Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1983 Jan 18 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC Stmnt: [Falkland Islands (Franks Report)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Statement
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [35/171-83]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: -
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 7006
Themes: Executive, Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Media, Security services
[column 171]

FALKLAND ISLANDS

(Franks Report)

Mr. Speaker

Statement, The Prime Minister.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Just after midnight last night, I raised a point or order about Mr. Bernard Ingham and his proposed 11 am and 2.45 pm guidance to journalists. From the Opposition Front Bench last night, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), the Opposition Chief Whip, said that he thought that the issues were substantial and invited the Leader of the House to comment. Very fairly and properly, and acting in his capacity as Leader of the whole House, the right hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) said from the Dispatch Box that he agreed that the matter should be considered by you, Mr. Speaker, this morning. Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker announced then that he would report the matter to you, Mr. Speaker.

If the Franks committee had been set up by the House, there would have been a succession of breach of privilege cases, besides which the cases of the late Sir Gerald Nabarro on car tax, of the leak of the Civil List and of myself in relation to Porton Down would have paled into insignificance—[Hon. Members: “He is reading.” ] Indeed, in 1967, for talking prematurely about the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology to Laurence Marks of The Observer, I was arraigned before the whole House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will submit a point of order to me on which I can rule.

Mr. Dalyell

What I said was trivial and obscure compared with the reports in The Observer on Sunday by Mr. Adam Raphael and the long report in The Scotsman which I sent to you, Sir, by the responsible diplomatic correspondent Alexander MacLeod, who reported in detail and authoritatively much of what Lord Franks said and his conclusions.

The point of order is this. Is there to be one law for Downing Street and another for Back Benchers? If Downing Street did not make the leak, who did? Lord Franks? A member of his committee? Was it Lord Carrington? Was it the Foreign Office? The House of Commons is entitled to a statement on prima facie breaches of the Official Secrets Act.

When the committee was set up, so great was the store that was set by the need for secrecy that it had to be Privy Councillors who were appointed to it. Rightly, Sir Patrick Nairne was appointed to the Privy Council precisely for that purpose.

In the absence of what some of us consider the civilised and sensible habit of an embargo for the Lobby so that they can study things in a relaxed and proper manner, what we have had is selective briefing and selected leaking by interested parties. Moreover——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must now submit a point of order to me. [Hon. Members: “He has done it.” ] If he has done it, I am quite willing to give my ruling. He must now come to the point. The House is waiting to hear a statement.

Mr. Dalyell

Is it right for the House of Commons to face a situation where a Prime Minister can put her own [column 172]gloss on something? If Downing Street was not responsible, let us have an inquiry to discover who made the leak. The first thing in the public mind is——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can help the hon. Gentleman and the House in this matter. This is not a matter over which I have any authority to rule. It is not a report that has been commissioned by the House. It is a Government report. It is not for me to tell the Government how they may conduct their own affairs. Statement, the Prime Minister.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

On a point of order on another matter, Mr. Speaker, which is your responsibility. Some hon. Members are privileged enough to have had a copy of the report for a long time. Others are scurrying out of the Chamber to get one now. Would it not be better for the statement to be made when all hon. Members, especially Back Benchers, for whom I know you have a special concern, Mr. Speaker, are on an equal footing when the statement is made? Would it not be sensible for this sitting to be suspended——

Hon. Members

No.

Other Hon. Members

Hear, hear!

Mr. Foulkes

—to allow hon. Members to read the report or for the Prime Minister's statement to be postponed until hon. Members have read it?

Mr. Speaker

Order.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the report of the Falkland Islands review committee.

The House will remember that I announced the setting up of the review committee in July 1982, after consultation with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and with leading Privy Councillors in other parties. At that time I expressed the hope that the committee would be be able to complete its work within six months.

The committee has justified that hope. I received its report on 31 December 1982, and I am presenting it to Parliament as a Command Paper this afternoon. Copies are now available in the Vote Office. [Hon. Members: “Too late.” ]

I should like to express the Government's gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Franks, and to his colleagues for the amount of time and effort which they have devoted to producing such a thorough and comprehensive report in so short a time.

The report makes it clear that the committee was provided with all the papers relevant to its terms of reference, including a comprehensive collection of reports from the intelligence agencies. The committee's report contains a number of references to intelligence matters which would not in other circumstances be divulged. These references are essential for a full understanding of the matters into which the committee was asked to enquire, and the Government have agreed that the public interest requires that on this occasion the normal rule against public reference to the intelligence organisation or to material derived from intelligence reports should be waived.

The Government have, however, agreed with Lord Franks amendments to certain of the references to [column 173]intelligence reports with a view to minimising potential damage to British intelligence interests. Lord Franks has authorised me to tell the House that he agrees that, first, all the references to intelligence reports included in the committee's report as submitted have been retained in the report as presented to Parliament, most of them without amendment; secondly, none of the amendments that have been made alters the sense, substance or emphasis of the reference to the intelligence report concerned, or removes anything of significance to the committee's account of the matters referred to it or to its findings and conclusions; thirdly, apart from those agreed amendments, no other deletions or amendments have been made to the committee's report as submitted.

The report is unanimous and is signed by all the members of the committee without qualification. It falls into four chapters. The first gives an account of the dispute from 1965—when the issue was first brought formally to international attention by a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations—to May 1979.

The second chapter covers the period from May 1979 to 19 March 1982. The third deals with the fortnight from 19 March to 2 April 1982, which included the South Georgia incident and which led up to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. The fourth and final chapter deals with the way in which the Government discharged their responsibilities in the period leading up to the invasion. There are six annexes, the first of which deals with 10 specific assertions that have been made by some who have commented on the matters in question.

In the fourth chapter of the report—that is, the one that deals with the way Government discharged their responsibilities—the committee notes a number of points where, in its judgment, different decisions might have been taken, fuller consideration of alternative courses of action might have been advantageous, and the machinery of government could have been better used. That chapter defines and addresses itself to two crucial questions: first, could the Government have foreseen the invasion of 2 April 1982; secondly, could the Government have prevented the invasion?

The committee emphasises that its report should be read as a whole. At this stage, therefore, I shall do no more than quote the committee's conclusions on those two crucial questions. On the first question, whether the Government could have foreseen the invasion of 2 April, the committee's conclusion is:

“In the light of this evidence, we are satisfied that the Government did not have warning of the decision to invade. The evidence of the timing of the decision taken by the Junta shows that the Government not only did not, but could not, have had earlier warning. The invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April could not have been foreseen.”

I have quoted the whole of paragraph 266.

On the second question, whether the Government could have prevented the invasion, the committee's conclusion, contained in the final paragraph of the report, is:

“Against this background we have pointed out in this Chapter where different decisions might have been taken, where fuller consideration of alternative courses of action might, in our opinion, have been advantageous, and where the machinery of Government could have been better used. But, if the British Government had acted differently in the ways we have indicated, it is impossible to judge what the impact on the Argentine Government or the implications for the course of events might have been. There is no reasonable basis for any suggestion—which would be purely hypothetical—that the invasion would have been prevented if the Government had acted in the ways indicated in our report. Taking account of these [column 174]considerations, and of all the evidence we have received, we conclude that we would not be justified in attaching any criticism or blame to the present Government” —

[Laughter.]

Hon. Members

Hear, hear!

The Prime Minister

May I finish the conclusion of the Franks Committee? It was its conclusion and has nothing to do with the Government. It said:

“we conclude that we would not be justified in attaching any criticism or blame to the present Government for the Argentine Junta's decision to commit its act of unprovoked aggression in the invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982.”

I have quoted in full the final paragraph of the Franks report.

Time will, of course, be found for an early debate, and that will be discussed through the usual channels. The Government will welcome an early opportunity of discussing the matters contained in the report more thoroughly than is possible this afternoon.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised a question about leakages. Anyone who read some of the reports in the newspapers could have reached a prime facie opinion that there was some leakage. It is a serious question. Will the right hon. Lady investigate the matter and report to the House? That is the most satisfactory way to deal with the matter, and such a course has been taken on previous occasions.

I am sure that the right hon. Lady's proposal for a debate will be accepted. The Opposition naturally concur with her suggestion. I hope that the Government will agree that the debate—I trust it will take place next week—will be a two-day debate. We had lengthy debates on the subject last year and it would be unsatisfactory to have a debate that was principally occupied by Privy Councillors. Many of them have every right to speak, but there should be a full two-day debate. Will the right hon. Lady agree to that now?

Most of the right hon. Lady's statement concerned procedural questions, and I shall put one procedural question to her before moving on. When the committee was established in July, she properly gave an undertaking that if any Minister or civil servant felt that they had suffered unfair criticism in the report, they would have the chance to reappear before the committee to state their views and to have them taken further into account. Have any civil servants or Ministers availed themselves of that opportunity?

The right hon. Lady referred to the clear statement in paragraph 336 of the report about the Committee's conclusions. It is essential that the report is read as a whole. I am one of the few hon. Members who have had an opportunity to read it, and I am happy to confirm its judgment. There are references to the machinery of government and the failures that may have occurred. Indeed, the right hon. Lady referred to that. I wish to quote a paragraph from the report which illustrates why it is necessary to examine the whole report before passing judgment on its conclusions. It is necessary to draw the right conclusions to ensure that the same tragic errors are not committed in future. In the words of the Foreign Secretary who resigned, those errors led to a national humiliation. [Interruption.] It was pretty tragic for the people who were killed. We need to know whether [column 175]measures will be taken to ensure that such a tragic development does not occur again, perhaps in Belize, which is not such a different example.

For those reasons, I wish to put to the House another paragraph that illustrates the case most clearly. Paragraph 115 states:

“When they were informed of the decision” —

that is, the decision to withdraw HMS “Endurance” —

‘“the Falkland Islands Councils held a joint meeting on 26 June 1981, following which they sent a message to Lord Carrington in the following terms:’

‘The people of the Falkland Islands deplore in the strongest terms the decision to withdraw HMS Endurance from service. They express extreme concern that Britain appears to be abandoning its defence of British interests in the South Atlantic and Antarctic at a time when other powers are strengthening their position in these areas. They feel that such a withdrawal will further weaken British sovereignty in this area in the eyes not only of Islanders but of the world. They urge that all possible endeavours be made to secure a reversal of this decision’.”

On the following page the report describes fully for the first time what happened to those “all possible endeavours” . One would have thought that in the face of such an appeal “all possible endeavours” should have included a reference of this matter to the Cabinet or to the Overseas and Defence Committee of the Cabinet. There was a difference of opinion between the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence—[Hon. Members: “No.” ] I am talking now about what happened to the Falkland Islands. [Hon. Members: “Question.” ] I am coming to my question to the right hon. Lady. There was a difference of opinion between the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence about the withdrawal of HMS “Endurance” . The Foreign Secretary, who resigned, persisted in his attempt to raise the matter.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the proper place for the question to have been decided—the difference of opinion between the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence—was either in the Overseas and Defence Committee over which she preside? Does she agree, having read the entire report, that it illustrates a collapse of effective Cabinet government in this country—[Interruption.] We had Cabinet government in this country that could not even discuss this appeal from the Falkland Islands. Will the right hon. Lady tell us now what changes she is making in the effective control of the Government to ensure that such a tragic event does not arise again?

The Prime Minister

On the first question raised by the right hon. Gentleman, which was raised before I made my statement, about the alleged briefing of the press, the remarks that were made rightly cause deep offence to a very distinguished civil servant who has served both Governments. [Hon. Members: “Leaking.” ] The leaking was not from No. 10. As a civil servant has been named, and it is my duty and pleasure to defend him, may I say that there was never an arrangement for Bernard Ingham my press secretary to brief the press on the contents of the Franks report before its publication. To help the press to digest the report in the short time available to them after publication, my press secretary was prepared to give them a list of numbers of key paragraphs—[Hon. Members: “Ah!” ]—knowing full well that those paragraphs could have been tested against the report when published and that it could have [column 176]been seen whether he had been fair or not—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggesting that he would have been unfair?

Hon. Members

Yes.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

What I am suggesting to the right hon. Lady is that she talks about guidance for certain paragraphs, but she just said in response to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the report should be read in its entirety, not just selected paragraphs.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister

So the hon. Gentleman is not accusing my press secretary. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for enabling me to make that point.

However, in view of what occurred in the House last night, about which I heard, I specifically instructed him not to brief the press either on the paragraphs or in any way. Therefore, he did not brief them on the paragraphs and had no intention at any time of briefing them on the contents, nor did he brief them on the contents. The only people outside the Government who have had the report in advance of publication are the Leader of the Opposition—[Hon. Members: “Ah!” ]—former Prime Ministers—[Hon. Members: “When?” ] I shall come to the moment when. The report was also made available to the Ministers who resigned when the invasion took place. They were given the report at midday yesterday. The leaders of the other opposition parties, who were consulted on the establishment of the committee, and you, Mr. Speaker, received it this afternoon.

I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the report should be read as a whole——

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Lady quoted those two paragraphs.

The Prime Minister

—which is why I quoted only the conclusions, which one is entitled to quote because the Franks committee was set up to pronounce on precisely those matters. It would have been absurd to do otherwise.

The right hon. Gentleman pointed out the paragraphs about HMS “Endurance” and about the decision to withdraw it. If the report is to be read as a whole, he should also refer to paragraph 44, which states:

“One consequence of the 1974 Defence Review, which resulted in a phased rundown of overseas commitments outside NATO was a decision to take HMS “Endurance” out of service.”

Hon. Members

Read on.

The Prime Minister

I will indeed read on. I shall read the next sentence and the one after that if need be. There was a decision to take HMS “Endurance” out of service. It was not implemented, nor was our decision to take HMS Endurance out of service implemented. [Interruption.] The fact is that the invasion ocurred while HMS Endurance was on station.

The Leader of the Opposition should also direct attention to signals and developments in British policy that are discussed in paragraphs 278 to 281, which refer also to other signals given by governments of both parties—[Interruption.]

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will take the hon. Gentleman's point of order if he cannot wait until the end of the answer. [column 177]

But may I say to the House that it is very wrong on an issue of such magnitude that anyone must fight to be heard. It is very wrong indeed.

Mr. Leighton

Is it in order and is it helpful and proper for the Prime Minister to pick and choose paragraphs of a document that none of us has had a chance to read?

The Prime Minister

I did not select this particular point. I am replying to it. I do not intend to quote from other paragraphs. A great deal that is pertinent to the point selected by the Leader of the Opposition can be found in paragraphs 278 to 281.

With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the meetings of the Overseas and Defence Committee—this is not found in the report—in 1981 there were 18 meetings of OD. Between January and March 1982 there were a further five meetings of OD. What is arranged is a matter partly for the Ministers concerned. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say how frequently OD meetings were held under his Government. The policy had been discussed and was not changed. There were plenty of meetings of OD.

Mr. Foot

Would the right hon. Lady tell me about the meetings of the Overseas and Defence Committee? Did it discuss the Falklands, in particular the representations that were made on behalf of the Falklands Council by the Foreign Secretary and the representations that were made by the Foreign Secretary for the non-withdrawal of HMS “Endurance” to the Minister of Defence? That was a major division of opinion between the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary. It should have been discussed at the Overseas and Defence Committee. The responsibility for ensuring what subjects are discussed at the Committee rests not with the Foreign Secretary or with the Defence Secretary but with the Prime Minister who is the chairman of that Committee.

The Prime Minister

The report deals fully with what was discussed, when and how those matters were dealt with between members of OD. The report should be read in full. The report points out that the meetings were not again discussed at OD. That was not unreasonable at the time in view of the close contact kept between Ministers on that occasion. It was discussed on many occasions, not necessarily at OD. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that somehow one becomes totally different when siting as a member of that Committee. I find it utterly amazing that that is the only comment that the Opposition have to offer on this report and its conclusions.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady must not say that. This is not the only question for discussion. We want the House of Commons to discuss this report on the basis stated by the Franks committee itself. It is essential to discuss the whole report.

Can the right hon. Lady answer the other question that I put? Did any Minister or civil servants exercise their right to return to the committee to put their case?

The Prime Minister

That was part of the arrangement made and published with the Franks report. Everything that was put in that letter was, I understand, honoured completely.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

Although “Endurance” is not the major point, is not the difference between the right hon. Lady's reading of the facts and the case she quoted from paragraph 44, that the then Defence [column 178]Secretary in the Labour Government proposed to abandon “Endurance” but was overruled? In the case of her own Government, it was the Foreign Secretary who was overruled when the decision to abandon “Endurance” was announced. That is all the difference in the world.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. James Callaghan

On the major question, all parties for many years, including the right hon. Lady's Government, have been prepared to give up sovereignty of the Falklands provided we could get a substantial period of leaseback. The right hon. Lady was committed to that until March of this year.

Is it further not the fact that all Governments were determined not to desert the Falklanders because they thought it would be unacceptable? Was it not also the case that all Governments believed that the worst of all possible policies—one that might be unsustainable in the long run and certainly undesirable in the short run—was a Fortress Falklands policy? Is not the result of the Government's handling of these matters during the last 12 months that we are presented under the direction of the right hon. Lady with a short-term military victory and a long-term political retreat and dead end?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister

I am very wary of saying anything that is not a quotation from the report. The right hon. Gentleman has seen something of the themes of which he spoke. Factors common to the approach of both Governments are contained in the early pages of the report. The significant themes of the period are summed up in paragraph 70. The dilemma for both Governments was that Argentina wanted sovereignty and the Falkland Islanders, whose wishes we regarded as paramount, wanted to stay British. That was the fundamental dilemma which applied to both Governments. In the end Argentina invaded. With due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, we now have no option except Fortress Falklands—[Interruption.] May I just continue?—if we are to continue, as I believe we should, to honour the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there is something pitiful in the scavenge hunt now being conducted by the Opposition for a few crumbs of comfort? Does she not further agree that there ought to be some sympathy for the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who obviously had hoped for a stick with which he might be able to beat the Government and has instead been presented with a mirror to look at his own disappointing visage?

The Prime Minister

The conclusions of the report are clear. I believe the Franks report really should be read as a whole by all right hon. and hon. Members. Adequate time in which to debate the report is being arranged through the usual channels. How long questions continue is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

May I join in the thanks to my noble Friend Lord Franks and his colleagues for his swift and thorough report that they have given to the House?

Does the Prime Minister recall that the decision to withdraw “Endurance” was controversial in the House at the time? Will she accept that Lord Franks reveals not only the message from the Falkland Islands Council [column 179]but—further to what the Leader of the Opposition said—also the fact that a letter was sent from our embassy in Buenos Aires in the summer of 1981 saying that all Argentine newspaper articles

“highlighted the theme that Britain was ‘abandoning the protection of the Falkland Islands’.” ?

That was further supported by an intelligence report in 1981

“that the withdrawal of HMS ‘Endurance’ had been construed by the Argentines as a deliberate political gesture … since the implications for the Islands and for Britain's position in the South Atlantic were fundamental.”

In view of what I have said, surely the Prime Minister must tell the House why she did not give support to Lord Carrington when he was trying to retain the ship on station.

The Prime Minister

I believe the right hon. Gentleman is looking at the matter with some hindsight. “Endurance” was retained and, in fact, was on station between the Falklands and South Georgia at the time of the invasion of the Falklands. She had been on station at the Falklands, but was sent to South Georgia when the incident occurred there. She was on her way back when we had the intelligence about the Falklands. Whatever the criticism, the fact is that “Endurance” was on station. The report says that it was a signal to the Argentines, but it also gave many other signals alongside that, some of which are attributable to Opposition Members and some to us. Those signals are contained in the paragraphs to which I have referred.

Several Hon. Members

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this matter will be debated in the near future. Therefore, we are not debating it today. I hope that questions will be succinct, and I shall allow them to continue for a while longer.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

Will my right hon. Friend set aside the Opposition's small-minded questioning and remind the House that the prime act of duplicity was committed by the Argentine junta? Will she confirm that, throughout, Ministers and Government officials made it clear to the Argentine that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders would remain paramount?

Hon. Members

Then why did Carrington resign?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my right hon. Friend. Some of the noises we have heard are perhaps due to the fact that some Opposition Members do not like the conclusions of this independent committee. It is inherent in the Franks report that it was Argentina which decided to invade. The report states that the British Government could not have foreseen that invasion, or prevented it. I hope that at this time in particular there will be no question of departing from the wish—which has sustained both sides of this honourable House throughout our many debates on the subject—that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders are paramount, in which case we must defend them in accordance with those wishes.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Does not the Prime Minister recall that in the debate on 8 July, when the Franks committee was set up, some of us predicted that, as she had the power to choose the members of the committee—[Hon. Members: “Oh!” ]—and its terms of reference, and as she had the power to manipulate its [column 180]publication—[Hon. Members: “No.” ]—this would be an establishment cover-up and a whitewash? As the right hon. Lady is one of the few people who has had the privilege of reading the whole report, will she say whether our fears have been confirmed and her hopes realised?

An Hon. Member

Shocking.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I had consultations with the leaders of political parties in this House. We jointly agreed on Lord Franks as the chairman, and there could be no better servant of this country than Lord Franks. I deeply resent what the hon. Gentleman has said, which I believe to be a criticism and slur on both Lord Franks and the whole committee. We also agreed on Sir Patrick Nairne as the other independent member of the committee. In addition, we agreed that the Opposition and Government parties should propose two names. They were also discussed. Therefore, the arrangements for the membership of the committee were agreed in full and proper consultation across all parties of this House.

Hon. Members

Withdraw!

The Prime Minister

The terms of reference were debated in this House and I believe, fully approved. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remarks.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Sir Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)

Would it not be right to emphasis the fact that in a summary annex to this unanimous report, the committee dealt with each and every assertion by opponents of the Government and independent commentators about prior warning or information that the Government had received before the invasion, and found all of them to be without foundation?

The Prime Minister

That is correct. Annex A contains a summary of the various assertions that have been made by various commentators, as well as the findings of the committee upon those assertions.

Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Was there, in fact, any collective discussion of the Falklands issue between Ministers in the early months up to the end of March last year either in OD, Cabinet or any other collective forum? Am I correct in saying that at the end of her reply to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) the right hon. Lady indicated that she had no policy for the indefinite future other than that of Fortress Falklands?

The Prime Minister

The matter was not discussed in OD from January to March. If it had been, I do not think that there would have been any difference at all. Lord Carrington kept in touch with all members of OD through a series of minutes over a long period in addition to other contacts. The right hon. Gentleman will find that referred to in the report.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether Fortress Falklands was the only policy. The policy is that the wishes of the islanders will be paramount. That used to be the policy of the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a member. It is the policy that this House has insisted should be upheld. The defence requirements after an invasion now follow from that policy.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the Prime Minister recollect that on Tuesday, 26 October, in answer to Prime Minister's [column 181]Question No. 1, she confirmed that the Falkland crisis had come out of the blue to her on Wednesday 31 March? As we now know that nuclear submarines and Royal Fleet Auxiliaries were despatched from Gibraltar on Monday 29 March, and also that the crew of the “Fort Austin” , which was possibly carrying nuclear weapons, were told that they were not going home but to the South Atlantic on Sunday 28 March by the barmaids of Gibraltar, how is it that the barmaids of Gibraltar have better information about the destination of the fleet, carrying nuclear weapons, than the British Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman's question was somewhat convoluted. The submarine was dispatched on that Monday because we were worried about the incident on South Georgia. We dispatched the submarine and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary to help keep “Endurance” , about which there has been so much discussion, actively on station.

Several hon. Members

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call three more hon. Members from either side before going on to the next business.

Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in July's debate on the Falkland Islands review, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) stated that, when the Labour Government were negotiating with Argentina in 1977, he made certain that there was a naval presence off the Falkland Islands to strengthen the hand of the negotiating Minister and to deter the Argentines? Does the report cover that situation in its opening chapter, and does it state whether the Argentines were aware of that naval presence?

The Prime Minister

That matter is dealt with in extenso earlier in the report, but also in the specific assertions that are summarised in the annex. The fifth assertion was:

“Argentina was informed by the British Government of their decision to send a task force in 1977.”

I had better quote precisely. The committee's comment is:

“The facts relating to the deployment of ships to the area in November 1977 are set out in our Report (see paragraphs 65-66). We have had no evidence that the Argentine Government became aware of this deployment.”

Mr. Tony Benn (Bristol, South-East)

Is the Prime Minister aware that most people reading this report will not be interested in the preservation of reputations on either side, but rather in the simple question, “Could the lives lost in the Falklands war have been saved if other action had been taken?” May I ask the Prime Minister to turn her mind not to whether the arming of the Falkland Islands earlier might have made an invasion more difficult but to a much more specific political question?

Lord Carrington on 20 September 1979—this is referred to in paragraph 73 of the report—in a paper to the Cabinet said that it was in the British interest and that of the islanders to have substantive negotiations on sovereignty. He came back to the same theme on 12 October when he said that the Fortress Falklands option would carry a serious threat of invasion. That was the Foreign Secretary's view as early as 1979. Why did the Prime Minister veto that very wise political advice and create circumstances in which Lord Carrington's warning came into effect? The real lesson of that page of the report is that it was a political failure by the Government and not [column 182]a failure to keep “Endurance” or to send further troops. It is that political failure that the military success has not yet obliterated or dealt with in any way.

The Prime Minister

The Franks report has come to two conclusions: first, that we did not foresee and could not have foreseen the invasion, and, secondly, that we could not have prevented it. It has come to those two clear conclusions. For the rest of the report I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman reads it in toto rather than take specific parts of it. He will find that what he has said has been part of the fundamental dilemma to which the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) referred. If we were to avoid going into what was called confrontation, which has many meanings attached to it and many different levels, we had to negotiate with the Argentines. That was done over many years and the report sets out the history from 1965.

It was thought that if those negotiations ever ceased then there might have been some escalation, and there were indeed from time to time escalations of the situation—times when ambassadors were withdrawn and the Argentines got involved in a number of actions. There came a time when it was difficult to sustain negotiations, but the negotiations in February in New York went rather well and the report offers my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), the former Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a rather nice compliment on the way he handled those negotiations in New York.

The Argentines wanted transfer of sovereignty and no British Government were able or willing to accept transfer of sovereignty or to consider it unless it was acceptable to the islanders themselves. That was the dilemma. It affected both Governments. Parliament and Governments of both parties have insisted that the wishes of the islanders are paramount. That put us in a difficult position. Now we have to honour those wishes.

Mr. Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a bitter irony, the significance of which will not be lost on the British people, in the fact that the Leader of the Opposition referred to paragraph 115 of the report and the need to defend British interests, given that, persistently, the same right hon. Gentleman has been against adequate defence spending and that only a few minutes earlier he reminded the House that he seeks unilaterally to disarm this country?

The Prime Minister

The Franks committee has seen more people, heard more evidence and seen more papers, more reports and more minutes than any of us. It has come to its conclusions. We have no alternative but to accept its conclusions and to read the wider report before we debate it in much more detail. I did go to tremendous trouble to consult about it, for obvious reasons. During that war we kept, with very rare exceptions, all together. I hope we can finish the Falklands story in that way.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

If all is well, why on earth did Lord Carrington resign and why did the Prime Minister plead with him not to?

The Prime Minister

I pleaded with him not to because I knew we had an outstanding Foreign Secretary. Lord Carrington resigned because there were adverse comments, because of the effect of the invasion and because of the very considerable criticism of him at that time. He thought therefore that if there was to be total unity from [column 183]then onwards, which was absolutely vital, it would be best for him to resign. It was the act of an honourable and very great Foreign Secretary.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

When the dust settles on all this, will it not be realised that successive British Governments have been negotiating, at least since the military coup in March 1976, with an unstable, brutal, fascist regime and that the main mistake British Governments have made was believing that either Parliament or people would ever have agreed to any transfer of sovereignty over a small British community to such a regime? Looking to the future, would the Prime Minister not agree that the situation could be transformed and that we could start to forget Fortress Falklands if Argentina returned to stable, democratic parliamentary government that recognised fundamental human rights?

The Prime Minister

I agree in part with what my hon. Friend says, but I think it will be a long time before many of us can forget the invasion that occurred or the effort required to liberate those islands. It would require a very different attitude on the part of Argentina, under whatever kind of Government, before we could be certain that she had renounced all claims and would not return to the kind of unpredictable action which one sees under dictators.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

Can we have an assurance from the Prime Minister that, as this matter is debated next week and in the weeks ahead, she will not adopt her traditional stance of blaming everyone else and abdicating her full responsibility for what the former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington had described as a national humiliation?

The Prime Minister

The subject of the debate would be the Franks report. We shall be debating what Franks said and, of course, I am happy to debate that.