HL Deb 05 May 1982 vol 429 cc1172-88

3.48 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Viscount Trenchard)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement which is being made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement runs:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a further statement about the Argentine attack on HMS "Sheffield".

"In the Statement I made to the House late last night I provided an outline of the attack on HMS "Sheffield" and of the loss of one of our Sea Harriers and its pilot. The pilot was Lieutenant Nicholas Taylor. His next-of-kin have been informed—and the whole House will I know wish to join me in expressing sorrow and deepest sympathy with his family.

"It is entirely right that the House should now have as full an account of the attack on HMS "Sheffield" as I am able to give today. The House will understand why it will be necessary for me to repeat some of the details I provided last night.

"At about 3.30 London time yesterday afternoon HMS "Sheffield" was attacked by Argentine Super Etendard aircraft which launched Exocet missiles. HMS "Sheffield" was some 70 miles off the Falklands enforcing the total exclusion zone, together with other elements of the task force. One missile missed the ship; the other hit her amidships. The resulting explosion caused a major fire. Although attempts were made to extinguish the fire for nearly four hours, with the assistance of firefighting teams from other ships in the area, it eventually spread out of control. At about 7 p.m. London time, the order was given to abandon ship. Ships of the task force in the area picked up survivors, and the latest information I have is that about 30 men are still missing. A further number sustained injuries, and they are being well cared for under medical supervision. We have no further details of casualties at the present time. The ships are still engaged on operations and I know that the Force Commander will provide further information just as soon as he is able to do so. All the next-of-kin of the ship's company are being informed. The thoughts of the whole House are with them at this sad time."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement which has been made by his right honourable friend. The whole House deplores the tragic loss of life on HMS "Sheffield" and also the loss of Lieutenant Taylor. Our thoughts and prayers are with our troops and their families. May I ask the Minister whether he agrees that, with this escalation, the conflict has entered a new and more serious phase? Would he further agree that more urgent steps to achieve, first, a cease-fire and, secondly, a diplomatic settlement must be taken urgently? Will the Minister also indicate whether the Government have responded constructively to the United Nations Secretary-General's initiative and whether this will include support for a good offices committee? Will the Minister further confirm that the use of minimum force remains the firm policy of the Government and that we adhere to the terms of Resolution 502 in every particular?

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, may I associate my noble friends and myself with the expressions of sympathy for next-of-kin, so well expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and by the noble Viscount? Is the noble Viscount aware that the admiration of my noble friends and myself for the Navy is entirely undiminished at this time? May I ask the noble Viscount whether he agrees that if HMS "Sheffield" had been equipped with the stretched version of Sea Dart, with the new radar tracker, it might well have survived this attack? May I ask him why it was not so equipped? May I also ask the noble Viscount whether he is entirely satisfied that the Exocet was fired from a high level by a Mirage, and not from a low level, which might perhaps explain the failure to intercept the missile? Finally, may I ask the noble Viscount to restate the circumstances in which Her Majesty's Government have authorised attacks on Argentine ships and aircraft and to confirm that the policy of minimum force remains absolutely valid and that no attacks will be authorised in Argentine waters or on the Argentine mainland?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their observations, for their sympathy, which Her Majesty's Government share, and for their admiration of the Royal Navy. I do not think that Lord Peart's description of the conflict entering a new and more serious phase is the complete picture. My right honourable friend has never underestimated what a formidable task lay in front of the task force. When an aggressor has already committed aggression, it is not easy to put matters right by the military route.

That takes me straight to the point raised by both noble Lords. There will of course be no diminution of our efforts down the route to try to obtain peace. In a little while my noble friend will be repeating a short Statement by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in the other place. If, therefore, I could leave the questions put by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition on the state of the peace moves, both in relation to the United Nations and elsewhere, until my noble friend repeats the Statement, I should be grateful.

Both noble Lords have asked that we should continue to use the minimum force necessary. As on previous occasions, both I and my right honourable friend have given that assurance. But we have also said that our first duty in the face of Argentine aggression must be to protect our own task force which is engaged on objectives for which your Lordships have given us support. We shall be guided not just by Resolution 502 but by Article 51 and our clear communications to the Argentine Government in relation to the action which we shall find it necessary to take if there are any threats to our task force.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked me a number of technical questions which I do not think it would be your Lordships' wish that I should go into in detail today. However, I am prepared to say that the ships of the task force are equipped with complementary antiaircraft weapon systems—including, importantly, Sea Wolf and Sea Dart on different ships. It is in fact believed at this stage of reporting—and reporting is restricted at the moment due to the necessity for both wireless silence and priority for other military messages—that a reconnaissance Neptune aircraft from the Argentine, which was sighted earlier in the day, must have given the Etendard aircraft—not the Mirages but the Etendard aircraft—more or less the position of the task force, because the attack was a low level, not a high level, one. Thus, the radar on our ships was not able to pick up the aircraft early enough for the use of the Sea Dart system, the range of the air-launched Exocet missiles being in excess of 35 miles. That is the information which we have. I would also mention, for the information of the House, that our belief is that the Argentines only have five of these aircraft which are capable of delivering the Exocet air-launched missile.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, today we lament our dead, as yesterday we lamented theirs. Would the House be about right in thinking that the number of dead on both sides is now approaching one-quarter of the number of the Falkland Islanders and that the number of fighting men down there whose lives are at risk is about ten times the number of the Falkland Islanders?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I do not know whether the House would want me to debate the theme behind the two supplementaries of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, but aggressors very often start with relatively small aggressions. Surely history shows us that, if aggressions are not resisted, they are likely to continue both there and in other parts of the world. So I want to say to the noble Lord that the number of the Falkland Islanders—which is, of course, relatively small, though I have not had the time or the mental agility to check his statistics—who did not want to be occupied by a foreign power has, I think, only very small relevance in relation to the resistance to aggression.

4 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, is the noble Viscount the Minister aware that on these Benches there is also agreement with the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition concerning deep sympathy for the relatives of those of our men who were killed yesterday? Is the Minister also aware that on these Benches there is a strong sense of support in prayer for all that the Government are seeking to do both to maintain justice and to work for peace in this area? We are engaged in principles which are real ones and are in opposition to aggression. Is the Minister further aware that there is strong Church prayer support for all that Her Majesty's Government are seeking to do in these very difficult days?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the right reverend Prelate for those most noble sentiments. The House will have noted the sentiments expressed from my noble friend's Benches, including those by the most reverend Primate, on the importance of the two principles which we are upholding.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while joining in the hope that there will one day be a permanent cease-fire on honourable terms, may I ask my noble friend Viscount Trenchard whether there is not a danger that a temporary cease-fire will enable the Argentinians to repair runways and redeploy their forces to their advantage, and that therefore a temporary cease-fire would be to the temporary advantage of the Argentinians and to our disadvantage?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those questions. I believe that the right honourable gentleman the Shadow Foreign Secretary made remarks on the radio this morning, if I heard him correctly, which were very much in line with my noble friend's sentiments. Any cease-fire at the current time, with the Argentinians still in occupation and without a guarantee that they will remove themselves, would amount to game, set and match to the Argentinians.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, may I add—

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, may I ask the Minister—

Several Noble Lords


Lord Chalfont

My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount the Minister can he say whether the attack on HMS "Sheffield" was an isolated incident or whether it was part of a general naval military engagement which was going on at the time? In that context, will he assure the House that there will not be too obsessive a concern with the principle of minimum force? If we are at war with Argentina—whether declared or otherwise—perhaps it is time for some of the more time-honoured principles of military engagement to come into operation. Does the noble Viscount not agree that the principle of minimum force is more appropriate to internal policing that to a war with a foreign power? Finally, will he assure the House that this one military reverse, tragic through it may be, will not result in the failure of nerve or of national will?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for those observations and questions. The incident on the day in question was isolated in that area of the total exclusion zone, although the shooting down of the Harrier over the Falkland Islands was going on more or less at the same time. But there can be no doubt whatever that in recent days there has been a sustained offensive, and it has been quite clear from the movement of their forces that Argentinian commanders have been under orders to attack our task force in every appropriate way.

I take the noble Lord's point in relation to the balance necessary when it comes to the question of using minimum force. I assure him, as I have assured the House before, that the guides and rules of engagement which the commander has do really allow a balance to be struck. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, said yesterday, they take account of the massive power and range of modern weaponry, where chances cannot be taken. I take the noble Lord's third point in its entirety.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, may I say something—

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, can the noble Viscount the Minister—

Lord Morris

My Lords,—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I do not think that we can have two noble Lords from the Opposition on their feet at the same time. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, was first. Perhaps we can then hear from my noble friend and then from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for settling a minor dispute between two Members from this side of the House. Is the noble Viscount aware that all of us, whatever view we may take of this lamentable affair, share the expressions of sympathy which have been given by my noble friend on the Front Bench on this matter, in all three respects? First, I believe we all share his regret and sincere sympathy for those who have suffered; those who have died, those who have been wounded, and the relatives of both. His other two important requests were for a cease-fire and for simultaneous peace negotiations. These two issues seem to go together. There is a growing feeling, not only in this House but outside this House and throughout the world generally, that we should proceed along these lines. May I ask the noble Viscount specifically, is it not the case that there these two tragic affairs demonstrate what weapons experts all over the world have been telling us: that we have now reached the point where offensive weapons are so severe that there is no effective defence against them? If this goes on, shall we not have further casualties on both sides, and is it not time to call a halt?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I will not repeat the sentiments which have been expressed on all sides of the House. I will leave to my noble friend, after he has repeated my right honourable friend's Statement, the question of the follow-up of the peaceful route and the cease-fire. I have already made a note in relation to the problems of the cease-fire at a moment when the Argentinian aggression has succeeded, and does occupy the Falkland Islands. So far as the general point about armaments made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, is concerned, the lesson that I draw is that we must make more sure in the future that potential aggressors do not think they can get away with it.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty's Government will do everything in their power to rebut the unfortunate suggestion that somehow Her Majesty's Government or indeed Her Majesty's loyal forces are unnecessarily and wilfully escalating military conflict?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, we are redoubling our efforts to get the situation properly understood and to get the interpretation of our sinking of the Argentinian cruiser in a threatening attack force into perspective. It is regrettable that the world as a whole, not reading the detail of all our Statements, has given undue attention to our declaration of the exclusion zones and has failed to observe the absolutely clear warnings that we gave the Argentinian Government, on more than one occasion, that any threat to our task force would be met with the appropriate action. We are redoubling our efforts to get that understood abroad as well as at home.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, is the noble Viscount—

Several noble Lords


Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I thought that the Leader of the House said that I was to speak next.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I did in fact suggest that. There are so many noble Lords who wish to intervene in this debate, but if the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who I believe was next, will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also wants to get in—I think there will be time for everyone else, provided they confine their remarks to question form.

Lord Hill-Norton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House. I respect the Minister's wishes not to become technical. However, there is one point of a technical nature about which I feel obliged to enquire of the Minister. Can the noble Viscount say (and I am not seeking operational information which should not be disclosed) whether decoys were used which should, if used, have seduced the Exocet missile from its target? May I ask him a question of a quite different nature? In order to preserve a sense of proportion, both in the public debate and in the debate in your Lordships' House and in another place, will he confirm that the Government weighed up the risks of ships being sunk and aircraft being shot down—and these will not be the last —and deemed them acceptable before sailing the task force, in the light of the aim they seek to achieve.?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, with regard to the noble and gallant Lord's first question, at this stage we have no information as to whether HMS "Sheffield" used the chaff decoy system; that is one of the unanswered questions at this stage. As far as the weighing of the risks is concerned, I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that the Chiefs of Staff and Ministers debated these long and very carefully. We did not underestimate the problems that exist; nor did we underestimate the air power of the Argentine, which is the particular item in question at the moment.

The noble and gallant Lord gives me the opportunity to say that after this event it is the view of all concerned that the objectives of the task force, if peace moves do not overtake them, can be achieved. We have always made clear that there may well be casualties and sacrifices in achieving this aim.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount if the nation is going to be told whether under international law we are now at war or not at war. Secondly, it is not fair to commanders on the spot unless we come under international law in incidents like those that are now happening. We must give the Government unity of approach at the moment, but the Government owe it to us, the Opposition, and to the public to state where we stand now under international law. We cannot go on pussyfooting by means of little announcements by civil servants and others. The Government are responsible, and they should make any particular announcement.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, neither side has in the old-fashioned way declared war on the other. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that the majority of lawyers today take the view that we are not at war but that hostilities are being carried out under Article No. 51 in self-defence, which has been described many times before.

So far as the effect on those taking part in the actions is concerned, I can assure the noble Lord that the principles of the Geneva Convention have been and will be adhered to in every respect.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her conduct of a difficult situation with the acquiescence of the House. If I may ask the noble Viscount one or two questions, first of all, has he any information—I do not know if it has been published—as to whether HMS "Sheffield" is still afloat and whether there is any prospect of towing her back? I may say that this is infinitely less important than the loss of life, on which the views of the House are identical.

I thank the noble Viscount for giving rather more information than we have sometimes had; this is very valuable indeed. He has made a statement that the ships are still engaged on operations. I do not expect him to say what is involved, but would he agree that we ought to understand that this may mean that there will be further operations of a kind which lead to loss of life? Would he also accept that, operating as we are, strictly within the terms of the United Nations, in self-defence, under both Resolution 502 and Article 51, we are not there simply to defend the Falklands, important though that is, but to uphold international law, and that there are much wider issues than simply this particular exchange?

Would he agree with me, therefore, that, tempting though it is, it is quite futile to equate the numbers of people who live in the Falkland Islands with our losses? This is not a numerical exercise. I hope, therefore, that the noble Viscount will continue to give all the information he can. The noble and gallant Lord yesterday referred to the range of missiles. We have always been aware that Exocet was a very dangerous weapon. Would the noble Viscount agree that it is not really very possible to answer questions about the defences of "Sheffield", since it is apparent that she was not equipped with the latest Sea Wolf and other equipment of that kind. Would he also confirm that this makes clear that the "Belgrano" incident was part of a wider operation against the task force and that those who believed—and the Government must carry some responsibility for somehow allowing it to be thought—that sending the task force down there would lead to a bloodless solution of the problem were not living in the real world?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the latest information I have is that the "Sheffield" is still afloat. I cannot say more than that. But she has been very badly burnt and almost certainly burnt out. So far as future operations are concerned, I think I have already made clear that the Government do see the possibility—we shall try to make sure that casualties are the minimum on both sides—of further casualties taking place.

I entirely take the noble Lord's point about international law. I have tried to leave those questions until my noble friend makes his Statement. On the question of the Exocet, I must say again that our ships do have a combination of defences; they cannot all be on each ship; they should be able to deal with both aircraft and missiles, but that does not mean that they will do so on every occasion, particularly if a low-flying aircraft has by some means or another already learned where the target is.

With regard to the noble Lord's point about making clear that the Argentinian operations have been part of a wider operation, I hope that the Government have done that, but I thank the noble Lord for making it clearer still. It must be abundantly clear that the operations over recent days are all part of a major Argentinian offensive, the alleged results of which they have taken great pleasure in announcing on their television and in their media, including the claim of the destruction of 11 Harriers and the claim of serious damage to "Hermes" and other major ships. This surely cannot leave in any doubt, by their own words apart from their own deeds, that the orders of the Argentine commanders are quite clear, and that is that they are to do as much damage as is possible to the British task force.

Baroness Young

My Lords, there are so many noble Lords who wish to ask questions, may I suggest that we take my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas, who has been trying to make his point for some time? Then the noble Lord, Lord Soper, then perhaps my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, would ask their questions. Then I suggest we move on to the next Statement.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree, while it is nearly 40 years since we were at war or in some state rather like it, that perhaps it is unfair both to himself and to his right honourable friend if this House, while it enjoys the opportunity of having immediate contact with the Ministers concerned, does not impose on itself a self-denying ordinance by letting the Ministers get on with their jobs and not expecting them to make Statements to this House on every possible occasion? Would my noble friend perhaps also agree that there is a risk—and I have seen it twice already today, and I am not going to go further—of his giving some operational information away which could be very damaging to our interests?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, a heartfelt "brief-free", "Thank you" for the first part of my noble friend's supplementary. I can assure him that the information that I have given to this House and that my right honourable friend has given to the other House has, on every occasion, been checked and cross-checked with the Services to make sure that we do not give more information than is helpful to the position of our task force.

Lord Soper

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Free Churches would want to be associated with the words of condolence and sympathy that have already been offered to those who have suffered in the present conflict? Is he further aware that there is widespread disagreement within the Churches, and that it would be totally wrong to assume that the concept of the "just war" is generally held by those who profess the Christian faith? Finally, is he aware that there is unanimity, so far as a person such as I am can try to discover it, as regards the peremptory need for a temporary cease-fire, if nothing more profitable than that, in order that the principles that have invigorated much of the discussion, and the principles which have underlaid many of the attitudes towatds this concept can, in fact, have freer play than is possible within the general environment of armed violence? Therefore will he press forward with some kind of attempt to prepare a cease-fire, a moratorium even for the shortest of time, in order to give licence and opportunity for other principles to take their place within the solution of this problem?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I shall leave the noble Lord, Lord Soper, to continue the debate within the Church on moral grounds; on that I would not claim to be an authority. But I have noted the many statements from a number of right reverend Prelates which do not entirely agree with the noble Lord. So far as a temporary cease-fire is concerned, I think that I have covered this question on more than one occasion. But the difficulties of a temporary halt in operations have been made very clear by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the other place a week or more ago. The objections are still the same—namely that to leave the aggressor in possession of his prize, as he sees it, and to call a cease-fire while he is in possession, is probably not to push forward a final settlement which ensures that aggression does not pay and that his troops withdraw. Having said that, I leave it to my noble friend to make it entirely clear that this does not mean that at all times we are not taking every opportunity to push forward the peace movement. But when you are dealing with a dictator and an aggessor I believe that the chances of getting peace on terms where aggression is not seen to pay, are very much higher if our will is not deflected.

The Earl of Dudley

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister a question. However, before I ask the question, because of its nature I should like briefly to say that as a father of three half-Argentine children with an Argentine mother, including my son and heir, I naturally deplore the loss of life on both sides. Nevertheless, I should like to ask the Minister whether he would seriously consider that, if the Argentine air capability does pose a more serious threat to our task force than his earlier reply appeared to indicate, if it does pose a serious threat to our servicemen and to possible loss of life—which I believe it does—will he undertake that this capability will be reduced by all possible means even if that means taking some risks with public opinion?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for making those points. I do not think that we have underestimated the air capability and I would point out to my noble friend that previous air attacks which continued throughout a whole day were very effectively repulsed and Argentine aircraft were shot down and they were unable to press home their attacks. Nevertheless, we must not underestimate the particular capabilities of these five aircraft that they possess and we shall not do so. I have temporarily lost the last point that my noble friend made; I do not know whether he wants to make it again?

The Earl of Dudley

My Lords, the point was that, whatever action should be taken, it should be taken without regard to public opinion.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I think that I have said enough on the delicate balance which we are trying to achieve.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that there is another dimension that we must always keep in front of us—namely, that the Argentine aggressors now occupying the Falkland Islands have a political and social way of behaving which is as totally alien to the Falkland islanders as it is to these British islands? Is he also aware that the grave dilemma that we face is how to see to it that freedom and right as we understand them are established without the massive use of force and the horrid loss of life? Would it, therefore, not be possible for Her Majesty's Government to consider asking the United Nations that, if the Argentinians withdraw and go back to their country, we will not occupy but that a United Nations force and administrators should occupy the Falkland Islands and the issue can be decided by the people who live there—namely, the Falkland islanders?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, if I may, I shall leave my noble friend to deal with Lord Molloy's point which can be dealt with better after his Statement. I would merely say that my noble friend will be aware of the need to be sure of enforcement of any settlement of the kind, or near the kind, that he suggests.

Lord Belstead

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

"My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has just spoken about military aspects of the situation. I must, however, add my own tribute to the courage of the crew of HMS "Sheffield" and of the Harrier pilot and my sympathy to the families.

"The military losses which have now occurred on both sides in this unhappy conflict emphasise all the more the urgent need to find a diplomatic solution.

"The House will wish to know that since my return from the United States on Monday I have remained in the closest possible touch with Mr. Haig.

"As I reported to the House yesterday, we are working very actively on ideas put to us by Mr. Haig, including some advanced by the President of Peru. Yesterday afternoon, after my Statement, I sent a constructive contribution of our own to Mr. Haig. He is taking this fully into account. I shall be in touch with him again later on today.

"I want to tell the House that a vital ingredient of the ideas on which we are working is an early cease-fire and the prompt withdrawal of Argentine forces. I can assure the House that we are sparing no efforts in the search for an acceptable solution in line with the principles which we have stated on several occasions.

"The points which were put to me in New York by the Secretary-General of the United Nations are also receiving our very careful attention. I have been in touch with Sr. Perez de Cuellar about this since my return from New York and will continue to keep in close contact with him.

"There are many points of similarity between the Secretary-General's thinking and the points we are pursuing with Mr. Haig. Indeed, Sr Perez de Cuellar's helpful ideas seem certain to be reflected in the basis of any solution which we may be able to achieve.

"I can assure the House that any obstructionism there may be will not come from our side. Although it is we who have been the victims of aggression, it is also we who are working tirelessly and constructively for a peaceful solution".

My Lords, that is the Statement of my right honourable friend.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement, which we have followed with interest and with hope. Those of us on this side of the House will very much want to be associated with the opening phrases of the Statement which pay tribute to the courage of the crew of HMS "Sheffield" and of the Harrier pilot, and with the expressions of sympathy with their families.

I think that the noble Lord, and indeed the Government as a whole, will agree that we on this side of the House have given our support to the Government's conduct of affairs in this unhappy and terrible business. But the noble Lord will also know that there is one aspect of the Government's conduct about which we have felt disquiet and to which I think it would be right for me to draw attention now and on which to put one or two questions to the noble Lord. It is whether the Government are giving full weight to the need to involve the United Nations in this business. For example, I notice that the Foreign Secretary says in his Statement, after mentioning Mr. Haig's proposals and those of the President of Peru: I sent a constructive contribution of our own to Mr. Haig"; whereas, in reference to the Secretary-General of the United Nations he says no more than: I have been in touch with him … and will continue to keep in close contact with him". There does not seem to be the same positive and constructive approach towards any help that might be obtained from the Secretary-General as towards Mr. Haig's proposals. I am not sure that that emphasis is quite the right one.

I should like to refer to two other phrases in the Statement: an early cease-fire and the prompt withdrawal of Argentine forces". Perhaps my own experience in office makes me unduly sensitive about the use of words, but I take it that there is no substantial difference between "early cease-fire" and "prompt withdrawal". We have generally assumed that the two go together. I can appreciate that there might be technical difficulties about withdrawal, particularly after what has happened to the airstrip. But I take it that the Government are clear that they will not be tricked in any way on this and that any settlement must involve the certain, complete withdrawal of the Argentine forces.

With regard to a cease-fire, I take it that the Government have given some thought to what our task force would do in the circumstances of a cease-fire, and what it would mean for them. It may be possible for the Government to tell us something of their thinking about that.

The noble Lord may remember that yesterday I asked whether we had made any approach to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for him to set up a good offices commission. I believe—I am not certain of this—that the Argentine Government have made such an approach. I think it is most important that we do not get outrun in approaches to the United Nations by other nations which are not necessarily all too well disposed towards our interests. The Government must watch this. In conclusion, may I remind the noble Lord of the points raised in the recent question by my noble friend Lord Molloy, which his noble colleague in effect referred to him.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, this Statement appears to my noble friends and myself to be rather more positive and hopeful than earlier Statements of the same kind made recently by Her Majesty's Government. It is informative about the machinery of negotiations, but it is not informative as to what those negotiations are about. It tells us that there is similarity between the Secretary-General's thinking and the points that the Government are pursuing with Mr. Haig. If we knew one of them, we would have some clue about the other. But as we know neither, it does not really inform us very much more about what we know already.

I note that the Statement says that a solution to be acceptable must be: in line with the principles which we"— Her Majesty's Government— have stated on several occasions". The House will be aware that on one or two of these principles—for example, the principle that the wishes of the Falklanders should be not merely extremely important but actually paramount—my noble friends and I have questions, and we have questioned this in this House. We note the word "cease-fire" and note that an early cease-fire and the prompt withdrawal of Argentine forces is something the Government are working on. I suspect that the Government will be very strongly pressed internationally for a cease-fire without the prompt withdrawal of Argentine forces, and I should like to make it clear that my noble friends and I would regard a cease-fire which allowed the resupply and reinforcement of the islands as totally unacceptable.

On the other hand, it may be that a temporary ceasefire, with a ban on resupply and reinforcement, would not be so obviously contrary to the interests of what we are attempting. My noble friends and I have given support to the Government in their search for a peaceful solution. We are glad to note this catalogue of, I think, increased activities in the search for a peaceful solution, and we wish the Government every success in that endeavour.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their response to my right honourable friend's Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, asked whether the Government are giving full weight to the need to involve the United Nations. We told the Secretary-General last night that the Government are considering the ideas that came up when my right honourable friend saw Senor Perez de Cuellar on 2nd May. The United Nations Secretary-General has not described these ideas as being formal proposals or a United Nations plan. This is what distinguishes the Secretary-General's initiative from the initiative which is also being taken by the President of Peru and Mr. Haig.

It would be wrong—I have to say this with regret to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—for my right honourable friend, or others on his behalf, to say what these ideas are of the United Nations Secretary-General. But I should like to make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, that my right honourable friend welcomes the Secretary-General's concern and intends to keep in close touch with him. We must consider carefully the relationship between the United Nations Secretary-General's ideas and those put forward by Peru, on which we are also working urgently. My right honourable friend will very shortly be giving the Secretary-General a fuller indication of our thinking.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, asked me about the juxtaposition in the Statement of "an early cease-fire" and "a prompt withdrawal of the Argentinians", and adjured the Government not to be tricked in a matter of this sort. Although we deeply regret the tragic losses on both sides, our basic objective remains unaltered. This is to secure the withdrawal from the Falkland Islands of the occupying Argentine forces, as called for by Security Council Resolution 502. Our operations will be suspended as soon as this objective is secured.

The noble Lord reminded me that the Argentines had, so it is said, called for the setting up of a good offices committee in the person of the United Nations Secretary-General. I would simply say that for a country which has shown no regard whatever for a mandatory resolution of the United Nations then to turn to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and say that it wishes to see in his body a good offices committee set up, is almost an insult to the organisation of the United Nations. For our part our view about this—and we absolutely agree with Her Majesty's Opposition and others of your Lordships in this matter—is that what is important is that the United Nations Secretary-General is very active in this matter, and we are keeping, as I have said, in very close touch with him.

Finally, may I just say that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, made the point that an international ceasefire without withdrawal would be unacceptable. Yes, I have said on behalf of the Government that that is the case, and so also, if I may add it, is the precondition which is still being put by the Argentines that for any negotiations to take place the result of those negotiations would already have been decided in the Argentines' favour. That will not do either if a just solution is to be reached.

4.41 p.m.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that from these Benches, while firmly continuing our support for Her Majesty's Government, we agree with the Foreign Secretary's Statement when he says that a diplomatic solution is now so very urgent? May I say to the noble Lord, also, despite what was said by an earlier speaker on the previous Statement, that in our view world opinion is extremely important. While every detail of any negotiations cannot perhaps be divulged, it would nevertheless be of great value to world opinion and to ourselves if it was made clear what is, or is not, negotiable at the moment by both the Argentine junta and by our own Government.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we can on our side only make clear what is, and what is not, negotiable. We would be ready, as we have said many times, to enter into negotiations, but on the lines of Security Council Resolution 502.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, my question is based on the proposition that our performance in shooting wars is rather more distinguished than in shouting wars. We too easily allow ourselves to get bawled out. What steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to implement the request made previously by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that we should give some publicity to the legality of our own case for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands? There is a case—I am only an amateur; I will not say how strong it is—and what are Her Majesty's Government doing to let the world know that we have a strong legal case for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands?

Lord Belstead

My Lords broadcasts by the BBC to Latin America in Spanish have been increased, but, as I reported to your Lordships' House yesterday, there is a problem with jamming by the Argentines so far as that is concerned. However, broadcasts by the World Service of the BBC in English are, I am advised, unaffected in this respect. It is also relevant to the noble Earl's question that as from 30th April the telegraph and telex links to the Falkland Islands have simply been severed by the Argentines. We are making it our business to ensure that despite this the islanders still receive truthful accounts of what is happening. We are making full use of the facilities of the BBC to this end.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware how much we all welcome the concern which the Government have shown to secure a diplomatic solution of this issue? In the Minister's speech detailed reference was made to the negotiations with Secretary Haig and with the head of state of Peru. Is the Minister aware that all of us welcome those negotiations? But was not the reference to the United Nations much less definite? Is not the United Nations the international authority to which we should look for a solution of this problem?

Is it not the case that when the Secretary-General met our Foreign Secretary he detailed to him proposals for a solution of this problem? First, a cease-fire; secondly, a withdrawal of the forces on both sides; and, thirdly, as I mentioned yesterday, a United Nations presence in the Falklands and negotiations. Has the Foreign Secretary made a response to those actual proposals which have been made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have made it clear in supplementaries that the United Nations Secretary-General has not described his ideas as being formal proposals or a United Nations' plan, although he is clearly now very active in this matter and we are in very close touch with him. But there really is a problem which I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to face, and that is that for the Secretary-General to make headway in this matter it is necessary for him to take the Argentine Government and the United Kingdom Government with him in spirit and in fact, and it is extremely difficult for the United Nations Secretary-General to do that when the Argentine Government is simply flouting a mandatory resolution of the organisation of which the United Nations Secretary-General is the secretary.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, are the Government aware that a very great number of people admire the efforts which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is making to achieve a diplomatic solution? But have the Government any reason to think that the Argentine Government is going to withdraw from the Falklands as a result of the efforts which are being made? The ordinary man only has the press and the radio to go on, and there does not seem to be any indication that that is likely to happen. Is it not necessary to regard diplomatic and military pressure as a whole, and is it desirable that we should hold back our efforts around the Falklands in military, naval, and air terms, letting the weather get steadily worse and perhaps the diplomatic weather, looking around all the nations of Europe and elsewhere, getting no better? Should we perhaps not be having grave philosophical doubts about the doctrine of using minimum force? Might there not be very soon a case for taking the maximum force on this and settling the question jolly quickly?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that we must continue to take military, economic, and diplomatic action in this matter, but that we must do one more thing—and I hope that both my noble friend Lord Trenchard and I have made it clear this afternoon in our Statements on behalf of our Secretaries of State—and that is that we are ready at all times to enter into proper negotiations on this matter. We are ready to use the good offices of the President of Peru and Mr. Haig, and also the United Nations Secretary-General, but it has got to be for fair and just negotiations.

Lord Raglan

My Lords, it appears that not the least of the difficulties which is faced by the Government and Mr. Haig and the Secretary-General of the United Nations is that it is not clear who is in charge of the Argentine Government. Would the Minister kindly say how much of an obstacle this characteristic of the Argentine Government is to a negotiated solution?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the United Nations Secretary-General, as I made clear, is in contact with the Argentine Government, as indeed he is in contact with us, and also the Peruvian proposals were put to the Argentine Government, as they have been put to us. The Peruvian proposals of course were turned down by the Argentine Government. There is a Government there all right; it is just that their policies are not policies at the moment which are leading towards a just and peaceful negotiation and solution of this problem.

Lord Monson

My Lords, despite the commendable efforts of the Secretary-General, would the noble Lord not agree that the United Nations is not in the last resort an objective or impartial body? Too many of its component nations have their own axes to grind, and it would therefore be extremely unwise to place excessive reliance upon that organisation.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think that the Statement I have made today shows excessive reliance. It shows that the United Nations Secretary-General is very active in this matter, and we are, as I believe is proper, in close touch with him.

Lord Kaldor

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think we have had a very long time on both Statements. We are also conducting an important debate this afternoon, so perhaps it would be right just to take the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, but after his question to move on and for Lord Tordoff to continue with the debate.

Lord Kaldor

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the BBC News Service announced at 9 o'clock last night that at 10.45 they would transmit on the programme Newsnight an interview given to the BBC by the Foreign Minister of the Argentine? In the event, that interview did not form part of the programme. I should like to know, first, whether the noble Lord was aware of that, and, secondly, whether he knows of any reason why it did not form part of the programme.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, that it was thought by those watching television that there would be a transmission of the Foreign Minister of the Argentine on television in this country, and then the Foreign Minister of the Argentine did not appear. I should think that was a very appropriate solution.