Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1982 May 11 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [23/596-602]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3276
Themes: Parliament, Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (International organizations), Media
[column 596]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Neubert

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 11 May.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today. This evening I shall be dining with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

Mr. Neubert

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing belief that the Argentine Government are deliberately, to their own advantage, trying to spin out the negotiations over the Falkland Islands that are at present [column 597]being conducted through the Secretary-General of the United Nations? Can she say what has happened in those negotiations since the Foreign Secretary's statement last Friday?

The Prime Minister

The negotiations will take a little time. I must make it clear that the fact that we are negotiating does not close any military options at all. The Secretary-General is pursuing the negotiations vigorously. He has seen our ambassador to the United Nations once or twice each day and also, separately, the representative of the Argentine Government.

There are certain fundamental principles that we cannot fudge in any way. The ceasefire must be accompanied by a withdrawal to a specific timetable and in a comparatively short time. We must make it absolutely clear that the Argentines must not enter into those negotiations in the belief, or on the condition, that by the end of them sovereignty is ceded to them.

Mr. Foot

Since these discussions under the auspices of the Secretary-General are obviously of the very greatest importance, and since the outcome may be of the very greatest importance in the dispute, will the right hon. Lady give a clear undertaking that the House of Commons will have the chance to judge those propositions before the Government takes any final decision?

The Prime Minister

We frequently have debates on the Falkland Islands issue, but the Government must be free and, I believe, are inherently free, to make the best judgment that they can in the situation and, finally, to be accountable to the House of Commons for that judgment.

Mr. Foot

Of course the right hon. Lady's Government is responsible to the House for what they do. We are asking for something different. These are important discussions. As the right hon. Lady indicated in her reply a moment ago, important principles are involved. The Government have made some very wise departures from previous utterances on many of these matters, but the House of Commons has the right to make a judgment on this matter before any decision is taken by the Government that would enlarge the conflict. I ask the right hon. Lady and her Government, who have been very leniently treated by the House on this matter, for that assurance.

Mr. Lee

Why did the right hon. Gentleman not meet the Prime Minister?

Mr. Foot

Because the House has the right to make the judgment. That is why I am asking the right hon. Lady to give the House the chance to judge the outcome of the discussions that are being held under the auspices of the Secretary-General.

The Prime Minister

We have to take our decisions on those discussions. I agree that they are very important, but it is an inherent jurisdiction of the Government to negotiate and to reach decisions. Afterwards, the House of Commons can pass judgment on the Government.

Mr. Foot

I ask the right hon. Lady to consider this matter afresh. It could be that a decision on these matters made by the Government could utterly frustrate and destroy their outcome. Therefore, I again ask the right hon. Lady to give the House of Commons the chance to make a judgment before the Government themselves make the final judgment.

[column 598]

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The Government have this responsibility, will shoulder that responsibility and will stand before this House and defend their decision.

Q2. Mr. Marlow

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 11 May.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Marlow

With regard to the Falkland Islands, unlike the Commonwealth and the United States, our Community partners, despite their public utterances, seem to have been flapping around like decapitated chickens. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, unless we have their robust, continuing and wholehearted support, it will go ill with the Community within this country and we might be forced to move against the Community, which neither she nor I would wish to do?

The Prime Minister

I must point out to my hon. Friend that the European Community has given us staunch support right from the beginning of the Falklands campaign. It gave us staunch support by imposing an import ban. It extended it. There are no military exports from the European Community to the Argentine. There are no new export credits, and at present an import ban is in force. The Community will make a decision by the end of this week on whether it should extend that import ban and I hope and believe that it will.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

While the Prime Minister is considering these matters and the exercise of a prerogative that lies in the hands of a Government, will she bear in mind that at no time has this House been informed, or been invited to accept, that there should be any other sequel to the repossession of the Falkland Islands than the immediate and unconditional restoration of sole British administration?

The Prime Minister

I am fully aware of the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made. Sovereignty cannot be changed by invasion. I am very much aware that the rights of the Falkland Islanders were to be governed through the means of a legislative and executive council, and that is what democracy is all about.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

If my right hon. Friend has time today, will she watch a recording of last night's “Panorama” programme? Is she aware that for the most part, but not all, it was an odious, subversive, travesty in which Michael Cockerell and other BBC reporters dishonoured the right to freedom of speech in this country? Is it not time that such people accepted the fact that if they have these rights, they also have responsibilities?

The Prime Minister

I share the deep concern that has been expressed on many sides, particularly about the content of yesterday evening's “Panorama” programme. I know how strongly many people feel that the case for our country is not being put with sufficient vigour on certain—I do not say all—BBC programmes. The chairman of the BBC has assured us, and has said in vigorous terms, that the BBC is not neutral on this point, and I hope that his words will be heeded by the many who have responsibilities for standing up for our task force, our boys, our people and the cause of democracy.

Mr. Winnick

Does not the Prime Minister agree that one of the virtues of a political democracy is that radio and television should be independent from constant [column 599]Government control and interference? Would it not be useful if some of her right hon. and hon. Friends stopped their constant intimidation of the BBC? Perhaps the Prime Minister would take that hint as well.

The Prime Minister

It is our great pride that the British media are free. We ask them, when the lives of some of our people may be at stake through information or through discussions that can be of use to the enemy—[Interruption.]—to take that into account in their programmes. It is our pride that we have no censorship. That is the essence of a free country. But we expect the case for freedom to be put by those who are responsible for doing so.

Q4. Mr. Pitt

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 May.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Pitt

In view of what has happened in the preceding weeks, will the Prime Minister give her views on the wisdom of selling arms to non-NATO and unstable countries?

The Prime Minister

Each and every request for the sale of arms is dealt with separately, and it will continue to be done in that way.

Mr. Body

During the day, will my right hon. Friend indicate the extent to which the Government appreciate the way in which Australia and New Zealand have imposed trade sanctions on Argentina and the manner in which those sanctions were imposed, totally, speedily and unconditionally?

The Prime Minister

Gladly. The Governments of Australia and New Zealand have been absolutely magnificent from the day when the Falkland Islands were invaded. From the very outset they have recognised that pressure must be brought to bear and that the Falkland Islanders wish to have the right to live in their own way under a Government of their own choice.

Mr. Dalyell

Who is there, from Mexico City to Cape Horn, who supports what the task force is doing?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman looks even at some of the resolutions——

Mr. Dalyell

Answer the question.

The Prime Minister

—of the Organisation of American States, he will see that a number of them condemned the use of force. Some of them may well believe in Argentine sovereignty, but they have totally and utterly condemned the use of force. In any case, I am circumscribed not by the views of those countries but by the interests of our people.

Sir Bernard Braine

I thank the Prime Minister for her robust remarks earlier. During the course of her busy day, has she been made aware of the rising tide of anger among our constituents at the media treatment and presentation of enemy propaganda and the defeatist views of an unrepresentative minority? Is she aware that an increasing number of people are telling us that this amounts to a sort of treachery?

The Prime Minister

Our people are very robust and the heart of Britain is sound. I hope that individually they will make their views directly known to the BBC, by their letters and telephone calls.

[column 600]

Mr. Ashton

Will the Prime Minister comment on the reports in The Sunday Times two days ago that last Thursday Fleet Street was promised an announcement by Mr. Ian McDonald at six o'clock that two Harrier jets had gone down but that it was delayed until nine o'clock because it was polling day and there would have been an effect on the vote?

The Prime Minister

That reason is totally and utterly untrue. Does it not occur to the hon. Gentleman that there are times when we must try to get the names of those who have been killed and inform their relatives before people hear that these things have happened? In addition, there may well be operational reasons why one does not tell the enemy immediately of every loss.

Mr. Montgomery

Will my right hon. Friend try to study, at some time today, the press reports of the demonstration that took place in London on Sunday and which was graced by the chairman of the Labour Party and by the right hon. Member for Bristol South-East (Mr. Benn)? Will she especially examine press reports to the effect that certain people at the demonstration were shouting “Victory for Argentina” ? Does she not agree that this crisis has thrown up some strange bedfellows when the extreme Left wing of politics in this country is supporting the Fascist junta in Argentina?

The Prime Minister

Whatever the demonstrations that took place, I have no doubt that the vast majority of our people support our task force and our boys in the South Atlantic, who are trying to provide that our people who are under the heel of the Argentine dictator shall have the right to self-determination and democracy.

Mr. Foot

Some of us on the Opposition Benches have been opposed to the Argentine junta a good sight longer than most Conservative Members. I return to the replies that the right hon. Lady gave on the question of the BBC and some of the broadcasts. This is, of course, concerned with the important matter of how freedom of discussion is to be conducted in this country. Some of us are determined to defend it.

Before the right hon. Lady pursues further her strictures of the BBC, where I am sure people are seeking to do their duty in difficult circumstances, will she take some steps to reprove the attitude of some newspapers that support her—the hysterical bloodlust of The Sun and the Daily Mail, which bring such disgrace on the journalism of this country?

The Prime Minister

Taking the view that the right hon. Gentleman does of the Argentine junta, I hope that he will support the Government in their every act——

Mr. William Hamilton

No.

The Prime Minister

—to free the people of the Falkland Islands from what he called this “foul and brutal aggression” on the very first day. The media are totally free to discuss and publish what they wish. Equally, as the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated, we are free to say what we think about them.

Mr. Foot

When the right hon. Lady asks that we should support every act of her Government, I am sure that she must understand that this cannot be the case. I am sure that, on reflection, she will not wish to press any such claims. I repeat what I said at the beginning. It is far and away the most important aspect of the matter with which [column 601]we have to deal. Whatever may be the views on the BBC, the newspapers and the rest, this House of Commons is the place where the most important issues of all should be debated. I ask the right hon. Lady once again to give this House the chance of judging what proposals may come from the discussions with the Secretary-General. She owes that to the House of Commons and to the country.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has asked the same question. I give him the same answer.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. As long as it is a genuine point of order.

Mr. Dalyell

In supplementary questions, the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) referred, in relation to myself and, I imagine, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), to treachery, and the right hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) referred to dishonour. Some of us who have been in the 7th Armoured Division, who have been gunner operators on tanks and many of whose contemporaries in training were shot up with the King's Royal Irish Hussars in Korea, take it ill to be accused of treachery and dishonour.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was listening carefully to the exchanges. There was no reference to any individual Member of the House. To make doubly sure, I called the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) after those questions were asked. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he was called afterwards. There was no individual charge about any particular persons in the programme, at least no person belonging to this honourable House.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's high feeling but I can deal only with points of order on which I can rule. So far as I am aware, our order has not been breached.

Mr. Dalyell

“Treachery” is something of a serious word. Can I, through you, Mr. Speaker, if he was not referring to myself or to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, ask——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot pursue the argument in that way.

Later

Mr. Dalyell

Normally I am rather relaxed about parliamentary rights, but a charge of treachery——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have dealt with that matter. If I had thought that the hon. Gentleman had been charged [column 602]with treachery I would have intervened at once, but I think the House is aware that there was no personal charge against the hon. Member. Therefore, there is nothing that I can do to ask anyone to withdraw a general remark.

Mr. Dalyell

rose——

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understood the question of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), he referred to those who took part in a television programme last night. Two of the people who took part were my hon. Friends the Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes). In that sense, there was a direct connection to the allegation——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I dealt with that matter to the best of my ability. If a personal accusation had been made, I would have had no hesitation in intervening. I cannot pursue the matter.

Mr. English

rose——

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. English

How can anyone be guilty of treason when Her Majesty's Government refuse to accept that Argentina began a war without declaring it?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot answer that question.

Mr. Faulds

Mr. Speaker, can I ask you to look at another aspect of the use of the word “treachery” in the House of Commons? Some of us saw fingers being pointed at the two hon. Gentlemen at whom the accusation was being made—we saw fingers being raised—which I should have thought was a pretty specific way of making the point. Regardless of that, since the charge of treachery was made at unspecified hon. Members, is it still not an unacceptable use of such a phrase, and would it not be for the good health of the House if the use of that word were to be withdrawn by the hon. Member responsible for using it?

Mr. Speaker

Order. In reply to the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), I agree that it would be in the interests of the House if, during these difficult days when there is severe tension both here and in the country, we tried to avoid the words “treachery” and “treason” , and such things, because they advance nobody's argument. I hope that we can now proceed. We shall go on to the business motion.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order——

Sir Frederick Burden

On a point of order——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not taking any more points of order.