HL Deb 07 April 1982 vol 429 cc257-64

1.32 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now answer the Private Notice Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Peart.

"Her Majesty's Government are energetically pursuing their efforts to return the Falkland Islands to British administration as soon as possible. We are bringing a combination of diplomatic, economic and military pressures to bear.

"Our naval task force gives us the strength from which to urge a settlement.

"We have broken off diplomatic relations with Argentina, frozen Argentine assets, stopped ECGD credits, banned exports of arms and stopped all imports from Argentina from midnight on 6th April.

"Following the United Nations Security Council's mandatory resolution condemning the invasion, we have informed a large number of friendly countries of the measures we are taking and have urged them to take parallel action to bring pressure on Argentina.

"Argentina must be in no doubt about our determination to put an end to the occupation of the Falkland Islands".

Lord Peart

My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on his promotion. We all recognise fully his sterling qualities and wish him good luck.

I want to put some questions, sharp questions I hope, to the Government. First, is there any chance of armed conflict taking place before the House resumes after the Easter Recess? In the event of armed conflict, will the Minister give an assurance that the House will be recalled? Is the noble Lord aware that the House, in time, will demand a full account of the advance intelligence received by Her Majesty's Government of the Argentine invasion, when this was received, by whom, and what counter-preparations were made, if any, as a consequence? Can the noble Lord assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will countenance no solution of the problem which is not based on the islanders' wish to live under the sovereignty of their choice? Is the noble Lord also aware that Her Majesty's Government's failure to defend the Falkland Islands may have repercussions in other places where the United Kingdom has responsibility? Can the noble Lord assure the House that preparations have been made against a possible attack on Belize?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, for the very kind words to me personally of the noble Lord, Lord Peart, I am grateful. The noble Lord asked me certain questions. The first was whether there would be a chance of armed conflict before the House meets again after the Easter Recess and, in that case, an assurance that the House will be recalled. I think it is well known on all sides of the House what will be the steaming time of the task force to the Falkland Islands waters. I think calculations can be done by your Lordships as to the likelihood of the possibility of a confrontation before the House meets again. So far as an assurance being given to the House that, in the event of a confrontation occurring, the House will be recalled, I think that this is a matter which ought to be pursued through the usual channels.

The noble Lord asked a direct question about the intelligence which we received. The evidence available to us showed that the Argentine regime took the decision to invade no earlier than 28th March and possibly as late as 31st March. The evidence before that time was not clear; it was to some extent contradictory and, in our assessment, pointed the other way. It is true that in the event we were mistaken but so, I am advised, were other countries.

The noble Lord asked me to state that there shall be, in essence, no solution of the problem if the Falkland Islands shall not be free. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with the answer which I have given to that supplementary question in my original Answer: We are bringing a combination of diplomatic, economic and military pressures to bear". And, of course, we are working in the general context of the Security Council resolution calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities, the immediate withdrawal of Argentine forces and a diplomatic settlement. That is a mandatory resolution under the United Nations Charter.

Lord Peart

My Lords, Belize?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord has bowled me out on the question of Belize. If it is not unacceptable, I think that this is a matter on which I shall have to communicate with the noble Lord afterwards.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we, too, congratulate the noble Lord most warmly on his appointment. I do not think that this is the occasion for me to say anything other than we all hope that the measures now taken by the Government will be successful.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the Social Democratic Party Peers would like to join those who have already congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on his new appointment and we wish him well in that office. May I ask whether the Government are aware that, leaving aside the question of failures of intelligence appreciation before the invasion, we on this Bench fully support the action which has now been taken by the Government? We agree that the aim must be to regain for the Falklanders the right of self-determination which they have always enjoyed until this invasion. Do the Government agree that the way to achieve this is to seek that combination of external forces acting upon the Argentine authorities which will induce them to withdraw their troops with the smallest amount of renewed bloodshed—and, if possible, with none? Do the Government think that a contingent of United Nations' observers to supervise that withdrawal, during which the British task force could stand off, would be a useful arrangement?

1.41 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn and Lord Kennet, for their kind remarks and for the support in essence of the Answer which I have given to the noble Lord, Lord Peart. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me two questions. The first, in effect, was about the result of external pressure upon the situation in the Falkland Islands with, as the noble Lord put it, the ultimate objective of attaining our objective of recovery without the loss of blood in action.

It is worth me saying this. This Government are taking action along three main lines: first, we have despatched the strong naval task force; secondly, we are following maximum diplomatic efforts; thirdly, we are also taking economic measures. We are urging other countries to do likewise. The first reactions to this are hopeful; and by that I mean that it is now quite clear that some countries are determined to see that arms sales to Argentina will not take place. Your Lordships may be interested to know that my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwelath Secretary will, in his speech this afternoon, be announcing that the Argentine consulates in Liverpool and Hong Kong will now be closed.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, may I add my congratulations to my noble friend and condolences that his maiden trip should be in such stormy waters. But may I ask him two questions. One arises out of the answer that he has just given. Can he indicate some of the Commonwealth countries—I think New Zealand and Singapore are included—which have already indicated full support for Her Majesty's Government in this controversy? Can he also, in addition to the question about Belize and precautions there asked by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, indicate that a watchful eye is being kept on Gibraltar?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my answer to my noble friend's second question is, yes. A very vigilant eye will certainly be kept so far as that is concerned upon Gibraltar. May I thank my noble friend for his characteristically kind remarks to me, which I very much value. I am sorry but I cannot add to the list of Commonwealth countries which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has already given to the House in his supplementary question as supporting us in this matter; but I should like to make it quite clear that the Security Council mandatory resolution, which of course received more than the necessary number of votes in order to make it mandatory, shows the very wide condemnation of the action taken by Argentina.

Lord Shinwell

May I join in the congratulations to the Minister on his appointment and wish him every success. Within the terms of the Security Council one can only accept the Statement made by the Minister on behalf of the Government. We have to operate within the provisions laid down by the Security Council. In other words, we have to pursue a course of conduct of a diplomatic character; but at the same time we have to keep in reserve—and I emphasise the reservation—that it the diplomatic course fails, we have no other alternative than to take forceful action, much as we would regret it.

What I want to be assured about is this: there is a great deal of talk going on about American mediation. I recognise the need for American co-operation, but I doubt whether at this stage we require anything in the nature of external mediation. This must be left to the decision of the Security Council, and anything that follows that must be within those terms. Should we fail in the diplomatic sphere—and I read the newspapers very closely and I listen to what people say outside this House; I have taken care of that, and therefore I venture to indulge in that could be regarded as a warning—if we are faced with what may be regarded as war, there would be bloodshed and a great deal of violence. We must be assured that the people of our country are united behind the Government, irrespective of political opinion.

We are concerned about our security. We are also concerned about the fate of the people in the Falkland Islands; but we are also concerned about repercussions that would evolve if something goes wrong. Therefore, I call upon our people to stand by the Government, whatever happens. I should have liked to hear—perhaps he said it but I did not catch it—from my noble friend the Leader of the Labour Opposition, and from Lord Gladwyn, speaking for the Liberal Party, and from Lord Kennet, speaking for the SDP, that if we are faced with violence and trouble, they will support the Government, and no nonsense about it. I make that quite clear. This is irrespective of political opinions. We are behind the Government, the people of the Falkland Islands and the Security Council.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the expression of view which the noble Lord has given to the House is widely welcomed on all sides. He mentioned the United States. I would only say in rejoinder to the noble Lord that of course we are in close touch with the United States. We are, after all, very close allies.

Lord Morris

My Lords—

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords—

Lord Morris

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's Answer to the Private Notice Question by Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. It is clear to those who have followed this question closely, not only these days but over many years, that my noble friend's Statement, and indeed those of the right honourable lady, the Prime Minister and my noble friend Lord Carrington, are no less deserving of the admiration and gratitude of not only this country but the whole free world. We are not speaking only—

Several noble Lords


Lord Morris

My Lords, in asking my question it must, I suggest, be realised that we speak not only of the Falkland Islanders and the scattered, windswept islands 8,000 miles away, but we are speaking of the strategic importance of the whole of Antarctica. This must be understood. I ask Her Majesty's Government that at no stage they lessen their resolve, however subtle or persuasive the ministrations of the appeasers and the unwitting allies of the fascists. I am confident that the right honourable lady the Prime Minister will never lessen her resolve. I hope that my noble friend can assure me on that point.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the assurance that I should like to give to my noble friend is that our immediate objective, to which we must devote all our efforts, is to obtain the removal of Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, may I, as a Cross-Bencher, give my personal congratulations to the noble Lord on his elevation, as I have always very much admired him? Does he not think it very unfair that certain sources have put it about that we ought to have had forces permanently in the Falkland Islands or somewhere nearby to preserve the then situation? The old policy of sending a gunboat was not a policy of keeping a gunboat on the site, which would have been ridiculous, but of sending a gunboat when something had gone wrong. Surely there is an important lesson to be learned from this. Would not the noble Lord agree that this is the position of the previous policy—the point was that the world knew that a gunboat would be sent? Would he not agree that this is a valuable lesson and is it not important that the world should know that the gunboat would arrive? Secondly, would he not agree that when the gunboat did arrive it did not necessarily open fire: it added its potential power to the forces of reason which were then used?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his kind words to me. He outlines very accurately the strategic and logistical difficulties of the position of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. But these problems we have experienced in the past can be overcome if we can put into effect the mandatory resolution of the Security Council.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, while wishing the noble Lord the Minister all success and contentment in his new and exacting post and hoping that the tensions which exist today will not be so bad in a month's time, may I ask him whether he will give the House an assurance that the policies to be followed by the Government, involving as they well may discussions with the President of the United States, and the Security Council and various other bodies in the weeks to come, will be based fundamentally on the desire of the Falkland Islanders to retain their homeland and that this must be the paramount theme, the quintessential theme, running through everything on this issue that the Government embark upon? Such policies must therefore be designated to liberate the Falkland Islanders from a tyranny under which they now suffer and which might become very much worse. Such expressions will enhance their morale and they will know that it is the desire not only of this Government but indeed of the British people, as a fundamental endeavour, to restore the right to live on their islands in freedom, peace and prosperity.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, for his kind words to me. It is because Her Majesty's Government attach the first priority to the freedom of the people of the Falkland Islands to live for as long as they so wish in their own islands that we attach the greatest importance to the Security Council resolution which, it is worth repeating, calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities, for immediate Argentine withdrawal and a diplomatic settlement.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, it goes without saying that all of us on the Government Back-Benches warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on his new appointment. He can take that for granted of course. May I put one question to him. Successive Governments have attached paramount importance to the views of the Falkland Islanders themselves in all their negotiations with the Argentine Government. May I ask my noble friend whether in future negotiations which may affect their status, and in particular were it to be necessary to contemplate an attack on Port Stanley, Her Majesty's Government would use their very best endeavours to consult the best representative opinion they can from the islands and to take full account of it?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am, I think, right in saying that the diplomatic discussions which took place up till the time Argentina breached those discussions by the unilateral use of force, on most occasions had been attended by representatives of the Falkland Islands. I therefore find very little difficulty in giving that assurance. May I also thank my noble friend for his characteristically generous remarks.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, bearing in mind the seriousness of the situation, will the Government consider setting up, if they have not already done so, some means of inter-party consultation so that, so far as possible, the nation can speak with one voice, independent of party?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I take the point which the noble Viscount makes. I think that perhaps we ought to see today what the expressions of view are in both Houses of Parliament. We have had a good opportunity in your Lordships' House to get views from all Benches. That is of great value and will be taken into very serious account by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Lovat

My Lords, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government are in close touch with Chile? I ask this advisedly because of the stormy nature of the waters south of Tierra del Fuego where there are good anchorages on the mainland of Chile.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, your Lordships will understand that at this stage I would prefer not to comment on operational matters. But may I quickly say to my noble friend that this should not be taken to imply either a confirmation or a denial of any reports of the possibility of help from other countries or of the importance of the other matters my noble friend has drawn to my attention.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while complimenting the Minister on his appointment, may I ask him this question? He has referred to the United Nations Security Council resolution which, while rightly condemning the invasion of the Falklands, in its first sentence asks for the cessation of hostilities and in its last sentence asks for negotaitions for a peaceful settlement. May I ask the Minister whether the Government during these three crucial weeks will make a priority of seeking with the United Nations, with President Reagan, with the Commonwealth Secretariat and with all other elements, a solution to this problem to prevent a war situation arising at the end of that time?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for his remarks and I would answer that we welcome serious moves for negotiations for a peaceful settlement; but I have to add to that that our immediate objective, to which we must devote all our efforts, is to obtain the removal of Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend give your Lordships an assurance that the desire for peace will not be regarded as a reason for appeasement? Secondly, may I ask my noble friend whether there is any further news of the small number of British civilians on South Georgia, including two women scientists?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I will readily give my noble friend Lord Renton the assurance for which he asked first—that the desire for peace should not be used as being a desire for appeasement. My noble friend also asked about the position of those who are on South Georgia. In addition to the 13 at Grytviken, there are 15 other personnel, including two ladies, at various sites. We have asked the Swiss Embassy in Buenos Aires, in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross, to inform the Argentines of the need to ensure their safety on humanitarian grounds. We are awaiting a response.