Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC Stmnt: [United States (Prime Minister’s Visit)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [26/433-39]
Editorial comments: 1530-1555.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3555
Themes: Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands), Monetary policy, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Northern Ireland, Terrorism
[column 433]


3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on my visit to New York and Washington yesterday.

In New York, I addressed the United Nations special session on disarmament and had discussions with the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly. I have placed in the Library a copy of my speech to the special session. I emphasised that disarmament, properly defined, is the balanced and verifiable reduction of armaments in a manner which enhances peace and security.

As regards nuclear weapons, I welcomed President Reagan 's radical proposals for substantial cuts in strategic weapons and for eliminating a whole class of intermediate-range systems—the zero option. I called for a balanced reduction in conventional weapons; commended the fresh proposals which are being made in the Vienna talks on mutual and balanced force reductions; urged a new impetus for a convention banning the development and possession of chemical weapons; and advocated a special effort to agree on new mandatory confidence and security-building measures in Europe.

Throughout, I emphasised the need for stringent verification of arms control agreements. And I expressed my conviction that the aim of all these measures must be to defend the values in which we believe and to uphold international law and the United Nations charter. We have a right and a duty to defend our own people whenever and wherever their liberty is challenged.

In my discussions with Mr. Perez de Cuellar, we reviewed the prospects for a ceasefire in the Lebanon and discussed how such a ceasefire could be maintained.

I gave the Secretary-General an account of the present situation in the Falkland Islands. I emphasised our wish for a permanent cessation of hostilities, though I have to report that so far the Argentine's response has been negative. I also referred to the repatriation of well over 10,000 prisoners, but I explained that we could not return them all until we were satisfied that hostilities would not be reopened. The Falkland Islanders would be preoccupied for some time to come with the task of reconstruction, none the less, Britain would in due course seek to bring the islands to full self-government. Mr. Perez de Cuellar stated that he remained ready to act as a channel of communication between Britain and Argentina, if this would help.

My talks with Mr. Kittani, the President of the General Assembly, were devoted mainly to the special session and Middle East matters.

I was particularly glad to be in New York during the last week of Sir Anthony Parsons ' term of service as our representative at the United Nations. His contribution and abilities have been widely and rightly praised. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.” ]

Subsequently, at the invitation of President Reagan, I visited Washington where we had valuable and friendly discussions. We discussed at some length the tragic situation in the Lebanon. The President described the latest American efforts, through Mr. Habib, to promote a solution. We also discussed the current situation in the Falkland Islands. I emphasised our wish to do all we can to promote peace and stability in the South Atlantic. The [column 434]President repeated his view that our action to repossess the islands had been taken to uphold the vital principle that aggression should not pay.

We discussed East-West relations. The President explained that his recent decision to extend restrictions on trade with the Soviet Union had been based on the principle that normal relations with that country were not possible so long as there was no progress towards liberalisation in Poland. I endorsed the need for such progress while reiterating the reasons why we thought existing commercial contracts should be exempted from the American restrictions.

I also conveyed the concern felt in this country, and elsewhere in the European Community, at the decision by the United States Government to impose countervailing duties on steel imports from the Community.

Finally, I expressed my gratitude for the impressive success of the FBI in defeating attempts by the Provisional IRA illegally to purchase weapons in the United States of America and to export them for use in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

May I express our concurrence with the representations that the Prime Minister made on those last two matters? All of us should join in the tribute that she paid to Sir Anthony Parsons, because he played a conspicuous part in securing support for resolution 502. We certainly wish to congratulate him on the part that he played.

Some of the matters that the Prime Minister raised will be discussed in coming weeks, but I should like to press her on the discussions that she may have had with President Reagan about the Lebanon and the extremely critical situation there. Did she support the proposal for maintaining a United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon? What proposal will she and President Reagan put forward to secure that? What other measures should be taken? Does she agree with the President about trying to re-establish the rights of the State of Lebanon and will she give us an account of that?

The report that the Prime Minister has given us today about her speech on disarmament had a slightly better tone than the original speech. Are the proposals that she made and those outlined in her statement the beginning and end of the proposals that the Government intend to put forward at the disarmament conference? We believe that there should be a debate in the House on the special session and discussions about the further proposals that the British Government should advance. At the special session, did she put forward disarmament proposals that differ in any way from those put forward by the President of the United States? Finally, will she consider fresh representations on disarmament to try to make the special session a success?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has asked me about the Lebanon. Yesterday a ceasefire was negotiated. It was the eighth ceasefire during the sad and tragic sequence of events. However, I believe that it has now been broken. Obviously our great desire is to stop further fighting in West Beirut and on the main road to Damascus. Mr. Habib continues to make efforts to achieve a ceasefire that will hold.

Most people wish to see once again a fully independent Lebanon under the control of its own strong Government. It is easy to say that, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows from Lebanon's history, it is very difficult to obtain. However, although it will not be easy, we must [column 435]continue to try. The life of the UNIFIL forces has been extended by two months by a United Nations resolution that we voted for. It is important to try to keep them in position and to encourage various nations to take part.

The disarmament proposals that I put forward were pretty comprehensive and covered nuclear, conventional and chemical weapons. I congratulated those who had negotiated the agreements on outer space and on the sea bed and I also called for further confidence and security-building measures. There was not much that was not covered.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that there is a further statement, and that the main business is covered by an allocation of time motion. Therefore, I propose to allow questions only until five minutes to four, by the clock.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I endorse what the Prime Minister has said about Sir Anthony Parsons, who has had both a distinguished and a strenuous period of service at the United Nations. During the Prime Minister's talks at the United Nations. During the Prime Minister's talks at the United Nations, was there any discussion about strengthening the mandate and the organisation of the United Nations peacekeeping forces? Does the right hon. Lady have any hope that the permanent members of the Security Council will take some action about that?

The Prime Minister

No. I am afraid that it is one of the ironies and tragedies that the mandatory resolutions of the Security Council cannot be implemented because the United Nations does not have its own peacekeeping force. I do not know anyone who sees any immediate possibility of securing such a peacekeeping force.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

The whole House will endorse the Prime Minister's view that the development of the Falkland Islands is desirable. However, no State or financial institution will invest in the Falkland Islands is desirable. However, no State or financial institution will invest in the Falkland Islands if there is any prospect, however remote, that the Argentines will resume sovereignty over the area.

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That has been one of the problems in securing sufficient investment and has stopped various Governments from making greater investment. It is one of the reasons why we shall have to consider the longer-term defence of the islands. There is not the slightest shadow of a doubt that in the immediate future and the middle term that will have to carried out by us.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Did the right hon. Lady raise the question of the pernicious international arms trade that facilitated the supply of arms to Argentina in its aggression against the Falkland Islands, and facilitates the supply of arms to Israel while it invades the Lebanon? Is it not time that the right hon. Lady took action to stop the trade in weapons of death?

The Prime Minister

The matter was not discussed at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday. There have been various proposals made on a regional basis, but none of them has ever proved practicable. The hon. Gentleman is wrong if he suggests that there should be no supply of arms. Each and every nation has the right to defend its own people and territories. The fact that we sell arms helps us to have our weapons at a lower cost and keeps some 140,000 people in work. [column 436]

With regard to the sale of arms to Argentina, as I said to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) on Tuesday, Governments of both parties have sold arms to Argentina. We carried it on on the same basis—of considering the matter on its merits.

Mr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Government will be judged, not by cheap jibes about whether they are ready to fire shots, but by whether they so conduct themselves that no shots need to be fired? The tone of the Prime Minister's speech in New York was such that it sounded more as if she wanted to beat ploughshares into arms. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should read the speech. Will the Prime Minister say whether in the two arms negotiations in which Great Britain should be playing a major part—the comprehensive test ban treaty and the mutual and balanced force reduction talks in Vienna—there has been one positive step taken in Vienna—there has been one positive step taken during her Premiership?

The Prime Minister

The talks in Vienna have continued for over nine years—and that period covers rather a lot of Labour government. It is unfortunate that not much has been achieved. If the right hon. Gentleman takes a reasonable view, he will know why. We have found it difficult to obtain from the Soviet Union the actual numbers of forces they have in conjunction with the Warsaw Pact countries.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be extremely disappointed to know that the speech I made to the General Assembly received more applause than any other speech made during the last three weeks.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Reverting to the tragic position in Lebanon, the Prime Minister will doubtless recall that a couple of days ago both Front Bench spokesmen emphasised that, however hard Europe might try, the main responsibility for ending the Israeli attack upon Lebanon lies with the United States of America. Did my right hon. Friend find that there was an awareness of that fact that can be speedily acted upon?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. The only country that can bring pressure to bear upon Israel is the United States of America, and it is very much aware of that. I tried to get across the fact that if there is to be a proper solution of this problem there must be a solution to the problem of the future of the Palestinian people.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

Did the Prime Minister obtain from President Reagan an understanding that our defence role would be a North Atlantic role? Was there any intimation from the President that he would be willing to have United States forces in the Falkland Islands as we would be straining our international defence role if we had to garrison and keep naval forces there?

The Prime Minister

We did not discuss very much the possibility of a multi-national force in the Falkland Islands. I say “very much” because such a multi-national force is frequently mentioned. There is no possibility of having one for some months. It is too early to consider it.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

In her discussions with the President and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, did my right hon. Friend glean any evidence that they were aware of the utter unfitness of Argentina to have any control over the democratic Falkland Islands community? Did she remind them that among the thousands of people who had disappeared, most [column 437]of whom had been tortured and killed, in Argentina—in the years that the Labour Party was in office—there were United Kingdom subjects, who can be named, and that successive British Governments had been pressurised by international communities into negotiating with Argentina? Did she make that plain to those two gentlemen?

The Prime Minister

I have made it perfectly clear time and again, both to the American Government and a number of others, that there is no question of sovereignty to negotiate. The islands are British sovereign territory and their people are British subjects who wish to keep their British way of life. There is nothing on sovereignty to negotiate. We negotiate on sovereignty only with the people of the territory itself. I pointed out to the United Nations that there are 45 nations in the United Nations who obtained their independence through us. I said that with us they enjoyed democracy, which is something that the Argentine citizens would love to have.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

As the world is spending over $500 billion on the arms race and there are 50,000 weapons with the destructive power of a million Hiroshimas, would the right hon. Lady address herself to the fears of mankind about the arms race and adopt a more constructive approach to reducing military expenditure? Will she withdraw the White Paper, “Statement on the Defence Estimates 1982” , which embarks on a massive programme of spending on the Trident as well as £14,000 million on the arms race?

The Prime Minister

With regard to what the hon. Gentleman said about nuclear weapons, 90 per cent. of world expenditure is on conventional arms. There has been no nuclear warfare since the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, but there have been some 140 conventional conflicts which have led to about 10 million deaths.

With regard to what he said about disarmament, of course people have fears. A few moments ago Opposition Members were accusing us of not having had sufficient armaments in the Falkland Islands and of that having attracted war.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

On the issue of the equipment that my right hon. Friend did well to obtain from the United States, was she able to inform the President that Her Majesty's Government are compiling a record of Argentine war crimes, including the indiscriminate laying of mines which requires this equipment and the bestial pillaging by the soldiery of civilian property?

The Prime Minister

I gave the President a very full account of the situation in the Falkland Islands. I gave as much detail as I possibly could, incorporating some of the treatment of the islanders by the Argentine troops. I also told him of the great difficulty we were experiencing over the indiscriminate laying of plastic mines which cannot be detected. It is customary under the Geneva convention to mark the fields and positions where mines have been laid. That has not been done by the Argentines. There is also a disarmament convention which forbids the laying of plastic mines but, of course, the Argentine is not a signatory.

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Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

Did the Prime Minister point out to President Reagan that it is grotesque for his Administration to encourage American farmers to earn millions and millions of dollars by exporting grain to the Soviet Union while it tries to put British workers out of work at John Brown by refusing permission for it to supply essential equipment for the Siberian gas line and also inhibits exports from Sheffield of important steel products?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman will have gathered from my statement, I spoke strongly about John Brown's contracts. Normally, when new restrictions are put on trade, it is customary to exempt existing contracts. I pointed out the relationship with the wheat exports to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and the fact that these would be likely to continue. The President pointed out that there would be restraint on manufactured exports from the United States. Finally, I said to the President pointed out that there would be restraint on manufactured exports from the United States. Finally, I said to the President that if we were suddenly to have prohibitions from the United States on exports of vital parts of equipment that we need to export from here, people in future would not put orders with the United States because they would be liable to cancellation. All these points were made. I shall be taking the matter further.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the overwhelming majority of people in this country are delighted by the warm welcome that she received at the United Nations? Is this not proof that world leaders admire the firm stand that the Government took over the Falklands issue? Was the question of interest rates raised during her discussions with the President in order to accelerate the disappearance of the world recession?

The Prime Minister

The phrase most frequently used by those with whom I conversed afterwards was that the speech at the United Nations was realistic and balanced. They welcome both realism and balance in these matters.

I did not discuss interest rates with the President. I discussed them with a number of other people whom I met because the matter is causing us some concern. It is also causing some concern in the United States. It is stopping the very expansion that the United States needs. I made clear that we wish to have the deficit down because we are ready to take advantage of an expansion in world trade. We wish therefore to see American interest rates come down so that ours can stay down where they are now, or go lower.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

Since the United Nations' own specialist committee has reported that there is no problem on verification of disarmament, and since Mr. Gromyko, in his speech earlier in the session, said that the Soviet Union was ready to sign an agreement banning the development of all chemical weapons, that it was ready to make the statement unilaterally that the Soviet Union would never use nuclear arms first and that it was in full support of the freeze proposals put forward in the American Congress by Senator Edward Kennedy, what other steps are required before the right hon. Lady and the President of the United States are ready to talk meaningfully about disarmament?

The Prime Minister

Not all the problems over verification have been solved by a very long way. Words are not enough. There has to be readiness to have inspection on the spot. That is difficult to maintain. [column 439]

There have been disquieting but fairly well-documented reports that chemical weapons have been used in South-East Asia. We have urged the United Nations to consider the evidence. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Russian undertaking not to use nuclear weapons first. I have pointed out that the more effective undertaking is that recently given by NATO not to use any of its military weapons to attack first. That is the undertaking we await from the Soviet Union—if it could be given with full, proper, trustworthy and credible assurances.