HL Deb 04 May 1982 vol 429 cc1064-80

4 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:

"Since we debated the Falklands crisis last Thursday, there have been some notable military achievements. My right honourable friend will report on these in a few minutes. Meanwhile, I wish to pay tribute to the efficiency and courage of our forces. Our relief that British lives have not been lost is inevitably tempered by our deep regret at Argentine casualties. I know the whole House would wish to be associated with these sentiments.

"These military achievements have been in support of our overall strategy; they have not been and will not become a substitute for it. As the House knows, we are maintaining the maximum pressure on Argentina in the diplomatic, economic and military fields with the objective of securing Argentine withdrawal at the earliest possible moment in compliance with the mandatory resolution of the United Nations Security Council.

"The military pressure we have exercised has been challenged despite our clear warnings and our desire to use the minimum force. Our response in the circumstances was as inevitable as it was right. But I can assure the House that what we are seeking is not the military humiliation of Argentina but a victory for the rule of law in international affairs.

"Since the House last met, I have visited Washington and New York to reinforce our diplomatic efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement as soon as possible. I had extensive talks with Secretary Haig. These covered the diplomatic, economic and military dimensions of the crisis.

"On the diplomatic side, Mr. Haig made it clear that, just as we have not abandoned our diplomatic endeavours following Argentina's rejection of the earlier American proposals, nor has he. We discussed a range of ideas for a settlement. We are continuing our work with all urgency.

"As the House will be aware, other Governments have also been active in promoting a settlement. We welcome this and are in close touch with them.

"We are therefore working actively on various ideas, including those put forward by the President of Peru. I can assure the House that we are losing no time in developing our thoughts about them and communicating our own constructive views to those concerned. The framework for a settlement remains as I have outlined it to the House.

"Proposals are needed which cover the essential elements of Resolution 502—withdrawal, and negotiations on the future, unprejudiced in any way. They must also address the interim arrangements and guarantees required.

"On the economic front, Mr. Haig described the measures which the United States have recently announced. They are a tangible sign of American support for our cause. I know that the Americans have not closed their mind to additional steps.

"On the military front, Mr. Haig and Mr. Weinberger confirmed that they are ready to provide material support for our forces and I welcomed this. We are following it up in detail, and urgently.

"In New York I discussed diplomatic possibilities with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and with the President of the Security Council. I made it clear to them that our immediate concern is the implementation of Security Council Resolution 502; and that we are open to any ideas which would achieve this on a satisfactory basis, namely, an Argentine withdrawal followed by negotiations on the longer-term solution without prejudice to basic principles.

"We were able to consider together the various possible ways of involving the United Nations. We recognised that a solution will require not only the right ideas but the right timing and the right sequence of events. I know that the Secretary-General is in touch with the Argentine Government. The burden of compliance with what has already been decided of course rests squarely with them.

"It must not be forgotten that we remain the victims of a totally unprovoked act of aggression in defiance of the United Nations Charter. We are seeking to ensure that Argentina does not profit from aggression and to uphold the rule of law in international affairs. This is an interest which all members of the United Nations must share. Our resolve should not be doubted. Neither should our readiness to talk and our will for peace."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement to us, and I believe that we shall all want to be associated with what was said early in the Statement about the efficiency and courage of our forces, our relief that there were no casualties among them and our deep regret at the Argentine casualties. I do not wish to press any further questions about those military aspects, because I think they will arise more properly on the next Statement, except for this: It has been reported in some quarters of the press that the action taken with regard to the cruiser "General Belgrano" is losing us support in the United States and in the European Community. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could make any comment which is possible about the truth of reports of that kind.

He will realise that we are all glad to notice the repeated stress that was laid in the Statement on the search for a negotiated settlement, a phrase that General Haig himself has stressed. It was mentioned that we are examining ideas from many sources, including those from the President of Peru. Is it possible for the House to be told a little more about the nature of those proposals—and possibly some of the others which the Government are considering? I think it would be generally agreed that Parliament is in something of a difficulty in having to discuss this whole matter without very precise knowledge, or very full knowledge, of what possibilities are open to the Government.

There is one other diplomatic move I should like to ask about. It is possible for the Secretary-General of the United Nations to work by using his good offices if both the parties to a dispute ask him to do so. It is reported that the Argentinian Foreign Minister has asked him to do so. May I ask whether our Foreign Secretary has made a similar approach to the Secretary-General? Finally, I notice that the Statement ended with the words: Our resolve should not be doubted. Neither should our readiness to talk and our will for peace". Will the noble Lord and the Government accept that the prospect of having a united nation with them on this matter does depend on their following out both clauses of that final statement to the full?

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, I should like first of all to associate myself and my colleagues on these Benches with the tribute that was paid to the great efficiency and courage of our forces on the spot by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. I thank the noble Lord the Minister of State for repeating the Statement. There has been very little time to consult my colleagues and therefore what I have to say during the course of my few short remarks should not necessarily be taken as the considered policy of the Liberal Party. Subject to that, I should like to make two brief points.

My first point is that I believe the possibility of an early agreement on any long term solution, or indeed on any solution of a United Nations character, would be very difficult for various reasons—whether it took the form of some suggestions for a force or for a trusteeship arrangement, or whatever. Indeed, it would be impossible to arrive at in the comparatively near future, or at any rate during such time as the task force may be expected to remain in the Roaring Forties. I agree, however, that there may well be some role for the Secretary-General, if both sides wish it, as some form of mediator as soon as negotiations start.

The second point I should like to make is perhaps more controversial. I think we all agree that the more lives which are lost—and I believe this was a point touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham—in settling this dispute, the more unpopular, rightly or wrongly, we shall become with large sections of public opinion both here and abroad. This may be unjust and it may even be illogical, I agree. But it is, I fear, a fact. So, in these circumstances, must we still insist on what might be called the unconditional surrender of the Argentinian troops on the islands and thus of the Argentinian Government? Or should we rather be concerned, while of course ensuring a victory for the rule of law, as was said in the Statement, with the possibility of in some way saving the face of the Argentinian junta?

As we all know, there is in existence what might be called, and has been called, the "Haig Plan" for a peaceful settlement of the dispute which at least the United States Government itself apparently regards as reasonable. We all know that this has been turned down by the Argentinian Government. I am not sure whether it was turned down by us, but we certainly did not regard it with any great favour. Supposing this plan was submitted to the Security Council and the Security Council passed a resolution recommending it, or even insisting upon its adoption, should we necessarily veto it on the grounds that it offended against first principles? Should we, in other words, continue to insist on unconditional surrender even if such a resolution of the Security Council was reluctantly accepted by the Argentinian Government?

4.13 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if I may, I shall reply to both noble Lords, for whose response to my right honourable friend's Statement I am grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, asked about the reaction in the United States and the European Community to the latest events since your Lordships' House last met. First of all, I will record that we have the full support of the United States Government in our objective of undoing the Argentinians' aggression. The Americans entirely agree with the importance of our maintaining pressure, including by military means, on the Argentinians. At the same time, they share our belief that we must induce the Argentinians to return as soon as possible to the negotiating table to work out a solution to the crisis. I say that in the light of the discussions which my right honourable friend had in the United States over the weekend.

So far as the European Community is concerned, the import ban operated by the European Community expires on 16th May. If there is no negotiated solution before then, it would be natural for the European Community to renew that ban.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, asked me about the nature of the proposals from the President of Peru. I regret as much as anyone that at the moment it really is not possible to be able to reveal those proposals. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, who has given very wise advice throughout this very difficult crisis, will be the first to understand the difficulty which we feel there would be if the nature of any of these proposals was revealed at the present time.

The noble Lords, Lord Stewart of Fulham and Lord Gladwyn, both referred to the United Nations. The position so far as the United Nations is concerned (which of course formed a most important part of my right honourable friend's visit to the United States) is that both my right honourable friend and the Secretary-General agreed that there could be an important role for the United Nations and they both intended to maintain the closest possible contact. Indeed, our permanent representative Sir Anthony Parsons is already in daily touch with the Secretary-General.

In answer to the direct question I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—do we insist on the terms we have been putting forward as a necessary precondition for a solution of this matter?—so far as the Haig Plan was concerned, the Argentinians simply did not accept those terms. We said in Statements made in both Houses that we saw difficulties with those terms but we never got so far as giving an official and direct reply because the Argentinians refused to do so. We still see as being two absolutely necessary preconditions for a settlement, Argentinian withdrawal and self-determination.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, in view of press reports which are currently appearing on the tape, will the noble Lord ask his right honourable friend, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, to continue to reiterate the basic statement of facts, especially to our European partners, who the press suggests, are moving their ground slightly? The basic fact is that the Argentinian Government were the aggressors in occupying our territory with forces which were vastly superior to the number of occupants of British nationality on the islands, and that they were overwhelmingly condemned by the United Nations for so doing.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and indeed we will continue to do everything we can in this respect. I think there will be important points in this respect, so far as the military situation is concerned, when my noble friend Lord Trenchard comes to make his Statement.

Lord George-Brown

My Lords, the noble Lord used two quite different phrases, one at the beginning and one at the end of his remarks, in his references to our devotion to a negotiated settlement. The earlier phrase that he used, and I think I quote him exactly, referred to seeking a settlement, unfettered in any way". The later phrase that he used towards the end of his Statement was, and again I believe that I quote his words exactly, without prejudice to basic principles". May I ask the Minister how this applies, first, to sovereignty and, secondly and much more importantly, to the repeated statements by the Prime Minister about the paramountcy of the islanders' view? If the negotiated settlement we are seeking is to be "unfettered in any way", does that mean that it is to be unfettered by any claim to paramountcy of the islanders' view? If it is without prejudice to basic principles, does that mean that we are not seeking to raise the issue of claiming sovereignty ourselves? It seems to me, if I may say so—taking, as I do, basically the unpopular view—very important that we should be very clear. If we mean we are seeking a negotiated settlement unfettered in any way, we should leave our Continental partners in no doubt, the Americans in no doubt, and if we are seeking it without prejudice to basic principles we should spell out precisely what we mean by that.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I would only repeat what I said a little while ago in answer to the noble Lords, Lord Stewart and Lord Gladwyn, that the two prime requirements for a settlement are withdrawal of the Argentinian forces and then the assurance that the wishes and interests of the islanders should be taken fully into account in any final settlement because of the importance of the principle of self-determination. I put it in a slightly different way in answer to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye when we debated the matter last Thursday, when I said in effect that we must surely do everything in our power to apply the principle of self-determination here.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, the situation in the South Atlantic is bound to change from week to week and day to day; certain things will happen from time to time which will be unsettling to public opinion and the public may well be confused. Therefore, I welcome very much the statements constantly made by the Foreign Secretary, and repeated in the Statement today, of the position in international law. There are three matters which seem to me to be constant as of today; that the Argentinian occupation of the Falkland Islands is illegal and people should understand that; that they have been ordered to withdraw from the islands by the Security Council, which is the world authority; that they have not done so, and that as long as they have not done so the British Government are entitled to try in any way they can to see that the people of the Falkland Islands are released from this occupation. I think if we can remember those three things all through this very unsettling period in which we are going to be, then we shall be steadfast and we shall be able to judge the day-to-day events in proper perspective. We shall go on in a moment—I am afraid I have to leave—talking about the casualties, but I think it is worth remembering in this respect that the Argentinians can end that situation tomorrow by withdrawing.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Home for reminding us of the basic principles upon which we are resolved to follow this matter through to a just and peaceful solution.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister three questions. First, in view of the very welcome emphasis on the statement that we are active in diplomatic negotiations, would he correct the statement on BBC yesterday and in the press this morning that the Foreign Secretary urged that United Nations activity should be postponed in order that we might take military action? Secondly, may I ask the noble Lord this: in the discussions with the Secretary-General, did the Foreign Secretary discuss with the United Nations its plan for a settlement of this problem? And did that plan include, one, United Nations presence in the Falkland Islands possibly leading to United Nations' peace-keeping forces, two, United Nations supervision of a referendum of the view of the islanders, and, three, leading to, as Resolution 502 required, direct negotiations between this country and Argentina? Thirdly, may I ask this; is it not the case that our European partners, West Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain, have all expressed disappointment that this country has not carried out the order of Resolution 502, that there should be a cessation of hostilities, and is it not likely now that they will modify their sanctions against Argentina in consequence?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord asked me to correct a report which the noble Lord said was on the BBC and in the press, that my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary had urged that United Nations activity should be postponed so that this country could take military action. I am not aware of any such urging, and I am not aware that such statements, which I have not in fact seen, are accurate. But I think it is right for me to repeat that bit of my right honourable friend's Statement which said—and my right honourable friend was referring to himself and the Secretary-General and also to the President of the Security Council— We recognise that a solution will require not only the right ideas but the right timing and the right sequence of events". That means that both in the United Nations and so far as my right honourable friend is concerned there was an agreement that these things have to come in the right order and have to be dealt with sensitively. In trying to deal with these things sensitively, I am sure your Lordships would not expect me to answer the second question which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, put, which asked for various details of any plans put forward by the United Nations. I mean no discourtesy to the noble Lord. The talks which my right honourable friend had with the United Nations Secretary-General were extremely valuable, but I am not at liberty to reveal any of the details. So far as the attitude of our European partners is concerned, I have already replied to that.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, in the light of that reply, may I ask one question. When are we likely to reach the conclusion that we have exhausted every possibility of a negotiated settlement? Are we fixing any time? Is it to be weeks, or months? Or are we to depend on what is described as world opinion? Or are we to depend on the inactivity and possibly the inability of the United Nations? When are we going to come to a conclusion that having exhausted every possibility of a settlement through the United States and the United Nations we have to take military action?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I absolutely understand why the noble Lord asks this question, because I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has in mind not only the interests of this country but also the conditions which our men are facing in the task force in the South Atlantic. So I absolutely take the point which the noble Lord puts. The end of my right honourable friend's Statement said that our readiness to talk and our will for peace should not be doubted. Bearing in mind that this is still going to lay upon us further burdens, in trying to see that this matter is resolved properly, the Statement also said that our resolve should not be doubted.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, may I please ask the Government one question. I ask the question on the assumption that the Government accept that propaganda is a weapon of modern warfare. Propaganda can be truth and can do good. Propaganda can be complete fabrication and can be wrong, but nevertheless may help those whom we are up against. At the moment I fear that the Argentine propaganda is extraordinarily powerful within its own boundaries and possibly spreading outside them to other countries which are sympathetic, to various degrees, to its cause, to its beliefs. Is it possible for Her Majesty's Government to develop this propaganda weapon to a greater degree than at present, on our side? I believe that the BBC service to the Argentine has ceased, or anyhow it is being jammed. But there must be other centres of dissemination of information. There are our friends in other parts of the world—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. However, I wonder if he would be good enough to ask a question because a number of noble Lords want to get in?

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, we have friends in other parts of the world who have radio centres. Could we not approach our friends in America and in other parts of the world to be hospitable to our propaganda to a greater degree than at present?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye is right in the underlying apprehension in his question, in that there is jamming of BBC broadcasts to Latin America. As I understand it, the jamming is of the broadcasts in Spanish to Latin America and since this clearly contravenes the International Telecommunications Union Convention we are lodging a strong protest with the Argentine authorities through the Brazilian Embassy in London and asking the Swiss Government to do the same through their Embassy in Buenos Aires. I should add that we have no reports of interference with the BBC World Service in English. Meanwhile, as my noble friend probably knows, we have stepped up our broadcasts to the Falklands which are being received direct because the relay station there, of course, has also been cut off. May I add to what I have said that, although I understand my noble friend's apprehension, let us just take heart from what has, in fact, happened. I think that our case has gone across. All the developed countries of the Western world have supported us and now we have alongside us the United States and we also have Japan taking economic sanctions against the Argentine, a country which until this particular moment had not, in fact, taken that move.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would not the noble Lord accept that the worst possible propaganda for us at this time is excessive loss of life even if, up to this moment, that loss of life has been Argentinian rather than our own? Will the noble Lord he good enough to answer a question which his noble friend felt was inappropriate on an earlier occasion—and that is, will the Government, in order to prevent further loss of life, now propose an immediate ceasefire?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to the first of the noble Lord's questions is that I repeat that the Government deeply regret the loss of life which has been incurred. The answer to the second question of the noble Lord is, No.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the occupation of these British islands was very carefully planned by the Argentine dictators and that what has proceeded from there is very much their responsibility? Therefore, would not Her Majesty's Government accept that any future interim arrangements for discussions must not endanger in any way the lives of British servicemen which then, in turn, could endanger the lives of Argentinian servicemen as well, and make the situation even worse? There is another serious question which I believe has not been asked yet. Can the noble Lord say what arrangements are being made for British people in the Argentine to represent to Her Majesty's Government any difficulties that they might incur and who is looking after their interests on our behalf?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as regards the first question of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, we have made clear all along, and I repeat it now again, that we are very ready and, indeed, anxious to enter into interim discussions leading towards final negotiations as has been required by mandatory Resolution 502 of the Security Council of the United Nations. But, first, and in line with Resolution 502, there must be withdrawal of the Argentine forces. So far as the interests of the British people in the Argentine are concerned, they are being looked after by the Swiss Embassy in Buenos Aires.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the people on the Falkland Islands, our own British people, must be longing to be rescued? Will he give an undertaking that no desire for peace and no process of negotiation will delay the happy day when eventually they are relieved from Argentine rule?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we are bending every effort towards that end.

4.35 p.m.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, with the permission of the House I should like to repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement reads as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a Statement about recent naval engagements in the South Atlantic, following the successful operation conducted by our forces to repossess the British sovereign territory of South Georgia.

"In this House on 7th April, I announced that our first naval action would be to deny the Argentine forces on the Falklands the means of sea reinforcement and resupply from the mainland. British submarines have achieved that objective.

"With the arrival of our task force on 30th April our next move was to stop reinforcement and resupply from the air, as well as by sea. Since the passing of Resolution 502, the Argentinians instead of withdrawing, had continuously reinforced the islands. We gave two days' warning to the Argentine Government of the imposition of this total exclusion zone, and our task force is now enforcing it.

"Mr. Speaker—The task force was despatched to the South Atlantic with the support of this House and, I believe, of the country. Since its arrival in these waters our overriding duty has been to protect our task force against attack by Argentine forces.

"We made it very clear to the Argentine Government and to the UN more than a week ago, on 23rd April, that the Government would exercise their rights of self-defence to the full, including the use of force under Article 51 of the UN charter, if this proved necessary to protect our fleet.

"I will now describe the military sequence of events. Air attacks by Vulcan and Sea Harrier aircraft against Port Stanley airfield were launched early on 1st May. The runway was cratered and rendered unuseable by transport aircraft from the Argentine mainland. A further sortie was made today to render the airstrip unusable for light supply, communications and ground attack aircraft operating within the Falkland Islands themselves. The other main airfield on East Falkland at Goose Green has also effectively been put out of action.

"On 1st May the Argentines launched attacks on our ships, during most of the daylight hours; these attacks by Argentine Mirage and Canberra aircraft operating from the mainland were repulsed by British Sea Harriers. Had our Sea Harriers failed to repulse these attacks on the task force, our ships could have been severely damaged or sunk. In fact one Argentine Canberra and one Mirage were shot down, and others were damaged. We believe another Mirage was brought down by Argentine anti-aricraft fire. One of our frigates suffered splinter damage as a result of these air attacks and there was one British casualty whose condition is now satisfactory. All our aircraft returned safely.

"On the same day our forces located and attacked what was believed to be an Argentine submarine which was clearly in a position to torpedo our ships. It is not known if the submarine was hit.

"The prolonged air attack on our ships, the presence of an Argentine submarine close by, and all other information available to us, left us in no doubt of the dangers to our task force from hostile action.

"The next day on 2nd May, at 8 p.m. London time, one of our submarines detected the Argentine cruiser, "General Belgrano", escorted by two destroyers. This heavily armed surface attack group was close to the total exclusion zone and was closing on elements of our task force, which was only hours away.

"We knew that the cruiser itself had substantial fire power provided by 15 six inch guns (with a range of 13 miles) and Seacat anti-aircraft missiles. Together with its escorting destroyers which we believe were equipped with Exocet anti-ship missiles with a range of over 20 miles, the threat to the task forces was such that the task force commander could ignore it only at his peril.

"The House will know that the attack by our submarine involved the capital ship only and not its escorting destroyers so that they would have been able to go to the assistance of the damaged cruiser. We do not know whether they did so—but, in so doing, they would not have been engaged.

On 3rd May, at about 4 a.m. London time, a Sea King helicopter keeping watch against submarine attack around the task force was fired on by an Argentine ocean-going patrol craft. This vessel was then attacked and sunk by a Lynx helicopter, and a second Lynx then came under attack from another Argentine vessel which was itself attacked and damaged.

Mr. Speaker, it must be a matter of deep concern to the House at the loss of life from these engagements including the sinking of the 'General Belgrano' But our first duty must be the protection of our own ships and men. There may be further attacks on our forces—and they must be allowed to act in self-defence. We cannot deny them that right.

Nor must we forget that military action began by an attack on British marines and the forcible seizure of British territory. The way of stopping the fighting forthwith is for the Argentines to withdraw their garrison from the Falkland Islands in compliance with United Nations, Resolution 502".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for the Statements that they have made today. I believe it is important that we should be careful about life being lost; on the other hand, at different times on own naval and army personnel will be subject to terrific danger and we must bear this in mind. I hope that nothing said in this House will endanger them, Naturally, there will be a desire to act in self-defence.

The Mirages which were being engaged were brought down by Argentine anti-aircraft fire. There was only one British casualty, who is now in a serious but not critical condition. This is repeated over and over again. That is why we must be careful. The Argentine cruiser, "General Belgrano", escorted by two destroyers, has come under attack and has been sunk, and there is now a controversy going on. I believe that our Navy has acted correctly and I am certain that no one in this House would seek to do otherwise than admit that they are playing a major part in this area, and we stand by them.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I should like to join in thanking noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for repeating the Statement made in another place. We on these Benches are glad that our forces have been successful in these engagements and that there has been only the one casualty to which reference has been made; we are glad to hear that he is in a satisfactory condition.

However, the possible loss of 600 Argentine lives underlines the extreme gravity of events now taking place in the South Atlantic. Nevertheless, we support the maintenance of the 200-mile zone and we support resistance to any direct threat to it or to the task force. We hope that the Argentine Government will realise that their aggression in the Falklands will not ultimately succeed and that in order to minimise casualties and loss of life they should now negotiate a settlement based on that fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, emphasised a few minutes ago.

As we understand it, the Argentine cruiser was just outside the zone, and I wonder how far beyond the zone the Government are prepared to use force. It would seem possible to interpret a potential threat fairly widely. Is it correct to say—I believe that it is correct to say—that the Argentine cruiser had not actually fired? Finally, has there been any further attack on our force today, as some of the reports which we have seen have suggested?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Peart and Lord Banks, for their general support for my right honourable friend's Statement. They have echoed sentiments which I think both the Statements of my right honourable friends clearly show, and I shall not repeat them. Just to correct the noble Lord, Lord Peart, the latest information—which I included in my Statement—is that the one British casualty is in a satisfactory condition (rather than the words which were in an earlier draft, which I know that the noble Lord has seen).

With regard to the queries of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, about the "General Belgrano"—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, for his support in relation to that threat—we have made clear in successive announcements in declaring these exclusion zones (which I do not think the noble Lord would want me to quote but I can do so) that the declaring of the zones was without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom to take whatever additional measures might be needed in the exercise of its right of self-defence, and also to interpret that to apply to any threat that the commander of our task force might see arising to his task force.

In addition to the words which my right honourable friend has already used, I should like to say that, against the background of the actions of 1st May and against the position and the direction of the attack task group, none of us at the Ministry of Defence has any doubt that a threat was posed and that the commander of the force had no alternative but to react to that threat. I believe that the answer to the noble Lord's specific question is that the submarine did fire first, but that there was no doubt about the threat posed by the position and movement of this attack group with the weaponry that I have described.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, we lament the dead now that they are Argentinian only just as we shall lament them if and when there are British dead as well as Argentinian. We praise the efficacity of our forces in carrying out the task that they have been given. Will the Government take care that the facts they have given this House today—that is, the detailed military history and the detailed justification for each step taken—are laid in as much detail before the leaders of our Western European allies, in the hope that they may fend off a possible change of view in those countries, bearing in mind that those countries backed us first and have undertaken visible economic sacrifice in so doing?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the answer to Lord Kennet's question is, Yes, we are doing just that and will continue to do it. We will continue to make clear to the rest of the world the facts as they become available to us, and we will continue to press them to support our resistance to Argentine aggression, and our pressure for a withdrawal of the Argentine troops.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, if the commander of our submarine HMS "Conqueror" had wanted to be 100 per cent. sure of sinking the cruiser "Belgrano", he could not have used more powerful torpedoes, which I understand was a possibility? Was the reason for using less powerful torpedoes not necessarily to sink the cruiser but to cripple her for several months, and thereby save many lives? If we are engaged in a war—which this is—is it not dangerous to our own soldiers and sailors to fight it with kid gloves on?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, my noble friend is clearly an expert on torpedoes. I believe the torpedoes used were those with which our submarine force is equipped for this purpose. We shall not use more force than is necesssary to put aggressive Argentine forces out of action. Having said that, I also endorse my noble friend's sentiment that it is the duty of the commander to make sure that that force is adequate so that British service lives are not risked.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, can the House be assured that, while all tactical decisions from moment to moment must obviously be taken by the commander on the spot, strategic decisions are still under political control?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, of course that is so. The commander has to have his rules of engagement which put him in a position to protect his task force and carry out his objectives. The objectives and the rules for engagement are laid down by the Prime Minister after consultation with her Cabinet, and will continue so to be. We shall continue at all stages to look for the possibility of returning to a peaceful settlement of this dispute.

Lord Hill-Norton

My Lords, would the noble Viscount confirm to the House, and if possible to the public, that a great change has taken place in maritime warfare since it last took place, to the extent that modern weapons are of very much longer range and very much shorter time of flight, whether they be in or over the sea? Therefore, any task force commander, or any task unit commander, cannot hang about while he evaluates a potential enemy's intentions. Going with that, will he confirm, in view of the last question, that the task force commander's tactical decision that the General Belgrano" was a threat to his force is warmly underwritten by the Government?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, for those questions, and his credentials for making this point are clear to the House. Certainly we shall try to do so well beyond this House, and I hope his questions today will be reported. He is absolutely right that, in this modern, highly sophisticated age of very dangerous weaponry of great range, a commander cannot afford to take chances. I also confirm that the answer to his second question is in the affirmative, too.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, the one piece of news that the noble Viscount gave us was that a further sortie was made today to render the airstrip unusable for light supply, communications and ground attack aircraft. Does he mean that there has been another attack on Port Stanley airfield? I stress "airfield" after the "black" put up by his defence spokesman the other day. Is it being actively used? Are there any results from this? This is the sort of information that we really ought to be given.

I should like to ask a further question in support of the noble and gallant Lord who has just spoken. May I ask the noble Viscount whether he is aware that there is much more information that could be given? We have, I think, on the whole supported the Government pretty strongly in not embarrassing them on this matter. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, could we not have a military spokesman who answers some of the questions? If one looks at the "Belgrano" question it is quite clear that the "Belgrano", described as a capital ship—I do not know whether a light cruiser can be a capital ship; I suppose it can be—was in fact able to provide the air defence to the destroyers with Exocet.

I am 40 years out-of-date on war-making. It is no use me trying to understand these tactical issues, but they could be explained. They could help to alleviate some of the anxiety that this was a piece of almost bloody-mindedness. I think the noble Viscount has already agreed with the noble and gallant Lord, because it is quite clear that the commander in the field must have complete control over the protection and defence of his forces. May I therefore ask the noble Viscount whether there is more information? Was this, in the judgment of the commander, part of a determined task force going to attack our fleet? This information could reasonably be speculated upon.

Could it also be pointed out that the "Belgrano" and her ships were only an hour and a half's steaming from the zone? Ought the Government actually to have proclaimed a wider zone? There are so many questions which I believe could be answered if the Government would show a little more courage. We do not want them to give away secrets, but some of these answers could be given and could relieve some of the anxieties. As noble Lords have said, the noble Viscount must be aware that the sinking of the "Belgrano" has been damaging to our relations with the United States and in Europe, and this could be met by a fuller explanation. It really would be better if we were given this information than that the Defence Secretary should quote Nelson in rather inappropriate circumstances.

I have one final question. Would it be possible for some consideration to be given to joint air/sea rescue operations? This is exceedingly difficult. It was difficult in the last war. Air/sea rescue launches were sometimes attacked, but sometimes they were not, and perhaps some consideration might be given to that matter,

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I take note of the noble Lord's views in relation to information and to putting over very clearly the facts of the military situation as far as we can. I must tell him that large numbers of informed members of the public and others—and he will have seen it in the press—have pressed us to have a more secret operation, and believe that we may already have given too much information to the enemy. The balance between these two views is a difficult one. I do not think the noble Lord would want us to move in any way towards what I would call the Argentinian position. I think most noble Lords would agree that we want to be extremely accurate and extremely careful in what we say; and we certainly do not want in any way to give away information, by inference or in any other way, which may be of value to the Argentines.

I take note of what the noble Lord says about our military spokesman. I do not know whether the noble Lord has read the Guardian this morning, which has given that military spokesman a very good press and very much support, which we welcome.

I am glad the noble Lord stressed the air defence potential of the Argentine cruiser, protected, as it was, by the two destroyers with Exocet. That indeed was a very real factor and no doubt was part of the threat which that attack force clearly posed and which was identified by the British commander. So far as a wider zone is concerned, I think our intentions have been made entirely clear, on two occasions within the zone and on more than one occasion in relation to the protection of the task force itself. I doubt whether definitions of wider zones are appropriate. I certainly take his point on air/sea rescue and will pass it on to my right honourable friend.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount to answer the question about the further attack on the airfield? When did it take place? Was it another of those most remarkable sorties from the Ascension Islands? What damage was done, and were there any casualties?

Viscount Trenchard

I apologise for not answering that, my Lords, but I do not think I can add to what is included in my right honourable friend's Statement. The first attack on Port Stanley airfield left it unusable by transport aircraft from the Argentine mainland. There clearly was some small doubt that for light supply, communications and ground attack aircraft it could perhaps in the future have been used, and the further sortie this morning, about which I am not in a position to give details, was to ensure that its use for those purposes would also be denied.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to clarify one point which seemed to me to be of the utmost importance? Were the destroyers carrying ship-to-ship guided missiles, and was the cruiser there as an escort to guard them against interference from the air? If so, obviously we had to take action, and it puts a totally different complexion on what happened. We have been suffering from propaganda—the gratuitous sinking of an old truck with a lot of men in it—but it is a totally different picture otherwise, one we have not heard before, and surely that should be brought home in our propaganda.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, when the noble Lord comes to read the Statement he will see that it makes clear that the cruiser itself had 15 six-inch guns with a range of 13 miles and Seacat anti-aircraft missiles. Its escorting destroyers were, we believe, equipped with Exocet anti-ship missiles with a range of over 20 miles. That was in the Statement, and was part of the supporting Statement of my right honourable friend, to indicate that there was no question but that the attack group posed a serious threat to our task force.

Lord Paget of Northampton

It does not want to be just in the Statement, my Lords; it needs to be explained and put over because it is vitally important. I certainly did not spot it in the Statement until it was drawn to my attention, and I do not think that 90 per cent. of noble Lords here did either, let alone the public.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that, in so far as the Argentine military junta have no parliament to answer to, if things get difficult they might indulge in a recklessness which could compel us to take equal action, not in a reckless way but to safeguard the British troops in the area? Would it be wise, therefore, for the Government to consider, if it is at all feasible and possible—bearing in mind that we have reporters and television crews on the "Hermes" sending back news—inviting United Nations military and technical observers to join our task force and report to the world what is going on?

Viscount Trenchard

I take the noble Lord's suggestion, my Lords, but frankly I believe it must have some problems to conduct hostilities with even a wide range of one's own journalists and representatives of the media present. I believe the truth will get through. The truth must be becoming more and more apparent to the Argentine troops on the Falklands now, and that is important because I hope they will soon begin to see that there is no alternative to withdrawal. I believe the same truth will gradually get through to the Argentine. I take the points made by all noble Lords in relation to the Statement; namely, that the Government need to consider and consider again how to get the truth through, bearing in mind the dictatorship that exists in the Argentine.