HL Deb 19 April 1982 vol 429 cc394-402

3.35 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a Statement on the Falkland Islands.

"Our objectives remain as already stated to the House. But I should provide an account of developments since the debate last Wednesday. Mr. Haig is continuing in his efforts to persuade the Argentine Government to agree to the implementation of Security Council Resolution No. 502. His mission provides the best hope of achieving a peaceful settlement.

"The position is still delicate, and the House will not expect me to reveal details of the negotiations. We remain grateful to Mr. Haig and shall continue to co-operate fully with his efforts.

"Meanwhile we are stepping up the military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Argentina. Our naval task force is steadily approaching the area of the Falklands, and we are continuing to strengthen its ability to carry out whatever tasks may be required of it.

"I am glad to tell the House that Norway has today joined with the members of the European Community and certain important Commonwealth countries in banning imports from Argentina.

"The 22 marines who were captured in South Georgia and the remaining seven from the Falklands, as well as 13 British scientists evacuated from South Georgia, have arrived safely in Montevideo. I am glad to say that we expect them back in Britain very shortly.

"Fifteen British scientists remain in South Georgia, and we have their well-being and safety very much in mind. The latest report on 18th April confirmed that all were safe and well.

"The three British journalists arrested last week in Argentina are expected to appear before a judge today. The British Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Buenos Aires are keeping us informed of developments.

"Argentina must have no doubts about our resolve to exercise our rights to the full if this should prove necessary. But I can assure the House that we are making every possible effort to get a satisfactory solution to this dispute by peaceful means. The Government will continue to keep the House informed."

My Lords, that is the Statement.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, and again we do not expect him necessarily to go into much further detail at this moment. It clearly is still the firm view of all the parties in this country—all the leading parties anyway—that we support the Government in the steps that they are taking, and the remarks that I am about to make, if I may, are not designed in any way to weaken the Government's resolve in this matter, which we support. Clearly, we agree that the Haig mission is at the moment the best hope, but none the less we may have to face the fact that the terms that would be remotely acceptable to the British Government, with their original statements, will be unacceptable to the junta in the Argentine.

I would like to ask the Government to consider whether they have any further steps of an international kind that might be taken. It has been suggested—I think it is important that this suggestion should be taken seriously, although again the Government may not wish to comment without due thinking—that we should ask the United Nations to appoint an administrator without prejudice of any kind to the future. I want to reiterate that there is no weakening of our support for the Government. My own experience in the past, as I mentioned elsewhere, with the United Nations, has not been entirely happy in certain circumstances and that is why I would like to stress that it should be "an administrator". If that should come about a condition must be that we return to the pre-invasion circumstances and the law that prevails, whether it concerns driving on the left, divorce or anything else, is restored to the situation as it was before the aggression. If that does not come off and if the original Haig initiative does not come off, I hope that that would absolve the Americans and the United States any more from trying to be an honest broker in this matter. We welcome this as a posture, but the simple fact is—I hope that this is being made clear—that this is an aggression by an undemocratic country against a loyal ally of the United States backed by a democratic Government.

The British Government over the years have been willing to discuss sovereignty subject always to the wishes of the islanders themselves. I would suggest that it is time that the United States, like Norway, should support us in this matter. There is a great deal at stake. I am not wishing to criticise Mr. Haig or his efforts at the moment, but as we mentioned before and as the noble Lord recognised, it is a question of not only the Falklands but the whole peace of that part of the world—the Antarctic Treaty, South Georgia and so on.

I should like to ask the noble Lord one or two questions. He stated that the 15 scientists, I think it was, or the scientists in South Georgia were still, so far as we knew, all right. Included in that number were the two young women who are out there filming. Are they all right? The noble Lord may not be able to answer that question. Nonetheless, we are concerned in the long run with winter approaching. Will he also make sure that, whatever else happens, we do not weaken the situation in Belize where, because of the threat of this particular problem, there is again the possibility of another aggression which has practically been attempted in the past?

I should like to ask the Government whether they are proposing to publish the British case. I have no doubt that our case in international law is sound: 150 years of occupation and the refusal of the Argentines to go to the Hague Court. Yet there are still too many people in this country who do not know the case. Just because we have debated it and understand it, does not mean that there are not some people who are saying, "What does it really matter?". I think that it is time that the Government put their case and I would ask the noble Baroness also to bear this suggestion in mind.

3.44 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we, too, are grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement which, for reasons which we completely understand, does not add very much to our knowledge. However—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—I believe that the great majority of people in this country feel that there is hardly likely to be any peaceful solution of this dispute unless the Argentine Government accept the legally enforceable decision of the Security Council to withdraw their troops from the Falkland Islands. If they decline to do so for any reason and the occupation goes on, I think that people here generally will begin to wonder what is the use of the United Nations and whether it is even worthwhile continuing our subscription. It is also true that, given the Security Council's legally valid decision and in the regrettable absence of any United Nations machinery for enforcing the decision, we are fully entitled, if necessary and if practicable, to use force ourselves, if only under Article 51 of the charter.

But I also believe that the whole purpose of Mr. Haig's intensive discussions with both sides during the last few days has been to discover, if possible, the broad lines—perhaps the very broad lines—not only of a short-term but also of a long-term solution which would appear to the majority of people here at any rate to be, on the face of it, reasonable. In other words, as I ventured to suggest last Wednesday, a formula which, while, of course, safeguarding the interests of those islanders who might also regard it as reasonable, would nevertheless give some satisfaction to the long held, if legally quite invalid, claim which has resulted, to use the words of the charter, in an undeniable threat to international peace and security. I wonder whether, by any chance, the Government, while naturally not giving us any details of what is going on, would like to comment on this aspect of the existing crisis.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for their response to my right honourable friend's Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the efforts being made by Mr. Haig and the stance adopted by the United States Government in this matter. Her Majesty's Government accept that, while Mr. Haig is engaged in such very delicate negotiations, the United States Government consider it inappropriate to align themselves with either party although, of course, the United States Government have fully supported Security Council Resolution 502. Let me in saying that immediately go on to refer to the points made by both noble Lords about the United Nations. Here the Government take the view that the implementation of Security Council Resolution 502 should remain the United Nations' first objective. At present Mr. Haig's mission offers the best prospects of this.

I was interested, if I may say so on behalf of the Government, in the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that in the event of some closer United Nations participation—for instance, the noble Lord suggested to your Lordships' House a United Nations administrator—the situation in the Falkland Islands would have to be the situation as it had pertained before the agression took place. That is both robust and wise advice.

I really do not think that I can add any more to what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, put forward, both in the debate on 14th April and this afternoon, so far as the United Nations position is concerned, except to repeat that we believe that the implementation of Security Council Resolution 502 should remain the United Nations' first objective.

Let me very quickly reply to the other questions that were asked of me. Miss Buxton and Miss Price—the two English ladies who were in South Georgia—are, according to our information, still in South Georgia. So far as the position of Belize is concerned, let me repeat what has already been said in your Lordships' House—namely, that no decision has yet been taken on a date for withdrawal of British troops. The British garrison is in Belize to deter external aggression against Belize and, if necessary, to defend Belize against aggression. The noble Lord put to me, "Would it not be wise to publish our case?". The noble Lord himself, of course, with all his experience and authority put the case very briefly in your Lordships' debate on 3rd April and I sought to do likewise briefly on 14th April. I should like to take back with me and to pass on to my right honourable friend the more specific recommendation made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in this respect.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether General Haig is still in Buenos Aires? Secondly, is he aware—I think that he is—that the admirable unity of opinion in this country on this grave issue owes an enormous amount to the calm firmness of the leadership of Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the information which I had rather less than an hour and a half ago was that Mr. Haig remains in Buenos Aires. I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said about the stance of the Government and I am sure that my noble friend would join with me in saying that it has been very important that we have received wise and calm advice from all sides in your Lordships' House.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, as the Government have already stated, probably the best hope at the moment lies in the activities of the American Secretary of State, Mr. Haig? I think it would be appropriate from this House, and unquestionably from the other House, if at this stage we say to him and to the American people that we are most grateful for the untiring efforts that they are making in what seems to be an insoluble situation. Is the noble Lord also aware that the alleged statement in the press (I hope that it is alleged and untrue) of the President of Argentina, that there will be no solution to this problem and that his troops will remain there, alive or dead, makes the activity and the work that Mr. Haig is doing almost impossible?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, on behalf of the Government, I agree with the noble Lord. It is worth reminding your Lordships' House that we are talking in the context of Security Council Resolution 502, which is mandatory, and it is because that mandatory resolution has been flouted—and by "flouted" I mean that on the day following the passing of that resolution the Argentines invaded South Georgia—that the Argentine has been more or less condemned by most countries in the rest of the world and has not been effectively supported in any way by the countries of Latin America.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, in reference to the request by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the general case be actively promulgated, can the noble Lord say whether or not that is practicable in the immediate future, and that the Government would be prepared to release details of the cases in the past when the Government have offered to submit the question at issue to the International Court? The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his illuminating speech last Wednesday, alluded to the breach of international law which is implied by this aggression. I am quite sure that very few people in this country have the vaguest idea of the offer in the past to submit the issue to the International Court.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, like previous Administrations in government, Her Majesty's Government have always made clear their willingness to negotiate on all aspects of the Falkland Islands dispute. The Argentines have never shown any interest in referring the sovereignty question to the International Court and the fact is that we have not proposed it. That, therefore, is the way in which the question of reference to the International Court stands at the present time. I think I should repeat that what we very strongly feel at the present time as a matter of policy is that the first thing to do is to ensure that Security Council Resolution 502 is implemented.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, in regard to any statement that is made at the present time, would the Minister not agree, first, that there should be a withdrawal and, secondly, that our preparedness to submit this issue to the International Court would, from a world point of view and from the point of view of the people of this country, be a sign of strength?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I certainly take on board what the noble Lord has said, but, as I have already said, the first priority for Her Majesty's Government is implementation of Security Council Resolution 502.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister quite certain that we have never proposed to take this case to the International Court? I had understood long ago that we were willing to do so and that the Argentines were not.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my advice is as I replied to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, a couple of minutes ago.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the Minister aware how warmly many of us have welcomed the statement at the end of the declaration, that all efforts will be made to seek a peaceable settlement of this problem? On a number of occasions the Minister has referred to Resolution 502. Is it not the case that even before that resolution made the demand for the withdrawal of Argentine troops, it asked for a cessation of hostilities? Can the Minister say what has been done to carry out that first demand of Resolution 502? Has any effort been made to secure a truce during the negotiations, with Argentina ending its supply of soldiers and equipment to the Falkland Islands and ourselves halting our fleet while the negotiations take place?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as I have already said to your Lordships' House, the House would not expect the Government to give details of the very delicate negotiations in which Mr. Haig is involved at the moment. But I do say that it is the objective of Mr. Haig's mission to ensure that there is a peaceful negotiated settlement to this dispute.

Lord Alport

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend to clear up a matter because, although he has already made the statement clear, it is so contrary to what I understood in the past that I should like to address him on it. Is it the case that we have never suggested to any Argentine Government that the Falkland Islands dispute should be referred to the International Court?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is the case.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is that on the basis that we have never resiled from our legal title or from our sovereignty in the Falkland Islands and, therefore, if the matter was in issue it would be for the Argentinians to take it? In that situation did we indicate that we would be very happy to submit to the jurisdiction of the International Court?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is indeed being helpful in asking that question. I confess that I had not thought the matter through as far as that. I should like to make it quite clear that in Her Majesty's Government's view the question of sovereignty is, of course, not in issue.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, with regard to the islanders themselves, can the noble Lord the Minister make any statement with regard to conditions on the Falkland Islands under this illegal occupation by a fascist country? Secondly, can he give the House an assurance that if, as time goes on and we reach crisis point, there should be any dramatic change in the way in which our fellow Britons are being treated, a report will be made to the House at the earliest possible convenience of the Government?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, from reports which we have received from those who have returned from the Falkland Islands we have not heard of maltreatment of people upon the Falkland Islands, or, indeed, of the cessation of normal services. But, of course, it is impossible to tell what are the real views of people whose country is occupied by an alien power.

Lord Renton

My Lords, has my noble friend any confirmation of the reports that Argentinian troops, or some of them, are hungry and are having to turn to the British people in the Falkland Islands to relieve their hunger?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have understood that from the television transmissions. However, on this point I know no more than my noble friend.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, would the noble Minister not agree that troops of any country in any circumstances are always hungry?

Lord Monson

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Russians are cynically exploiting the requisitioning of British cruise liners for the task force by rushing in to grab the lion's share of the British cruise trade? In view of Russian support for Argentinian aggression, will the Government seriously consider banning all Russian cruise ships from British ports forthwith?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that because of the present situation of the very delicate negotiations of Mr. Haig, the House would not expect me to give any forecast of steps which Her Majesty's Government now intend to take.

The Earl of Glasgow

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us what is Her Majesty's Government's policy towards South Georgia? It seems that the activity in the Falkland Islands will go on for a considerable time, and South Georgia, once recovered for us, must remain British and out of this issue in support of our Antarctic possessions.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, may I say to my noble friend that the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards South Georgia is precisely the same as the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the rest of the Falkland Islands.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in fact the Norwegians have a better claim to South Georgia than the Argentines because they have been whaling there for years? It is quite ludicrous that the Argentines should claim that. May I again ask the noble Lord whether he will seriously consider putting out the case, because the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones is one that has escaped a lot of people. My recollection is that we offered to take our claims to the Antarctic to The Hague court, but I think it is this juridical side that again could be explored more closely. If the Minister, well informed and generally courteous as he is to this House, is not really very well aware of it, it suggests that quite a lot of others of us are not.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I shall certainly draw what the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, have said to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, did I hear the noble Lord say that we had never suggested to the Argentines that the matter should be referred to the International Court? Is is not a fact that in 1948 Mr. Ernest Bevin announced in the House of Commons quite definitely that he had made that suggestion to the Argentine?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I was advised before making the Statement to your Lordships this afternoon that the Argentines have never shown any interest in referring the sovereignty question to the International Court, and we have not proposed it.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, that is quite true. What I understood the noble Lord to say was that we had never suggested it should go to the International Court. The fact that the Argentines turned down that suggestion is another matter.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, at the risk of belabouring this point too far the words which I have just spoken in answer to Lord Beswick's last question were precisely the same words that I used when I originally answered the noble Lord, Lord Robbins.