HC Deb 02 June 1992 vol 208 cc714-22 3.55 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

As hon. Members will know, the United Nations Security Council decided on 30 May to impose sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro. The resolution contains one of the most comprehensive series of measures ever adopted by the United Nations. They include a ban on air links, a trade and oil embargo, a freeze on assets, a ban on official sporting contacts and an agreement to reduce the level of staff at diplomatic missions of the self-proclaimed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The ban on arms sales adopted last year remains in force.

This and other elements of the embargo will be monitored by the Security Council committee established by one of the earlier resolutions on Yugoslavia. We shall play a full part in the work of that committee. We are also taking steps at home to implement the sanctions in the United Kingdom and dependent territories. Interim measures have been taken by the DTI and the Treasury, and Orders in Council will be put to the Privy Council on 4 June. The Yugoslav ambassador has been asked to leave.

The vote on this resolution reflects almost total unanimity among the international community. The world has been shocked by the persistent shellings and killings, and particularly recently by the carnage in Sarajevo. The resolution reflects condemnation of Serbia's brutal and expansionist policies under its present leadership. President Milosevic has refused to rein in the Serbs in Bosnia and has actively supported them through supplies of men and equipment. Under the pretext of withdrawal, he has transferred large parts of the federal army to local command in Bosnia.

Those warlords are using terror as a political weapon to create ethnically pure Serbian areas which will be attached to Serbia itself. There was never any justification for that policy. Before the fighting began, there was no threat to the welfare of the large Serbian community in Bosnia-Herzegovina from either Croats or Muslims. Croatia too has profited from the situation by infiltrating men and equipment into Croatian-inhabited areas of Herzegovina.

We hope that the mandatory provisions of resolution 757 will convince the leadership in Belgrade that they must abandon their present policies. We do not wish to penalise the Serbian people or to destroy their economy, but we must bring home to Mr. Milosevic and his supporters that the international community cannot tolerate his present policy.

The immediate requirement is for a complete cessation of hostilities. Next we must establish conditions in which the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can pursue their humanitarian tasks. They have our full support: we have so far given a total of £9.68 million to their appeals. The Belgrade authorities must also take steps to immobilise and disarm the irregular units which have been responsible for so much of the mayhem. This should allow the displaced persons who have now fled to all the five remaining republics to return to their homes. This in turn should lead to a political solution on the lines already prepared by and in principle agreed through the good offices of Lord Carrington. I am in close touch with my European and United States colleagues as we work for those objectives.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. We give our full support to United Nations Security Council resolution 757, and we urge that the United Nations sanctions should be rigorously enforced. As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, Opposition Front-Bench Members urged such comprehensive United Nations sanctions many months ago. It is possible that the situation might not have got so tragically out of hand if action had been taken sooner, but, now that action has been taken, we must hope and work for its success.

The right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the use of force, and I welcome that. The situation is far too confused for forcible intervention from outside to do any positive good. It is certain that force would lead to further unnecessary bloodshed and increase the number of people at risk. I hope that the Government will stand out inflexibly against any suggestions of forcible intervention by the European Community.

It is my view that the excellent and admirable efforts of the European Community and its tireless representative, Lord Carrington, have been damaged, and perhaps to some extent even negated, by the unwise capitulation of European Community Foreign Ministers to the insistence of the German Government that every little self-declared republic in what was Yugoslavia should be given international recognition. That policy may have been a further incentive towards a disintegration that was always inherent.

The European Community should have no military role in this conflict or indeed in any other. The need is not to extend the conflict but to maintain it. The Foreign Secretary is right to assign principal responsibility to Mr. Milosevic and the Serbs. The acts of destruction of the Serbs toward Dubrovnik, although not the worst of their atrocities, are in their sheer wantonness symbolic of their lack of regard for a country which they say they want to safeguard.

The Foreign Secretary is equally right to make it clear that the Serbs are not the only guilty party—that others share that guilt. No solution will be acceptable unless it is based on the restoration of stability, coupled with the safeguarding of all minorities, and that includes Serbian minorities. We hope that the United Nations actions will provide a possibility for such a solution, and it is on that basis that we give the United Nations our full support.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). In view of his personal announcement today, may I say how much I shall miss him? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Other hon. Members will also miss him. The right hon. Gentleman has made for himself a reputation for a partisan ferocity which I can do nothing about and which I do not want to spoil this afternoon, as he has not displayed it. In my dealings with him from the Foreign Office and the Home Office, our exchanges have sometimes been pointed, but never excessively so. In the necessary dealings between us outside the House, I have found him to be invaluably straightforward and almost invariably helpful.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of interesting points. He suggested—he may be right—that earlier sanctions might have prevented some of the trouble. There would certainly have been no support for sanctions of that kind at an earlier stage, as I found when I suggested oil sanctions towards the end of last year. Recent events—in part, the persecution of Muslims in Bosnia—have changed the situation in the United Nations.

The right hon. Gentleman wisely referred to the use of force. I notice various operations now being sketched in the newspapers. It is much easier to conceive of such operations in theory than to launch them in practice. It is much easier to launch them than to see how they could successfully be brought to an end, so caution on the subject is necessary.

I do not wish to go into the argument about recognition all over again. As I told the House in the Queen's Speech debate, the best answer would have been Yugoslavia by consent, but in the end that was not attainable. Once we said goodbye to that hope, towards the end of last summer, we were left with a series of republics. The question of how one dealt with and recognised them became a matter of timing rather than principle.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I remind the House at this stage that, if hon. Members ask precise questions on the Foreign Secretary's statement and we have short replies, it obviously follows that I shall be able to call far more Members.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Of course there is agreement that international action was necessary to try to stop the fighting in Yugoslavia, but may I put it to my right hon. Friend that stopping the fighting should be the end purpose? Therefore, will he make it clear to those who advocate military action in Yugoslavia that it is much easier to get into a warlike situation there than to get out of it? Above all, we must avoid Yugoslavia becoming not just the Israel of the Balkans but the Vietnam of Europe.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend knows a good deal about Yugoslavia, and his words of warning are wise. What we can do and are doing is to offer negotiation, a conference and ideas, monitor the ceasefire if it is achieved, and give trade and economic help to those who co-operate and take measures against those who do not. That is necessary, and that we will do.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that the majority of Members of this House applaud the action that has been taken by the United Nations to bring an end to the bloodshed in Yugoslavia? In future policy decisions within the European Community, will he take into account two possible dangers? First, we must be sufficiently outspoken about the human rights record in Croatia and especially the Croatians' attitude to the Serbian minority there. Secondly, while we would like to see the end of the Milosevic regime—I certainly would—there is a danger that the extremists who may control the guerrilla units in Bosnia will take a hand. Instead of better than Milosevic, we may have worse. Some worse people are around.

Mr. Hurd

On Croatia, the hon. Gentleman is right. It is important that the Croatian Government should carry through the legislation to protect the rights of its minorities to completion, as Lord Carrington has recommended. We are watching that carefully. I do not want to pick and choose between the different candidates for rulers or the Government of Serbia. That is not our job. Our job is to ensure that the Serbs and Montenegrans, with whom we have no basic quarrel, observe the rules of international life, as they have emerged.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the huge majority of people will support him in his hopes that the proposed sanctions will create a change of policy in Belgrade? But will he recall that, often before from that Dispatch Box, pious hopes have been expressed that sanctions will cause the collapse of a regime, whether Rhodesia or, more recently, Iraq? The truth is that sanctions rarely seem to cause collapse. Such hopes are often followed by further discussion about the use of force. Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an undertaking that if, as may well happen, there is increasing talk about force in the future, he will go towards that option with only the greatest possible circumspection?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my right hon. Friend. There is no magic about sanctions. However, I remind him that, neither in the case of Iraq nor now in the case of Serbia and Montenegro, do sanctions aim to change a regime. That has never been their purpose in those cases. I agree exactly with the formulation of the second part of my right hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Now that sanctions appear to be flavour of the month for the Tory Government, what has changed in respect of the sanctions that they refused to apply to South Africa and those that were supposed to be implemented against nations in the Gulf? What is new?

Mr. Hurd

What is new is that there has been a good deal of progress in South Africa, which is therefore the vindication of the stand that we took and of the lifting of most of the sanctions by the international community, following our lead.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

My right hon. Friend's statement will be welcomed, as will resolution 757. I think that the House shares the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), that it is sometimes extremely difficult to make sanctions work. We have certainly seen that elsewhere in the world. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what consideration has been given to a blockade to make sanctions work, and especially to a naval blockade, because it runs short of using force?

Mr. Hurd

There are no plans for that at present. Under international law, there is an obligation on all members of the United Nations to comply with the resolution, and a monitoring committee has been set up in New York. We shall have to see what happens, especially with regard to oil supplies, which traditionally have come down the Danube through Romania, but it is premature to assume that people will not comply with their obligations.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that, about eight months ago, some of us argued for sanctions to be taken against the then Yugoslavia, especially against the Serbs, and that we met with blank refusals? Will he tell the House what attempts will be made to monitor sanctions? He just mentioned oil and, as there are no natural oil resources within Serbia, if oil can be cut off clearly sanctions will work. What monitoring will take place?

Mr. Hurd

I have just answered the hon. Gentleman's question. He was too busy preparing it to listen to my answer. He is right about the importance of oil. As he knows, I suggested oil sanctions some time ago, but there was no support for them. I am glad that there is support now. There is some oil production in Serbia and Croatia, but most oil is imported. It is therefore important that the flow of oil should be monitored by the sanctions committee, which I described to the House when the hon. Gentleman was not listening.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend explain how the sad fighting in Yugoslavia affects British national interests? Or is it the case that we have now taken on the role of some sort of second-class world policeman, whenever we can find a similar policeman among what he grandly calls the international community?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is entitled to take that view, but I do not think that it is shared by many of his constituents. When, night after night, people see on television destruction and massacre in a European city, most of them do not expect us to send in troops, but they expect us to take some sensible action, if we can, to bring that suffering to an end. I am not in favour of exaggerating what we can do, or of pretending that we are or can be a policeman. I am not speaking on behalf of the Twelve, or of the United Nations: I am merely saying that, where we can help to bring such suffering to an end, I am sure that it is the wish of the House and the country that we should do so.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that, welcome though the imposition of sanctions is, they are likely to bear down disproportionately on the Albanian community in Kosovo? As well as working with his colleagues at European Community and United Nations level to make sanctions effective, is he bearing in mind the need for continuing diplomatic pressure to ensure the proper restoration of autonomy to Kosovo?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned an important matter. That is the next possible tragedy spot, if one may describe it that way. It is important for the Serbs to accept the need for full autonomy for Kosovo. I discussed with Lord Carrington this morning, as well as with the Portuguese Foreign Minister—who is President of the Council of Ministers—how we can bring diplomatic pressure to bear in Tirana and Belgrade.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

It is accepted that Serbia is not the only offending party in the region. Therefore, sanctions should surely be imposed on Croatia to force it to stop its violence.

Mr. Hurd

The arms embargo applies to all the former republics of Yugoslavia. I have mentioned Croatia, but I have tried to get the balance right, which is increasingly accepted in the House. The Croatians are not and have not been blameless, but the main responsibility for the mayhem, killing and suffering rests with Serbs, whether Bosnian Serbs, irregulars or those under the direct control of Belgrade.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In relation to his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), does the Foreign Secretary recollect that some of us suported him most vocally, in and out of the House, on the imposition of oil sanctions at the beginning of the crisis?

Does the Foreign Secretary think that it is wise to insist that the Yugoslav ambassador withdraw? Did he hear the ambassador say last night on "The World Tonight" that perhaps this is the time when he is most needed? What is the purpose, other than for reasons of a diplomatic dance, of making the ambassador go? Finally, are we sure that arms and oil are not being supplied by Iraq to Serbia?

Mr. Hurd

On the ambassador, it was part of the Security Council resolution to reduce levels of diplomatic representation by the former federal republic of Yugoslavia. It will, of course, keep representatives here: we are not expelling the whole diplomatic mission. It was right, in line with what others are doing and right in the circumstances, that the ambassador should be asked, courteously but firmly, to go.

Supplies of oil to Serbia and Montenegro—

Mr. Dalyell

I voted for the oil embargo.

Mr. Hurd

Yes. However, it was not the hon. Gentleman's vote that was necessary on that occasion, but support in the United Nations, which has only recently been forthcoming. All possible breaches of the embargo, particularly in oil, need to be monitored carefully.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Although I agree with my right hon. Friend about the ambassador, what justification is there for allowing the building that he has been occupying to continue to enjoy the status of an embassy?

Mr. Hurd

We are in a bit of limbo on that, and my hon. Friend has put his finger on the illogical position. We have an embassy in Belgrade and it is important to keep contacts going. Therefore, we do not intend to close the Yugoslav mission here. Equally, Yugoslav representation at the United Nations is in a type of limbo. If the situation continues and sanctions do not do the job we hope, we shall clearly have to consider such questions again.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I welcome the condemnation of the expansionist policies of the Serbian leadership, which were clearly demonstrated years ago when it overthrew autonomy in Kosovo and Vojvodina. Its intention to create a greater Serbia was clearly signalled last year and it is a matter of regret that the international community did not respond quickly enough, because the tragedies might have been averted.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there is still some unfinished business in greater Serbia, in the region of Macedonia? Would it be possible to take some proactive steps to prevent that region from being ignited, because there are countries other than Serbia that might fish in those troubled waters?

Mr. Hurd

There certainly are: the hon. Gentleman is quite right. I am glad that, in Skopje, a mission from the European Community is establishing a contact with the Macedonian authorities for the first time. I hope that we shall receive a report next week on Macedonia's needs. The hon. Gentleman, who follows this subject, will know that the attitude of the Greek Government presents a substantial difficulty to recognition of Macedonia, but that does not debar the type of mission that is in Macedonia now.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I express my appreciation to my right hon. Friend for the constructive role he took in securing sanctions against Serbia by the United Nations? They are a valuable instrument of pressure to demonstrate to the Government in Belgrade and to the wider world that force should not be allowed to prevail against the democratic expression of self-determination. If that were allowed to prevail, a potentially explosive and damaging example would be given to central and eastern Europe. Is it not therefore necessary that physical measures underpin the sanctions —perhaps in the form of a naval blockade or the inspection of air cargoes at their point of departure?

Mr. Hurd

Let us see how we get on. I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. The monitoring committee, as it showed effectively in the case of Iraq, will be able to pick up breaches, and we will then need to decide what measures might be useful in dealing with them.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the majority of people in Britain are bound to support the policy of sanctions, especially when they see on their television screens, and read about, massacres such as that which killed outright people standing in a bread queue last week—another crime against humanity? Does he accept that there is almost unanimous opinion in the House—and, in my view, in the country at large—that no military force should be used by outside countries, certainly not by Britain, and that British troops should under no circumstances get involved in such a vicious Balkan civil war?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making those points. He picks up a point that several Members on both sides of the House have made about the need for extreme caution in that respect.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will my right hon. Friend please confirm that there are no circumstances under which British forces would be deployed on Yugoslavian soil, apart from monitoring activities for the United Nations, bearing in mind that they would not know who the enemy was and would be caught in the crossfire, meaning that we should be sending people to be slaughtered? The Foreign Secretary could perhaps concede that we may need to play our part in a blockade if sanctions did not work. I hope and pray that they work. I hope that my right hon. Friend will go so far as to say that British troops will not be deployed on Yugoslavian soil.

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend or I have told the House that we are contributing a field ambulance, involving about 250 men, to the United Nations force which is being deployed in Croatia. I note the extreme reluctance which my hon. Friend voices for anything further.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Is it possible for assistance to be given to Yugoslav citizens in this country, some of whom are afraid to return home because of the fighting in their home areas and others who want to return but who came here on return tickets and are stranded, and short of money, because of the suspension of flights?

Mr. Hurd

This situation has many casualties, some of them much more poignant than the hon. Gentleman describes. Many people's lives are disrupted or worse by this situation. I am sure that the Home Secretary will look at any individual cases of people wanting to stay here, but the rules are the rules, and of course people know them.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

Is it not a case of adopting a policy of too little, too late, making the situation much worse and more difficult to deal with? Will the right hon. Gentleman give details of the time scale within which he hopes the sanctions will work? Will he make it clear that there must be a cessation of hostilities by the Serbians within days rather than weeks, failing which, other options will have to be considered?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman will have heard quite a consensus of views up to this point on the concept of the use of force. I do not think it would be wise to impose a time limit. The Security Council has not done so. It has imposed an unprecedentedly severe package of measures, which will bear hard on the authorities and people in Serbia and Montenegro. We must now see how that works out.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

To what extent did Mr. Baker's statement force the hand of people such as the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Hurd

The American Secretary of State has always made it clear that he expects Europe to take the lead on this issue. It is not a matter on which the Americans have taken a consistent forward line. The fact that, faced with the latest killings in Sarajevo, he expressed an American opinion so forcefully, greatly helped the proceedings in the Security Council. A significant fact was the positive Russian vote, which would have come as quite a surprise in Belgrade and will, I hope, help to produce a good effect.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

As we discuss the matter now, certain militiamen are still pounding Sarajevo, killing people in bread queues and Red Cross personnel. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the United Nations takes its responsibility seriously, for example by considering the control of Sarajevo airport by the UN? The Institute of Strategic Studies and other military people say that, if we had the will, the fighting could be stopped within 24 hours. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the UN undertakes such activities and provides adequate protection for the land convoys that are taking food and medical equipment to the beleaguered people of Sarajevo?

Mr. Hurd

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think this through. He suggests that we should consider taking over Sarajevo airport. It is difficult to imagine Governments being willing to contribute troops to fighting their way to control over the airport; if they succeeded, the temptation—indeed, the incentive—to go on and take over control of the city would be substantial, because the airport without the city is pointless. Therefore, troops would be involved not just in air strikes but in operations on the ground, which are easy to conceive but hard to launch, and even harder to bring to a successful end.