§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I hope the House will allow me to say a brief word about our rather unusual business today. I understand that in another place it is intended that their debate should be limited to three hours. Without in any way wishing to curtail speeches or to prevent noble Lords from speaking, I think it would be generally desirable if we could keep the debate on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Carrington to within approximately the same limits as another place. I am sure that noble Lords will, in our usual way, exercise restraint along these lines.
§ Lord Peart
I wish to endorse what the noble Baroness has said, my Lords, We support the noble Baroness the Leader in this connection, and I hope noble Lords will show some respect for brevity.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in the Falkland Islands.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will know from yesterday's news why it has been appropriate and necessary for the House to sit today. Argentine forces have invaded the Falkland Islands and established military control. We meet at a time of grave crisis. We do not have full details of the present circumstances in the islands, but the fact of the Argentine occupation is clear. The House will condemn this unprovoked aggression by the Government of Argentina against British territory.
§ The Argentine action has been in the most cynical disregard of the appeals made by both the Secretary-General of the United Nations and by the President of the Security Council on 1st April that both Britain and Argentina should refrain from the use of force and should resolve present tensions by diplomatic means.
§ The Falkland Islands and the Falkland Island dependencies remain British territory, inhabited by British people. It is our firm objective to ensure that they are freed from alien occupation. Our sovereignty dispute with the Argentine is long-standing; but 1578 we have no doubt about British sovereignty. We cannot accept that the clear wishes of Falkland Islanders, who are British by blood and wish to remain so by allegiance, should be frustrated by armed force.
§ It may be helpful to rehearse the history of the past two weeks. On 19th March, the commander of the British Antarctic Survey at Grytviken on South Georgia reported that an Argentine Navy transport vessel was anchored at nearby Leith and that a party of about 60 Argentines had set up camp and had raised the Argentine flag. The base commander told them that they had no right to land on South Georgia without seeking the required permission from the British authorities at Grytviken, which is the only point of entry for immigration purposes. He requested them either to seek the necessary clearance or to leave.
§ Her Majesty's Government sought immediate clarification from the Argentine Government, making clear that we regarded this illegal presence as potentially serious and asking the Argentines to arrange for the departure of the ship and the party. The Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any knowledge of the Argentine presence but said they would look into the matter. Subsequently, the ship and most of the party did leave, on 22nd March, but a number of Argentines remained. HMS "Endurance" was ordered to the area to assist as necessary.
§ Since that time we have made repeated requests to the Argentine Government for them to regularise the position of the Argentine party, either by arranging their departure or by seeking the correct authority. We made clear that, while we accepted that the salvage contract on which the men were employed was a straightforward commercial undertaking, we could not accept that they should remain illegally in South Georgia. We emphasised throughout to the Argentine Government that we nonetheless wished to do everything possible to avoid this incident developing into a serious confrontation, and we made all possible efforts to resolve the problem through diplomatic channels.
§ All our initiatives, however, were rejected. It became increasingly clear that the Argentine Government were bent on confrontation. They asserted that South Georgia was Argentine territory and that the Argentine men at Leith would be given "all necessary protection" by the Argentine Government. In a further attempt to defuse what was now clearly developing into a most dangerous situation, I sent a message to the Argentine Foreign Minister proposing the despatch to Buenos Aires of a personal emissary to work out some means of settling the issue peacefully. On 1st April—that is, Thursday—the Foreign Minister flatly rejected that proposal; the diplomatic channel, he said, was now closed, and any further discussion would be simply to arrange the modalities of a transfer to Argentina of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and Falkland Island dependencies.
§ In this critical situation, following a personal appeal by the United Nations Secretary-General to the British and Argentine Governments, we sought an emergency meeting of the Security Council on 1st April, which led to a statement by the President of the Security Council calling on both sides to refrain from using force. Our representative associated himself with that statement, but the Argentine representative did not.1579
§ It was now clear that the Argentine Government were set on nothing less than the forcible occupation of the Falkland Islands. To prevent this, we sought the assistance of other Governments, including the United States Government. But all their efforts, including a personal appeal from President Reagan to the Argentine President, were rejected.
§ The House will be aware that the position remained uncertain for much of yesterday. We had no communication with the Governor from very early in the morning because of communication and atmospheric difficulties, which, as your Lordships know, are frequent in that area. Initial Argentine claims about the invasion were clearly premature, and that was why we wished to be sure of the situation before confirming to Parliament that the invasion had taken place. It would, I think, have been wrong for us to act on unconfirmed Argentinian reports.
§ The House will wish to know the present situation. It is clear that the Argentine forces are in control of Port Stanley and the main Falkland Islands.
§ The Uruguayan Government were approached last night by the Argentine authorities with a request that the Governor of the islands and the marines detachment from Port Stanley should be allowed to land in Montevideo from Buenos Aires this morning. After consulting our Ambassador, the Uruguayan Government agreed. An RAF VC 10 has left the United Kingdom to pick up the party from Montevideo, returning to this country on Sunday afternoon.
§ The Prime Minister has spoken to the Governor by telephone in Montevideo this morning. The Governor told the Prime Minister that he could not praise too highly the conduct of the marines detachment, who had fought bravely against overwhelming odds.
§ Lord Carrington
The Governor said that the Argentine forces had attacked Port Stanley from both the landward and the seaward sides at approximately six in the morning yesterday local time. The Governor had attempted to inform the British Government of the position before he was captured and had sent a last message to London. However, communications difficulties had meant that it did not get through. The Governor said that the atmosphere among the islanders was one of immense sadness at the turn of events and the alien presence with which they were now faced. But their loyalty to Britain remained undiminished. There had been no civilian casualties. The Prime Minister thanked the Governor for all his efforts and, through him, the Royal Marines.
The position in the dependencies is less clear. There was of course already an Argentine presence on South Georgia and an Argentine naval vessel lying off the islands. The position in the South Sandwich Islands is also not clear. There is of course no British presence there, but the Argentines have had an illegal presence in the island of South Thule, as the House knows, since 1976.
After the Argentine invasion had begun, we immediately summoned a further emergency meeting of the Security Council, at which our representative made 1580 clear our total condemnation of Argentine's unprovoked aggression, and asked the Council to pass a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of all Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands. We received firm support from those who spoke, apart from the Argentine representative himself. The Council will resume today, when we hope that the resolution will be passed.
We have asked our friends and allies for their support and help, at the United Nations, in their contacts with the Governments of the Argentine and elsewhere. The Foreign Ministers of the European Community yesterday issued a firm statement of support for us, condemnation of Argentina, and a call for her withdrawal. The Americans have spoken strongly in our favour, as have many other Governments. The NATO Council has met, and our Allies have deplored the use of force.
The Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Secretary-General have both addressed messages to all Commonwealth Heads of Government asking for their support. The response so far has been heartwarming and encouraging.
As soon as news of the invasion was confirmed, the Argentine Chargé d'Affaires in London was summoned to the Foreign Office to be told that we had no option but to break off diplomatic relations immediately. He was asked to ensure that embassy staff left the country within four working days.
Nevertheless, the situation at the moment is that the Argentines remain illegally in control of territory which they have illegally invaded. It is to be expected in the circumstances that criticisms should have been expressed of the Government's handling of the situation. They are, in my judgment, for the most part based on a very considerable misunderstanding of the situation. I have heard it said that we should have moved forces to the area a month ago. A month ago, the Minister of State, Mr. Luce, had just concluded friendly talks in New York with his Argentine opposite number, and we seemed to have reached agreement on a satisfactory basis for further negotiations with the Argentines. They had then sent me a further message, and I was preparing a reply.
It is true that the Argentine negotiator, Señor Ros, appears to have been regarded by some in Buenos Aires as having been too reasonable; and, on his return home, there was considerable comment in the Argentine press urging the use of "other means" if negotiations could not be taken forward quickly. Had this been the first time over the last 20 years that some allusion to the use of force had been made from the Argentine side, it might have struck us as more significant than it did. But this has been part of the currency for many years; and history, up till now, has shown that wiser counsels have prevailed.
My Lords, it is argued, again, that ship deployments somehow resolved a similar problem in 1977. I am not quite sure that I understand what is being claimed. The truth of the matter is surely fairly simple. If the presence of British ships in or near to the area was unknown to the Argentines, it cannot possibly be said to have acted as a deterrent. Neither, had they known about it, would the Argentines have been deterred from an invasion on which they were determined by a force very much inferior to their own. The 1581 only effective deterrent would have been a large force in the immediate area; and it is a fact of life that the collecting and despatching of such a force would have become known to the Argentines long before it got near enough to the Falkland Islands to do any good. Once again, such a decision would have risked precipitating just the step we are seeking to avoid. The truth of the matter, I suspect, is that in 1977, as on other occasions over the past 20 years, indications that the Argentines might have resorted to force proved unfounded in the event. Had this not been the case, we should have been no better placed to respond immediately and effectively to a large-scale invasion than we were yesterday.
Another argument is that we should have deployed ships as soon as the Argentine scrap merchants landed in South Georgia. Had we done so at that time, I have no doubt whatsoever that we should have been accused of inflaming the situation and of reacting in a way quite disproportionate to the problem posed by the presence of a small party of Argentine workers in South Georgia. They were, after all, said to be there to conduct work under an established contract; there was no indication at that time that they had anything else in mind; and they were at fault only because they had at first failed and then refused to comply with the normal rules of immigration.
I do not of course seek to condone their behaviour—far from it—but I am sure we were right to see in this a situation which had to be put right by negotiation and not by a show of force. But, in any event—and this brings home the geographical problems and difficulties involved—even had we sent ships to the area as soon as the Argentines landed in Leith on 18th March, they would still not have today arrived in the Falkland Islands or South Georgia.
Finally, there is the criticism that the Falkland Islands should have been better defended on a continuing basis. To this, I can say only that successive British Governments have recognised that we could not sensibly maintain in the South Atlantic naval and air power sufficient to deal with, and thus to deter, an Argentine invasion on the scale which has occurred. A look at the map, and at what it requires to maintain considerable naval and air forces some 8,000 miles from base, is sufficient to explain why.
My Lords, we shall continue to do all we can to ensure that our position is understood by the international community and that the unacceptable nature of the Argentine action is fully appreciated. We continue to wish for a peaceful solution to the situation which has now arisen. We hope that it will rapidly become clear to the Argentine Government that their behaviour is internationally unacceptable, and that a total withdrawal of all Argentine forces and the restoration of the Falkland Islands and their dependencies to British control in accordance with our sovereignty must follow.
Meanwhile, we have to face the reality that diplomacy may continue to prove insufficient to deal with Argentine aggression. The Government have therefore decided that, in addition to the naval deployments already made, a large task force should sail for the area as soon as all the preparations are complete. Their orders will depend on the situation at the time of their arrival. But Her Majesty's Government are deter- 1582 mined to uphold the right of the Falkland Islanders to maintain their British way of life and to determine their own allegiance. The geographical distance and the small size of their community do not affect the applicability to them of the principle of self-determination. I know the House will join with me in making clear to all concerned our resolve to uphold the wishes of the islanders in the face of Argentina's cynical disregard of them. The Falkland Islands are British. The Falkland Islanders wish to be British. Our duty is clear.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)
My Lords, is the noble Lord moving a Motion?
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in the Falkland Islands.—(Lord Carrington.)
§ The Lord Chancellor
The Question is that the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, be agreed to.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, it is with very considerable sorrow that we in your Lordships' House have to debate such a situation—I speak as one of those who have had associations with the Falklands and with the sturdy, loyal and typically British way of life of the islanders—in the knowledge that the islanders are now under the rule of a foreign invader; and it is, of course, a humiliation which we must acknowledge. The last occasion I can recall on which a colony surrendered to force was in Singapore.
I think the House will wish to treat the Foreign Secretary with kindness. I shall certainly not stick knives into him, though there are plenty of others on his own Benches, particularly in another place, who will wish to do so when they see what has happened in these last few days. Furthermore, last night I saw him and the Secretary of State for Defence "on the box". They looked sad. Indeed, the Secretary of State was not his usual firm and ebullient self; and I do not want to add to his troubles, all the more so since it is the history of the British, of previous Governments and of Parliament, that we find ourselves in situations of 1583 this kind. Nonetheless, there will be some questions that I shall want to ask the noble Lord.
I should like briefly, for the benefit of those of your Lordships who are not familiar with this region, to remind the House that the Falkland Islands were discovered several hundred years ago by the British, and that they were first occupied by de Bougainville in the East Island in 1774 and by the British in 1775. There were a number of incidents. France then ceded their interests to Spain; and, as is known, there was a dispute at that time. There was quite a large Spanish garrison at one time; then the Spaniards withdrew; for a time it was uninhabited; then some settlers from the Republic of the River Plate, which was a very small area indeed, came down; then the Americans came down and burnt their settlement; they came back again; and then the British came in again and reasserted their rights, 150 years ago.
It is not known by many people just how British are the Falkland Islanders. People will say, "They are Scottish", but if one were to go out into the street and meet them one would assume they might be Londoners as much as anyone else. They are totally British. I must say that I think it was unfortunate—and it has contributed to this lack of understanding—that the significance of the Falkland Islands and of their quite good standard of living should recently have been dismissed in such a cavalier way by The Times when they spoke about "these paltry islands". This is the kind of thing that gives grounds for the Argentines and others to think that we do not take them seriously. But, as has been pointed out on a number of occasions, the fact is we have been exploiting them. As my report made clear over a period of years the profits that came back to this country from the companies which are registered here and the taxes that were paid on them were twice as much as the islands have cost us. Yet, time and time again, the newspapers and others say that they are a burden to the British. It is true, as a letter in The Times made clear yesterday, that for those who like wild, windy and empty spaces like the Shetlands, it is a very delightful place where the light is bright and clear. I remember talking to a man who came there from Coventry, who told me how much happier he was there than when he was working on a production line.
I do not want to spend much time talking about my report. I never felt it was my job to try to persuade either a Labour Government or a Conservative Government or to run a campaign for its implementation. The fact is that comparatively little has been done; and, in particular—and this is more serious now—the recommendation that there should be a longer runway, which would have made airborne reinforcements possible, was not adopted. Mine was an economic survey, but I am bound to say that I had military considerations in mind.
I should like to ask the noble Viscount who is to wind up whether he can explain the mysterious series of announcements that we had yesterday. The main announcement at Buenos Aires was made at about 11 o'clock in the morning. The time-lag is about three hours. I do not know whether British Summer Time makes it two hours. The noble Lord opposite tells me it is four hours. It is extraordinary that the Govern- 1584 ment gave such very noncommittal answers implying that possibly there was not an invasion at all. I do not know what attempts otherwise they made to get in touch, or whether they attempted to establish contact with those radio hams of whom there are many in the Falklands. Even then, we were still somehow hopeful that the precautions which the noble Lord had talked about were being taken and might be effective.
Then we found, late in the afternoon yesterday, the ultimate humiliation. One is bound to say that the Argentine Government have carried out an extremely efficient operation and I would have agreed with the noble Lord that, short of having a naval force—and I was not in the Government at the time of the previous incident, although my noble friend Lord Peart was—they were virtually indefensible on the ground unless there was there a brigade group. It was useless to expect the Marines to be more than a tripwire to deal with a casual incursion of the kind which had occurred in the past.
It is necessary to record that this is not the first incident of its kind. In 1952, Argentines opened fire on a British Antarctic base near Hope Bay near the Grahamland Peninsula. In 1967—and I remember this because I was Air Force Minister at the time—there was an unexpected landing by an aircraft full of Argentines coming, as they thought, to liberate their oppressed brothers. There was the attack on a Royal research ship when shots were fired—not across the bows because the shooting was bad and the shots went over the ship. There has been a series of incidents and then has come this latest incident in South Georgia.
At this point I should like to ask the noble Viscount when he replies to let us know what information he has about the situation in South Georgia. Has anybody in the Foreign Office bothered to ring British Antarctic Surveys in Cambridge? I have been in touch with them and they have told me what is happening. They said they had given information to the Foreign Office, but that at no time has anybody thought about the band of British scientists on South Georgia. If the noble Lord wishes to ring up the director of the Falkland Islands Survey, he will be able to find the messages. They have been in touch with the emergency room; but that no advice has been given—
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the noble Lord must have rung them after I had done so—which is only half an hour ago. I do not know who they were in touch with. They themselves made the approach and volunteered information to the Foreign Office who did not bother—
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, that is good; that is better than British Antarctic Surveys managed to do. I am delighted on this belated occasion. Perhaps when the noble Viscount comes to reply he will tell us what they said. Have the Argentinians landed on South 1585 Georgia? There was a cryptic remark by the noble Lord. We know that there are these scrap metal people there with guns shooting reindeer; but are there military forces on South Georgia?
The fact remains that we are not only debating the Motion to take note of the situation in the Falkland Islands; we are also taking note of the situation in the South West Atlantic, including Antarctica. There is much more at stake than the all-important question of the sovereignty of the people of the Falkland Islands. There are a number of bases in the Antarctic. I should like now to widen the situation a little, especially to those who may be concerned about the possible use of force in the future to restore the situation. It is not only the fate of the Falkland Islands that we are concerned with. That is why a number of us formed a group called the South West Atlantic Group in order to concern ourselves not just with the Falkland Islands or just with the South Sandwich Islands but with the whole of that area.
Noble Lords may not be aware that South Georgia, which is 700 miles from the Falkland Islands, is on the other side of the Antarctic convergence where the cold current comes up and it becomes a sub-Antarctic island. It is there that we have our main British Antarctic base. Will it be possible—and this is a separate issue—to maintain the excellent scientific work which has been done Of course, south of latitude 60, I think, the Antarctic Treaty prevails which is due for renewal in 1991.
What is at stake and what undoubtedly is in the minds of the Argentines is not just the Falkland Islands but their claim to Antarctic territory. They have demonstrated a degree of indifference to international law in the past and now which shows that those who may think that we should not take steps to restore the situation may realise that they may be hazarding long-term peace in a part of the world which is entirely peaceful. Those who say there is no wealth there —and there is enormous fishery wealth— must realise that there is also the need for conservation of these great areas and, above all, to preserve a system which is working at the moment but which has been put at risk by these latest actions. We know that the Argentine dispute with Chile over those islands is partly linked to the Chilean and Antarctic overlapping claims in Antarctica.
A relatively stable part of the world is now in process of becoming unstable. No one can tell what a future Government of the Argentine will be. I do not wish to hurl insults at the Argentine Government and I am sure that nobody is sadder at the moment than the Argentine Ambassador who has now already left this country. This Government in Argentine, which everybody in practically every part of the House would condemn, may not last. In that unstable part of the world, who knows who will in the end rule in that area and in whose hands this strategic part of the South Atlantic will ultimately rest?
In conclusion, we should like, if possible, to know more of the Government's plans. On the other hand, I think that the Foreign Secretary is entitled to keep his own counsel and keep matters secret regarding the military operations. Nor is this simply a matter of national pride, although our national pride is strongly involved, and we all feel that at this moment. 1586 It concerns the preservation of peace in a part of the world whose significance so few people have appreciated. The Argentine has for years been filled with propaganda claiming that the Malvinas are theirs. I hope that the noble Lord, and the present Government, will not rattle the sword unless they intend to use it. In any case, we have to face a national humiliation.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Lord Byers
My Lords, we on these Benches certainly hope and pray, as the Foreign Secretary said, that there will be a peaceful solution to this appalling situation, and that the Falkland Islanders will be restored to the way of life which they have enjoyed for so long. I do not think there is any point in recriminations at this stage, but when the appropriate time does come, there will I think be the need for some very searching questions, particularly as to why the British reaction was so incredibly slow and there did not appear to have been a contingency plan.
However, I am only going to refer to that aspect which seems to have included an important failure from which we can learn something in the immediate future. For instance, does it not now appear that the action of the Argentine Government was one of deliberate, well planned, naked aggression by several thousand men including a substantial naval task force, a number of transport aircraft and so forth? Does it not look as though the landing of the scrap merchants on the island of South Georgia was a ploy to distract attention, and to lull the British Government into a sense of false security by giving the impression that this was a minor incident of a few people of little significance who failed to comply with the rules covering visits to the island, while these substantial forces were being assembled? I do not think one can assemble a force of that nature overnight.
Is it true that the Argentinian Government started to plan the invasion just after it was announced that HMS "Endurance" was going to be withdrawn? One is entitled to ask: What happened to our intelligence services? How did they miss what was happening? The important point now is that our information collecting services should be improved immediately if our diplomatic or military initiatives are to be effective. That is a "must". Perhaps we can get some help from our allies and our friends in this area.
I come now to the question of what is to be done next. I think that it is inconceivable that we should abandon the Falkland Islanders and allow the Argentinians to assume sovereignty. It is important that the Argentine Government should not be allowed to succeed in taking over British territory against the wishes of the islanders. It is a totally uncivilised act to do so and it must be resisted, not just by us, but by all civilised nations if the rule of law is to be maintained. If it is not upheld, it is going to be so much the worse for quite a number of countries in different parts of the world. In this connection, I think public support for Britain by France is very much to be welcomed and appreciated.
I hope that the United States will see it in that light, as a serious threat to peace, and not regard themselves as bound by any treaty of friendship. This is not a question of friendship, it is a question of flagrant aggression against the Charter of the United Nations, 1587 and by a country which can put forward no justification for the action which it has undertaken. All of us believe that aggressors have to be stopped if it is possible to do so, in the interests of long-term peace. While I am in full support of diplomatic moves to force the Argentinians to withdraw, we would also support the Government in backing, as they intend to do, their diplomatic stance with a substantial military force. Let us hope it will not have to be used. But I am sure that that is the right attitude to take.
May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether there is not more that can be done, possibly through the United Nations? Has a selective blockade of Argentinian shipping been considered? I do not want answers to these questions, I just put the points forward. Is there any other naval police action which could be taken in those areas helped by some of our allies with the support of the United Nations?—although I know that there are difficulties there. I think that at the present time we would wish to give full support to the Government in helping to uphold the rule of law against naked aggression.
My Lords, I repeat that it is in the interests of no nation that aggression should be seen to be an acceptable method of settling disputes. In conclusion, does this not make us think very carefully indeed about spending money on Trident at the expense of our conventional forces?
§ 11.46 a.m.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, we in this country have lived for many years with the situation in which we knew that if the Argentine were to mobilise her full strength and to attack the Falkland Islands, no garrison, short of brigade strength or more, could hold the situation. Nor could any naval force, unless a major one, have prevented that invasion.
Now we are faced with the fact that this has happened, and from the Foreign Secretary's statement it is quite clear that we are facing an unprovoked and carefully prepared aggression by the Argentine. This scale of preparation must have begun even before the "Endurance" was said to be going to be withdrawn. The Argentine have clearly flouted every rule of the United Nations Charter to which they solemnly put their signature.
That being so, Her Majesty's Government have not only a right but a duty to try to restore the status quo ante. That would be the only tolerable situation. There are two means. The first is diplomatic and the second is the use of force. The Foreign Secretary will clearly exhaust every possible diplomatic ploy, and a great deal has already been done. I echo the thought of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that French support is important in this matter, and that the more international support we can mobilise, the better.
We have to contemplate that the first option, the diplomatic option, may fail. If that should be so, military action may be necessary. We are not in a state of war, but Parliament has to face the fact that we may be very near to it. That being so, I do not find myself in the mood for post mortems on the past few weeks, and I hope that Parliament does not either. The 1588 only thing that we can do as a Parliament now—and it is right that we should do it and both noble Lords have said this—is to help the Government in every possible way to restore to the Falkland Islanders the territory which is at present illegally occupied.
I hope that we shall not introduce the thoughts in the final sentence of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Byers. This is nothing to do with Trident at all. Any conclusions about Trident must he related to deterring the Soviet Union from attacking the European Atlantic area, and this matter is very far from that. This is an illegal occupation. It must be ended, and I trust that Parliament will assist the Government to do just that.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, it is my view that if this incident in the Falkland Islands had happened perhaps 700 miles away and not 7,000 miles away it would never have happened at all. It is a fact of geography that the Argentine Government has been able to behave in this way. Some weeks ago I received a personal letter addressed to me purporting to come from the Argentine Embassy in this country, and many other noble Lords must have received a similar letter. It suggested that the small force of scrap metal merchants on South Geogia were there for a purely commercial purpose and for no other. We now know that to be completely misleading and completely dishonest, because at the same time—whether fully known to us or not—action must have been going on to get together this not inconsiderable naval and military force that the Argentine Government has used against the Falkland Islands. If I have any criticism at all, it is that if the Government did not know, then what was happening to our intelligence service in that area? On the other hand, until we get the full story it may be impossible to decide.
It is my view that the action taken by the Argentine Government is divisive action to solidify their own very shaky political situation. It is not many weeks ago that there was a strong possibility of the present military Government in the Argentine being overthrown and it is, as we know, that sort of action that brings all forces within a country together.
On these Benches we still hope, as I am sure everyone else hopes, that diplomatic exchanges will result in a complete solution to this, from wherever it might come, using NATO and the United Nations. It is certainly not the time, in the view of my colleagues on this Bench, for political recrimination in this country or, as some people have suggested in the press, for head rolling. That time may come, but it is not now. This is a time for us all to get together, I hope with the support of the President of the United States and of all our allies throughout the world, in the diplomatic field only, if necessary—and I hope that is all that will be necessary. Our hearts go out to the people in the Falkland Islands, who must have suffered terribly within the last few days, and also to that small and gallant force of our men—some 80 of them, we are told—who tried to defend them against overwhelming force—
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, we must, and I am sure we do, offer them the highest praise. It is the intention of my colleagues and me on this rather small Bench to add our full support to the Government, to condemn what has happened and to hope for a final diplomatic solution. But, should it go beyond that, then we are behind the Government.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Lord Soper
My Lords, it would be presumptuous of me to claim that I could speak for the Christian Churches as a whole, but there are certain elements in the present lamentable situation which I believe can be expressed for all those who belong to the Christian faith. The first is the condemnation of the unprovoked and wicked attack that has been made on the Falkland Islands. Secondly, there is our detestation of the tyrannical Government of the Argentine and, thirdly, there is our understanding of the difficulties that confront the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary and those associated with him.
We are in no mood merely for recriminations, but there is one element in the situation which I believe also commands the overall assent of those in our country who take their place within the Christian faith. It is that there is no cheap, easy and final settlement to a problem which has accumulated all kinds of evils for a very long time, and that some element of compromise and some element of unfulfilled intent is inseparable from a problem that has been so long on the wing and has promoted already so much disagreement and misunderstanding. In that regard we sympathise with those who recognise the difficulty and complexity of the situation.
What I have to say—I believe it has to be injected into a full debate of this kind and I say it with care—is that nothing would contribute more to the diplomatic and non-violent solution to this problem than the commitment on the part of Her Majesty's Government that they will not in fact introduce force into this particular situation. That may appear to many in your Lordships' House as an outrageous and quite impossible attitude to take. I take it, first, because I am a pacifist and, secondly, I take it because it is an increasing representation on the part of many members of the Christian Church and others who are appalled at the prospect of what can happen once the dogs of war are unleashed.
There are so many contingent problems which I will not detain the House by talking about now; but supposing we lose? Supposing that for the next fortnight we are increasingly committed to the use of those weapons of war represented by aircraft carriers and so forth? So long as we leave open the door, and, as many communications in the press have indicated, so long as there is the possibility of armed violence in order to secure justice in this realm, I believe that the general results are likely to be calamitous. Therefore, I make my testimony to the fact that nothing will contribute more considerably to the peaceful solution of this very difficult problem than the resolution of Her Majesty's Government to take a new line with regard to these incidents and to say that we will pursue to the limit those elements of diplomatic and non-violent 1590 means which are available and which will contribute an added factor in that debate.
The moment we ourselves repudiate the violence which hitherto has been very largely concordant with similar events we have in fact broken a vicious circle and, by God's grace, it may be possible that with such a commitment there may be a new spirit throughout the world in general for the resolution of problems like this without the use of armed violence, which can only escalate into the kind of colossal error and futility as well as colossal disaster with which I believe we are confronted. I will say no more, except to make the point, which I think must be injected into this debate today, that we should pursue every means, diplomatic and non-violent, for a solution of this problem, but that we should indicate that, even if we cannot fully solve it and even if there are residual evils which will follow on the heels of such programmes, we will not resort to that armed violence which would be the final confession of failure on the part of ourselves and others to meet the resurgent problems of the present day by the use of that violence which has corrupted good measure and falsified loyal and decent aspirations and hopes over the centuries.
I make that commitment; I make that witness and I finish by saying that I believe that there is a very considerable and growing temper of spirit within Christians and others to think that the first country which is prepared unilaterally to renounce violence as a means of solving unjustifiable problems is the one which can hopefully look to a future of peace for the rest of the world.
§ 12 noon
§ Lord Duncan-Sandys
My Lords, if Her Majesty's Government were to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I think we could say goodbye to any prospect of securing the liberation of our fellow countrymen in the Falkland Islands. The situation is far too serious to waste time discussing whether or not the Government should have acted sooner. I think that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has explained the difficulties of the situation, and not only the obscurity of the position but, also, the dangers of exacerbating the situation, and possibly of bringing on a crisis which could otherwise have been avoided through the United Nations. We ought to concentrate our minds on what needs to be done now.
The Foreign Secretary said—and I am very glad that he said it, though I hope he may say it even more precisely—that Her Majesty's Government are determined to uphold the right of the Falkland Islanders. In my opinion, the only way of securing a peaceful withdrawal of the invaders is to make it absolutely clear to the Argentine Government that the British Government mean what they say. In particular—and I hope that the Minister who is to respond will make these points clear—I urge Her Majesty's Government to make two things clear beyond any possible doubt. The first is that if peaceful means fail—and we can still hope that they may not fail—Britain is prepared to use as much force as is necessary to liberate the Falkland Islands.
The second is that, if the invaders fail to withdraw, the Argentine Government should not assume that their naval and other bases on the mainland, from 1591 which the invading forces are supplied and reinforced, will necessarily be immune from military action. The Government must make it clear that they mean business. Otherwise, there is no hope of resolving this crisis without bloodshed.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, I will seek to be very careful about what I say. We are in a crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, concluded his speech by saying that he still hoped in this difficult situation that a peaceful solution might be found. I want to make a few suggestions by which that conclusion might be reached.
The issue is quite simple. The people of the Falklands wish to be British. They have been invaded by another power and the peoples, themselves, absolutely reject that authority. I suggest that today the greatest need is to secure maximum democratic support in the world for our point of view. There are three spheres in which we can act for that purpose. The first is the United Nations Security Council. It discussed this matter yesterday. There was some doubt among the third world representatives, because they regarded the Falklands as a continuation of our colonial power. I want to suggest that we should place the whole emphasis on the right of the people of the Falklands to self-determination; that we are not concerned in maintaining the old political imperialist authority of the past; that we should be quite ready to leave the Falklands tomorrow, if that were the desire of the people themselves. I am quite sure that, if that point is emphasised in the Security Council of the United Nations—self-determination, not the retention of colonial power—we can win the support of the third world nations for that point of view.
The second point that I want to make is this. There is an association of American Governments. In that association, the United States of America has great influence. I should like to suggest that Her Majesty's Government might propose to President Reagan that a meeting of that association should be called, and that at that meeting President Reagan should use his influence among American nations to press upon the Argentine to withdraw their troops. I believe that, if that were done, great influence could be exerted upon the other American nations.
Thirdly, I want to suggest this. While President Reagan and the American Government have denounced the action of the Argentine, they are still neutral on the issue of whether we or the Argentine should have authority over the Falklands. We want to make it abundantly clear that we are there because it is the desire of the people of the Falklands, and I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that we would be prepared to take that issue to the Hague tribunal, and at the Hague tribunal to clear it up in the minds of both the American Government and any other governments—
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? We have made several attempts in the past to take this whole dispute to the International Court, and the Argentine has always refused to go, and 1592 will undoubtedly refuse this time. So I am afraid that that otherwise helpful suggestion will not assist us.
§ Lord Brockway
I appreciate that, my Lords. I am only suggesting that in this situation our position in the world would be stronger if we renewed our application to the Hague tribunal. I believe that in this issue we are right. What we have to do is to convince the world that we are right, and I believe that the three proposals I have made will assist in that purpose.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, it has often been my position to succeed the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in a debate, and I have usually found myself arguing strongly against him. But on this occasion I find myself almost entirely in agreement, and I much applaud the suggestions which he has made. On his first suggestion, it is extremely important that it is made quite clear that, when the peoples of the Falkland Islands are invited yet again to say where they are, there is no question of our being deceived, or of other peoples being deceived, by the Argentinians who happen to be in charge there now in a false way.
I shall be very brief. I agree entirely that there should be no post mortems at this stage; there might be occasion for them later. Personally, as your Lordships will know, I believe that this is the result of a long period of lack of concentration by Governments on their commitments in the world outside Europe. This is a natural result of that. But we can be very thankful that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, when Minister of Defence, allowed us to have again the aircraft carriers of which we were to have been deprived. Had it not been for that, I do not think we should have been able to muster a large task force which could be in any way effective if it is to be used either as a deterrent or in a more powerful way. We must thank my noble friend Lord Carrington very much for his contribution in putting us in that position.
I shall not say more on this point at this stage except that I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, that if it comes to something more we must make it quite clear that bases on the mainland of Argentina are just as much under threat as any forces at sea. This must be the case. In conclusion, I wish very much to join all those who would encourage the Government in their deployment of a task force down to the South Atlantic to be used in the most appropriate fashion that seems right at the time, and I wish that task force every success if it is called upon to go into action.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
My Lords, I rise to express my warm agreement with the first point made by my noble friend Lord Brockway. I am also in warm agreement with noble Lords who have said that we should use every effort under our command to avoid the use of force. I would add that in negotiations on the main issue which we dispute with the Argentine we should make concessions to the Argentine in any way we properly can if the negotiations show any chance of reaching success.
1593 The main point I want to make is different. The Argentine would like the world to think, as some third world countries in the Security Council want the world to think, that this is one more step by the Argentine in what President de Gaulle called "the necessary decolonisation of the world". If that were so, if the people of the Falkland Islands were seeking self-government and independence, I should be on their side and I hope and believe that the whole House, and our Government, would likewise be on our side. But that is not the case.
As has been said, this is an act of naked charter-breaking aggression by a Government which has carefully prepared it, which has sought to deceive the world as to its intentions and which is now prepared to act by armed force. This means that there is a much more important issue at stake than the integrity of British territory. It is the integrity of the Charter of the United Nations.
Alas! The charter has been disregarded by many people, including all the permanent members of the Security Council. Britain and France long ago—and shamefully, as I think—made the Suez War against Nasser a disastrous failure. The United States has made war against Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and, may I add, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and now El Salvador. The Soviet Union has made aggressive actions against various states, including, notably, Afghanistan. They are not strong on history or they would know that the Afghans always win, as we learned to our cost so long ago.
But while the charter has been violated by the permanent members of the Security Council, it remains true that, if we are to avoid the nuclear war which will destroy civilisation, disarmament must come about: world disarmament on a multilateral basis. But world disarmament on a multilateral basis makes no sense at all unless the charter is accepted as the rule of law by which the nations live. Here, as I think, is a chance for the integrity of the charter to be re-established.
I want to urge on the Government that the Prime Minister and the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary should themselves go immediately, by Concorde, to the Security Council and that there they should take up the argument with the other nations and with the Argentine. I want to urge that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should invite President Reagan and President Brezhnev to go with them to the Security Council, Mr. Trudeau of Canada, the Prime Ministers of other countries, M. Mitterrand, the President of France. They should try to make the Security Council the body of the greatest authority which has ever met in the history of international affairs and they should there urge that the Argentines should be restrained by joint action—joint action, in the first place, of a peaceful kind.
The word "sanctions" has been given a horrid ring in the ears of many people, but there are various kinds of sanctions and I have always believed that one of the most powerful might be diplomatic sanctions—the withdrawal of ambassadors from the capital of the offending state. There was one occasion in the past when that was proposed by a British delegate. It was when militarist rebels in Japan made an aggression in Manchuria against the will of their own Government—so much against the will of their own Govern- 1594 Ment that they had to kill three Japanese Prime Ministers before they could make their aggression succeed with the creation of the phantom state of Manchukuo. The third of the Prime Ministers to be killed was a remarkable man, by name Inukai. His grand-daughter is my intimate friend. I was with her in Geneva yesterday morning and discussed the events of 1932 when her grandfather was killed by the militarist rebels.
Lord Robert Cecil, the great founder of the League of Nations, proposed on that occasion (by chance he was our delegate in the council of the league) diplomatic sanctions: the withdrawal of the ambassadors of all the members of the league from Tokyo. I was in Geneva at the time. I knew no one there who did not believe that if diplomatic sanctions had been imposed peace would have been restored and the Japanese people would have compelled their militarist rebels to withdraw. That was the view of the great Foreign Secretary of Belgium, M. Hymans, who was the President of the first Assembly of the League of Nations and who, by chance again, was president of the assembly of the league which was dealing with the Manchurian question in 1932. It was the view of the legal adviser, my good friend Henri Bolin, with whom I discussed the point only a few weeks before his death in 1973 (and his views entirely reinforced my own) that diplomatic sanctions would have been decisive. In any case, I believe that that measure would have an enormous effect today. As the noble Lord has said, there are strong forces in the Argentine against their military government; that is why this coup has been made. But if we stand on the charter, it may well be that diplomatic sanctions would bring those forces in the Argentine to our side, and perhaps they might even triumph there and topple the Government which have felt themselves to be so insecure.
I terminate by begging the Prime Minister and the noble Lord, the Foreign Secretry to consider that this is an opportunity which may not reoccur. As Arthur Henderson said when opening the Disarmament Conference in 1932, history is a record of opportunities lost as well as of opportunities seized. I beg the members of the Government to think that this is an opportunity which should be seized and that there should be sanctions starting with diplomatic sanctions and proceeding if necessary to the enormously powerful pressure of a complete economic break; the stopping of postal and telegraphic communications, the ending of financial and economic relations—and then if necessary persuading the United States and Russia that the right thing to do would be to throw a naval cordon of all the navies around the Falkland Islands, making the Argentinian force on the island prisoners of the United Nations, cut off from their supplies. I feel that by those progressive measures this serious problem which affects the future peace of the world in so intimate a way may be peacefully, successfully and even gloriously resolved.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, with your permission may I bring the House from 1932 to 1982? If by an action of the Security Council of the United Nations the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands could be returned to the sovereignty which they enjoyed, no 1595 one would be more pleased than Members of your Lordships' House, including, I am sure, the Foreign Secretary. But we have to see the world as it is. We have to see the United Nations as it is—a place which, no doubt, embodies high ideals but which is also the place in which nations and groups of nations pursue the objectives that they have in mind. There is no reason to believe that on this occasion things will be any different. How far it will be possible to bring collective action to bear on Argentina will depend on the foreign policies of that country; for instance, the close relationship in economic matters which it has, despite its fascist complexion, with the Soviet Union, and other considerations which cannot be far from the minds of Members of your Lordships' House.
It seems to me that much of the criticism to which the noble Lord, the Foreign Secretary, referred which has been made (not, I am glad to note, in your Lordships' House, but elsewhere) is beside the point. We live in a dangerous world in which there are points, neuralgic points if you like, which can spring to life at any time. It is therefore not surprising that, amid the alarms in many parts of the world, any Government should be prone to take the view that this particular crisis may after all not occur. If one thinks of intelligence failures in the past—and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred to intelligence—and of, for instance, the far greater humiliation which the United States sustained at Pearl Harbour and the antecedents of why that country was unprepared, this would seem to me to be at most a tiny peccadillo.
On the other hand, there is the much more important factor which I am sure the Government have not only borne in mind hitherto but will bear in mind now, as they prepare their naval task force. It is that we can only act, if we have to act, through the use of naval power because we ourselves are in part the beneficiaries of our alliance. After all, although we can no doubt muster important naval strength, we can only do so because we can rely upon other areas in which that strength might be operative—for instance, the North Atlantic—to be in the care of the navies with which we are associated in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is very curious to find people who continually attack directly or by implication our alliances (and in particular our alliance with the United States) and yet who demand of the Government active naval operations to meet the Falkland Islands crisis and who do not see that there is this intimate connection between what Britain can do in a crisis of this kind by which she is primarily affected and what she is able to do because of her existing alliances.
Important as the Falkland Islanders are, and no group of Her Majesty's subjects should be regarded as less important than any other, they are numerically very much less important than, let us say, the inhabitants of these islands. Their security has always to be the primary concern of any Government. It is for that reason that I feel the Government deserve support on grounds which it is perhaps easier for a Back-Bench Member of your Lordships' House to state than it would be for a member of Her Majesty's Government—grounds which, however, I am perfectly certain must have been present and will be present in the minds of Her Majesty's Government over the next 1596 couple of weeks, during which time we may hope, as the Fleet steams south, that diplomacy will, after all, bring its rewards.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I want to speak only very briefly on two points. First, having been in Argentina, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands in the past month, I would like to say that I myself can attach no blame to the Government for not anticipating or expecting this massive invasion on such a huge scale. I have to concede and admit that I did not expect it. I had a long private talk in Buenos Aires with the Foreign Minister, Dr. Costa Mendez, and I did not have a clue about the invasion, although I did pass on that I thought casual landings such as that which occurred in South Georgia were quite possible. Certainly the Falkland Islanders did not expect it. The reason why nobody expected it, I believe, was that we are, after all, in the midst of honourable, diplomatic negotiations with Argentina, and that the last session only took place in February. This has clearly been planned and must have been plotted for a very long time. How could we expect any mature nation that cares about its inter national prestige to perpetrate such an action at this time?
Secondly, my Lords, may I briefly make a quite different point. I do understand and sympathise with the heady reaction and sense of outrage, which indeed I share, but the situation is very much more delicate and more complicated, and not quite so simple as some of your Lordships may see it if you have not been there. We are in a position as if your own village, say 800 people, was totally surrounded and subjected to the authority of a hostile alien invader. You would have to think extremely carefully how you went about getting the situation right if you were concerned about the safety of the people inside. That refers to Port Stanley which is rather like my own nearest village, Blakeney in Norfolk, or, if you like, Ullapool on the North West coast. The position is that they are surrounded and controlled by another power. The people on the islands are very isolated; they are in farms by themselves, some of them on islands, just a farmer and wife and children, and they are totally dependent for their communications on the two seaplanes and one Islander which ply back and forth, which are now under the control of the invader.
I mention these things only because, while I totally support the Government and the Foreign Secretary in everything he said, and I particularly wish to reinforce all that has been said about diplomatic moves at this stage, I do think we should remember how easy it would be, by sabre rattling or doing too much initially in that direction, to have two consequences. First, it is bound to form up everybody on the side of the military junta in the Argentine; that is the way to close the ranks. Secondly, there is always the anxiety and concern for the scattered individuals who are now quite powerless to do anything about their own fate.
I therefore ask your Lordships to back the Government and the Foreign Secretary in everything he said about diplomatic moves. We must try to bring the world to impress upon Argentina and the statesmen in Argentina, many of whom we know and are friends, 1597 what a dismal and appalling and reckless thing they have done.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, I would strongly agree with what has been said about the need, and our duty, to support the Government in any measures, diplomatic or military, that they feel necessary to take in the coming weeks and months. I think, however, I am entitled to add this. We have been told by several noble Lords that there should be no post mortems, at any rate not now. I would accept that, and I am sure they would have given just the same advice if it had been under the guidance of a Labour Government that this country had landed itself in this position. But those of us who are normally the Government's opponents have, I think, the right to say that at an appropriate time there are a number of questions which will still need to be asked, and which, with great respect to the Foreign Secretary, his speech today did not fully answer. I do not propose to pursue that any further. We have now to consider what to do in this situation.
I was glad to hear the Government express the view—I do not think I am quoting verbatim, but I think I have the sense right—that their objective is to restore these islands to British sovereignty: to restore the status quo ante, as the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, put it. I do not think there should be any doubt about that, despite the fact that it could be an extremely difficult and unhappily long operation. As the noble Lord who has just spoken has reminded us, it will require great care and skill not to put the inhabitants of the Falklands in unnecessary peril.
It will need, as everyone has said, both diplomatic action and a readiness, if necessary, to use force. I do not think I could agree with my noble friend Lord Soper in his suggestion that we should from the outset say that we would never use force. It seems to me if we say that, we make it quite clear that diplomatic action will not succeed. We all earnestly hope that success can be brought about by diplomatic action, and a number of suggestions from many quarters have been made which, no doubt, the Foreign Secretary will carefully consider, by, for instance, my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker, my noble friend Lord Brockway and many others. But we shall get nowhere with that if it is clear that, in the end, we are not prepared to use force to put the situation right. The more clear we are about that, the less likely that things will come to that pass. This is a situation which occurs over and over again in international affairs, and it has been demonstrated time and time again that this is the kind of situation where resolution, above all, is what is necessary, and the more resolute you are, and the more resolute you are known to be, the less likely it is that you will have to proceed to extremity.
My noble friend Lord Brockway mentioned the possibility of a compromise settlement with the Argentine, and my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker made a similar approach. On that I will say this. There are a number of us in this House, on both sides, who have tried to struggle with the difficulty of solving the problem with the Falklands, in a way that accepts beyond question the right of the inhabitants to remain British, which is what they want. Can that be recon- 1598 ciled at all with Argentinian ambitions? When you pose the question, I am bound to say it seems very unlikely. But, as I say, Governments on both sides, of both complexions, have tried to do it in the past. I think they were right to try, and it might one day be possible to find an answer.
But if we are to begin on that tack we must begin from a situation where these islands are restored to their lawful sovereignty first. We cannot engage in that kind of dialogue with the Argentine as things now are. Once this invasion is rubbed out, obliterated from history, and the islands are under their proper sovereignty, we may begin again as peace-loving nations to try to find a peaceful answer. But that cannot blur the fact that the restoration of the islands to British sovereignty is the first essential.
Why do I say that? I do not think any of us are likely at this stage in Britain's history to fall victims to chauvinism and flag-wagging. But I think we know this. It is not only the Falkland Islands that are in question, as my noble friend Lord Shackleton pointed out very forcefully from the Front Bench. There are our claims in Antarctica as well. Moreover, we live in a world where, any day of the week, a new scientific discovery can turn what had been supposed to be a derelict, useless island or barren tract of land, into a positive treasure house. That can happen at any time. Therefore, the temptations to aggressors are considerable.
The rule we have learned so repeatedly is that if you once let the aggressor succeed he is likely to try again and others are likely to try again; this is so obviously platitudinous a proposition that people sometimes forget it. It is always important to remember that the solid fact about platitudes is that they are true. If the world sees someone getting away with flagrant aggression with impunity, it is more likely that either he will repeat the aggression or somebody else will follow his example. This is the more likely to be true when new scientific discoveries can so greatly increase the rewards of aggression at any moment. This is why, therefore, although I hope I am under no illusions as to the seriousness of what may occur if all our efforts at diplomacy fail, I would still say we must proceed with whatever action is necessary to restore the islands to British sovereignty; and, as has been suggested, not because we have a passion for putting the Union Jack all over the map, but because that happens to be what they want.
I assure my noble friend Lord Brockway of this point: we stand up for the Falklands because they want to be British subjects. We are not fighting for empire, but for self-determination and for the principles of the United Nations Charter. I assure my noble friend that successive Governments have made this clear over and over again. I am afraid that there are some Governments in the world who are not prepared to listen. But my noble friend is right in saying that we should go on saying it and go on emphasising it.
We have been reminded in the newspapers that this is the first time that Parliament has met on a Saturday since the Suez crisis more than a quarter of a century ago. But there is one very great difference. At that time a large section of the population deeply and sincerely believed that the course of military action 1599 upon which their Government were engaged was wicked and stupid, and the whole situation, therefore, was an unhappy one for Britain. Now the Government can be assured that, whatever criticisms they may deserve or may subsequently be made about their handling of the matter in the past, they go ahead in trying to deal with the matter now with the full and solid support of the nation behind them.
But do not let us forget what "solid support" means. It means the men who will be in the ships that will be going out to the South Atlantic. We do well to remember that it is on their valour and training and discipline that the whole thing depends. If that disappears all the counsels of statesmen and the wisdom of diplomats fall down like a house of cards. I conclude what I say, therefore, with my own expression of goodwill towards them.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, I welcome very much the speech which has just been made, which echoes my own sentiments entirely. I speak as one who, as a historian, has devoted a great deal of time to the study of Latin America, a continent which I like and whose people I admire. That perhaps gives me an extra force in my expression of repugnance for this treacherous attack on a peaceful and innocent community by a Government which—in all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—have incurred over the last 10 or 15 years obloquy both for their mismanagement of their economy and for their treatment of their political opponents. It is absolutely intolerable to think, as The Times put it very well this morning, that British subjects, however many British subjects they may be, should be now at the tender mercies of that Government.
I only wish to put one question and to make one reflection. The question is this. It is assumed that we are not at war. The noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, or perhaps it was the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, said that we are not even in a state of war. I wonder at which stage and at which step we are likely to consider ourselves at war. After all, the concept of war, although it has not been much used since 1945, has its uses. It, for example, can probably enable Governments to do many things which they may feel it essential to do, but which they might not otherwise be able to do. It is also something which is likely to be able to concentrate the minds of the public upon the unfortunate and evil facts of life or the modern world.
My reflection is simply this. When our diplomacy, as we all hope, or our naval and other forces, as my noble friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned would be available, have been successful and have returned the Falklands Islanders to the allegiance which they desire and deserve, perhaps there may be some benefit to be drawn from this tragic affair and that, perhaps, could be the following: it could be a reminder to the peoples of this country, and perhaps of Europe as a whole, that nothing has happened since 1945 to prevent states using the idea of force as an instrument of state policy. We have tended sometimes to forget that. Although this reflection may be of little comfort to the Falkland Islands at the moment, it could be of permanent benefit to ourselves.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, in this grave situation it is very important that we should keep cool, but we should also, I think, be fiercely determined on two points. First, and most urgent, as many noble Lords have stressed, to give our support with all the sincerity and all the wisdom that we can muster, to the Government in determining what now should be done from this position which we would have preferred not to reach. Secondly, to analyse and to decide in due course, but not now, what lessons there are to be learnt for the future. I should like to echo the point that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, made that our intelligence services do seem to have been inadequate in this case, and perhaps that comes from the cuts in those services that have been made by previous Governments. I hope that this Government will look very carefully at that point.
The unpalatable fact is that this country has been gravely humiliated and we can only feel a deep sense of shame that we have let down some 2,000 British citizens and betrayed their trust in us. That is one of the worst things, in my view, that one can do in life, and it is the only reason that I am speaking today. So I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who says that on no account should we use force, although I accept the sincerity of what he says.
It is fruitless to speculate now on the reasons for the fiasco. That can come later in a calmer atmosphere when all the facts are known. Suffice it to say that collectively the Cabinet appears to have been somewhat naïve and badly informed. But from pre-war days when my father was Minister of Defence, I know well the tremendous strains, pressures and stresses that are on Ministers in circumstances of this kind. Nevertheless, if ever there was a case of sins pacem para bellum it is this one. Now we are paying the penalty of not being prepared, for whatever reason.
I return to the more urgent question of: What now? In my view the Government were right to refer this matter to the United Nations. Although we cannot have much confidence in the outcome from there, we should continue to press our case. I am glad that we have already mobilised the support of our friends in the EEC, in the Commonwealth and in NATO. That is good. At the same time we must prepare and be prepared to use force, as the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has said, to right the undoubted wrong and injustice that has been perpetrated on this country and on some 2,000 of its citizens. The only reason for not taking such action by force would be if the service chiefs advised that there was little chance of a successful outcome. If that were the case, the Government must tell Parliament and give their reasons clearly.
Finally, I want to say two simple things. First, I wish to express with all sincerity our sympathy to the Prime Minister and the other Ministers involved at this difficult time, and particularly to my noble friend Lord Carrington, who has given such enormous services to this country. We applaud the firm statement which he made when he spoke at the outset of this debate.
Secondly—and clearly I am not alone in saying this—in this grave situation we must stand firmly behind the Government, come what may, as long as they show that they are taking determined, effective action to 1601 resolve this sad situation, and we must encourage them to do just that.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, the view has been expressed—and I am sure that it will be expressed in future—that the Government are themselves responsible in some degree for the situation in which we find ourselves today. But he that as it may, as other noble Lords have said, this is not the time to go into that. However, I think that it is the time to ask ourselves precisely what we can do about the situation we are in —whether or not we should be in it is neither here nor there.
First, we must recognise that although the action of the Argentinian dictatorship is almost universally condemned —or at least very widely condemned—there is unfortunately no support for our basic position in the Falklands. Here I am afraid that I venture to disagree with my noble friend Lord Brockway. I think that there is very little chance of gaining widespread support in the third world for the proposition that the Falkland Islands should remain permanently within the control of the United Kingdom.
As the Minister of State in the Foreign Office, Mr. Ridley, said on television last year—when the subject could be approached with rather less emotion than is possible today—when the matter was put to the test in the United Nations, we had no support at all. We had no American support; we had no Commonwealth support; no EEC support—no support whatever from anyone.
I draw a total distinction between the lack of support for our basic position and the very widespread condemnation of the action of the Argentinian Government. Why is it that our basic position lacks support throughout the world? As we see it from our own eyes it is a strong one. However, let us imagine that the Shetlands were populated by Spaniards and that Spain said that they must rule the islands until such time as the people freely opted to become British. If we hold that rather strange idea in our minds for a moment, we can perhaps begin to see that the situation appears differently to others from how it appears to us. So, to say the least of it, I think that our basic position is less strong than it seems to us. I hope that as we approach the problem here and as our military forces approach the problem, a more realistic assessment will be made of the military situation in the islands than was made at the time of Suez.
On the other hand, the forceful occupation of these islands cannot for one moment be condoned, especially as it is carried out by perhaps the most pernicious dictatorship in Latin America, and that is saying something. We may be forced into the position in which we have to blockade the islands. We shall want to seek support in that. Whether we shall be able to go quite as far as the ideas that were advanced by my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker, I am not sure, but even if we have to carry out a blockade ourselves, I hope that we shall be doing it, as it were, under the aegis and with the support of the United Nations. We may have to get into the position—the Government may be forced to do this—where we may have to be ready to take off the islands all those who want to leave. I believe that we should seek at all costs to avoid warfare. That means 1602 deaths, it means blinding, maiming, burning; and possibly it may not end in doing much for the couple of thousand people on the islands.
I wonder whether the islands themselves, as distinct from the people who live on them, are worth the sacrifice of one British life. Nevertheless, I understand the point raised by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, that we have interests in the area wider than those of the Falkland Islands themselves, and that our interests in the area must be sustained. I venture to suggest that we have not done it very well. With the utmost respect to the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, I think that there is a relationship with what one does with the limited amount of money—because even defence money is limited—that one has to spend on one's forces. If one commits a very substantial part of that money to nuclear weapons, which under no circumstances one can use, one is limited in the amount of money that one can commit to forces which under some circumstances one might want to use. Therefore, I do not think that one can divorce this. I think that we can draw two lessons from this experience. One is this. Never pretend to a sovereignty that you cannot sustain. The second lesson is, do not spend money on nuclear weapons that you cannot use.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Lord Bethell
My Lords, I am encouraged to believe that some good may come out of even such a deplorable incident as this. I have been very encouraged by the unity shown by speakers in this House and by your Lordships' united determination to support my noble friend the Foreign Secretary's contention that the Falkland Islands must be restored to self-determination and British sovereignty as soon as possible. I am also encouraged by the early successes that the Government have achieved in rallying support for our case in the international fora. I think that my noble friend's new procedures in the Ten member states of the European Community have been shown to be a very great triumph, and the fact that he has got such support from them so quickly is a measure of his success when he was president in office of 10 European Community states.
However, I think that we must ask ourselves certain very pertinent questions as a result of this humiliating experience. British territory has been invaded for the first time for many decades, and the fact that it is inhabited by only 1,700 British people and half way round the other side of the world, makes no difference to the fact that our sovereignty has been violated by a foreign country. Therefore, I wonder how our alliances will work in the light of this violation.
The initial signs are good. The President of the United States was helpful; unfortunately, he was unable to deter the invasion. But will he now, as the senior NATO leader, be able to bring about a just resolution of this dispute? I believe that we, in the United Kingdom—our Government—have the right as the ally of the United States, to seek his help in the light of the violation of British territory by an outside power. I very much hope that this request will be made clearly and firmly to all our allies. It is, I think, significant that our old adversary, France, has been one of the first to rally to our side. Who can doubt how France would react were her territories of 1603 Martinique or Réunion to be invaded in this way? Who can doubt that should their self-determination be put at risk by a foreign power, Britain would rally to France's aid, as Britain did in 1939 and 1940? This is what is meant by political co-operation in Europe and by the alliances which we try to preserve, even in the face of smaller difficulties about money, and others, which so often reach the headlines of our newspapers.
I believe, therefore, that we must look at this question very seriously indeed, because if we do nothing, we shall be in the position of the child at school who has let it be known that he can be beaten up with impunity, and he will then suffer more and more bullying as a result of his failure to retaliate. We have very many other islands under our jurisdiction, some of them close to our shores, and many of them have ships of hostile nations that pass them by every day, every week. If we do nothing—if we are unable, through the help of our allies and the European Community, and by our own unaided defence efforts—to find a just way out of this terrible event, then I am afraid that more than the Falkland islands will be put at risk; not only the islands, but, I suggest, the oil rigs closer to our shores, the defence of which could perhaps also be described as rather weak. We must therefore mobilise all the force we have, miltary and diplomatic, as other noble Lords have suggested, to demonstrate to the international community, in Britain's name, that aggression never goes unpunished and that crime does not pay.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Lord Wigg
My Lords, I wished at the outset to ask the Foreign Secretary a question, and I ask it now because I should like a definite answer. Were British troops, the marines, on the Falkland Islands, engaged? Did they engage Argentine forces and, if so, were there any casualties? The Foreign Secretary skirted over that point. He gave the impression that there was resistance, but when I sought to ask whether there were any casualities, I got no answer, and my noble friend Lord Shackleton did not do me the courtesy of enabling me to put the question.
May I have an answer to that question now? If not, I would point out that I was present in the House of Commons on the morrow of Suez; I had come back from Egypt and I had fairly shrewd and first-hand knowledge of what had happened. One of the characteristics of the answers we got on that Saturday morning, right up to Christmas, was that, on every occasion when it was awkward for the Government to answer, they lied. It was clear that the then Foreign Secretary lied, that the Minister of Defence lied and, I regret to say that the then Prime Minister also lied.
§ Lord Wigg
Does the noble Baroness, Lady Young, wish to intervene, my Lords? I thought I was about to get an answer to my question.
In view of what I have said, I am not prepared to accept what the Government say today as being the absolute and unvarnished truth, because I am sure that, if it suits their political convenience, they will 1604 gloss it over, in the way they have now glossed over giving an answer to the question whether British troops were engaged.
We are told that we must put our money on diplomatic effort. I agree. But, if that fails, we are told, we must have force. My noble friend Lord Stewart said there must be will and resolution, but he omitted to say that there must be the means. My noble friend Lord Jenkins talked about a blockade. A blockade with our limited forces at a distance of 7,000 miles? The whole idea is barmy. If we wanted to take the Argentines on, we should need at least a division backed up by an amphibious force, the means to supply it and the means to sustain it—and therefore, of course, we can rule it out.
Since the end of the last war we have spent on defence no less than £111,000 million. That is not my figure; it was given to me by the Government in answer to a Question—a Question, incidentally, of which nobody took any notice. The truth is that, having spent that sum, we could not knock the skin off a rice pudding. We have searchlight tattoos, the Trooping the Colour and the threat to drop missiles on Argentine targets, but, over and beyond that, in terms of having a balanced defence and foreign policy, in which diplomacy backs up defence, it is not a starter; it never has been a starter and it is not now.
For the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, above all men—the author of the 1957 White Paper, the most disastrous state document ever introduced by a British Government—to have come down to the House and said what he said, he can have no shame. Blue Streak first, then Skybolt and then Polaris; it was he, by giving false figures, who wound up the whole conception of conventional forces based on conscription. When that decision was taken, there never was a possibility of a viable defence policy within our capacity to pay.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Lord George-Brown
My Lords, not having put down my name to speak, it would be improper for me to seek to deploy a long argument at this stage. On the other hand, I ask your Lordships' permission to say a few words because things have moved as I rather thought they would not, and I have found myself (possibly surprisingly to some) in a large measure of disagreement with some things that have been said today; and as I may write or say it outside, I thought your Lordships might think it improper or cowardly of me not to make my position clear, and in a couple of minutes—and I mean very briefly—I shall indicate what I mean.
I do not agree—sorry, but I could not agree—with those who say that this is the wrong moment to call into question the conduct of the affairs of our two great major departments of external policy, the Foreign and Defence Offices, or the manner in which our intelligence services have or have not operated. I believe that should be called into question now because it seems that a most serious situation has arisen when we could not observe, had no knowledge of and did not react in time to something that must have been very obvious indeed and could not possibly have been hidden. I will not follow up that argument now, but I want to make it clear that I do not accept the general view—a polite one, very acceptable in this House, where we try to be polite and understanding towards each other, though 1605 it will be jolly well misunderstood outside this House—that this is an improper moment to call that into question.
Of course, I wholly accept the argument that we must do everything we can to obtain a political situation by diplomatic means, although I do not accept the view that it makes any reasonable sense to believe that any situation is obtainable on those lines which would re-establish, as one noble Lord put it, the status quo ante. I believe that is an unrealistic view to take. It will be a different sort of situation, perhaps a two-flag situation, but it will be something quite different; and to get any situation that way we need friends, and among those friends notably the Americans, whom we disabuse so often for other reasons.
That brings me to the third reason for bothering your Lordships, but, again, I do so to put it on record so that nobody should think I cheated by sitting here all morning saying nothing and then perhaps said it outside. I could not disagree more with the purposes that so many noble Lords have argued for the use of the task forces now being assembled from all over the world.
§ Lord George-Brown
I shall very shortly, my Lords. Those forces cannot arrive in time to be effective; they cannot arrive for anything between three and four weeks. The Foreign Secretary kept his options open by saying they would receive orders as to what to do—scramble, return or go forward—after their arrival. Other noble Lords—some with whom I hate to have a disagreement—have gone much further and said that we must make it clear that force will be used against the islands and, in one case, even against the mainland.
§ Lord George-Brown
Who cares? The very people we need to have with us in terms of getting a political solution, my Lords. I would think that the Prime Minister, for example, should now be discussing with President Reagan what their attitude will be if we were to start a war, a conflagration, on the American mainland against a power, which, rightly or wrongly, the Americans regard as an ally of theirs in their local problems.
I have recorded my disagreement. In view of the fact that I did not think it right to put down my name on the list of speakers, it would be improper of me at this late stage to continue the argument. But I think the House should know that that is how I feel—and I am not normally regarded as a "softie" on these matters. I offered to give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I wish to raise a straight, simple question, and I shall not take half a minute. We know how well the noble Lord can make speeches and how he can be constructive. Was the noble Lord, in the phrase he used, thinking of the possibility of a condominium? There seemed to be a hint of it.
§ Lord George-Brown
My Lords, when I speak of a 1606 two-flag situation—I do not want to use other words—obviously it could envisage what the noble Lord mentions, and when I was in office I always thought that that was an option for both the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I believe that we must realise that at this time both our friends and enemies throughout the world regard it as an absolute fact that the British Government have been outwitted, out-manoeuvred, by the Argentine Government, and to me that is a very sad thought, whether or not it is true. Another factor we must consider is that a few thousand loyal, decent people, who are as British as anyone in this House, and who have every right to be on the islands, are now under the muzzle of a fascist Government—a fascist Government who hitherto have had too much support from some of the so-called capitalist, free enterprise devotees of freedom. That is something we must take note of. In short, whether it be my country, the United States of America, or any European country, after what has happened in the past 24 hours, no longer can we say that it is quite all right to sup with an evil devil so long as the spoon is long enough.
I believe in the tone set by my noble friend Lord Shackleton in asking for, and I believe quite rightly receiving, the support of the House in order not to be hyper-critical. I also happen to believe that if a Labour Government have been in office when there have been mistakes in either judgment or policy, the party opposite have always seized every opportunity to harrow, hassle, and denigrate them and run them down. I am so pleased that my party is not imitating that kind of behaviour today.
When the Foreign Secretary made his Statement a few days ago I said that it was right for this British Parliament to state unequivocally that we supported the British Foreign Secretary, and that other free Governments should make their declaration in support of him. I said that a few days ago, and I believe that it is still the right policy for us to accept.
But whatever we are going to do, we must face the reality that at the moment the forces of fascism are on the islands, and our British countrymen are under their heel. The solution as I see it—I hope that it is achieved through diplomatic means—is that those forces must be removed. In this effort we command, quite rightly I believe, the full support of the United Nations and all lovers of freedom.
I should like to ask one or two questions which I believe are irritating many people outside this House, as well as a number of your Lordships who have enumerated certain points this morning. There seems to be a case for saying that there has not been full-scale liaison and co-operation between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. I am not going to pursue that question, but I hope that it will be cleared up as the debate draws to a close.
I shall not now embark on the argument—it is so transparently clear—about the imbecile policy under which, if we had 100 Tridents, how many would we be sending to the Argentine and to the Falkland Islands to drop a few hydrogen bombs? That is the lunacy of the policy that the Government are now following. 1607 However, I believe that, regrettably, it may well be necessary to have a show of strength, with conventional forces in conjunction with, I hope, navies and armies of all the free world, to demonstrate once and for all that no matter how small the element of freedom-loving people, they can no longer be threatened by forces like those which threatened us in 1939. When this island stood alone we won through in the end. We won through in the end because we convinced the world that authoritarian fascism must not prevail. That is what I believe President Reagan, President Mitterrand, and all the members of the United Nations must under stand.
Let those former colonies understand that many of them did not have to fight for their freedom, they were given it; and many of them when they received it, made the decision that, like the Falkland Islanders, they, too, wanted to remain under the British Crown and continue close co-operation with this island of ours. Let them demonstrate that loyalty now in this particular moment of distress for our fellow Britons overseas.
If we do not act as I suggest, then what has happened in the past 24 hours might well be emulated by other evil people. We must give the Foreign Secretary the full support of the House, and indeed of the nation. Certain explanations will have to be forthcoming, but at the moment it behoves us all to devote every endeavour to ensuring that those who are now illegally in occupation of the islands are removed. It also behoves all lovers of freedom everywhere—everybody from presidents to ordinary men in the street—to come to the aid of these few hundred people, so that they can continue a life of dignity and personal freedom, and can pursue, as they understand it, a civilised way to achieve happiness on the islands.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, some years ago, on a visit to the Argentine as a Back-Bench MP, I was invited to address the Argentine Assembly, and for several minutes after I reached the rostrum I was unable to make myself heard for shouts of, "Malvinas, Malvinas—give us back the Falkland Islands!", until one deputy stood up, interrupted, and shouted, "In spite of the Falkland Islands, we have the greatest admiration for Britain". That shout I think received the loudest cheer of all the proceedings from all concerned.
I say that because, despite the reports that we read of the enthusiasm of the Argentine people for the action which their Government have taken, I trust that none of us will identify the Argentine people with the miserable gang of military autocrats who now rule over them; and rule over them despite the bitter opposition of millions and millions of the Argentine people.
I was very sorry not to be present during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, because I understand that he thanked the Foreign Secretary for bringing back the aircraft carriers. There stirred in me an old memory of 1966, when, as Navy Minister, I was faced with two decisions by the Labour Cabinet. The first decision was to maintain our full military commitments east of Suez throughout the 'seventies and into the 'eighties. The second decision was to cancel the construction of our latest aircraft carrier and phase out 1608 the carrier fleet. Well, I am very glad that I refused to accept that situation and resigned as Navy Minister. I may say that today we could have done with CVA 01, which was cancelled at that time.
I must not trespass upon your Lordships' time, but I must say that I thought—and I think your Lordships will agree—that the vital passage in the statement of the Foreign Secretary today was where he described the mobilisation of a major task force and said that its orders will be determined by the situation on its arrival. This is the crux of the situation that we have to consider.
It is an accepted weakness of maritime power, of course, that naval task forces take a very long time to assemble and deploy. I must say that I was persuaded on this point by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, this morning. It is not easy to assemble and deploy naval forces in time for a swift-moving situation such as that with which we have been confronted; and even if, as the noble Lord has shown, our intelligence had been better—and it is obvious that it was very bad—the assembling of a naval force as quickly as everyone would have wished would not, I think, have been possible.
The strength of maritime power, on the other hand, is, of course, that it is so flexible. It means you have a number of options, and it means that you do not have to decide on those options until a fairly late moment—and this I believe to be one of the strengths of our situation today. There are other options open to the Government besides the bombarding of Argentinian ports. A maritime power can also deny access to ports; a maritime power can deny freedom of the seas to merchant shipping; a maritime power can make its presence felt far from the scene of action.
When the time comes to judge what the Government are doing—and it is not now—I think they will not be forgiven if it can be shown that they have failed to study very carefully the whole range of options open to them. I do not think they will be forgiven, either, if they are found to have used strong language and then not matched their actions to their words. I think they will not be forgiven, above all, if they follow the advice tendered to us all in the leading article of the Guardian this morning—to leave the Falklanders in the lurch. That is what the Government will not be forgiven for at all. Happily, after hearing the Foreign Secretary, I think there is no evidence that they are falling down on any of these three important criteria, and they therefore deserve, and will get, the support of the country.
§ 1.22 p.m.
§ Lord Peart
My Lords, this has been a long debate and we have had different speeches with different emphases. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that I will not go into a defence debate, much as I might be tempted because I think the run-down of our defence forces may have had some bearing on what has happened. However, we will come to that on another occasion. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has referred to the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Argentina and the withdrawal of the embassy staff. He has not said what is happening to our mission in Buenos Aires. If the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, would get me some information
1609 on that, I would be quite happy on that point. What is happening there, and who will look after our affairs there? This is important for our nationals in Argentina, so I hope it will be pursued.
I agreed very much with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, when he quoted from the Guardian. The Guardian has a very fine editorial today. The heading is:Far away, forgotten and now filched".It says:Parliament has two jobs to do when it meets this morning—its first meeting on a Saturday since Suez—to assess the consequences of the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands. One is to consider what can now be done to retrieve what begins to look like a deeply irretrievable situation; and that job should he done as soberly and realistically and with as little appeal to jingoism as can be contrived. The other is to examine the record of government action and inaction which led up to yesterday's events and the extraordinary train of confusion if not concealment which was allowed to prevail for so much of the day".I think that was a strong point to make, but we have not pursued it in this debate.
On the other hand, I should like to put on record what happened when a Labour Government was in a similar situation. I quote now from Mr. James Callaghan in a debate on the Falkland Islands on the 30th March last, at col. 168. He said:I support the Government's attempts to solve the problem by diplomatic means, which is clearly the best and most sensible way of approaching the problem, but is the Minister aware that there have been other recent occasions when the Argentinians, when beset by internal troubles, have tried the same type of tactical diversion? Is the Minister aware that on a very recent occasion, of which I have full knowledge, Britain assembled ships which had been stationed in the Caribbean, Gibraltar and in the Mediterranean, and stood them about 400 miles off the Falklands in support of HMS 'Endurance', and that when this fact became known, without fuss and publicity, a diplomatic solution followed? While I do not press the Minister on what is happening today, I trust that it is the same sort of action".I should like an answer from the Government spokesman who is to wind up. But is it not ironical that this Government, which have been inveighing against the forces of communism and have based their defence strategy accordingly, are now in the probable position of having to fire their first shot against a Right-Wing military junta. I have been in Argentina—I did a long journey there many years ago as a Minister—and it is true that there is no democracy as we know it. I believe it has developed into a very brutal dictatorship. I was pleased to hear that the EEC had decided to support us. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, mentioned this. I think this is important. We had no support in the United Nations last time, so it is important that we should have diplomatic support now.
I want to ask some questions. Is there still resistance? If so, can we help? Is the task force at Ascension Islands, which is nearly 4,000 miles away, to be deployed? I think we are glad to see diplomatic efforts; this is more important than trying to have military blackmail. But there should be a military back-up if Argentina refuses. We did not need to deploy naval forces secretly, as Labour did, as Mr. Callaghan said, when the negotiations began with Argentina four years ago.
Then, in February and March this year Argentina said that they were going to invade. Why did we not take precautions? We announced that "Endurance" 1610 would be scrapped and the "Invincible" sold to the Australians. I am sure all this was a factor in making the Argentine Government decide to take a risk. Let us hope that we have learned a lesson with this sorry episode. I agree with many of my noble friends: If a Labour Government had done this, believe me, there would have been all hell raised!
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Viscount Trenchard)
My Lords, I shall be very brief. My noble friend has listened to the vast majority of the debate and will, I know, read the speeches that he has been unable to hear. Most noble Lords have been brief and extremely constructive in their support of the stand that the Government are taking against this shameful act of aggression. We welcome the understanding of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that my noble friend and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence must be allowed to plan their steps and take their diplomatic steps, backed by the movement of armed forces, in their own way and without disclosure. I have to say to the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, that that has to be my answer to his detailed qusetions about the Ascension Islands or any other detailed disposition we may be making.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, if the noble Viscount is leaving that question of forces, he may or may not be able to say anything but, of course, we are concerned about the position of HMS "Endurance", and it may he that when he talks about South Georgia he may be able to say something; but, again, he may prefer to keep it quiet.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I had intended to do that when I came to that question. The remark that I made before the noble Lord intervened prompts me to say that we and indeed the whole country are going to have to use a good deal of patience, bearing in mind the time that is taken, both to carry out diplomatic negotiations and to traverse 8,000 miles of sea. The support of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel is very welcome and his observation about this not being the appropriate moment for post-mortems is also helpful. Nevertheless, I regret that some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Byers, after a helpful contribution, could not resist the opportunity to make some political points even about our independent nuclear deterrent which, as my noble friend Lord Home has said, is aimed against a quite different threat.
§ Lord Byers
My Lords, would the noble Viscount not agree that that shaft has gone home quite deeply?
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord raised a totally irrelevant point and I think that my noble friend Lord Home has more than adequately illustrated that. But let me just add that since this Administration came to power, we have done more to increase real defence of a conventional kind than any Administration for a very long time. The share of the defence budget spent on conventional naval forces has increased substantially since we came 1611 to power, as has the strengthening of our air forces. The power of our Navy has been increased greatly since this Administration came into power. I regret that some noble Lords have used this occasion to ride their particular hobby-horses—an exercise which is not borne out by the facts. I must say to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that criticism from the party opposite about the rundown of our defence forces—and those were his words—really does not come fairly or ring truly. Their record in this respect and the morale of the forces when we became the Government of the country were very poor indeed. As I have said, in all the areas that have a bearing on the Falkland Island crisis, this Administration has strengthened our conventional forces.
Let me answer the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, not fully helpfully at this stage; but our interests in Buenos Aires are being looked after by a small section in a friendly embassy. That is as far as I can go at the moment. In relation to the so-called confusion yesterday, my noble friend dealt with this very fully and I have to re-affirm that communications with the Falkland Islands are never easy and that we were unable to get confirmation of the fact that an invasion had taken place. The last message that we had from the Governor, shortly before 10 o'clock our time, was that no invasion had taken place. It took us most of the rest of the day before we could get that confirmation.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I want to help the Government. In so far as they did not know until six o'clock, could they not enlist the aid of the editor of the Standard who had it in headlines at one o'clock?
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, the media frequently speculate on what, to those without responsibility, may seem obvious. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. The noble Lords, Lord Byers and Lord Mayhew, questioned the standards of our intelligence and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Caldecote questioned whether we should not have known a great deal more a great deal earlier. The Argentines perform regular naval exercises on a very big scale at about this time of the year and all the activities that were observed were consistent with their being for the purpose of exercises. Here I would thank my noble friend Lord Buxton who openly and correctly stated—and no one is in closer contact with the area than he is—that no one knew.
It would be superfluous for me to add anything to what my noble friend has already said in relation to the negotiations which his Ministers had been having with the Argentines; but I have to say that it seems to me that aggression of this kind was no more likely in March 1982, in fact, almost certainly much less likely, than at almost any time over the past 15 years. Be that as it may, even if we had not adopted a policy of calm reaction and had mobilised forces as soon as this seemingly minor incident in South Georgia took place, as my noble friend has made clear, our forces would still be traversing the 8,000 miles before they could be in position. Such action a few days or a day earlier would have been inflammatory in a part of the world where heads are sometimes not very cool.
1612 I do not intend today to comment on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in relation to perhaps greater permanent steps that might have been taken under any Government in recent years (but which have not been taken under any Government) such as the extension of the runway—except to say that the maintenance of an advance base, or a greater base of any kind including advanced aeroplanes or naval forces at this distance is difficult to the point of being impractical to visualise. I think that the noble Lord will know better than I the degree to which the maintenance of modern equipment and the supplies of it are needed even to maintain enterprises in the civil world and the degree to which they are supplied from the Argentine itself as the only near-at-hand country from which they can be drawn.
But, in my view, this is not the time to debate the question of whether some ships should have set sail a day or two earlier. My right honourable friend has made it clear that we have some ships at sea in addition to the force we are now assembling and that he is not going to report where those ships are, for very obvious reasons.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked for a report on the situation in South Georgia. While, at this stage, with communications as they are, almost every report that we get has a degree of hazard about it, we have communicated with HMS "Endurance" this morning, and, as far as we know, she is in good shape and good order. We believe that the 22 Royal Marines—and we have had a message to that effect—on South Georgia are still there and in reasonable shape. There is an Argentine research vessel off South Georgia. At the moment, I can give the noble Lord no more information than that. I must say at this stage that the Foreign Office have been in regular touch with the head of the British Antarctic Survey, Dr. Laws, in Cambridge, and co-operation between us has been and is excellent.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the noble Viscount may wish to check my statement as to who telephoned whom; but we need not waste time. He said that HMS "Endurance" was in good shape. I should have hoped that HMS "Endurance" had sailed to safer waters. The noble Viscount may not feel that he can say anything.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, for all the reasons that the noble Lord himself implied in his initial speech, I do not feel that I can say anything. Let me answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. The information we have at this stage, information which comes from the Governor, is that the Marines did engage but suffered no casualties. There were some Argentine casualties.
I have been pressed in many areas to go further than my noble friend was prepared to go today in relation to the situation should diplomatic pressures from ourselves, from the United Nations and from other countries in the world, fail to achieve the aim that we all hope they will. Noble Lords will know that I have no intention of so doing, and no words of mine could confirm more clearly our resolve to do everything in our power to return British citizens of the Falkland Islands to British sovereignty as soon as that can be achieved.
1613 I believe, impertinently, that we are very lucky to have my noble friend at the helm of the Foreign Office at the present time, and I believe that the vast majority of the country share that confidence. I hope that we can count on the media—and I make a special appeal to them—not to give undue publicity to two brigades that have been mobilised in the past few days: the wise-after-the-event brigade, who no more foresaw what was coming than anyone else; and the other brigade, the hobby-horse brigade, who are tying the problems we have 8,000 miles away to their particular hobby-horses in relation to defence.
§ Lord Peart
My Lords, will the noble Viscount give way? I respect the noble Viscount very much for his contributions, but he is really going a little too far. After all, we have had a pretty good debate without rancour. I hope that the noble Viscount will not pursue that line.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, my appeal was to the media. Perhaps I should not make that appeal in this House, but I make it quite sincerely for all the reasons that I and other noble Lords have given today. I believe that this is a time for national unity and for concentrating on the present situation. The vast majority want to give all the backing that we can to my noble friend and my right honourable friend, and I end my reply with a repetition of my noble friend's words this morning: it is our firm objective to ensure that the Falklands are freed from alien occupation. My Lords, I commend the Motion.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, there was a Motion before the House. I did not exactly gather what it was but may I take it that it was, That this House takes note of the situation in the Falkland Islands? Does my noble friend wish to move that or withdraw it?
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, before moving the adjournment of the House, I feel sure that your Lordships will permit me on your behalf to express our united thanks to the staff of your Lordships' House: the Clerks, Doorkeepers, Hansard Reporters and all those many others who have made it possible for your Lordships to meet and have this important emergency debate today.
I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.
§ Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(Lord Sandys.)
§ Lord Peart
My Lords, before we do so, if anything happens which may be of a serious nature will the noble Lord recall the House tomorrow?
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I believe that is my function, and the answer is that I already have a document which I have not issued: but of course if in the ordinary way it is thought proper, then I imagine that there would have to be consultation between the authorities for everybody. I have a document ready in case anything should happen.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before two o'clock.