HL Deb 15 June 1982 vol 431 cc536-43

3.37 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, before I repeat the Statement, I think that it might be helpful to some members of the House if I say, on behalf of the Chairman of Committees, that in view of the Statement, it is proposed that the meeting of the Offices Committee which was to have taken place at four o'clock should now take place immediately after the Statement.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the Falkland Islands being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"Early this morning in Port Stanley 74 days after the Falkland Islands were invaded, General Moore accepted from General Menendez the surrender of all the Argentine forces in East and West Falkland together with their arms and equipment. In a message to the Commander-in-Chief Fleet, General Moore reported: 'The Falkland Islands are once more under the Government desired by their inhabitants. God Save The Queen'. "General Menendez has surrendered some 11,000 men in Port Stanley and some 2,000 in West Falkland. In addition we had already captured and were holding elsewhere on the island 1,800 prisoners, making in all some 15,000 prisoners of war now in our hands.

"The advance of our forces in the last few days is the culmination of a determined military effort to compel the Argentine Government to withdraw its forces from the Falkland Islands.

"On the night of Friday, 11th June, men of 42 and 45 Commandos and the 3rd Battaiion the Parachute Regiment, supported by elements of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, mounted an attack on Argentine positions on Mount Harriet, Two Sisters and Mount Longdon. They secured all their objectives, and during the next day consolidated their positions in the face of continuing resistance.

"I regret to inform the House that five Royal Marines, 18 Paratroopers and two Royal Engineers lost their lives in these engagements. Their families are being informed. Seventy-two Marines and Paratroopers were wounded. We have no details of Argentine casualties. Hundreds of prisoners and large quantities of equipment were taken in these operations. The land operations were supported by Harrier attacks and naval gunfire from ships of the task force which made a major contribution to the success of our troops. In the course of the bombardment, however, HMS ' Glamorgan ' was hit by enemy fire. We now know that 13 of the crew died in this attack or are missing.

"Throughout Sunday, 13th June, the 3rd Commando Brigade maintained pressure on the enemy from their newly secured forward positions. Meanwhile men of the 5th Infantry Brigade undertook reconnaisance missions in preparation for the next phase of the operations. HMS ' Hermes' flew her 1,000th Sea Harrier mission since leaving the United Kingdom.

" The Argentines mounted two air raids that day. The first was turned back by Harriers of the task force before it could reach the Falklands. In the second raid A4 aircraft made an unsuccessful bombing run and one Mirage aircraft was shot down.

" During the night of Sunday, 13th June, the second phase of the operations commenced. The 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment secured Wireless Ridge and the 2nd Battalion the Scots Guards took Tumbledown Mountain by first light on Monday 14th June. The First Battalion of the 7th Gurkha Rifles advanced on Mount William. At 2 o'clock London time large numbers of Argentine troops were reported to be retreating from Mount William, Sapper Hill and Moody Brook in the direction of Port Stanley. British forces pressed forward to the outskirts of Port Stanley. Large numbers of Argentines threw down their weapons and surrendered. " At 4 o'clock the Argentine garrison indicated its willingness to talk. Orders were given to our forces to fire only in self-defence. Shortly before 5 o'clock a white flag appeared over Port Stanley.

" Initial contact was made with the enemy by radio. By midnight General Moore and General Menendez were talking. The surrender of all the Argentine forces on East and West Falkland was agreed at 1 a.m. today. Some of our forces are proceeding to West Falkland to organise the surrender of the Argentine forces there.

" We are now tackling urgently the immense practical problems of dealing with the Argentine prisoners on the islands. The weather conditions are severe, permanent accommodation is very limited, and much of the temporary accommodation which we had hoped to use was lost when the ' Atlantic Conveyor' was sunk on 25th May. We have already repatriated to Argentina almost 1,400 prisoners, and the further 15,000 now in our custody are substantially more than we had expected. With the help of the International Red Cross, we are taking urgent steps to safeguard these prisoners and hope to evacuate them as soon as possible from the islands, in accordance with our responsibilities under the Geneva Convention. This is a formidable task.

" We have today sent to the Argentine Government, through the Swiss Government, a message seeking confirmation that Argentina, like Britain, considers all hostilities between us in the South Atlantic—and not only on the islands themselves—to be at an end. It is important that this should be established with clarity and without delay.

" We must now bring life in the islands back to normal as quickly as possible despite the difficult conditions and the onset of the Antarctic winter. Mines must be removed; the water supply in Stanley is not working: there will be other urgent tasks of repair and reconstruction.

" Mr. Rex Hunt and members of the Islands Council at present in this country will return as soon as possible. Mr. Hunt will concentrate on civilian matters. General Moore will be responsible for military matters. They will in effect act as Civil and Military Commissioners and will of course work in the closest co-operation.

"After all that has been suffered it is too early to look much beyond the beginning of the return to normal life. In due course the islanders will be able to consider and express their views about the future. When the time is right we can discuss with them ways of giving their elected representatives an expanded role in the government of the islands.

" We shall uphold our commitment to the security of the islands. If necessary we shall do this alone. But I do not exclude the possibility of associating other countries with their security. Our purpose is that the Falkland Islands should never again be a victim of unprovoked aggression.

"Recognising the need for economic development, I have asked Lord Shackleton to update his 1976 report on the economic potential of the islands. He has agreed to do this as a matter of urgency. I am most grateful to him.

"Mr. Speaker, the House will join me in expressing our deep sense of loss over those who have died, and our sorrow for their families. The final details will not become clear for a few days yet, but we know that some 250 British servicemen and civilians have been killed. They died that others may live in freedom and justice.

"The battle of the Falklands was a remarkable military operation, boldly planned, bravely executed, and brilliantly accomplished. We owe an enormous debt to the British forces and to the Merchant Marine. We honour them all. They have been supported by a people united in defence of our way of life and of our sovereign territory ".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Baroness. This is a moment, not for discussion in detail but of pride, of congratulation and, indeed, of sorrow. I think that as British people we are entitled to feel pride at the performance of our armed forces; at the planning, the excellence of the General Staff in these matters, and of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We learned during the last war that there were such animals as competent generals and air marshals. They have shown this again on this occasion; and they have achieved it with a loss of life which, though tragic, is extraordinarily small when one thinks of the enormous numbers who were opposed.

The principle has been clear to the great majority of people in this country, and I think is accepted by most Members of this House, that armed aggression must not be rewarded but must be resisted. The lives that have been lost on this occasion may have the effect of saving many other lives in the future, not only in this part of the world but in other parts of the world, because it shows that in the last resort, however delayed, however indifferent in the early stages, we are prepared to stand up for what we believe to be right; and we are fortified in this by the knowledge that this has been conducted fully in accordance with international law.

We would obviously wish to send the greatest sympathy to those who have suffered the loss of their husbands and children, and to those who are suffering the wounds that have followed. It is quite remarkable how competent and how expert has been the whole of this operation. I do not myself propose to ask any questions today; there will perhaps be other opportunities. It seems to us that the Government have taken the only possible course—the need to restore a joint military and civilian administration. I am grateful for the remarks about myself, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peart for allowing me, despite the fact that in a sense I am working for the Prime Minister, to speak on this occasion because of my long-felt commitment in this matter.

I think that one of the most important points the noble Baroness made, or the Prime Minister made in another place, is that the islanders must be given enough time to think out their own future. The presence of a military garrison—and that seems to be inevitable—will have a profound effect upon the life of the islanders, and it could be for good or for had. I am sure there will he great attention given to this.

I should like to ask just one question. I hope that, because of the long-term importance of the whole area and in the light of the continued aggressive policies followed by the Argentines in regard to the Antarctic, we will not forget that South Thule is still in their possession. Our sovereignty must be reasserted there, and I hope that the argument about the end of hostilities, which we hope so much will be accepted by the Argentinians, will not prevent the reassertion of our sovereignty over those islands. There are also some very isolated communities like Sedge Island, some distance to the North of the Falklands, where there is a farmer, if he has not been evacuated. I am sure that the Government will consider carefully what immediate aid will he given to him. I am sure that the presence of the army with their great efficiency could be very much to the benefit of the islanders.

I would end by saying again for those who feel that war is never acceptable that many of us still share the suffering at the loss of life. We can only repeat what the Prime Minister said, and I think it is an occasion when we can afford to use this language: they died that others might live in freedom and justice.

Lord Byers

My Lords, from those Benches I should like to endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. I should like also to express our gratitude to all of those who helped bring this enterprise to a successful conclusion. Our extremely brave troops and their civilian colleagues command the admiration of the free world for what they have achieved. I think we ought to acknowledge the vital importance of the steadfast actions of the Prime Minister over the last 10 weeks. We mourn those who died and we extend our sympathy to the bereaved and to the wounded.

I hope that the free world will not soon forget that our people have fought for the principle that aggression cannot be tolerated as a means of settling disputes. No civilised country should be forced alone to uphold this principle. There must be a better way to settle international differences than through the loss of life. I should like to ask the noble Baroness one question. If the Argentines do not accept that all hostilities are ended, as we have asked them to confirm, shall we still return the prisoners to the Argentine?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank both noble Lords for their very kind remarks. I think that we all recognise with great pride the achievement of our servicemen. It has been a quite remarkable exercise and I am sure that all Members of the House and the country send their deepest sympathies to those families who have suffered the loss of relatives in the fighting. I should also like to say that I think it has been important that we all have been agreed on the principle for which we have been fighting; namely, that aggressors must be deterred. This has been a fundamental point in the whole of the crisis over the Falkland Islands.

On behalf of these Benches, I should very much like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, personally, and his noble friend Lord Stewart of Fulham, who also has frequently taken part in these debates, for their support in this House. It has been enormously valuable in the House of Lords, but it has been valuable in a wider context throughout Parliament and the country, showing the constructive nature of the debates here and the valuable discussions that we can have, and that, although we may have our disagreements, we can discuss our differences in a constructive way.

I am quite sure that we are all pleased that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to help in this particular way. The noble Lord asked me a specific question about South Thule. My information is that the Argentinians are still there; that the cease-fire—in fact, the unconditional surrender—applies to the East and West Falklands; that we are currently in communication about the final cessation of hostilities which we would expect to include South Thule and the dependencies of the Falkland Islands.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for his remarks, particularly his generous remarks about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I think we all have thought that her steadfastness and courage shown throughout this long nine weeks has been quite outstanding, and we are grateful for his generous remarks on this occasion. On the question of prisoners, we hope that we shall have a cessation of hostilities throughout the South Atlantic, but the prisoners are already being returned and they will all be returned to the Argentine.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, my colleagues, the SDP Peers, wish to join in the well-deserved congratulations now being given to our forces who have fought so well and so hard some 8,000 miles away from their homeland. We would wish also to add our congratulations to the Prime Minister and the Government on the successful handling of this problem, which was not of their choice, caused by the invasion of the Falkland Islands some 10 weeks ago. We hope that in their jubilation the Government and the country will remember those who gave their lives and those who were wounded. I hope that the Government will agree with the whole of the country that the loved ones and relatives of these men should be treated with great kindness, understanding and great generosity.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, the Statement repeated by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will have given universal satisfaction, confirming, as it has, the total surrender of the Argentine forces; proud satisfaction, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, at the achievement of our services. I think we are in this situation because the Prime Minister and the Government in very difficult circumstances gave a decisive lead, because the country did not lose its nerve, and because our armed forces carried out their tasks according to the highest traditions of all the services. We have been able to prove what we said at the start, that we in this country will not allow aggression to pay whenever we have a chance to thwart it.

I have no question to ask, but I would echo something said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I have a feeling that both we in this country and the people of the Falkland Islands are going to be subjected to a barrage of advice from some well-wishers, and from some who do not wish us so well, as to what should happen in the long term. I am sure that my noble friend will confirm that the Government will give the Falkland islanders plenty of time to rebuild their country and their economy and to consider, without pressures of any kind from outside, the kind of future they want to lead. It is a terrible experience to have been occupied by an enemy power and I think that time is essential in this case. 1 should like to add my congratulations to the Government and to everybody concerned.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Home for his very kind and helpful remarks. I am sure that his advice on the next steps is very wise. Indeed, there is now a tremendous amount of work to be done in the Falkland Islands on clearing up the effects of the Argentine occupation and the fighting which has taken place on the East Falklands. Our first need is to restore as quickly as possible a normal way of life for the islanders, and then I think it is right that we should consult them about their wishes for the future.

4 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, we on these Benches would very much like to be associated with what has been said so well by noble Lords on the other side of the House, and of course to express on this day of liberation and rejoicing our very deep sympathy with those for whom it is also a day of mourning. We are particularly glad that the initiative for the cease-fire was made by the British commander and we can be thankful it met with such a quick response.

The world will never know how much the Pope's visit to Argentina contributed to that response. We can only be thankful for his courage in visiting Argentina after his visit to Britain. The principle of self-determination having been upheld, one of our main concerns must surely now be that the Falkland islanders, remote as they are from these islands, are helped to have positive and creative relationships with their neighbours in the South Atlantic, whatever the future form of government may be.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate for his kind remarks. We shall never know what direct influence the Pope's visit had in these particular matters. But it is something to give us all cause for thought that the visits both here and to Argentina took place and were so much appreciated by our population. I am quite sure that the right reverend Prelate is right in saying not only that aggressors should be deterred but that the principles of rights of self-determination have been upheld in this whole conflict, and it is very important and gratifying that we have brought it to a successful conclusion.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, there is an understandable air of euphoria about because of the result of this campaign; but as the the noble Baroness has said, there are regrettable casualties. Let us face the fact that there are over 1,000 dead that have to be decently buried. Such was the human cost of victory for us and defeat for others.

Is the noble Baroness aware that apart from any decision that the Government may make about any bodies being brought home, there is already a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the Falkland Islands? The mass burial as shown on ITV news last night—which I deplore and which cannot bring any comfort to the relatives—is only a temporary issue. Each man will be decently buried with an individual headstone and, if required, a family message on it. I speak as a commissioner of the War Graves Commission. Relatives may be assured that their dear one's last resting place will be maintained with ever-loving care.

There is another point to this—and I must be forgiven for raising it. So far as the Argentine dead are concerned, they must be given the same reverent treatment. Will the Government negotiate on this matter with the Argentine authorities? After all, irrespective of our political views one way or the other, all of these men paid the supreme sacrifice.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am quite sure that what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said is very important, and it follows very much what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said earlier on in another place when answering questions which clearly are of great concern to families who have lost relatives. May I confirm what the noble Lord has said and make it quite clear that what was shown on television last night was a military burial. However, of course, it will be followed by a burial in a cemetery, and indeed the War Graves Commission have long experience of looking after in perfect condition the cemeteries of those who have died overseas in battle. Relatives can be assured that their loved ones will be looked after in perpetuity in a very satisfactory way.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said at the time when she answered questions before that we would use all efforts to enable relatives who wished to visit the graves of their loved ones in the Falklands to have financial help in order to do so. I am sure that once the immediate difficulties are cleared up and once the whole position is clarified, these things will happen as quickly as possible.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will my noble friend please give a thought to the possibility of giving a campaign star for this particular operation which has been more than Napoleonic, more than Alexandrene, in its conception?—8 battalions, 8,000 miles away have defeated 15,000 men in 10 weeks. This is a phenomenal military achievement, probably without parallel in the annals of arms. I hope there will not only be a campaign star, but I sincerely hope battle honours as well on the colours of those regiments involved.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that suggestion which I shall certainly pass on to my noble friend the Secretary of State for Defence.