HC Deb 19 April 1993 vol 223 cc21-36 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, I should like to make a statement on Bosnia.

There is today a fragile ceasefire in Srebrenica. One hundred and thirty-three military and civilian wounded were evacuated yesterday by helicopter to Tuzla. It is hoped to bring out a further 200 today. British Sea King helicopters are taking part in this airlift.

Canadian troops have been deployed into Srebrenica to monitor the ceasefire arrangements. Their involvement is based on Security Council resolution 819 adopted last Friday, which demanded that Srebrenica and its environs should be treated as a safe area.

There has been heavy fighting between Muslim and Croat forces in central Bosnia. Some of our troops, the Cheshires, are stationed in the area. They are doing what they can to mediate. This fighting has brought a halt—I hope a temporary halt—to the flow of relief convoys.

Our troops on the ground, and the RAF in supplying Sarajevo, have done superb work. Our troops have so far escorted 450 convoys carrying 34,000 tonnes of aid. Many of the convoys in central Bosnia are maintained and driven by over 100 ODA employees. In over 400 flights the RAF has carried 6,000 tonnes. The Government have contributed £92 million to the international relief agencies, bilaterally and through the EC.

It was predicted last autumn that almost half a million Bosnians would die of starvation during the winter. Most of them are still alive, thanks in large part to the relief effort. We need to continue that effort as long as possible, because people can starve in spring and summer as well as winter. But we all accept that keeping people alive does not by itself solve the problem. In the end, a lasting solution to the Bosnian conflict can be achieved only by a political settlement. That is why we have given our full support to the efforts of Lord Owen and Mr. Vance. Their proposals have been agreed by the Muslims and Croats. The Serbs have prevaricated, made unacceptable territorial demands and meanwhile continued their aggression with the hideous suffering which we have all seen. The Government in Belgrade have not used what we believe to be their considerable influence to put a stop to this behaviour.

We must therefore intensify pressure on the Serbs. RAF Tornadoes have now been called upon to join in enforcement of the no-fly zone. On Saturday, we voted for the immediate adoption of Security Council resolution 820, imposing further and intense sanctions unless the Serbs stop their attacks arid agree to a political settlement by next Monday, 26 April.

These new sanctions are based on a package prepared by the European Community at our instigation over two months ago. Their passage in the Security Council was not easy. The Russians, who of course hold a veto, wanted to allow the Serbs more time, but in view of the continuing Serb aggression around Srebrenica, we considered that action had to be taken immediately as a clear signal of resolve. We are looking to turn sanctions into a blockade. These new sanctions are wide in scope and effectively close down Serbia's border. We must use the days and weeks leading up to their introduction to ensure the tightest possible enforcement in four ways—by sea, by river, on land and against financial services.

In the Adriatic, there are already NATO and WEU monitoring forces, including HMS Cardiff, which have prevented all but three vessels from entering Montenegrin ports since November last year. The new Security Council resolution provides further powers, notably the prohibition of all commercial and maritime traffic from entering Yugoslav territorial waters except when specifically authorised. On the Danube, there are plans for deploying a WEU monitoring flotilla. Together with the sanctions assistance missions already in place, these should go a long way to curb sanctions breaking. There is a need for better co-operation between the riparian states and the international community to ensure that there are no loopholes. We shall pursue that vigorously.

As for passage of freight over land, the new resolution calls for the closure of all freight crossing points, with limited exceptions. There are problems with the passage of goods across some of the borders with Serbia and Montenegro. Much needs to be done so that traffic is physically prevented from moving except at the designated points. We shall need more sanctions assistance monitors to help the customs authorities of the neighbouring states monitor their borders and police the crossing points round the clock. Finally, on the financial sanctions, it is not so much a matter of scope as of strict enforcement and that is an obligation on all Governments. We must ensure that there are no weak points.

We know that Serbia is already hard hit by sanctions and vulnerable to tighter sanctions, provided—and it is a big proviso—that they are properly enforced. This is a strenuous task and many international organisations are involved. I have proposed the appointment of a co-ordinator, who would have to be high powered, to build up this work and, when necessary, knock heads together. So much for the sanctions resolution passed at the weekend and which now has to be enforced.

Against the background that I have sketched, which is familiar to all hon. Members, we cannot refuse to look at all ideas, including those which have been considered before but not adopted. The debate on other options is at a similar stage in London as in the capitals of our major partners. I think that the House would agree that it is essential that policy should be agreed by the international community. I shall mention two such options, those which are most often discussed in the media and probably in the House.

There have been calls for removal of the mandatory United Nations arms embargo against the Bosnian Government. The House will be aware of the Government's reservations about that. The move would require Russian consent in a new Security Council resolution. I do not believe that relaxation would in practice be limited to one party. This would be in effect letting the parties fight it out—Serb against Muslim, Muslim against Croat, as today in central Bosnia, and Croat against Serb. The Government recognise that it would give the Muslims the opportunity to gain better access to the arms that they need. There is the danger that it might prolong and extend the conflict and would undoubtedly put into serious question our ability to sustain our humanitarian effort.

There are also advocates of air strikes against selected Serb targets as a way of putting further pressure on the Serbs to sign the Vance-Owen plan and, indeed, to reduce the risk of attacks on further Muslim enclaves. Discussion of that is at much the same stage in different capitals.

We have considered the options again this morning. We must take account of the view of our military advisers that such strikes would probably have only limited military value unless supported by troops on the ground, given the nature of the terrain and the nature of the conflict. We must take into account the high risk of civilian casualties. I think that that risk would be very high. As with other options, we cannot rule out anything as the situation develops.

We shall stay in close touch with our allies and partners, but we should not go down this or any other route without a reasonable judgment that it would do more good than harm. We should not lightly jeopardise the continued humanitarian role played by the United Nations and by our own forces. We need to consider not just what sounds satisfying today—or even tomorrow—but where we might stand, say, four or five weeks, or four or five months, after the first air strike or the first delivery of arms.

The anger and frustration aroused by the savageries in eastern Bosnia are entirely justified. Our objectives are— indeed, must be—to make the Bosnian Serbs and the Serb Government abandon the pursuit of their aims by the use of force; to prevent the fighting from spreading to Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia or elsewhere; to provide the wherewithal, through the Vance-Owen process, for a just political solution; and to relieve the needs of the hungry and the sick.

As the Prime Minister said last night, the Serbs and the Bosnian Serbs should realise that there will be no acceptance for, and therefore no stability in, gains achieved as they have sought to achieve them. Their only hope for a stable, let alone a prosperous, future lies in changing course and bringing these horrors to an end.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I welcome the Foreign Secretary's decision to respond to our request for a statement about the situation in Bosnia. Will he assure the House that he will keep us informed about what is a very delicate position, as well as a dangerous and fragile one? If events take a significantly different course, we shall expect further statements from him this week.

I support what the Foreign Secretary said about the work that our troops are doing at present, in incredibly difficult circumstances. Should we not remind ourselves and the country—including the commentators who continue to say that nothing is being done—that enormous achievements have resulted from the deployment of our troops in support of the humanitarian efforts of the United Nations? It ill becomes those of us who sit comfortably at home to undermine or belittle those efforts. I urge everyone, regardless of their views—I know that there are wide differences of view—to give our troops the wholehearted support that they deserve and have earned.

Like the Foreign Secretary, I welcome the fragile ceasefire that has been arranged around Srebrenica; but experience tells us that, like many ceasefires before it, it is unlikely to endure. There is therefore no point in sitting back and waiting for further developments: further pressure must be brought to bear now on Serbia and its clients, the Bosnian Serbs.

I welcome the change of mind displayed by Her Majesty's Government, for which we asked a week ago. We asked the Government to seek an immediate recall of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the circumstances in Bosnia, and to set aside President Yeltsin's objections to such a meeting. We all recognise the difficulties and the political circumstances in Russia, but they were no reason for standing aside or delaying a meeting of the Security Council to consider the deteriorating circumstances in Bosnia and the potential slaughter of 50,000 people in Srebrenica. So that change of heart was welcome.

I cannot welcome, however, the decision once again to delay further sanctions against Serbia. The existing mandatory sanctions were implemented by the United Nations Security Council in May 1992. The reality is that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been calling for the rigorous implementation of those sanctions since then, for an economic blockade of Serbia, which there has been no attempt to put in place. That was recognised by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry a few weeks ago when he spoke in Committee about licensing, and specifically the licensing of trade to Croatia, and said: There is no precise estimate of evasion, but more than 466 licences have been issued and only 60 have been returned. The Committee will appreciate that there is an enormous hole somewhere into which all those goods are going."—[Official Report, European Standing Committee B, 17 March 1993, c. 4.] That is an admission by a Minister that existing sanctions are not being implemented effectively. We know from comments outside, including those made by Lord Owen, that large sums are being laundered in the same way that criminals, including drug operators, launder their moneys. That is being done with the assistance of the banking system in Europe, and that should be stopped, too.

We can welcome the belated determination to apply additional sanctions, but I believe that it is idle to suppose that they can be applied quickly enough or effectively enough to bring the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table again.

I agree with what the Foreign Secretary said in support of the mandatory arms embargo. The Labour party is committed in its constitution to the United Nations. My colleagues and I support the decisions of the Security Council, and especially the arms embargo. It seems ridiculous that the people who are arguing for an end to the embargo are, in the next sentence, advocating military intervention on the ground in Bosnia.

We could not abrogate the arms embargo in respect of the Muslims alone. The supporters of the Serbs and those of the Croatians would pour additional weapons into the appalling conflict. We should emphatically endorse the embargo against all the protagonists. We would not support any unilateral abrogation of it, whether by the United States of America or by any other country.

Nor do we accept that there is any sensible or legitimate argument for intervention by ground forces. We believe, however—I impress upon the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government generally the view expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition this weekend—that it is time that the Security Council issued an ultimatum to the Serbs. It is now overdue for the United Nations to insist that, first, there should be safe passage for refugees, for women and children, for the wounded and for soldiers who have surrendered in places such as Srebrenica. There should be a permanent ceasefire and the Serbs should agree to sign the Owen-Vance peace plan. Unless they are prepared to do that, the Security Council should consider authorising a punitive air strike against the Serbs' supply lines in Bosnia.

I do not say that lightly because I recognise that there is no such thing as a clinical military action and that the risk of civilian casualities would be significant. I also agree that, before such action could be contemplated, we would have to consider the whole future of the humanitarian aid effort and the participation of our troops in it because we would not endorse any action that placed them in jeopardy on the ground in Bosnia. It may be—we should not shrink from this reality—that such an action and the continuation of the humanitarian aid effort are mutually exclusive and that we could have one or the other, but not both. That is a matter for very difficult and serious political judgment.

I understand as well as anyone the anger and the anguish which is being expressed in the House and throughout the country, but no one, especially not hon. Members, should pretend that there are any simple or quick military solutions which could be imposed on the circumstances that prevail in Bosnia or the former Yugoslavia as a whole.

We support a great deal of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, although we do not think that it goes far enough. I urge on him serious consideration of further discussions in the Security Council along the lines that I have suggested.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for most of what he said. I of course undertake that we shall continue to keep the House informed. I welcome what he said, which was in harmony with what I said, about the role of our forces.

On the Security Council, there is no change of mind on our part in the timing of the debate or the timing of implementation. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that nothing can be agreed in these matters without Russian acquiescence. In the past fortnight I have had several meetings with the Russian Foreign Minister, as have others. It was only at the weekend that, after many difficulties, the Russians were brought to accept an immediate vote and implementation next week. It is not to be taken for granted, and it is not to be taken for granted in the future. It is a matter not of delay or prevarication on our part but of obtaining the absolutely necessary acquiescence of Russia for the measures that have been taken. Thank heavens that, in the end, the Russians felt able to acquiesce.

The right hon. Gentleman is not entirely accurate about sanctions, although I agree that implementation, especially on the financial side, leaves much to be desired. I mentioned the flotilla in the Adriatic. There is no doubt that it has managed to check what was at one time a substantial inflow of sanctions-barred traffic into the Montenegrin ports. Equally, the right hon. Gentleman knows about the sanctions-assistance missions already in place in the Danube states, but the general thrust of his comments is perfectly right: it is partly a matter of making better use of existing sanctions, and it is now a matter of finding effective machinery for enforcing the nevi ones voted 48 hours ago.

I agree with and am grateful for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the arms embargo. He put it well. However, I have a little difficulty with his point about air strikes. I understand the reasoning behind what the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman said. They are saying that the Security Council should give an ultimatum to the Serbs to deal with a number of matters, some of which are being dealt with, such as arrangements for Srebrenica, and that, if the Serbs did not comply after a time, there would be a single punitive air strike. He went on to show that he understands that that would put at risk the humanitarian effort which we are undertaking and which is saving a great many lives.

The right hon. Gentleman did not say on which side he would come down if it turned out that one was at the expense of the other. I cannot see a great deal of point in a single punitive air strike if that put at risk the whole United Nations' humanitarian effort.

The right hon. Gentleman's proposals simply illustrate the difficulties. I repeat that we are not excluding action of that kind because we work with our allies and our partners, but before we decide together on action we want to be sure that it would in practice—because we cannot bluff in these matters—leave the situation better than it is today.

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the main calls coming from the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference that ended in New Delhi on Saturday was for the urgent assembling of an international parliamentary mission to visit the former Yugoslavia? Does he agree that, given that Yugoslavia is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union but not of the United Nations, such an exercise is worthy of consideration? Will he keep his mind open on that possibility?

Mr. Hurd

I will examine my hon. Friend's suggestion. It is a matter not so much of organising parliamentary missions but of parliamentarians of all kinds and of all countries making clear to those who are or who have been parliamentarians in the republics of Yugoslavia the sense of anger and frustration that is evident in this country and in all others.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that it would be possible, practicable and in accordance with existing Security Council resolutiion 757 for the United Nations to deploy troops between the advancing Serbs and the Muslim enclaves to prevent further shelling and advance? There is much evidence to suggest that that approach would be acceptable to Serb and Muslim alike. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any further information about the meeting yesterday between General Phillipe Morillon and Dr. Karadzic concerning the possibility of the United Nations taking control of the administration of Srebrenica?

Mr. Hurd

There are talks also today about the administration of Srebrenica and the various points at issue in the ceasefire which has been negotiated—and which is holding so far. That is a continuing discussion. The hon. Gentleman's first point was raised in correspondence between the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We do not believe that the existing Security Council mandate covers the kind of exercise that the hon. Gentleman suggests. It is difficult to envisage such an exercise, which would be extremely dangerous. I am not sure how long those troops would be held in position. I do not myself believe that is a workable plan.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that since the war two principles have successfully guided NATO foreign policy—the doctrine of the deterrent, and recognition that sanctions generally are not very effective in bringing about a result quickly? Will my right hon. Friend accept that some of us find it difficult to understand why those two principles have not been more in evidence in the last 18 months? Will he now make it quite plain that Serbia knows that they are in evidence now?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend's points are well taken. Of course we know the track record for sanctions. It shows that a country can be substantially weakened but that sanctions do not automatically bring about a change of policy. I think that is a fair statement. If one considers Serbia's location on the map and its needs, one finds that Serbia is vulnerable to sanctions—but sanctions must be enforced before that can be true. I return to the point made by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). Enforcement has started and has already caused substantial difficulty and ruinous inflation to Serbia. That must now be carried forward.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Do none of the second-rate Ministers in this third-rate Administration realise that their spunklessness in backing the Vance-Owen plan, which is hopeless and now dead, and in pursuing the ineffectiveness of sanctions, which the Foreign Secretary is still bumbling on about, has led to the death of thousands upon thousands of Bosnian Muslims who have not had the weapons to defend themselves? Will the Prime Minister now work with his US and EC colleagues to introduce terms which actually stop Serb aggression, by bombing their communications, their lines of supply, their airfields and the arms factories that are supplying them, before thousands more die in this exercise of ethnic cleansing in greater Serbia and before the war spreads to Kosovo and Macedonia?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman does not take into account the points that I made about the effectiveness of bombing. It is all very well for him, in that stentorian tone, to make those eloquent phrases. We have to be sure, the House has to be sure, before we go down that path, that the result will be the saving of lives and an improvement in the position. Those who advocate that kind of wholesale approach produce no evidence to that effect. Our advice is the other way. We have to take it into account.

I am not saying—the hon. Gentleman will give me credit for this—that we can sit back and suppose that existing policies are sufficient. They obviously have not been sufficient to change the policies of the Bosnian Serbs and the Serbs, but in looking for ways of strengthening them, which is what we have to do, we have to take into account the probabilities and look ahead, as I have said, not just to the satisfactions of tomorrow but to where we would be in five or six months' time, or in two or three years' time, if we went down the path that the hon. Gentleman advocates.

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great achievements of the presence of United Nations troops is not just the bringing in of food and medicine or the evacuation of the sick and wounded but the prevention of even worse massacres than have already taken place, whether they be in Srebrenica, Sarajevo or elsewhere, and that it is very important to remember that fact?

My right hon. Friend speaks, choosing his words with care, of savages in eastern Bosnia. Can he assure the House that the United Nations is taking every possible step to collect evidence against those savages so that they can eventually be brought to book for the crimes that they are committing?

Mr. Hurd

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's first point—and, indeed, with his second; yes, indeed, the Security Council has given its view on that. Evidence is being collected. I hope that it will not be too long before the necessary international criminal jurisdiction comes into being.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Would not those who are pressing Her Majesty's Government to take spectacular action of the kind recommended by the news industry be wise to heed the words of Lord Healey, who had battlefield experience, and who fully understands the meaning of the maxim that no military plan survives contact with the enemy?

Mr. Hurd

I did not hear Lord Healey. There will be continuing discussion of all these options. No one can be so satisfied with the present situation or the present policies that they can say, definitely and for ever, that those kinds of option will always be rejected. I want to make that clear to the House. But the right hon. Gentleman is right. Before one goes down this route, one has to be sure, out of experience and as a result of professional advice, that the result will be a helpful one.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation in Bosnia is anything but simple and that, although Serbs are committing appalling atrocities against Muslims, at the same time Muslims and Croats are committing appalling atrocities against each other, sometimes under the nose of the British forces? Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that our response should ultimately be based on a balance of moral imperatives and that, while positive military intervention might, in the short term, prevent some of the atrocities taking place, in the longer term it could threaten a wider and even bloodier civil war throughout the region and that it should be considered only as a last resort?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend has the balance quite right. We must take account of events where the cameras are not. The heaviest fighting in the past day or so has been between Muslims and Croats. This is very relevant to the suggestion that the arms embargo should be partly lifted; we must take that into account. We must take into account the very fragile situation in Croatia where a truce is just holding and where the UN forces are in substantial operational difficulty. Those are the kinds of thing that do not come into the headlines or into the news bulletins day after day and night after night, but they are part of the total picture. If we took action to deal with the situation where the television is which then upset or destroyed the chances of peace in the other areas, we should be severely to blame.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the media coverage of the atrocities has aroused much of the pressure for further action which has been expressed today? Of course all wars, especially civil wars, include atrocities on a massive scale, not all of which are equally covered. Is he also aware that the world community, the United Nations and the western nations must decide quite clearly a t the beginning whether they can hope to lift the arms embargo, to supply arms or to become combatants themselves by air strikes or ground strikes and to maintain their role as peace-makers and agents of humanitarian relief? If the principles advocated today in the House by some hon. Members were applied to the Palestinian question, for example, the logic of what was proposed would become clearer.

Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an assurance that before long we shall have a debate in which the complexities, dangers, difficulties and agonies of the situation can be fully explored in a way that is not possible by questions?

Mr. Hurd

I personally would be in favour of that. It is not long since we had a debate on Yugoslavia, but, as the right hon. Gentleman exactly says, the issues are extremely complicated. I thought that his analysis at the beginning was right. The UN now has a humanitarian role. Massacres are being prevented and people who would otherwise die are being kept alive because of what the UN is now doing. That is not the total answer, but before that is put at risk in the search for the total answer, the balance must be struck. Each proposal for helping towards peace with justice must be tested against the risk that it would impose on the UN and the humanitarian agencies, and on what they are already doing. As the right hon. Gentleman says, striking that balance is an essential part of getting the decisions right.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that there are two wars in Bosnia? There is a three-sided civil war, and there is the invasion of the sovereign state of Bosnia by Serbia. Will he acknowledge that Serbia has enough weapons and munitions to fight a full-scale war for at least two years and that the only action that will stop the wheels of war turning is a full-scale and properly enforced blockade of Serbia?

Some of us find it a little difficult to stomach the fact that, while President Yeltsin puts out one hand to receive £28 billion-worth of aid from the west, with the other hand he is still giving assistance to Serbia. If sanctions and the blockade are to work, the umbilical cord between Moscow and Belgrade must be cut.

Mr. Hurd

The Russian Government are severely criticised at home for the co-operation that they have undertaken with western Governments with regard to the former Yugoslavia, and that criticism comes at an especially sensitive time. Nevertheless, with some difficulty and after many meetings, as I have said and as my hon. Friend knows, the Russians acquiesced to the very severe sanctions resolution, amounting to a blockade. The consequences must follow, as my hon. Friend has rightly pointed out. We must build on that Russian acquiescence and ensure that Russian oil, Russian services, Russian goods and, above all, Russian arms do not reach the Serbs and the Bosnian Serbs in contravention of those resolutions.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Will the Foreign Secretary explain why sanctions were not thought to be appropriate or workable for South Africa, yet they are workable in a much more immediate and urgent case in Serbia? Will he explain by what mechanisms his announcement today will bring the Serbs in Bosnia to the negotiating table, given that, in effect, they are taking all that they want by their actions on the ground? Is it not the case that they will come to the negotiating table only once they have all that they want—the greater Serbia? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman give his opinion on an idea that worked to protect the Kurds in Iraq: how about safe havens for the Bosnian Muslims?

Mr. Hurd

Each case is different. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is obviously true. In South Africa, the question was how we moved the South Africans away from apartheid. The Government's predecessors did not feel that economic sanctions were the best way of doing that. I think that events probably showed that we were right. South Africa has moved away from apartheid; but I do not want to reopen that argument now. Serbia is a different case. What we are trying to achieve is different and the country is different. I believe that, if there is effective enforcement—and it is certainly an "if"— sanctions can help to achieve a change of policy.

The hon. Lady asked about safe havens. The establishment of safe havens would involve fighting one's way in to create the safety. That did not arise in north Iraq because, at that time, for a short time, there was a vacuum. We managed to move in and save a great many lives. The situation is not the same in Serbia. There is civil war between the three communities, and very few parts of the country are not involved in that war. There is also the help from Serbia. I do not believe that the concept of safe havens would be workable.

On the hon. Lady's main point, it is perfectly true that the Serbs and the Bosnian Serbs have grabbed slices of territory—more ground than was allocated to them, for example, under the Vance-Owen plan—but the position is not secure or stable or accepted. There comes a time when people are no longer concerned with physical possession alone; they want a life for themselves and their children. They want stability and acceptance. That option is not open to the Serbs. There comes a time, as I said, when people begin to think about their own future and that of their children. The present methods will not ensure that for the Serbs.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend explain what is the British national interest in Bosnia? Will he please explain what distinguishes the horrible war in Bosnia from the many other equally horrible wars occurring throughout the world? Is it not only the British national interest that can justify our intervention in any such wars?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, certainly, it is the British national interest that justifies or does not justify our becoming involved in what amounts to a considerable number of tragedies and disasters. We have come to the view that it is a British national interest that we should do what we can to help bring peace to Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia, partly because the conflict is in Europe, whereas the other conflicts are not, and partly because we have been able to see a way in which we can do that. The presence of the Cheshires, and the saving of lives by the RAF, our civilian drivers and our humanitarian escorts have been good. That is something that we have accomplished, which we could not accomplish in Nagorno-Karabakh, for example. What we have done is entirely justified according to my hon. Friend's criterion, which is the British national interest.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that one of the reasons why much of the population is clamouring for the British Government to do something is that, only a couple of years ago, they managed to do it in the Gulf? People think that that can be repeated over and over again, notwithstanding the fact that there are 25 conflicts taking place around the world.

The other problem is that the conflict is taking place in the European arena. The Common Market, led by Germany, decided to go along with the partition of the former Yugoslavia. It agreed to recognise Croatia and subsequently Bosnia. The British Government—and the Foreign Secretary himself—were against that initially, but they were carried along by the Germans. They did a deal with Kohl on the opt-out at Maastricht; it was a quid pro quo. The Government have now made a rod for their own back and they do not know what to do about it. Let me tell people like those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who want to fight the war with the blood of other people's kids: do it yourselves. If they do not have the guts to put on their own flak jackets, they should not ask me to call on other kids to spill their blood to resolve what is a civil conflict in Yugoslavia as a result of the efforts of the Common Market.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman seeks to bring the treaty of Maastricht into just about every intervention on every subject. There was no trade-off of that kind. I do not believe that even the hon. Gentleman believes that it would have been right to have held back from recognising the reality of Slovenia and Croatia much longer than we did. We can argue about the timing, as I have said before. We were criticised by many people, such as my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, for not recognising much sooner when the Germans wanted to. We struck a balance about timing, and I do not think that we could or should have postponed it much longer.

Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us in the House are grateful for the fact that he is keeping his head when many around him may be losing theirs—including those with coronets on? Will he also give us some comfort in relation to whether the United Nations is fully equipped to deal with the scale of the humanitarian problem that is now evolving? Are there now sufficient funds and sufficient humanitarian aid available to deal with the scale of what is now unfolding in Bosnia? If there are not, what sanctions will be placed on those members who have not paid?

Mr. Hurd

There are certainly shortages of food, rather than of money, in the supplies needed to keep the humanitarian effort going. The money has been voted, but getting the food into the right place at the right time has sometimes proved to be more difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) is entirely right about that. As far as Europe is concerned, the European Community is the biggest donor. We are on at the Commission all the time to ensure that the stores and supplies are where they are actually needed.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the apparently even-handed approach to the arms embargo is, in effect, playing to the territorial ambitions of the Serbs and, to a lesser degree, the Croats? In the absence of resolve by the west to intervene, or as the west has been unable or unwilling to intervene, will the Bosnian Government be able to defend their own citizens and territory only through the availability of arms? The Serbs and the Croats will still get the arms, but the Bosnian Government do not have the arms. In the interests of the sovereignty of Bosnia and of preserving the lives of the citizens of Bosnia, it is essential that the total arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia should be lifted.

Mr. Hurd

The total arms embargo or just for the Bosnian Muslims? That is the point. Muslims and Croats were fighting each other in Vitez today. Under the hon. Gentleman's policy, both would be resupplied with arms. Is that really sensible, particularly if the result is that we have to withdraw our troops and stop the humanitarian effort? The logic of what the hon. Gentleman says obviously has a very wide appeal, particularly in the United States. We may have to consider this, and I am not ruling it out for ever in certain forms. However, before we decide, and before there is any acquiesence in that, we would have to sort out the balance and that is precisely the balance that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was arguing a few minutes ago.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I tell my right hon. Friend how right he is not to seek dramatic instant solutions to this most intractable and tragic conflict? Will he bear in mind that the Serbs and other protagonists to the warfare not only practised partisan warfare in world war two, but have also trained for it in the Yugoslav national army for decades thereafter? Could he at least ensure that the humanitarian effort which Her Majesty's Government are rightly applying is well administered, that they make clear to the French Administration the need for a good replacement for General Morillon, who has commanded universal respect, and that, if no good French general is forthcoming, we will be prepared and willing to offer a general officer commanding from the British Army?

Mr. Hurd

The news yesterday was that General Morillon is continuing for the time being. Of course, he is properly supported by our own officers. I agree with my hon. Friend's point about the humanitarian effort. In view of all that has been happening, it would be absurd to deny or pretend to palliate the conduct of Serbs and Bosnian Serbs because of the history of world war two. In most people's minds, what the Serbs have done in recent months has obliterated a good deal of the heroism with which they were associated at that time.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

What discussions have the Government, the European Community and the United Nations had with the Serbs, Croats and Muslims who have been opposed all along to military activity by people involving their own side, especially the Serbs? Is it the case that discussions take place only with the warlords and the paramilitaries? Should such discussions also involve others? We should examine some of their ideas about the way forward.

Mr. Hurd

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. When I went to Belgrade last summer I had exactly such discussions with the opposition—I am sure that many hon. and right hon. Members would do the same. It is entirely right to keep in touch with the widest possible range of opinion in all the republics.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

While supporting the Government's reluctance to commit ground troops and inflame the situation by arming the Bosnian Muslims, can my right hon. Friend confirm that sanctions have already led to a 40 per cent. reduction in the gross national product in Serbia—that was the figure given by the Secretary of State for Defence last week—with precious little effect on the ability of the Serbs to prosecute the war? How does the world community envisage making these sanctions effective? What sort of leverage can be put against the Russians to ensure that they do not turn a blind eye to sanctions breaking?

Mr. Hurd

The Russians have shown themselves to be open to persuasion on these matters in the past few weeks, and that needs to continue. Existing sanctions have done substantial harm to the Serb economy without changing the basic policy. We hope—the recent resolution is designed to achieve this—to convert that pressure and the harm which has already been done to the economy into a virtual blockade that will bring about the change.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

No one would deny that any solution is risk-free or without danger. Why is the Foreign Secretary not pressing the United Nations to use its air resources in the area to target Serbian supply lines, artillery, mortar and tank positions? The policy pursued by his Government and the whole of the west has failed abysmally. The genocide, rape and ethnic cleansing continue and, increasingly, the Government are speaking with the voice of Joseph Chamberlain on this crisis.

Mr. Hurd

I think that the hon. Gentleman has got his Chamberlains mixed up.

Mr. Hain

Neville Chamberlain.

Mr. Hurd

I am obliged.

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when I made my statement. Before one goes down the path of the sort of military activity—the air strikes which he mentioned—that goes well beyond what was advocated by the Labour Front Bench, one must have a reasonable judgment that the result will be a good one. At present, that judgment is not there. The immediate effect is to kill more people, including civilians. That is what the hon. Gentleman had in mind when he said that it was not "risk-free". One must be clear that the circumstances and proposals are such that that immediate effect is likely to be counterbalanced by an eventual good.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Royal Air Force crews which will be engaged in policing the no-fly zone area will have the same protection as that which they enjoyed when patrolling over Iraq? In other words, any surface-to-air missiles or radar that lock on will be hit and attacked. If that is so, is it recognised that that in itself could lead to an escalation of the military conflict?

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind when discussing the matter with his colleagues that Muslim communities throughout the world are looking at what is happening in the former Yugoslavia and may well be given a holy jihad to fight at some future date based on whatever is the outcome of this ghastly mess?

Mr. Hurd

I need to check on my hon. Friend's first point. I understand its importance and I would not want to mislead him with an immediate answer which might not be accurate if I were to volunteer it.

On his second point—which I think also moved the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)—it is of course true that the frustration and anger that we feel at what is happening in Bosnia is, if anything, more intense in the Muslim world. I can understand that. However, the way in which Muslims have expressed that frustration and anger has been constructive. There has been little of the destructive vehemence which my hon. Friend fears.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that in a speech on Saturday he said: In the context of Europe, our differences are our lifeblood"? That is a statement which lies uneasily with those of us who are witnessing what many people call ethnic cleansing but which many of us would call genocide in certain areas of the former Yugoslavia.

Does the right hon. Gentleman also recall that in that speech he laid great emphasis on the importance of sovereign states in the context of international law? That is a matter which weighed heavily on Members of Parliament during the Iraq and Kuwait conflict. It is therefore inappropriate for Members to refer to the current events in the former Yugoslavia as a civil war because we are seeing imperial aggression between sovereign states.

Against the background of what happened in Kuwait and Iraq, where there was a clear commitment to defend a sovereign state, why are we not prepared to make the same commitment in the former Yugoslavia? Why are we not prepared to issue a clear ultimatum to the Serbs that, unless they abide by the clear principles which underpin international law, we shall take action and, in particular, launch air strikes against their supply stations?

Mr. Hurd

The aggression of Iraq against Kuwait was a simple act of aggression by one sovereign state against another. In Bosnia, we have a war in which the overwhelming majority of those fighting are Bosnians —Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims. It was initiated and is sustained with help from Belgrade. That is why the trade sanctions and the sanctions announced last Saturday night are directed solely against Serbia and related Montenegro. But the position is different from that which produced Desert Storm.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will my right hon. Friend take an early opportunity to impress on President Tudjman of Croatia that, while we sympathise greatly with what the Croatian people had to put up with at the hands of the Serbs, the Vance-Owen plan envisages a federal Bosnia with individual cantons and not the annexation of the Croatian cantons by Croatia?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right. In principle, the Government of Croatia accept that.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Notwithstanding the gibes about the news industry that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Foreign Secretary should be warned that the impression that there is a consensus of complacency while genocide goes on is strong among the people of Britain. The political leadership on both sides of the House of Commons should take that on board.

May I ask the Foreign Secretary the question which my Muslim constituents are asking me and Muslims around the world are asking all the Governments of the west: how can it be that economic sanctions could be drawn so tightly around Iraq that hundreds of thousands of weak, vulnerable, young and old people have died for the want of food and medicine and the wherewithal to keep them alive, yet in almost two years it has not been possible to bring sanctions to bear against Serbia which would halt the aggression? Why was it possible for the Governments of the west to expend treasures in billions and billions of dollars and to move the armies, navies and air forces of the world to pulverise Iraq into obeying international law, and yet nightly we watch on our television screens the Serbian-supplied Bosnian Serb forces committing acts of genocide against Muslims in Bosnia? What is the answer to this glaring, brazen contradiction?

Mr. Hurd

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not telling his constituents that sanctions against Iraq prevent food and medicine from reaching that country. He knows that that is not so and that food and medicine are precisely excluded from the sanctions. There is a very substantial United Nations humanitarian effort in all parts of Iraq.

I tried to answer the point about the difference between what happened with Kuwait and Iraq and what is happening in Yugoslavia when I answered the question of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). They are entirely different situations.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the anger and frustration—I do not contradict his first sentence at all. That is the mood at the moment. If we were to be entirely complacent in response to that, he would be right in his criticism. If we were to take measures simply to deal with that sense of anger and frustration—which, in our better judgment, in five or six months' time would have made the situation worse, or no better—we would quite rightly be facing a different kind of anger and frustration. We would have neglected our job of bringing the best judgment that we can to bear on getting these matters right.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), in this interim period, while my right hon. Friend looks wisely and cautiously at whether other options should be exercised, will he look at the ability of the international organisations to deal with the vast increase in the number of refugees? Will he, for instance, look at what is happening to aid which is going to refugee camps for Bosnians in Croatia? I understand that the Croatians have already closed some of the Bosnian refugee camps in their country and that they are dispersing the Bosnian refugees, the Muslims, either to notional camps or sending them closer to the fighting lines. That needs looking at at this stage.

Mr. Hurd

I think my right hon. Friend must be right. I am not familiar with the details, but if he would like to amplify what he has said I will make sure that it receives urgent consideration.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

We must now move on.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I have a Standing Order No. 20 application to hear first from the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden).

4.32 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I wish to apply, under Standing Order No. 20, to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the policy of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the future of Bosnia. I think that the tragic events unfolding in Bosnia in recent days, reinforced by the exchanges that we have just heard on the statement, self-evidently meet the criteria of Standing Order No. 20. I will therefore put this application simply. When, in God's name, are the elected representatives of the people of Britain to be given a full and proper opportunity to discuss in the House of Commons the evil genocide, murder and systematic rapes which are part of the unmitigated aggression of Serbia? When will the House be given an opportunity to speak for the people of Britain on the biggest crisis facing Europe since the end of the second world war?

Madam Speaker

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said. As he knows, I have to announce my decision without giving my reasons for it. I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.