HL Deb 29 March 1983 vol 440 cc1455-9

2.43 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what quantity and types of armaments, licensed by them, left this country for the Argentine during March 1982.

The Secretary of State for Trade (Lord Cockfield)

My Lords, shipments under specific licences of supplies for military use amounted to about £1.1 million. They included arms and ammunition, military radio equipment, computers and spares for various types of military equipment.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Minister recall from the Franks Report that in the first few days of March, 1982, our representative in Buenos Aires warned the Foreign Office that there might be landings on the islands, that the Prime Minister asked for contingency plans, and that the Foreign Office warned the Governor of the Falklands that we were perilously near confrontation? Would he tell the House whether it is true that on 19th March, at Sheerness, an Argentinian ship loaded military supplies made by British Manufacture and Research Limited in Grantham; that on 25th March an Argentinian Air Force jet left Stansted Airport with military supplies; and that on 29th March an Argentinian airliner flew out of Heathrow loaded with military spares, all of these licensed by the Government?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, so far as the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question is concerned, perhaps I might read to him the conclusion of the Franks Committee, which is as follows: We believe that our account demonstrates conclusively that the Government had no reason to believe before 31st March that an invasion of the Falkland Islands would take place at the beginning of April. I think that disposes of the noble Lord's first point.

So far as his other points are concerned, the total shipments, as I have said, amounted to £1.1 million, which in this area is a relatively small sum of money. It is not the practice to give details of individual export licences.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is continuing concern about the supply of arms to the Argentine? Is it the case that since last summer 17 Mirage fighter bombers have been supplied to the Argentine? Is he aware, also, that four warships with Rolls-Royce engines have been supplied to the Argentine, bought with money which the Argentine, of all countries, cannot afford? Could he say what representations Her Majesty's Government are making to our allies, the United States and others, such as France and Germany, who are supplying these armaments, especially in the light of the fact that the Argentine have not declared the cessation of the state of war with this country?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, we share the noble Lord's concern at the supply of arms to the Argentine by third countries. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made these views known very forcibly on a number of occasions.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the Secretary of State accept that the implication of the finding of the Franks Committee that the Government had no reason to expect an Argentine invasion at the beginning of April is that they did have reason to expect an Argentine invasion at some time thereafter? Would the noble Lord also agree that even two months before an invasion is no time to be selling £1 million worth of goods to the enemy?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I think the noble Lord has not quite understood the chronoiogy. The Franks Report says there was no reason to suppose that an invasion would be made up to 31st March. The invasion took place on 2nd April, which is a matter of three days after that date.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that in the world as it is, and not the world as we might like it to be, the Argentine will in the future, as it has in the past, buy modern arms from our industrial competitors, if not from ourselves? Would my noble friend also agree that no criticism should attach to the Labour Administration of 1970 for signing a large contract for destroyers and modern weapons for supply to the Argentine, because in fact we at least knew exactly what those arms would do when the regrettable conflict took place?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I appreciate the points made by my noble friend. I wish to make it clear that there is, and remains, a complete ban on the supply of armaments from this country.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the enormous debt of the Argentine has recently been restructured and that British interests have participated in that restructuring? Would it not be possible to ensure that the restructuring of international debts of such countries is made conditional on none of the additional credits being made available for armaments?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, the position here is that the loans were made by the IMF. We are members of the IMF, but of course we do not ourselves actually run the IMF. It is a joint international body in which a large number of countries are represented. It has always been the policy of the IMF not to attach political conditions to its loans. Nevertheless, the conditions attached on economic and budgetary grounds would make it less likely, and not more likely, that the Argentine would have money to spend on armaments.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that most of the supplementary questions, except that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, have nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper which refers to March and not to other months?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, while I entirely agree with my noble friend I have been endeavouring to answer the questions which have been put because the answer in most instances is perfectly straightforward.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, if the Minister takes the attitude, as he does, of a kind of indifference about supplying arms to Argentina even only a fortnight before hostilities started in April last year, is it unreasonable that noble Lords should express concern about events since? In the light of the cold and clinical disdain of the Prime Minister when the Franks Report was debated in another place, is it not inconsistent that her policy allows not only the sale of arms to Argentina but also the means to pay for them? Were there no safeguards in the IMF loan? After all, I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer was for a time chairman of the meetings which took place and we could have sought safeguards from our allies to ensure that British forces in the Argentine did not meet with weapons supplied by their own country.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord's comments about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister are entirely unjustified and completely inaccurate. None of us has shown any indifference in this matter at all. I have made it perfectly clear that there is and remains a total embargo on the supply of armaments from this country to the Argentine. As regards the IMF, we must operate within the terms of the IMF rules and these I have explained in reply to an earlier supplementary question.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, are we to understand from the series of answers that my noble friend has given that while Britain has a clean bill of health, as it clearly has on this matter, we are somewhat disappointed that some of our allies, indeed our partners in Europe, do not seem to have quite the same attitude to this matter?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I entirely understand the point made by my noble friend. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made his views on this matter very plain to the Governments concerned.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not nonetheless disquieting, irrespective of party, that this country provided much of the means whereby not only Argentine but British servicemen were killed and injured? Does the noble Lord not agree that it is high time that the international arms trade was brought under more effective control?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I would not accept the innuendo in the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question. So far as the second part of his question is concerned, I appreciate that he believes there should not be any international trade in arms. That is a point of view held by a number of people. It is not held by the majority of people, and certainly not held on these Benches.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is it the view of the Government that the international trade in arms should not be carried on with countries which persistently and brutally reject human rights?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, we do apply restrictions on the supply of arms to countries by reference to breaches of human rights.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, with the greatest respect, the original Answer which the noble Lord gave me did not deal with the specific question which I put to him. May I ask him again: is it correct that the Franks Report, whatever its final conclusions might be, exposed the fact that at the beginning of March the Foreign Office here told the Governor of the Falklands, We are now perilously near confrontation"? If that is correct, is it not the case that the arms that were sent from this country during the following few weeks were the arms that were used to kill British men in the Falkland Islands? May I ask whether the Minister has read the Written Answer of the Prime Minister in another place on 14th March which contradicts the last part of his Answer to me by giving specific details of flights from this country to the Argentine during the period that I have questioned?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I have, of course, a copy of my right honourable friend's reply in front of me. It starts by saying: There is no evidence in official records that the arms which the honourable Member describes were exported on the flights in question. If he has any relevant information, I will arrange for the matter to be further investigated".—[Official Report, Commons 14/3/83; col. 24.] The Prime Minister then gave certain information about the export of arms on certain flights and those figures were specifically included in the figures that I quoted to the noble Lord in reply to his Question on the Order Paper. So far as the Franks Committee is concerned, the important thing is the verdict to which the Franks Committee came, and that verdict was as I have read out to the noble Lord.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, might there be time for a question from the Cross Benches?

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we have spent 19 minutes on the first two Questions and I should have thought it would be right and the wish of the House that we now move on to the next Question.