HL Deb 21 April 1982 vol 429 cc551-7

3.36 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall 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 shall make a brief statement on the Falkland Islands.

"My right honourable friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday that I would be travelling to Washington tomorrow to discuss with Mr. Haig our reactions to the latest Argentine proposals. I do so, I believe, with the support of the whole House.

"Any negotiation which is concluded satisfactorily must deal with certain critical points: in particular the arrangements for Argentine withdrawal; the nature of any interim administration of the islands, and the framework for the negotiations on the long-term solution to the dispute for which the United Nations resolution calls. We put to Mr. Haig, when he was in London, ideas which we believed would commend themselves to the House and accord with the wishes of the islanders. He subsequently took them to Buenos Aires. The latest Argentine proposals—despite Mr. Haig's efforts—still fail to satisfy our essential requirements in certain important respects relating to these points. They reflect continuing efforts by Argentina to establish by her aggression and her defiance of the UN—a defiance continued and aggravated by her reinforcement of her invasion force—what could not be established by peaceful means.

"These are some of the main issues I shall be discussing with Mr. Haig, and I shall of course have some ideas of our own to put forward.

"We continue to keep in close touch with our friends. In particular, I was glad that a meeting of Community Foreign Ministers could be arranged yesterday under the auspices of the Belgian Presidency and that Ministers were able to attend despite the inevitably short notice. I took the opportunity to thank them personally for their support and to explain the situation to them. They reaffirmed their support for us, emphasising the importance of securing the implementation of Security Council Resolution 502, their hope for a peaceful solution and their gratitude to Mr. Haig for his efforts.

"Since I last reported to the House, messages from the Falklands suggest that the islanders are still able to leave if they wish: a further party of 30 are on their way to Montevideo. Most of those leaving appear not to be permanent residents of the islands.

"The most recent contact with the 15 remaining scientists and wildlife photographers on South Georgia through the British Antarctic Survey was at 4 p.m. yesterday our time. I am happy to report that all were safe and well and in good heart.

"I shall continue to keep the House informed on my return".

My Lords, that is the Statement.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord. I think that the first thing we would all want to do in your Lordships' House is to wish the Foreign Secretary success and give him our support in the mission that he is undertaking.

Several noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, there is little further that we need say at this moment, other than to reiterate the fact that the Government have had the unstinted support of the Opposition parties on this matter. I should also like to repeat, notwithstanding certain anxieties many of us have had about the American attitude, a tribute to General Haig for the gruelling and tremendous efforts he has been making. He must have shown great endurance and great courage to have tackled these pretty horrific negotiations.

I suppose it would be right to say that among the options and the ideas that the Government may be putting to the American Government again is the possibility of a United Nations administrator. But I would say that my own view is entirely that of the Government: that the latest Argentina proposals still fail to satisfy our essential requirements, and still fail to provide any reasonable guarantee for the islanders.

It is worth reiterating, for those who are not themselves entirely convinced that the Government are following the right policy, that the efforts that are being made by the Argentine to establish her aggression and her defiance of the UN by reinforcing her forces, which aggravates the previous crime, are such that we simply cannot allow them to go without firm action and firm support for the efforts of the Government in seeking a peaceful solution. Now is no time to weaken our posture.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we too should like to thank the Minister for repeating this Statement. I am sure also that the Foreign Secretary will leave on this important mission with the goodwill of the entire House behind him. We only hope that he will come back with a satisfactory solution. But would the Government not agree that if an armed clash with the Argentine forces, which however necessary and however successful—and I repeat, however necessary and however successful—would have some very unfortunate consequences, is to be avoided, they will have to give some general indication of the sort of eventual peaceful settlement which they contemplate, and how and where negotiations to this end would be conducted? I hope that I have interpreted what was said at the beginning of this Statement as meaning in effect that the Government accept that view.

Would they not further agree—this is perhaps a rather more contentious point—that they should no longer insist on the wishes of the islanders being "paramount", if by this phrase—

Several noble Lords

Oh! No!

Lord Gladwyn

—if by this phrase is meant their ability if necessary by a simple majority, to render inapplicable and hence to veto any solution emerging from discussions, perhaps under a neutral or a United Nations' chairman, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested, which might be held by us at any rate to protect their essential interests? Of course if by "paramount" is meant that the interests of the islanders should be fully safeguarded, I think there would be no dissent from the use of the term.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their response to my right honourable friend's Statement. I should like first of all to thank both noble Lords for the good wishes to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. They are typical of the support given by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, throughout this matter from the Opposition Front Bench and by noble Lords from all parts of your Lordships' House. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the context in which he set the possibility of any United Nations participation. I think in response that it is worth pointing out that when this crisis began we immediately went to the Security Council; that was the first thing that we did. We were indeed of course very grateful for the response of world opinion and the terms of Security Council Resolution 502. Our primary objective, therefore, remains the full implementation of that Security Council resolution. The methods, of course, are open for discussion.

When the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asks me: does the view which he expressed in his first supple- mentary question accord with what has been said early on in my right honourable friend's Statement, the answer is simply, yes. The noble Lord was exactly interpreting what the Statement says. When the noble Lord asks me about the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands being paramount, the answer of the Government is that our view remains the same on this issue: the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands must be paramount. This can only be discovered and expressed by those people if there is withdrawal from the Falkland Islands of Argentine forces and the return of British administration.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, while endorsing what the noble Lord opposite and the Leader of the Liberal Party have said, may we add our few words of best wishes to the Foreign Secretary in this difficult task. We hope for a speedy and successful solution to the discussions, but we are concerned immediately about the Falkland islanders, British subjects, who are still on the islands. We hope that, however long term discussions may be about any future sovereignty of those islands, the views of the islanders will be fully canvassed before any final decision is taken, and of course that Parliament will be informed.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, to whom I am also grateful for his response, asks about the welfare of the islanders. May I add to what I have said previously, that Her Majesty's Government have asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to inquire about the welfare of the islanders. We understand that the Argentine Government have now told the ICRC that they do not see a need for the International Committee to visit the islands at this stage. We remain in close touch with the International Committee of the Red Cross on this matter.

Lord Alport

My Lords, can my noble friend give any indication as to the nature of the citizenship of the 1,800 people who are on the Falkland Islands? Are they long-term residents? How many were born there? How many went there during their lifetime?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if I may, I shall reply to my noble friend in more detail by letter, because I have not got the details to answer that question. The information I have, if I may repeat what I said in my right honourable friend's Statement, is that the latest group of inhabitants of the islands who have come to Montevideo are almost all—in fact, maybe all—not permanent residents of the islands.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, while all of us will wish the Foreign Secretary every success in his endeavours, the almost unconditional support that he has received from the Opposition Benches is not entirely reflected in the country? Is he further aware that the note of questioning which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, introduced into his question just now was a welcome development? Is it not the case that the Foreign Secretary must bear in mind, when he deals with this matter, that the Falkland islanders have been misled over a period by the impression which has been given to them by successive Governments that we have both the will and the intention to maintain a permanent force located in the South Atlantic? Is it not the case that we have no such intention, and the negotiations must take place with that in mind?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as I understand the noble Lord, he says that the parliamentary support for the Government which has been shown in both Houses is not reflected in the rest of the country. I must, without more ado, refute that allegation. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, although often we disagree, is I think fair in the comments that he makes, and I am sure he would agree that Her Majesty's Government are acting in good faith. Through Mr. Haig's efforts progress has been made, and as the Statement has explained we are building on this. We have in the forefront of our minds the need not to jeopardise such progress, and I cannot at the moment say more in detail about that. However, I think the country is very well seized of the issues which are at stake and I believe it would be the overwhelming view of the people of this country that the hands of our forces should not be tied from taking any actions which may be necessary for the safety, survival and, if it comes to it, the ultimate success of this matter in the interests of this country.

Lord Morris

My Lords, bearing in mind the legal and moral right and duty one has to defend oneself, may I ask whether my noble friend would agree that for anyone to suggest, least of all the Argentinian junta, that the progress of the British task force is an act of war, is nothing if not a monstrous impertinence?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Morris that under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter we are acting legally in doing what we feel we have to do.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, has the Minister's attention been drawn to an admirable leading article in the Daily Telegraph this morning which shares the objection of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, to the use of the word "paramount" to describe the wishes of the inhabitants? It says: Of course … the inhabitants' … wishes are uppermost. There are now seen to be other matters of at least equal, if not greater, importance". Is the noble Lord aware that that view of the Daily Telegraph is very commonsensical and is widely shared by people who have the interests of the inhabitants closely at heart?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I accept that the noble Lord is speaking in absolute good faith and with the wish to support the best interests of this country, but I have nothing to add to what I have already said in answer to that question.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, while fully endorsing what my noble friend said in wishing the Foreign Secretary well, may I ask whether the Government have considered another option which I have not heard mentioned throughout all the discussions on the Falklands? In view of our great success in the last two decades in granting independence to very small communities in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, may I ask whether the Government have considered the possibility of granting independence to the Falklands, provided there could be built into the instrument of independence a threefold pact subscribed to by Britain, the Argentine and maybe the United States guaranteeing independence permanently, guaranteeing aid to develop the resources of the islands and guaranteeing a scheme for immigration to the islands from the Argentine and elsewhere? By doing that, we should be satisfying the United Nations demand that we decolonise the islands and we should also be ensuring that the islanders did not come under Argentine rule. After all, if the Isle of Man can govern itself, surely the Falkland Islands could.

Lord Belstead

I shall certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to that suggestion, my Lords. As the House is well aware, we are at the moment in the process of putting proposals through Mr. Haig and, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in the House of Commons yesterday, it is better not to get the wires crossed while that particular action is going ahead.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, would my noble friend agree, while recognising that the views of the islanders are certainly very important, that British views in general may not always coincide with the views of the islanders and that British long-term considerations and our overall policy, not only in the South Atlantic but in Latin America as a whole, should be taken into consideration?

Lord Belstead

I repeat, my Lords, that we are acting in good faith, that progress is being made and that we are building as best we can on that. This afternoon I really cannot go further than that.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, may I ask the Minister how we are to reconcile our views on this issue with Mr. Haig's efforts and American feelings in this matter?

Lord Belstead

Once again, my Lords, the proposals which were put to Mr. Haig from Buenos Aires were Argentine proposals. There were aspects of those proposals which Her Majesty's Government have felt it was not possible to accept. We have now put, or are in the process of putting, proposals to Mr. Haig, and that of course is the purpose of my right honourable friend's visit to Washington tomorrow. I do not think that at the moment, in these difficult and delicate matters, we can go further than that.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, when peace has been secured, could the Government emphasise that Britain has a unique capability to develop the potential—not just in the fishing field but in the underwater mineral sphere—over the next 30 years of the areas around the Falkland Islands and that we should be happy to be associated, after peace is secured, with the Argentine and perhaps others in bringing that potential to fruition, thus improving the lot of the Falkland Islands and the general wealth of that area?

Lord Belstead

I am grateful to my noble friend for asking that, my Lords, because it enables me to underline the third of the three points with which the Government believe that any negotiations that are to be concluded satisfactorily must deal; namely, the framework of the negotiations on the long-term solution to the dispute for which the United Nations resolution calls.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I am tempted to answer what is turning into a debate, so many points have arisen. I have a number of points I should like to make, but at the moment we are concerned to express our support.

Lord Belstead

I am grateful to the noble Lord, my Lords, and, if the House will not think me evasive or unhelpful, I think there is little else I could add this afternoon to my right honourable friend's Statement.