Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC S: (1443-1510Z) [Falkland Islands]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [24/477-83]
Editorial comments:


Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 4302
Themes: Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (International organizations), Defence (Falklands)
[column 477]

Falkland Islands

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thompson.]

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

Seven weeks ago today Costa Mendezthe Argentine Foreign Minister summoned the British ambassador in Buenos Aires and informed him that the diplomatic channel was now closed. Later on that same day President Reagan appealed to President Galtieri not to invade the Falkland Islands. That appeal was rejected.

Ever since 2 April Argentina has continued to defy the mandatory resolution of the Security Council. During the past 24 hours the crisis over the Falkland Islands has moved into a new and even more serious phase.

On Monday of this week Sir Anthony Parsonsour ambassador to the United Nations handed to the Secretary-General our proposals for a peaceful settlement of the dispute. These proposals represented the limit to which the Government believe it was right to go. We made it clear to Senor Perez de Cuellar that we expected the Argentine Government to give us a very rapid response to them.

By yesterday morning we had had a first indication of the Argentine reaction. It was not encouraging. By the evening we received their full response in writing. It was in effect a total rejection of the British proposals. Indeed, in many respects the Argentine reply went back to their position when they rejected Mr. Haig 's second set of proposals on 29 April. It retracted virtually all the movement that their representative had shown during the Secretary-General's efforts to find a negotiated settlement. I shall have some more to say about his efforts later.

The implications of the Argentine response are of the utmost gravity. This is why the Government decided to publish immediately the proposals that we had put to the Secretary-General and to give the House the earliest opportunity to consider them. These proposals were placed in the Vote Office earlier today. The Government believe that they represented a truly responsible effort to find a peaceful solution which both preserved the fundamental principles of our position and offered the opportunity to stop further loss of life in the South Atlantic.

We have reached this very serious situation because the Argentines clearly decided at the outset of the negotiations that they would cling to the spoils of invasion and occupation by thwarting at every turn all the attempts that have been made to solve the conflict by peaceful means. Ever since 2 April they have responded to the efforts to find a negotiated solution with obduracy and delay, deception and bad faith.

We have now been negotiating for six weeks. The House will recall the strenuous efforts made over an extended period by Secretary of State Haig. During that period my ministerial colleagues and I considered no fewer than four sets of proposals. Although these presented substantial difficulties, we did our best to help Mr. Haig continue his mission, until Argentine rejection of his last proposals left him no alternative but to abandon his efforts.

The next stage of negotiations was based on proposals originally advanced by President Belaunde of Peru and modified in consultations between him and Mr. Haig. As my right hon. Friend Francis Pymthe Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs informed the House on 7 May, Britain was willing to accept these, the fifth set of [column 478]proposals, for an interim settlement. They could have led to an almost immediate ceasefire. But again it was Argentina that rejected them.

I shall not take up the time of the House with a detailed description of those earlier proposals, partly because they belong to those who devised them, but, more importantly, because they are no longer on the negotiating table. Britain is not now committed to them.

Since 6 May, when it became clear that the United States-Peruvian proposals were not acceptable to Argentina, the United Nations Secretary-General, Senor Perez de Cuellar, has been conducting negotiations with Britain and Argentina.

Following several rounds of discussions, the United Kingdom representative at the United Nations was summoned to London for consultation last Sunday. On Monday Sir Anthony Parsons returned to New York and presented to the Secretary-General a draft interim agreement between Britain and Argentina which set out the British position in full. He made it clear that the text represented the furthest that Britain could go in the negotiations. He requested that the draft should be transmitted to the Argentine representative and that he should be asked to convey his Government's response within two days.

Yesterday we received the Argentine Government's reply. It amounted to a rejection of our own proposals, and we have so informed the Secretary-General. This morning we have received proposals from the Secretary-General himself.

It will help the House to understand the present position if I now describe briefly these three sets of proposals.

I deal first with our own proposals. These preserve the fundamental principles which are the basis of the Government's position. Aggression must not be allowed to succeed. International law must be upheld. Sovereignty cannot be changed by invasion.

The liberty of the Falkland Islanders must be restored. For years they have been free to express their own wishes about how they want to be governed. They have had institutions of their own choosing. They have enjoyed self-determination. Why should they lose that freedom and exchange it for dictatorship?

Our proposals are contained in two documents. First, and mainly, there is a draft interim agreement between ourselves and Argentina. Secondly, there is a letter to the Secretary-General which makes it clear that the British Government do not regard the draft interim agreement as covering the dependencies of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

I deal with the dependencies first. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are geographically distant from the Falkland Islands themselves. They have no settled population. British title to them does not derive from the Falkland Islands but is separate. These territories have been treated as dependencies of the Falkland Islands only for reasons of administrative convenience. That is why they are outside the draft agreement.

The House has before it the draft agreement, and I turn now to its main features. Article 2 provides for the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Argentine and British forces from the islands and their surrounding waters within 14 days. At the end of the withdrawal British ships would be at least 150 nautical miles from the islands. [column 479]Withdrawal much beyond this would not have been reasonable, because the proximity of the Argentine mainland would have given their forces undue advantage.

Withdrawal of the Argentine Forces would be the most immediate and explicit sign that their Government's aggression had failed and that they were being made to give up what they had gained by force. It is the essential beginning of a peaceful settlement and the imperative of resolution 502.

Article 6 sets out the interim arrangements under which the islands would be administered in the period between the cessation of hostilities and the conclusion of negotiations on the long-term future of the islands.

In this interim period there would be a United Nations administrator, appointed by the Secretary-General and acceptable to Britain and the Argentine. He would be the officer administering the Government. Under clause 3 of this article he would exercise his powers in conformity with the laws and the practices traditionally obtaining in the islands. He would consult the islands' representative institutions—that is the Legislative and Executive Councils through which the islanders were governed until 2 April. There would be an addition to each of the two Councils of one representative of the 20 or 30 Argentines normally resident in the islands. Their representatives would be nominated by the administrator.

The clause has been carefully drawn so that the interim administration cannot make changes in the law and customs of the islanders that would prejudge the outcome of the negotiations on a long-term settlement.

This provision would not only go a long way to giving back to the Falklanders the way of life that they have always enjoyed but would prevent an influx of Argentine settlers in the interim period whose residence would change the nature of society there and radically affect the future of the islands. That would not have been a true interim administration. It would have been an instrument of change.

Clause 3 of this article thus fully safeguards the future of the islands. Nothing in this interim administration would compromise the eventual status of the Falklands or the freedom which they have enjoyed for so long.

Clause 4 would require the administrator to verify the withdrawal of all forces from the islands and to prevent their reintroduction.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. Could she help the House by clarifying one point? She said on the Jimmy Young radio programme the other day that she did not like the word “veto” as it applied to the Falkland Islands. Is the Government's position that the Falkland Islanders will be consulted and that their views are still paramount? Can the right hon. Lady help the House on that point?

The Prime Minister

I am dealing with the arrangements for the interim between the cessation of hostilities and the negotiations. The right hon. Gentleman will notice that we have imported into this agreement article 73 of the United Nations charter, which refers to the paramountcy of the interests of the islanders. During the long-term negotiations we shall closely consult the islanders on their wishes and of course we believe in self-determination. That relates to the long-term negotiations. [column 480]These articles deal with the interim administration, and I have been trying to make it clear that the interim administration must not have provisions within it which, in effect, pre-empt the outcome of the long-term negotiations.

I return to clause 4 of article 6. We think it likely that the administrator will need to call upon the help of three or four countries other than ourselves and the Argentine to provide him with the necessary equipment and a small but effective force. The purpose of that is that if our troops leave the islands we must have some way of guarding against another Argentine invasion. The safest way under these arrangements would be for the United Nations' administrator to have a small United Nations force at his disposal, of the type I have described.

Articles 8 and 9 are also very important. They deal with negotiations between Britain and Argentina on the long-term future of the islands.

The key sentence is the one which reads:

“These negotiations shall be initiated without prejudice to the rights, claims and positions of the parties and without prejudgment of the outcome.”

We should thus be free to take fully into account the wishes of the islanders themselves. And Argentina would not be able to claim that the negotiations had to end with a conclusion that suited her.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Surely it is implicit in those words that if the rights and claims of the Argentines are being considered, the outcome of the negotiations may be that we shall cede sovereignty to Argentina.

The Prime Minister

I have said that we do not prejudge the outcome. If the islanders wished to go to Argentina, I believe that this country would uphold the wishes of the islanders. After their experience I doubt very much whether that would be the wish of the islanders. Indeed, I believe that they would recoil from it.

I return to article 9. We have to recognise that the negotiations might be lengthy. That is why article 9 provides that until the final agreement has been reached and implemented the interim agreement will remain in force.

Although this interim agreement does not restore things fully to what they were before the Argentine invasion, it is faithful to the fundamental principles that I outlined earlier. Had the Argentines accepted our proposals, we should have achieved the great prize of preventing further loss of life. It was with that in mind that we were prepared to make practical changes that were reasonable. But we were not prepared to compromise on principle.

I turn now to the Argentine response. This revived once again all the points which had been obstacles in earlier negotiations. The Argentine draft interim agreement applied not only to the Falklands but included South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands as well. The Argentines demanded that all forces should withdraw, including our forces on South Georgia, and return to their normal bases and areas of operation. This was plainly calculated to put us at an enormous disadvantage.

They required that the interim administration should be the exclusive responsibility of the United Nations which should take over all executive, legislative, judicial and security functions in the islands. They rejected any role for the islands democratic institutions. [column 481]

They envisaged that the interim administration would appoint as advisers equal numbers of British and Argentine residents of the islands, despite their huge disparity.

They required freedom of movement and equality of access with regard to residence, work and property for Argentine nationals on an equal basis with the Falkland Islanders. the Junta's clear aim was to flood the islands with its own nationals during the interim period, and thereby change the nature of Falklands society and so prejudge the future of the Islands.

With regard to negotiations for a long-term settlement, while pretending not to prejudice the outcome the junta stipulated that the object was to comply not only with the Charter of the United Nations but with various resolutions of the General Assembly, from some of which the United Kingdom dissented on the grounds that they favoured Argentine sovereignty.

And if the period provided for the completion of the negotiation expired, the junta demanded that the General Assembly should determine the lines to which final agreement should conform. It was manifestly impossible for Britain to accept such demands. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.” ]

Argentina began the crisis. Argentina has rejected proposal after proposal. One is bound to ask whether the junta has ever intended to seek a peaceful settlement or whether it has sought merely to confuse and prolong the negotiations while remaining in illegal possession of the Islands. I believe that if we had a dozen more negotiations the tactics and results would be the same. From the course of these negotiations and Argentina's persistent refusal to acept resolution 502 we are bound to conclude that its objective is procrastination and continuing occupation, leading eventually to sovereignty.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I thank the Prime Minister for giving way and I apologise for interrupting her. Are we to understand that the proposed interim agreement, like some earlier proposals, is no longer on the table, having regard to the fact that the proposed provisions for the withdrawal of British forces and a non-British administration have consequences for British sovereignty and for the principles for which the task force was dispatched?

The Prime Minister

The proposals have been rejected. They are no longer on the table.

As I said earlier, the Secretary-General has this morning put to us and to Argentina an aide-memoire describing those issues where, in his opinion, agreement seems to exist and those on which differences remain.

The first group of issues—those where he believes there is a measure of agreement—would require further clarification, for on some points our interpretation would be different. The aide-memoire states, for example, that Argentina would accept long-term negotiations without prejudgment of the outcome. This important phrase was, however, omitted from the Argentine response to our own proposals and is belied by a succession of statements from Buenos Aires.

Those points where, in the Secretary-General's judgment, differences remain include: first, aspects of the interim administration; secondly, the timetable for completion of negotiations and the related duration of the interim administration; thirdly, aspects of the mutual [column 482]withdrawal of forces; and, fourthly, the geographic area to be covered. Senor Perez de Cuellar has proposed formulations to cover some of those points.

The Secretary-General, to whose efforts I pay tribute, has a duty to continue to seek agreement. But, as our representative is telling him in New York, his paper differs in certain important respects from our position as presented to him on 17 May and which we then described as the furthest that we could go. Moreover, it differs fundamentally from the present Argentine position as communicated to us yesterday.

It is not a draft agreement, but, as the Secretary-General himself puts it, a number of formulations and suggestions. Some of his suggestions are the very ones which have already been rejected by the Argentine response to our own proposals. Even if they were acceptable to both parties as a basis for negotiation, that negotiation would take many days, if not weeks, to reach either success or failure.

We have been through this often before and each time we have been met with Argentine obduracy and procrastination. Argentina rejected our proposals. It is inconceivable that it would now genuinely accept those of the Secretary-General's ideas which closely resemble our own.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

Is the Prime Minister aware that, according to the Quaker mission at the United Nations in New York, certain members of the Security Council have prepared a document which it is thought may be the basis for negotiation between ourselves and the Argentines?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think that that is covered by what I have already said. This is the seventh set of proposals that we have considered. We have considered them carefully. Each time we have met with tactics the object of which is procrastination leading to continued occupation of the islands. Because of the record on this matter we thought it best to put up our own specific draft interim agreement in writing so that our position was clear for the world to see and so that it was clear that we were not compromising fundamental principles, but that we were prepared to make some reasonable, practical suggestions if we could secure the prize of no further loss of life. Those proposals were rejected. They are no longer on the table.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)

Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister

No, not at the moment. The hon. Gentleman is interrupting the flow of what I am saying. What is being considered is what is called an aide-memoire, which is not a draft agreement, but a number of formulations and suggestions. The essence of those formulations and suggestions, where they are clear, is that they are those that have already been rejected by the Argentine response to our proposals.

Mr. Robinson

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. Why have we withdrawn those proposals, even though they have been rejected by Argentina? Why cannot they stay on the table for acceptance by Argentina right up to the last minute?

The Prime Minister

Because they have been rejected and it is the seventh lot of proposals with which we have [column 483]been involved. This cannot go on and on. Someone has to make a decision and an assessment of the objectives of the Argentine junta.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Since, at the end of the day, every rational man and woman knows that we cannot sustain indefinitely the sovereignty of those rocks 8,000 miles away, why is the Prime Minister showing such extraordinary impatience?—[Interruption.] Why will she not continue to seek to negotiate when the alternative is carnage and bloodshed, which will have no good effect at all?

The Prime Minister

Because the Argentines do not want a negotiated settlement. They want sovereignty of the islands and they are using protracted negotiations to procure that objective. I do not believe that they are genuine in their negotiations.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Does the Prime Minister accept that many people believe that the proposals by the British Government are fair? Many people now recognise that the British Government may feel it necessary to take further military measures, but they cannot necessarily understand why the Prime Minister believes it necessary to withdraw the proposals or why the proposals cannot be held on the table in the hope that the Argentine Government will eventually come to their senses.

The Prime Minister

It seems perfectly clear to me that if the proposals have been rejected it is reasonable to withdraw them. They have been rejected. They are no longer on the table. What we are now considering is an aide-memoire put up by the Secretary-General. It seems right that if one makes an offer and it is rejected, that is the end of the matter, particularly bearing in mind that we are discussing the seventh set of proposals in which I have been involved.

Even if we were prepared to negotiate on the basis of the aide-memoire, we should first wish to see subsantive Argentine comments on it, going beyond mere acceptance of it as a basis for negotiation. These are the points that we are making in our reply to the Secretary-General. At the same time, we are reminding him—as my right hon. Friends and I have repeatedly said to the House—that negotiations do not close any military options.

The gravity of the situation will be apparent to the House and the nation. Difficult days lie ahead, but Britain will face them in the conviction that our cause is just and in the knowledge that we have been doing everything reasonable to secure a negotiated settlement.

The principles that we are defending are fundamental to everything that this Parliament and this country stand for. They are the principles of democracy and the rule of law. Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in violation of the rights of peoples to determine by whom and in what way they are governed. Its aggression was committed against a people who are used to enjoying full human rights and freedom. It was executed by a Government with a notorious record in suspending and violating those same rights.

Britain has a responsibility towards the islanders to restore their democratic way of life. She has a duty to the whole world to show that aggression will not succeed and to uphold the cause of freedom.

[column 488]

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Leamington)

If the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) had been Prime Minister, would he have approved the sending of the task force? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Prime Minister should hand over to the Secretary-General of the United Nations the timing of future negotiations regardless of their outcome? Many of us would find that extremely hard to accept.

Mr. Foot

I am not saying that we should hand it over regardless of the outcome or of the time. The right hon. Lady has insisted on another occasion that there has been no hold up in the military operations because of the discussions. She is now nodding. The right hon. Lady has said many times that there has been no hold up in the military operations because of the discussions. It is a question not of asking for a great deal of time, but of asking for a proper response to what the Secretary-General has to say.

One of the disputes that I had with the right hon. Lady three weeks ago was when the Secretary-General came forward with some suggestions before the Foreign Secretary had had any meetings with him. We said that it would be improper for us to proceed without having the fullest possible discussions with the Secretary-General. That has been repaired in the sense that the Foreign Secretary has had discussions with the Secretary-General.

We have now reached the point at which a breakdown has occurred in the other negotiations, but the Secretary-General believes that the matter is of such supreme importance that, in the words of the right hon. Lady, someone must make an assessment. The Secretary-General has as much right to make an assessment as the Prime Minister or anybody else. The Secretary-General may be listened to in many parts of the world on this subject, and we shall need the support of many countries. I believe that it was a great mistake for the right hon. Lady to say—although I do not suppose it will govern her conduct in future negotiations—that all the proposals that she and her Government had made in the past were now withdrawn. [Hon. Members: “Why not?” ] I will tell hon. Members. It is because we want the Secretary-General to succeed. We want him to be supported. We want to ensure that the Government will give every proper response to the Secretary-General.

I shall make a specific proposal to the right hon. Lady on the subject in a few moments. It is no use hon. Members pushing it aside and saying that we will have nothing to do with what the Secretary-General proposes.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) cannot have heard what I said. The Secretary-General has put forward an aide-memoire. I described what we were saying to him. I said that what we were saying to him could not foreclose military options any more than it has in the past. There is his aide-memoire. I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Foot

If the right hon. Lady is now telling us that her response to the Secretary-General is one which she is prepared to follow further at the United Nations, I am in favour of it. I am not quite sure whether a few of her more raucous Back Benchers would support her, but that is another matter. I hope that the right hon. Lady and her Government at such a delicate moment as this, when the command of support throughout the world is of paramount importance, will build on the answer the right hon. Lady