HL Deb 18 January 1983 vol 437 cc1298-305

3.42 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, with the leave of the House. I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the report of the Falkland Islands Review Committee.

"The House will remember that I announced the setting up of the review committee in July 1982, after consultation with the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and leading Privy Counsellors in other parties. At that time I expressed the hope that the committee would be able to complete its work within six months.

"The committee has justified that hope. I received its report on 31st December 1982, and I am presenting it to Parliament as a Command Paper this afternoon. Copies are now available in the Vote Office."—

I should like to add here that copies are now available in the Printed Paper Office—

"I should like to express the Government's gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Franks, and to his colleagues for the amount of time and effort which they have devoted to producing such a thorough and comprehensive report in so short a time.

"The report makes it clear that the committee was provided with all the papers relevant to its terms of reference, including a comprehensive collection of reports from the intelligence agencies. The committee's report contains a number of references to intelligence matters which would not in other circumstances be divulged. These references are essential for a full understanding of the matters into which the committee was asked to inquire, and the Government have agreed that the public interest requires that on this unique occasion the normal rule against public references to the intelligence organisation or to material derived from intelligence reports should be waived. The Government have, however, agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Franks, amendments to certain of the references to intelligence reports with a view to minimising potential damage to British intelligence interests. Lord Franks has authorised me to tell the House that he agrees that:

(1) All the references to intelligence reports included in the committee's report as submitted have been retained in the report as presented to Parliament, most of them without amendment;

(2) None of the amendments that have been made alters the sense, substance or emphasis of the reference to the intelligence report concerned, or removes anything of significance to the committee's account of the matters referred to it or to its findings and conclusions;

(3) Apart from those agreed amendments, no other deletions or amendments have been made to the committee's report as submitted.

"The report is unanimous and is signed by all the members of the committee without qualification. It falls into four chapters. The first gives an account of the dispute from 1965, when the issue was first brought formally to international attention by a Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, to May 1979. The second covers the period from May 1979 to 19th March 1982. The third deals with the fortnight from 19th March to 2nd April 1982 which included the South Georgia incident and led up to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. The fourth and final chapter deals with the way in which the Government discharged their responsibilities in the period leading up to the invasion. There are six annexes, the first of which comments on a number of specific assertions made by people who have spoken or written on the matters in question.

"In the fourth chapter of the report—that is, the one which deals with the way Government discharged their responsibilities—the committee notes a number of points where in its judgment different decisions might have been taken, fuller consideration of alternative courses of action might have been advantageous, and the machinery of Government could have been better used. This chapter defines and addresses itself to two crucial questions:

(1) Could the Government have foreseen the invasion of 2nd April 1982?

(2) Could the Government have prevented the invasion?

"The committee emphasises that its report should be read as a whole. At this stage, therefore, I will do no more than quote the committee's conclusions on these two crucial questions.

"On the first question, whether the Government could have foreseen the invasion of 2nd April, the committee's conclusion is as follows:

'266. In the light of this evidence, we are satisfied that the Government did not have warning of the decision to invade. The evidence of the timing of the decision taken by the Junta shows that the Government not only did not, but could not, have had earlier warning. The invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2nd April could not have been foreseen.'

"I have quoted the whole of paragraph 266.

"On the second question, whether the Government could have prevented the invasion, the committee's conclusion contained in the final paragraph of the report is as follows:

'Against this background we have pointed out in this chapter where different decisions might have been taken, where fuller consideration of alternative courses of action might, in our opinion, have been advantageous, and where the machinery of Government could have been better used. But, if the British Government had acted differently in the ways we have indicated, it is impossible to judge what the impact on the Argentine Government or the implications for the course of events might have been. There is no reasonable basis for any suggestion—which would be purely hypothetical—that the invasion would have been prevented if the Government had acted in the ways indicated in our report. Taking account of these considerations, and of all the evidence we have received, we conclude that we would not be justified in attaching any criticism or blame to the present Government for the Argentine Junta's decision to commit its act of unprovoked aggression in the invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2nd April 1982'.

"I have quoted in full the final paragraph of the report.

"Mr. Speaker, time will of course be found for an early debate, and that will be discussed through the usual channels. The Government will welcome an early opportunity of discussing the matters contained in the report more thoroughly than is possible this afternoon"

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement and we also thank the noble Lord, Lord Franks, and his committee for their hard work over the past six months. We have not yet had an opportunity to study the report, which is long and detailed. In fact, we regret that we did not have the opportunity to have a good look at the report in advance of the Statement. The report has just been made available, as the noble Baroness said, and this creates some difficulty for us. Obviously, we shall need a few days to digest it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said about a full debate at the earliest possible time. I hope that we shall be able to have that debate not later than some day next week.

I had not intended to say a great deal today because I have not had time to do more than skip through the report, but in view of the injunction mentioned in the Statement which has just been read by the noble Baroness, to read the report "as a whole", is it not wrong for the Statement to rely and concentrate on the conclusions alone? Is it not a fact that the report is also critical of a number of the actions of the Government over the last year or so—for example, the proposed defence cuts; the proposed sale of "Invincible" to Australia; the proposal to withdraw "Endurance"; and the attitude of the Government to the Falklanders in the British Nationality Act? All these neutralised any warnings given to the Argentine Government, and may have given them the impression that the British Government were not seriously concerned about the future of the Falklands. That is pretty well accepted throughout the country and it is why I say that to read the conclusions alone is a trifle misleading.

The Statement included a reference to paragraph 266; but again, is it not the case that the Government either misjudged or neglected the reports which were coming from the Argentine? I am referring not to intelligence reports but to public reports; namely, that some action would be taken in 1982 in relation to the Falklands or to the outlying islands. I refer to that because those two conclusions were included in the Statement. Can the noble Baroness tell the House—and this would be helpful in relation to the debate that we are to have, either next week or as soon as possible—how many meetings were held to discuss the Falklands, either in the Cabinet itself or in the appropriate Cabinet Committee, in the 12 or 15 months leading up to the crisis itself?

Finally, I assume that the Government accept responsibility for the deficiencies in the joint intelligence organisation which I understand is referred to in detail in the report. The noble Baroness will, I am sure, be prepared to accept that Ministers cannot detach themselves from the acts or omissions of civil servants, and that the consequences of anything they may do or any omission for which they are responsible, must be taken by the Prime Minister and her colleagues.

I shall not ask any further questions at this stage, but obviously I and all of those Members who will take part in the debate in due course will need to go into this full report in very great detail indeed.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we, too, would like to thank the Leader of the House for repeating this obviously very important Statement. We would also like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, in congratulating my noble friend Lord Franks on producing this clearly intelligent and far-reaching report in the time laid down by the Government. It is clear also from the Statement that the conclusions of the report as quoted by the Prime Minister are satisfactory from the Government's point of view. The only point that immediately occurs to me is that if nobody in the Government is apparently to blame in any way for what occurred, why was it necessary for the former Foreign Secretary to resign on the issue? That is something which might well be explained to us in due course.

As for the rest, I agree very much with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said. We on these Benches at any rate can hardly be expected to make any intelligent comment on an important report before we have had the opportunity of reading it. It may be that, having done so, we shall discover in the general drift of the report matters for criticism of the present Government or perhaps of past Governments, if it comes to that, even though the conclusions as quoted by the Prime Minister do seem in themselves to exempt the Government at any rate—I do not speak of any other people—from blame.

I would very much back up what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said about the necessity for an early debate, and I hope that that can be arranged for next week or at any rate as soon as possible.

3.55 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for what they have said about this Statement, and particularly to reiterate what we have said about our appreciation of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Franks, and his committee.

I should like to say something immediately about the proposals for a debate on this matter. I assure both noble Lords and the House that there will be an early opportunity for a full day's debate. I am not in a position today to announce exactly when this will be, but I can say that a debate next week is more than likely. As soon as the date has been fixed, and taking into account the arrangements in another place, either I or my noble friend the Chief Whip will come to the House later this week and make a business announcement on the matter. In view of that it would be far more appropriate to leave all the detailed discussion of this report until your Lordships have had an opportunity to read it and to consider the questions that they would like to ask.

I would, however, like to comment on three particular matters which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raised. First, it is the usual practice to produce the report at the time when a Statement is being made. Secondly, the conclusions which I read out in the Statement are the conclusions obviously based on the premise which goes beforehand, and the history as I have already indicated of this matter is fully set out and it was part of the terms of reference of the committee itself. Finally, I am sure that it would be the wish of the whole House when we talk about Ministers and responsibility, to say how very pleased we are to see my noble friend Lord Carrington in his place today. I hope we can look forward to hearing him when this matter is fully debated later on.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, while agreeing entirely with the noble Baroness that it would be stupid to go into any of the details of the report this afternoon, there is one public matter concerning the report about which I should like to ask her a simple and straightforward question. We know that this report has not been distributed to the press any more than it has been to Members of this House. Yet last weekend there were a considerable number of articles of great similarity all slanted in a particular direction. Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether any official from any department of the Government, any representative of any department of the Government, gave any briefing, official or unofficial, to any member of the press about this report before it was published?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I cannot go any further than I have already indicated—of which I think all Members of your Lordships' House are aware—that copies of the report have been available to Members of your Lordships' House this afternoon. I would not wish to comment on press comments at the weekend, or indeed at any time leading up to the publication of this report.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, that does not answer my question.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that we on these Benches also are most grateful to the Government for having repeated this Statement? We accept that at the time when a paper of this kind is being made available there should be a Statement accompanying it, and in those circumstances it is, of course, impossible for any of us to have had an opportunity of reading the report as fully as we would have liked to do before commenting on the Statement.

Nevertheless, is the noble Baroness aware that if I were a member of a Government which had been subjected to an inquiry by such a distinguished body which had produced a unanimous report, I would be bound to draw some satisfaction from the conclusions which had been reported? It would be avoiding the truth if one did not face up to that preliminary point and it would cause some considerable satisfaction outside this country as well as in it. I can only repeat the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that not only are we delighted to find that there was apparently no reason for the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to resign, but that he is here to hear us say this and will no doubt wish to add his comments in the debate.

We are grateful to the Government for what they have done in making available intelligence reports to the committee, and I have noted very carefully what the report says about that. Nevertheless, perhaps I could ask the noble Baroness whether, so far as she is aware, there is any occasion on which the committee asked for intelligence information which the Government did not think it appropriate to let them have. When it comes to the point of the debate, would it be possible for the Government to be prepared to deal not only with the detailed points within this report but also with the part that foreign policy has played subsequent to the report?—that is to say, subsequent to the date of 2nd April, which would make the debate more of a whole debate and less limited than it would otherwise be if it had to concentrate merely on events which led up to 2nd April.

As to other details, I agree with the noble Baroness and all the previous speakers that they are for the subsequent debate in which we shall look forward to taking part.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for what he has said, and I think that he has made some very important general comments on the report. I should like to emphasise to the House that the Government set up the inquiry on the terms of reference which, of course, were agreed with the Opposition parties and which include the background to the particular dispute. I should also like to emphasise that it is a unanimous report and I am quite certain that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who has had such great responsibilities over this whole crisis and borne them so well, must feel a great sense of satisfaction with the conclusion as it is set out in paragraph 339, which is quoted in full in the Statement.

On the particular point about which the noble Lord asked me concerning intelligence reports, I can confirm that all intelligence reports were made available. On his other point about the debate that will take place, I think that it would be appropriate that the debate should take place on the report, which, of course, does not deal with the conduct of the Falklands campaign itself or matters subsequent to it, but which is concerned with all matters before the Argentine invasion.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, may I preface my question to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House with a statement of the fact that she can in no way give any answer this afternoon apropos the leaks that have appeared at the weekend in British newspapers. Having listened to her Statement, they seem to be remarkably accurate. What is disturbing and distressing is that this remarkable anticipation of the Franks Report has now found its way into the newspapers of other nations before we in Great Britain in this Chamber could hear the Statement this afternoon. May I ask the noble Baroness whether she would consider—and it would be absolutely irresponsible of anyone to expect a reply this afternoon—the remarks that have been made by myself and my noble friend?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I shall of course read the report of the Statement and the questions and discussion which have taken place upon it, but I think it would be completely inappropriate to comment on leaks or comments which have appeared in the press at any time, because I do not think that this is in any sense relevant to the debate, which must take place in the proper forum—which is Parliament—when everyone has had time to study the report itself.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, could we not pay tribute to the press for intelligent forecasts?

Lord Foot

My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that it is a little unfortunate that a report of this importance, running to only 105 pages, should cost the general public £6.10 net?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think that this is one of those occasions when you are getting very good value for money.

I think it would be the wish of the House that we should return to the Committee proceedings.