. Ponting are a contemptible Government. They are a dangerous Government. They are a Government fashioned in the image of their Prime Minister. They are a Government who must go.

9.29 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)

The accounts that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has given of the events in the Ministry of Defence are a complete travesty of what occurred. In his speech this afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave his view, and our view, of what occurred, and I am confident that reasonable people in the House—I hope, on both sides—will find in favour of the views given by my right hon. Friend.

As the right hon. Members for Gorton and for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) referred to the two drafts, which is a matter of importance to me, I shall refer to it. It is the case that I requested Mr. Ponting to produce two drafts in response to the letter of the right hon. Member for Llanelli. I shall explain why once again. The chronology starts with a question that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked in 1982. The question was: at what time contact with the 'General Belgrano' was first made by one of Her Majesty's submarines. The question fell to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), to answer. My right hon. Friend was advised in writing that the information sought was classified, and he was advised not to give it. My right hon. Friend therefore replied on 10 December 1982: It would not be in the public interest to give this information."—[Official Report, 10 December 1982; Vol. 33, c. 621.]

That was the existing public position, coupled with a statement made by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office in another place on 13 July 1983, when my noble Friend said that the reference to 2 May in the Falklands White Paper was not intended to indicate when the cruiser was first located." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 1983; Vol. 443, c. 884.]

When the letter from the right hon. Member for Llanelli arrived, I could have asked Mr. Ponting to prepare just one draft in accordance with existing ministerial statements, and it was perfectly proper for me to ask for a draft on that basis. But I actually went further. I took the initiative, and I was the first Minister to do so, in asking Mr. Ponting to go further than Ministers had done before and to prepare a draft acknowledging that the Belgrano was sighted on 1 May rather than 2 May. To twist and distort my request into saying that I asked for two drafts to be prepared, one telling the truth and one telling a lie, is frankly a monstrous slur—[Interruption.]

The debate has centred on information and on the responsibilities of Ministers for the disclosure of information to Parliament. I shall devote my remarks to that central issue. In deciding how much information to disclose surrounding the sinking of the Belgrano, Ministers in fact had three options. They had the option of full disclosure, the option of no disclosure and the option of partial disclosure.

Full disclosure was only a theoretical option. In practice, the security and operational sensitivities surrounding the sinking were such that it would clearly have been wholly irresponsible to go down the path of full disclosure. I do not believe that that is seriously challenged.

A policy of non-disclosure was, however, an option. It would have been a perfectly respectable option and one well grounded in the statements of successive defence Ministers in successive Governments. The last time this issue was addressed by a Select Committee of the House was in the 1971–72 Session when it was considered by the Select Committee on Parliamentary Questions. That Committee's report listed in appendix 9 all the matters about which successive Administrations had refused—I quote the word "refused"—to answer questions. It is a remarkably long list. In the list of matters on which the Ministry of Defence had refused to answer questions is "operational matters".

Since that Select Committee report, successive Secretaries of State for Defence have been asked to list the subjects on which it is not their practice to answer parliamentary questions. On each and every occasion when that question has been asked, the Secretary of State concerned has included "operational matters" among his subjects. That was true of the answer given by Mr. Mulley, as he then was, on 2 May 1978. It was true of the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) on 9 November 1979, it was true of the answer given by Mr. Nott, as he then was, on 11 November 1982, and it was true of the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 5 June last year. When my right hon. Friend gave his answer that it is not the practice to provide information on operational matters, that answer occasioned no comment, no criticism and no challenge.

Against that background, Ministers would have been perfectly justified from the outset in adopting a policy of non-disclosure, certainly in anything like the operational detail that has been given both in this Parliament and in the last Parliament well before Mr. Ponting commenced his activity. The fact is that from the very beginning Ministers went considerably further than they strictly need have done in disclosing the details of this particular operation. The easy option of non-disclosure was rejected and the difficult option of partial disclosure was adopted from the outset. That was a very creditable decision on the Government's part and should be recognised as such.

Having rejected non-disclosure, it may be asked why Ministers had to stop at partial disclosure and not go the whole way. Some say that the reasons were political. We argue that they were of a genuine security and operational nature. I will take the political aspect first.

The thesis that the Belgrano was torpedoed for political reasons to torpedo the Peruvian peace initiative is, I believe, now completely discredited and has even been repudiated by Mr. Ponting. No other significant political reason has ever been advanced as to why Ministers should have something to hide in relation to the Belgrano. The thesis that there has been a cover-up for political reasons, big or small, does not wash, never has washed and never will wash.

The House might reasonably conclude, therefore, that the only conceivable reason why successive Ministers since May 1982 have been forced to adopt a policy of only partial disclosure is that of security and operational considerations of the very highest importance. The House would be right to come to such a conclusion.

I will now deal with those considerations as best I can in this public forum. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) and for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), and to others of my hon. Friends, for stressing the key importance of protecting sensitive operational information.

Whether on Belgrano matters one takes as one's watchword the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, or whether, as is apparently the case on the other side of the House, one takes as one's watchword the words of Mr. Ponting, one cannot escape the conclusion that issues of the very highest security importance surrounded the sinking of the Belgrano.

In her letter to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on 19 September last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said: I must make it clear that it would be, and will remain, quite wrong for me to disclose all the material that was available to Ministers at the time. To do so would still risk irreparable damage to national security and could put lives at risk in the future. These words were chosen very deliberately and with immense care. They represent not one degree of exaggeration.

Those who prefer the words of Mr. Ponting need look no further than the classification of the detailed account that he wrote for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State into aspects of the sinking of the Belgrano. As the originator of that account, Mr. Ponting was responsible for its classification. He classified it "TOP SECRET — CODEWORD", the highest security classification that there is. Mr. Ponting was therefore equally clear that issues of the highest security importance were at stake.

However, there is one further aspect of security matters in relation to Mr. Ponting of which the House should be aware, as it bears directly on the view that the House may take of how Ministers have acted. I have seen it widely reported that Mr. Ponting knew all. Mr. Ponting did not know all, and Mr. Ponting did not know the most important of all.

I do not think that any reasonable Member of this House can doubt that from the time when the Belgrano was sunk a very real security constraint has materially affected how much information Ministers could give to Parliament. The constraints on Ministers in disclosing information about the sinking of the Belgrano have also had a vitally important naval operational dimension. This was a submarine operation. Of all the conventional weapon systems — on land, sea and air — there is no system where it is more crucial to protect information about capabilities and about the conduct of operations than submarines.

The Falklands conflict represented far and away the most important operational deployment of the Royal Navy's submarines since the second world war. By the same token it represented, and it still represents, far and away the most important opportunity for hostile intelligence—Soviet intelligence as well as Argentine intelligence—to obtain an insight into our submarine capabilities and into their methods of operation. [Interruption.] All the public attention has tended to be focused on just one of our submarines—HMS Conqueror.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)


Mr. Stanley

In the words of the debate, I will complete my passage. Then I will give way.

In fact, it was just one of our submarines that deployed to the South Atlantic during the conflict; we deployed a total of six—HMS Conqueror, HMS Courageous, HMS Onyx, HMS Spartan, HMS Splendid and HMS Valiant. One conventional submarine and no fewer than five SSNs, the nuclear powered attack submarines, were deployed.

In dealing with parliamentary questions, we had therefore to take into account that what questions were answered about one SSN would prospectively have to be answered about the others. And we have indeed had questions about the activities of HMS Splendid and HMS Spartan as well as about HMS Conqueror. We had to take into account that what we revealed — even on an unclassified basis—might be prejudicial to our conduct of SSN operations in the future.

We had to take into account the exceptionally important and sensitive roles of SSNs in the NATO theatre.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Answer the debate.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Stanley

We had to take account of the fact that our SSNs have certain capabilities in common with our Polaris SSBNs and that therefore insight into the capabilities and methods of operation of one could have implications for the other. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the debate."] We also have to take account of the fact that, however much information we gave, more and more questions were asked in more and more detail. Those questions took us into every major area of the capabilities of our submarines.

Mr. Ashdown


Mr. Stanley

Those questions took us into their sources of intelligence, their methods of communication, the capabilities of their sonar and the performance of their tactical weapons system. Ministers have been accused of being cautious about the giving of information in relation to the Belgrano. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the debate."] Against the background——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but it is intolerable that he should be interrupted from a sedentary position by so many hon. Members. He has a right to be heard.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members would like the Minister to answer the debate, which is about the Old Bailey trial and how it came about.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister is endeavouring to answer the debate.

Hon. Members

No, he is not.

Mr. Stanley

I am indeed trying to answer an issue of central and fundamental importance. Ministers have been accused of being cautious about giving information in regard to the Belgrano.

Mr. Ashdown


Mr. Stanley

I regard caution not as a matter for criticism but as a matter for commendation. Yes, we have been cautious. We will continue to be cautious. We are right to be cautious and we should be failing in our responsibilities if we were to be anything other than cautious.

Mr. Ashdown

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The Minister has read us a long passage explaining the high national importance of deepest security for our submarines. Will he explain whether that is the true reason for the necessity for the security of our submarines? If so, how come one of the logs went missing?

Mr. Stanley

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are still conducting the inquiry. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Stanley

I wish now to deal with the Leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). I have heard him argue that as it is now nearly three years since the conflict ended, the security objections have surely fallen away and all can now be revealed. [Interruption.] I have heard him say that many times on the radio, and I am glad if it is not his view. Anyone who thinks that, because almost three years have passed since the Falklands conflict, the security objections have fallen away shows no understanding of defence and security realities. A key job of hostile intelligence is to assess how we may carry out future submarine operations by analysing those that we have conducted in the past. We are not in the business of giving gratuitous help to those people.

Mr. Steel

I have never dissented from my view. When did Ministers first know that the information they were giving was wrong?

Mr. Stanley

As I have said before, the 1 May date was classified and held to be classified virtually until my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister replied to the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). That was the advice that we had.

Mr. Kaufman


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister was not giving way.

Mr. Stanley

I assume that Ministers will have been aware during 1983.

Mr. Kaufman


Mr. Stanley

That is why my noble Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave the answer that she did in another place.

Mr. Kaufman

If the date of the sighting of the Belgrano was classified until the Prime Minister revealed it on 4 April 1984, why was not Captain Wreford-Brown prosecuted for revealing it a year before that?

Mr. Stanley

As the right hon. Gentleman will recognise, that is a happy question for the Law Officers, not for me.

Dr. Owen


Mr. Speaker


Mr. Douglas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. All hon. Members heard the Minister say that that was a happy question for the Law Officers. As a Law Officer is present, perhaps he can give us an answer now.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot answer that point of order. Mr. Stanley.

Dr Owen

rose— —

Mr. Stanley

This will be the last time I give way.

Dr. Owen

On 14 December the Commander in Chief, Admiral Fieldhouse, submitted his dispatch, which he had presumably written a few days earlier and which included that date. Why would he have included that date if he thought that it was highly secret information which should not be revealed?

Mr. Stanley

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered that question during Prime Minister's Question Time, when she said: I understand from Admiral Fieldhouse that during the drafting of his dispatch from Northwood he queried the date in the sentence on the detection of the Belgrano but agreed that it should be left as 2 May in order to protect sensitive operational and intelligence information."—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 164.]

That was the position.

It has been suggested that the dilemma of answering the key question in this debate of how much operational information should be released could be resolved by releasing everything that is itself unclassified and withholding only that which is classified. That has a certain superficial attraction. Unhappily, security and intelligence matters are very much more complicated, as the previous Government recognised in its 1978 White Paper on the Official Secrets Act. The key passage which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already highlighted bears repeating, because it is a policy statement by the previous Government of profound importance, and one which we ourselves endorse.

The previous Government said: The Government has concluded that information relating to security and intelligence matters is deserving of the highest protection whether or not it is classified. This is pre-eminently an area where the gradual accumulation of small items of information, apparently trivial in themselves, would eventually create a risk for the safety of an individual or constitute a serious threat to the interests of the nation as a whole. That is a very important statement. Intelligence is the business of completing a jigsaw, in which some of the pieces are kept secret and some of them become public. The more public pieces one puts on the board, the easier it is to deduce the remainder.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The Minister quoted from the 1978 White Paper and the statement that I made in the House. I used those words, but said that, as with Franks, whatever the subject—be it defence, intelligence associated with it or law and order — what matters was that it was serious. That does not apply to Ponting, which is what we are concerned about tonight. I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman on what he has said, but that is not what the Ponting case is about.

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman must distinguish between the security dimension in relation to the Ponting case, which I agree was not a significant element, and the security dimension relating to the sinking of the Belgrano, which was of profound importance.

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Stanley

I shall not give way again.

It is for the House to decide whether, in pursuing a policy of partial disclosure in relation to the Belgrano, Ministers have got the balance right between giving too much information and too little. My personal view, for what it is worth—[Interruption.]—is that in no way can it reasonably be claimed that Ministers have given too little information. It could well be argued that in our attempts to allay the Belgrano mania the information we have already given is too much. As the Prime Minister said in reply to questions last week, we may indeed have erred on the side of giving too much. The House should be mindful of that.

I hope that the House will not mind if I conclude on a personal note. Over the last fortnight or so, I consider that I have been subjected to a campaign of character assassination, the like of which I would not have believed possible if I had not been the object of it. I have been accused of more or less everything under the sun, except of actually sinking the Belgrano myself. The accusations have ranged from the ludicrous, like the claim of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that I had altered Admiral Fieldhouse's official despatch when I was still a Minister in the Department of the Environment, to other accusations that I take with the utmost seriousness. The accusation that I take most seriously is that I have somehow behaved improperly towards this House of Commons. That accusation I completely reject.

The Opposition's amendment to the Government's motion refers to the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, but it wrongly assumes that Defence Ministers have only one responsibility to Parliament — the responsibility to give information. Defence Ministers have two responsibilities to this House, not one, and that second responsibility is the overriding one upon them. We have the overriding responsibility to this House for the proper discharge of our duties as Defence Ministers, for the protection of the defence interests of our country and for the protection of the lives of our service men in any future conflict. We have discharged those duties responsibly and properly.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 202, Noes 350.

Division No. 110] [10 pm
Abse, Leo Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Alton, David Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Anderson, Donald Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Ashdown, Paddy Bruce, Malcolm
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Buchan, Norman
Ashton, Joe Caborn, Richard
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Campbell, Ian
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Campbell-Savours, Dale
Barnett, Guy Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Barron, Kevin Carter-Jones, Lewis
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Cartwright, John
Beith, A. J. Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bell, Stuart Clarke, Thomas
Benn, Tony Clay, Robert
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bermingham, Gerald Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Bidwell, Sydney Cohen, Harry
Blair, Anthony Coleman, Donald
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Conlan, Bernard
Boyes, Roland Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)
Corbyn, Jeremy McCartney, Hugh
Cowans, Harry McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) McGuire, Michael
Craigen, J. M. Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Crowther, Stan Maclennan, Robert
Cunningham, Dr John McNamara, Kevin
Dalyell, Tarn McTaggart, Robert
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Madden, Max
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Marek, Dr John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Deakins, Eric Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Dewar, Donald Maxton, John
Dixon, Donald Maynard, Miss Joan
Dobson, Frank Meacher, Michael
Dormand, Jack Meadowcroft, Michael
Douglas, Dick Michie, William
Dubs, Alfred Mikardo, Ian
Duffy, A. E. P. Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Eadie, Alex Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Eastham, Ken Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Ellis, Raymond Nellist, David
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Ewing, Harry O'Brien, William
Fatchett, Derek O'Neill, Martin
Faulds, Andrew Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Fisher, Mark Park, George
Flannery, Martin Parry, Robert
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Patchett, Terry
Forrester, John Pavitt, Laurie
Foster, Derek Pendry, Tom
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Penhaligon, David
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Pike, Peter
Freud, Clement Prescott, John
Garrett, W. E. Radice, Giles
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Randall, Stuart
Gould, Bryan Redmond, M.
Gourlay, Harry Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Richardson, Ms Jo
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hancock, Mr. Michael Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hardy, Peter Robertson, George
Harman, Ms Harriet Rogers, Allan
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Rooker, J. W.
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Rowlands, Ted
Haynes, Frank Ryman, John
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Heffer, Eric S. Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Home Robertson, John Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Skinner, Dennis
Howells, Geraint Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hoyle, Douglas Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) So ley, Clive
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Steel, Rt Hon David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Janner, Hon Greville Stott, Roger
John, Brynmor Strang, Gavin
Johnston, Russell Straw, Jack
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Kennedy, Charles Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Kirkwood, Archy Tinn, James
Lambie, David Wainwright, R.
Lamond, James Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Leadbitter, Ted Wareing, Robert
Leighton, Ronald Welsh, Michael
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) White, James
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Wigley, Dafydd
Litherland, Robert Williams, Rt Hon A.
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Winnick, David
Loyden, Edward Woodall, Alec
Wrigglesworth, Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Young, David (Bolton SE) Mr. John McWilliam and
Mr. Robin Corbett.
Adley, Robert Dover, Den
Aitken, Jonathan du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Alexander, Richard Dunn, Robert
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Durant, Tony
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Dykes, Hugh
Amess, David Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Ancram, Michael Eggar, Tim
Arnold, Tom Emery, Sir Peter
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Evennett, David
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Eyre, Sir Reginald
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Fallon, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Farr, Sir John
Baldry, Tony Favell, Anthony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Beggs, Roy Fletcher, Alexander
Bellingham, Henry Fookes, Miss Janet
Bendall, Vivian Forman, Nigel
Benyon, William Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Best, Keith Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Bevan, David Gilroy Forth, Eric
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Fox, Marcus
Blackburn, John Franks, Cecil
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Freeman, Roger
Bottomley, Peter Fry, Peter
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Gale, Roger
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Galley, Roy
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Garel-Jones, Tristan
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Glyn, Dr Alan
Bright, Graham Goodhart, Sir Philip
Brinton, Tim Gorst, John
Brooke, Hon Peter Gow, Ian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Gower, Sir Raymond
Browne, John Grant, Sir Anthony
Bruinvels, Peter Greenway, Harry
Bryan, Sir Paul Gregory, Conal
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Budgen, Nick Grist, Ian
Bulmer, Esmond Ground, Patrick
Burt, Alistair Grylls, Michael
Butcher, John Gummer, John Selwyn
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hanley, Jeremy
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Hannam, John
Carttiss, Michael Hargreaves, Kenneth
Cash, William Haselhurst, Alan
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Chapman, Sydney Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Chope, Christopher Hawksley, Warren
Churchill, W. S. Hayes, J.
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Hayhoe, Barney
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hayward, Robert
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Heddle, John
Clegg, Sir Walter Henderson, Barry
Cockeram, Eric Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Colvin, Michael Hickmet, Richard
Conway, Derek Hicks, Robert
Coombs, Simon Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cope, John Hind, Kenneth
Corrie, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Couchman, James Holt, Richard
Cranborne, Viscount Hordern, Peter
Critchley, Julian Howard, Michael
Crouch, David Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Dickens, Geoffrey Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Dicks, Terry Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Dorrell, Stephen Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Hunt, David (Wirral) Newton, Tony
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Nicholls, Patrick
Hunter, Andrew Normanton, Tom
Irving, Charles Norris, Steven
Jackson, Robert Onslow, Cranley
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Oppenheim, Phillip
Jessel, Toby Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Ottaway, Richard
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Parris, Matthew
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Patten, John (Oxford)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Pattie, Geoffrey
Key, Robert Pawsey, James
King, Roger (B'ham N field) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
King, Rt Hon Tom Pollock, Alexander
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Porter, Barry
Knowles, Michael Portillo, Michael
Knox, David Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Lamont, Norman Powell, William (Corby)
Lang, Ian Powley, John
Latham, Michael Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Lawler, Geoffrey Price, Sir David
Lawrence, Ivan Prior, Rt Hon James
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Proctor, K. Harvey
Lee, John (Pendle) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Raffan, Keith
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Lightbown, David Renton, Tim
Lilley, Peter Rhodes James, Robert
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lord, Michael Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Luce, Richard Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lyell, Nicholas Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
McCusker, Harold Rossi, Sir Hugh
Macfarlane, Neil Rost, Peter
MacGregor, John Rowe, Andrew
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Ryder, Richard
Maclean, David John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Madel, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Maginnis, Ken Scott, Nicholas
Major, John Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Malins, Humfrey Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Malone, Gerald Shelton, William (Streatham)
Maples, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Marland, Paul Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Marlow, Antony Silvester, Fred
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Skeet, T. H. H.
Mates, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maude, Hon Francis Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Speed, Keith
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Speller, Tony
Mellor, David Spencer, Derek
Merchant, Piers Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Squire, Robin
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stanley, John
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Steen, Anthony
Miscampbell, Norman Stern, Michael
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Moate, Roger Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Monro, Sir Hector Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Moore, John Stokes, John
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Stradling Thomas, J.
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Sumberg, David
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Moynihan, Hon C. Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mudd, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Murphy, Christopher Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Neale, Gerrard Terlezki, Stefan
Needham, Richard Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Nelson, Anthony Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Neubert, Michael Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Warren, Kenneth
Thornton, Malcolm Watson, John
Thurnham, Peter Watts, John
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Tracey, Richard Wheeler, John
Trippier, David Whitfield, John
Trotter, Neville Whitney, Raymond
Twinn, Dr Ian Wiggin, Jerry
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Wilkinson, John
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Winterton, Mrs Ann
Waddington, David Winterton, Nicholas
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Wolfson, Mark
Waldegrave, Hon William Wood, Timothy
Walden, George Woodcock, Michael
Walker, Cecil (Belfast N) Yeo, Tim
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wall, Sir Patrick Younger, Rt Hon George
Waller, Gary
Walters, Dennis Tellers for the Noes:
Ward, John Mr. Carol Mather and
Wardle, C. (Bexhill) Mr. Robert Boscawen.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes, 351, Noes, Nil.

Division No. 111] [10.13 pm
Adley, Robert Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Aitken, Jonathan Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Alexander, Richard Chapman, Sydney
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Chope, Christopher
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Churchill, W. S.
Amess, David Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Ancram, Michael Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Arnold, Tom Clark, SirW. (Croydon S)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Clegg, Sir Walter
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Cockeram, Eric
Baldry, Tony Colvin, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Conway, Derek
Beggs, Roy Coombs, Simon
Bellingham, Henry Cope, John
Bendall, Vivian Corrie, John
Benyon, William Couchman, James
Best, Keith Cranborne, Viscount
Bevan, David Gilroy Critchley, Julian
Biffen, Rt Hon John Crouch, David
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Currie, Mrs Edwina
Blackburn, John Dickens, Geoffrey
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Dicks, Terry
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dorrell, Stephen
Bottomley, Peter Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dover, Den
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Dunn, Robert
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Durant, Tony
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Dykes, Hugh
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bright, Graham Eggar, Tim
Brinton, Tim Emery, Sir Peter
Brooke, Hon Peter Evennett, David
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Eyre, Sir Reginald
Browne, John Fallon, Michael
Bruinvels, Peter Farr, Sir John
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Favell, Anthony
Budgen, Nick Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bulmer, Esmond Fletcher, Alexander
Burt, Alistair Fookes, Miss Janet
Butcher, John Forman, Nigel
Butterfill, John Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Forth, Eric
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Fox, Marcus
Carttiss, Michael Franks, Cecil
Cartwright, John Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Cash, William Freeman, Roger
Fry, Peter Lawler, Geoffrey
Gale, Roger Lawrence, Ivan
Galley, Roy Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Lee, John (Pendle)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Glyn, Dr Alan Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Goodhart, Sir Philip Lightbown, David
Gorst, John Lilley, Peter
Gow, Ian Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Gower, Sir Raymond Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Grant, Sir Anthony Lord, Michael
Greenway, Harry Luce, Richard
Gregory, Conal Lyell, Nicholas
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) McCurley, Mrs Anna
Grist, Ian McCusker, Harold
Ground, Patrick Macfarlane, Neil
Grylls, Michael MacGregor, John
Gummer, John Selwyn MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Hampson, Dr Keith Maclean, David John
Hancock, Mr. Michael Maclennan, Robert
Hanley, Jeremy McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Hannam, John Madel, David
Hargreaves, Kenneth Maginnis, Ken
Haselhurst, Alan Major, John
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Malins, Humfrey
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Malone, Gerald
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Maples, John
Hawksley, Warren Marland, Paul
Hayes, J. Marlow, Antony
Hayhoe, Barney Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hayward, Robert Maude, Hon Francis
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Heddle, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Henderson, Barry Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Mellor, David
Hickmet, Richard Merchant, Piers
Hicks, Robert Meyer, Sir Anthony
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Holt, Richard Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Hordern, Peter Miscampbell, Norman
Howard, Michael Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Moate, Roger
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Monro, Sir Hector
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Moore, John
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hunter, Andrew Moynihan, Hon C.
Irving, Charles Mudd, David
Jackson, Robert Murphy, Christopher
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Neale, Gerrard
Jessel, Toby Needham, Richard
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Nelson, Anthony
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Neubert, Michael
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Newton, Tony
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Normanton, Tom
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Norris, Steven
Kennedy, Charles Onslow, Cranley
Key, Robert Oppenheim, Phillip
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
King, Rt Hon Tom Ottaway, Richard
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Knowles, Michael Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Knox, David Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Lamont, Norman Parris, Matthew
Lang, Ian Patten, John (Oxford)
Latham, Michael Pattie, Geoffrey
Pawsey, James Stradling Thomas, J.
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Sumberg, David
Pollock, Alexander Tapsell, Sir Peter
Porter, Barry Taylor, John (Solihull)
Portillo, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Powell, William (Corby) Terlezki, Stefan
Powley, John Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Price, Sir David Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Prior, Rt Hon James Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Proctor, K. Harvey Thornton, Malcolm
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Thurnham, Peter
Raff an, Keith Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Renton, Tim Tracey, Richard
Rhodes James, Robert Trippier, David
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Trotter, Neville
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Twinn, Dr Ian
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Waddington, David
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Rossi, Sir Hugh Waldegrave, Hon William
Rowe, Andrew Walden, George
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Ryder, Richard Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wall, Sir Patrick
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Waller, Gary
Sayeed, Jonathan Walters, Dennis
Scott, Nicholas Ward, John
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Warren, Kenneth
Shelton, William (Streatham) Watson, John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Watts, John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Silvester, Fred Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Skeet, T. H. H. Wheeler, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Whitfield, John
Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S) Whitney, Raymond
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wiggin, Jerry
Speed, Keith Wilkinson, John
Speller, Tony Winterton, Mrs Ann
Spencer, Derek Winterton, Nicholas
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wolfson, Mark
Squire, Robin Wood, Timothy
Stanbrook, Ivor Woodcock, Michael
Stanley, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Steen, Anthony Yeo, Tim
Stern, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire) Mr. Carol Mather.
Stokes, John
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Robert Atkins and
Mr. Kenneth Hind

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House recognizes that the sinking of the General Belgrano was a necessary and legitimate action in the Falklands Campaign; and agrees that the protection of our Armed Forces must be the prime consideration in determining how far matters involving national security and the conduct of military operations can be disclosed.