Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [24/186-90]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2311
Themes: Parliament, Defence (Falklands), Monetary policy, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (International organizations), Labour Party & socialism
[column 186]



Q1. Mr. Chapman

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 18 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, including one with the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Chapman

During the day, will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that ridding the Falkland Islands of all Argentine troops is not only the main objective of her Government—backed up by the overwhelming support of the British people—but is seen by millions beyond our shores as an objective that is fundamental to the prospects for international law and order and essential to the security and independence of all small sovereign States—the very point recently made by no less a person that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth?

The Prime Minister

I warmly endorse what my hon. Friend has said. Our objective in the South Atlantic is not only to ensure that the Argentine troops withdraw from the Falklands but to uphold international law and to see that territorial boundaries are not, and cannot be, changed by force.

Mr. Foot

Does the Prime Minister agree that matters cannot be left quite where they were at the end of last Thursday's debate and that several important questions should be clarified in debate in the House? I refer, for example, to the questions put by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) about the nature of the Peruvian terms and some of the possibilities that were put forward. There are also questions about how far the Argentine Government may have moved towards accepting at any rate two of the requirements that the Government have laid down. Will the right hon. Lady make it quite clear that we shall be able to discuss any response from the Argentine [column 187]Government in the House as well as any comment that the Secretary-General of the United Nations may make on the situation?

The Prime Minister

This will be a critical week for deciding whether a peaceful settlement is attainable. Sir Anthony ParsonsOur ambassador to the United Nations returned, saw Senor Perez de Cuellar and put some proposals to him, to be handed over to the Argentines. I understand that we can expect a reply very shortly—within a matter of a day or so. Therefore, it is a critical week and the Government think that it would be timely to hold a debate later this week. I understand that the matter will be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Lady for her response. It is right that the House should have such a debate, in which—I assume—the House will able to judge the propositions for a peaceful settlement before any major escalation of the situation.

The Prime Minister

No military action can be held up in any way. To do so would be to give notice to the dictator, who is our enemy.

Mr. Foot

Surely the right hon. Lady has a responsibility to give notice to the dictator that the House has the right to judge such matters before there is any escalation of the situation.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is constitutionally and practically wrong, and wrong when it comes to regarding the interests of our people in the task force and in the Falklands.

Mr. Peyton

Does the Prime Minister agree that in the absence of any further major developments there will be little point in having a further debate in the House, save, perhaps, to give the Leader of the Opposition a further opportunity to slide away from resolution into a morass of vacillation?

Mr. Dalyell


The Prime Minister

I offered a debate through the usual channels because I believe that this will be a critical week that will decide whether or not a peaceful settlement is attainable. We cannot go on prevaricating. The Argentines are trying to spin out the negotiations. So far, no military option has been closed or held up, and it will not be. However, because I think that this is a critical week it is right to offer a debate.

Mr. Litherland

May I draw the Prime Minister's attention to a report in The Observer, which said that the Argentine Government owes Williams and Glynn's Bank £6 million, and added that if that is not forthcoming it will have to be met by the taxpayers of this country? In other words, we should supply money for destroyers to sink our ships. Does the Prime Minister think that it is about time that she put pressure on the banks and the financial institutions to play their part, or is it far more convenient for them for there to be a loss of life rather than a loss of profit?

The Prime Minister

I cannot associate myself in any way with what the hon. Gentleman has said. We have frozen Argentine assets in the United Kingdom. The bankers are playing their part, just as everyone else in the country is. I can only condemn what the hon. Gentleman has said.

[column 188]

Q2. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 18 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Atkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are many normal, decent people in this country who are not over-zealous jingoists, but who view the antics of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in participating in a march in which there was a banner calling for victory for Argentina, as being, if nothing else, in doubtful taste? Bearing in mind that both he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) were members of a Government who sold ships and planes to the Argentine——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have said before that the Prime Minister can be questioned only about those matters for which she is responsible.

Mr. Atkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is political opportunism of the worst order?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that Governments from both sides of the House have sold weapons and ships to Argentina. He is also correct in saying that the two right hon. Members he has mentioned were members of Labour Governments. I also agree that the attitude that those right hon. Members are taking is out of step with the country, their constituents and even their party.

Mr. Craigen

As those of us in this country know what a determined lady the Prime Minister can be, has she considered at any time the possibility of a face-to-face meeting with the Argentine leader—[Interruption.]—to maximise the opportunities for this last attempt at peace?

The Prime Minister

I am a very merciful person. The answer is “No, Sir.”

Mr. Ancram

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who have been life-long supporters of the idea of a European Community have been deeply disturbed by some of the actions of the Council of Ministers over the past 48 hours? Will she make it clear to our partners that co-operation within the rule of law cannot be selective, and that these actions can only give comfort to our enemies and endanger the Community as a whole?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is referring to the voting that is taking place over the CAP farm prices, in which it looks as if the prices will be implemented by a majority vote. If that is so, it is without precedent. It raises serious issues and we shall be considering what to do under the new circumstances. I do not think that it would be wise to go any further than that at the moment. It may still be possible to pull it back.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Prime Minister therefore rejecting the advice of the Conservative group in the European Parliament, which has supported such a move?

The Prime Minister

They are as free as I am to express their views. [Interruption.] I did not agree with their views on the Luxembourg compromise.

Mr. Mates

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in circumstances such as these, the hardest thing that people can do is to wait, and contain themselves in patience, particularly when they are not, and cannot be, in [column 189]possession of all the facts? However, will my right hon. Friend accept that most of us, both inside and outside the House, will keep patience and faith, confident in the knowledge that at the right time my right hon. Friend and her closest advisers will do the right thing?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's advice is wise. I am grateful to him for it.

Mr. Maxton

Now that the Prime Minister is away from the dangerously jingoistic atmosphere of the Scottish Tory Party conference, will she reconsider the attitude that she expressed, that war is more thrilling and more exciting than the welfare of her people?

The Prime Minister

I have never expressed such an attitude.

Mr. Maxton

The Right hon. Lady did.

The Prime Minister

I have never expressed such an attitude. However, I believe firmly that we have a duty to defend our people from the invader.

Falkland Islands

Q3. Mr. Dykes

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the Falkland Islands.

The Prime Minister

Our representative at the United Nations has had a further meeting with Senor Perez de Cuellar. The negotiations are continuing and we are doing all that we can to reach a peaceful settlement, although there are principles on which we cannot compromise. There remain substantial difficulties. I believe that we shall know within the next day or two whether an agreement is attainable. We cannot have endless Argentine prevarication. We have been negotiating in good faith for six weeks and there has still been no sign of Argentine willingness to implement the Security Council's mandatory resolution.

Our determination to ensure that all Argentine forces are withdrawn from the islands remains absolute. We have throughout made it clear that we shall take whatever steps are necessary to bring this about. We are meanwhile increasing the military pressures on the Argentine Government.

Mr. Dykes

I thank my right hon. Friend for that detailed statement. Does she agree that the Government have now done all that they can to achieve a peaceful settlement? Before the awful prospect that full-scale hostilities will have to begin, can we reconsider those specific items of Argentine intransigence that have made [column 190]them resist, adamantly and stubornly, the demands of the Secretary-General, to which the British Government have already acceded?

The Prime Minister

We have done everything that we can to try to secure a peaceful settlement. The Argentines have shown their intransigence by flouting every part of the United Nations mandatory resolution. Not only did they flout the resolution but they have gone in the contrary direction by piling extra men and equipment to the islands.

Mr. Strang

Is the Prime Minister aware that the speech that she made in Perth last Friday convinced many people that she was more intent on a military solution than a peaceful settlement? that would be acceptable to the vast majority of the Commons, but not the Right wing of the Tory Party. Is it the case that the Argentine Government are prepared to withdraw their troops from the Falklands without requiring Britain to concede the principle of sovereignty first?

The Prime Minister

We were negotiating in February—with the islanders—in New York, long before the invasion. It was the Argentines who broke off those negotiations. We were negotiating over the South Georgia incident. It was——

Mr. Cryer

Answer the question.

The Prime Minister

I shall answer the question in my own way and in my own time.

It was the Argentine Foreign Secretary, Senor Costa Mendez, who broke off a diplomatic solution to the South Georgia incident the day before invasion. For six weeks we have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement. If we are not able to do so, most of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and most hon. Gentlemen, would not flinch from a settlement by force.

Mr. Waller

If, unfortunately, it became unavoidable that the use of force had to be contemplated in the defence of British interests, would it not be highly irresponsible for any actions to be delayed, not for operational reasons and in defence of Service men's lives, but simply to consult Members of the House, however eminent they might be?

The Prime Minister

I believe that any military action or option cannot and must not be delayed by people who are extending negotiations. To say that we have to consult people in the House, apart form being constitutionally wrong, would give notice to the invader of when we intended to take action. That would be stupid as well as totally unjust to those whom we expect to fight for us.