HC Deb 26 July 1993 vol 229 cc837-73 9.31 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

I am heartened by the number of hon. Members who are present and who, presumably, hope to speak during the debate. It is testimony to the intense and continuing dismay felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House at the degeneration of the position in Bosnia, and the continuing lack of international will to do anything about it.

The Minister often claims that there is no political or domestic will in the House or the country. I genuinely think that he is utterly wrong to make that claim. I think that there is a huge groundswell of opinion among ordinary people in the country that the United Kingdom should be doing much more than it has over the past two years. That opinion is widely reflected in many newspapers—certainly among the journalists reporting from Bosnia—and it is widely felt in the House. I have no doubt that the Government could secure a broad consensus in favour of a stronger stand, if they wished to take that initiative.

A number of my colleagues have been most eloquent on this subject for what seems to be a depressingly long time, notably the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). I first spoke in the House on this subject as long ago as 13 November 1991, when Dubrovnik and Vukovar were being bombarded and flattened. I called then for military measures to be taken to halt Serbian aggression, but unfortunately, as we all know, nothing was done. Resolutions aplenty were passed but never implemented, or never implemented with sufficient force. The aggression continued in Croatia, as it then was, intensified and inevitably spread into Bosnia, with all the horror that we now know.

I went to the Library to see how many resolutions have been passed. I was given the weighty collection of paper that I have with me—I might almost say, "I have in my hand a piece of paper." The collection happens to be the 41 resolutions that have been passed during the past 23 months. They have been passed but never fully implemented and, in essence, have changed nothing in former Yugoslavia.

I shall emphasise that point by referring to one of the 41 resolutions. It was passed on 6 May this year and concerned safe areas. In the resolution, the UN declared that Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other threatened areas—in particular the towns of Tuzla, Zepa, Gorazde, Bihac and Srebrenica—should be treated as safe areas by all parties concerned, and should be free from armed attacks and from any other hostile acts.

The resolution went on to demand the immediate cessation of armed attacks and any hostile act against the safe areas and demanded free and unimpeded access to all the safe areas in the republic of Bosnia. Since that resolution was passed, 400 people have been killed and 2,500 wounded in Sarajevo alone, one of the supposed safe areas.

The Minister should reflect seriously on the long-term consequences of the debasement of the prestige of the UN, on the currency of international diplomacy and on the prestige of the west— particularly the liberal democracies—by the continued and constant failure to implement and enforce the resolutions the UN has passed.

The Minister has chastised hon. Members for raising inflated expectations of what can be done in former Yugoslavia. The Government, however, have put their signatures to all the resolutions. They have helped to draft all the resolutions, including the resolution on safe areas. The Government have sadly failed to do anything to implement their declarations.

The message that I hope will come out of tonight's debate is that, despite the delay and despite the pattern of appeasement, it is not too late. Europe can still rediscover its will and its conscience. By taking action now, we can still turn back the tide of nationalism and neo-fascism that is welling up in the Balkans and which threatens to spread across central and eastern Europe.

The Government often give the impression that they are playing for time. They give the impression that, if they can stretch out the endless series of resolutions and play out the endless sequence of conferences and negotiations for long enough, the public will eventually become disinterested. Those of us in the House and elsewhere who want to see stronger action taken will also become disheartened and will accept or reconcile ourselves to what Ministers like to call "realities on the ground." That is not what is happening, however. As Sarajevo has teetered on the brink of collapse, the calls for stronger action have become louder and more numerous.

On Friday more than 80 American congressmen signed an open letter to President Clinton calling for a 72-hour ultimatum to lift the siege of Sarajevo and the other besieged towns, and advocated the use of force if it was not complied with. General Morillon, released finally from the leash of his political masters, has called for military action and air strikes to lift the siege on Sarajevo. He made it plain that in his view that was feasible.

Last week several of us listened upstairs in a Committee room to Larry Hollingsworth, the United Nations special representative for humanitarian aid in Bosnia. He stated his view that we should have been firm with the Serbs from the outset of the delivery of humanitarian aid and that if we had been firm and decided that aid should be delivered on our terms without negotiating and compromising with the Serbs, the aid could have been much more effectively delivered. He added that it was time to stop bargaining and negotiating with the Serbs and time to start using force to deliver that aid.

Bit by bit, the Government's claims that all the expert advice from humanitarian workers, the military and the diplomatic corps is against intervention are being shown to be grossly and gravely misleading. A group of us visited the NATO headquarters recently. We left there with the clear impression that the most senior officials in NATO were satisfied that intervention was not only feasible and advisable but urgently required. We received a clear impression that there was intense frustration at the failure at the political level to take the steps necessary to resolve the crisis.

When Ministers search for an excuse for nonintervention, they often say that there is a civil war in former Yugoslavia and Bosnia and that we cannot become involved in a civil war. Of course, communities and civilians are caught up in the war. In that sense, it is civil. Indeed, the main brunt is being borne by the civilian population as it is deliberately targeted and terrorised by Serbian and other forces. However, it is not a civil war in the sense that its primary source and inspiration is internal and domestic—absolutely not.

It is contradictory for the Government to continue to trot out that claim as an excuse for their lack of action. Last December, at the summit of the European Council in Edinburgh, it was plainly stated by the Heads of State who gathered there that, although there were civil aspects to what was happening in former Yugoslavia, the primary responsibility lay with the Serbian Government in Belgrade. They stated that plainly in the communiqué from the European Council, in which they made a declaration on former Yugoslavia. That was in December last year. Paragraph 2 of the communiqué reads: The primary responsibility for the conflict, and its brutality, lies with the present leadership of Serbia and of the Bosnian Serbs …The Serbian authorities in Belgrade bear an equal responsibility for fomenting the conflict. So the argument that it is a civil war in which we cannot intervene simply cannot be used with consistency by the Minister. He can search and grope for that excuse in desperation, but he cannot use it consistently because it has been rejected by the European Council.

Nor can the war be confined to a particular local area or its consequences restricted to the Balkans—another frequent excuse for inaction. Sometimes it seems that it is Government strategy to cordon off the war in Bosnia and to allow it to burn itself out. I firmly believe now, just as I did in November 1991, that that is an utterly false hope. The Bosnians will not stop fighting. In the short term, they may be forced to accept some kind of ethnically based settlement—but that will not last.

A radicalised and embittered rump state in Bosnia will not accept the so-called reality on the ground, any more than the Palestinians have accepted the so-called reality in the middle east since the last war. The Croats will not accept either the effect of annexation of one third of their territory. The recovery of what are viewed as occupied lands will remain the overriding goal of future Croatian policy and of any rump state created in Bosnia.

It is not just the Bosnians and Croats who will not desist in the long term. The more that sanctions threaten economic collapse in Serbia, the more that President Milosevic will be compelled to continue his policy of ethnic cleansing and territorial consolidation. Carving out a greater Serbia is about the only means of economic growth and the only source of political credibility and legitimacy available to Milosevic's regime.

There can be no doubt that when the fighting in Bosnia subsides, Kosovo will be next. As Serbian policy there gradually escalates from intimidation to terror and to ethnic cleansing eventually, at what point will we draw the line—or will we simply wait for a general Balkans war?

I cannot emphasise too strongly that the belief that a carve-up of Bosnia into territorial spheres of influence between Tudman's Croatia and the Serbia of Milosevic and Arkan, with a small rump Muslim statelet crushed between, is a recipe for any kind of stability and long-term settlement in the Balkans is dangerous nonsense and a delusion.

Today's issues of The Independent has an article explaining what needs to be done now. The immediate need is to lift the sieges of safe areas. The wider political objective must he to restore a plural, intercommunal, political and civil society in the whole of Bosnia—if necessary, in the way that the allies reconstructed German society after the second world war.

Two measures are necessary to enable that wider political role to be achieved efficiently. The United Nations must declare the whole of Bosnia as being under its protection. That would be welcomed not just by the Bosnian Government, who have already suggested that possibility, and by the population of that country, but by the majority of the people of Croatia and by many in Serbia as well. The UN must make it absolutely clear that its purpose is to guarantee the civil and social rights of all the communities equally within Bosnia under an impartial UN-administered interim Government.

The second measure necessary to ensure the efficient achievement of the wider political objective is for the UN to delegate to NATO, and primarily to its European members, the military task of lifting the sieges and of disarming the warring forces within Bosnia.

The maximum tactical and strategic freedom should be allowed to NATO forces to fulfil those missions. Anything short of that formula will make the overall task that much more difficult. For example, to restrict the political objective simply to protecting the safe areas is a recipe for a second Gaza and an endless stalemate, while inhibiting the tactical freedom of NATO in its ability to respond to events on the ground will mean having to deploy many more soldiers to accomplish the same task.

The figure of 70,000 to 80,000 troops to implement the Vance-Owen plan, for example, was a deliberate overestimate by NATO commanders, intended to compensate for the variable quality of UN troops, their lack of common training and the lack of an efficient command and control centre at the United Nations. Delegation to NATO would dramatically reduce the number of troops required and increase the efficiency of the operation. That is not to criticise the United Nations, or those involved in trying to implement UN peacekeeping missions. It is not their fault that the member Governments of the United Nations hve not supplied the resources and the wherewithal to allow the UN to carry out these missions effectively and properly.

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Does my hon. Friend agree that when we visited NATO we were told that all it took to enforce the safe areas strategy was the commitment of 8,000 troops and a change in the rules of engagement? Does he also agree that we were told that NATO had done the work and felt that this was a European responsibility and that European troops, at that very small level, should be committed? Furthermore, does my hon. Friend agree that we were told that, although Bangladesh and Pakistan had committed troops, Europe had not committed enough troops for the strategy to be implemented? Does not all that symbolise a lack of political will?

Mr. Macdonald

It represents an appalling abdication of the responsibility of European Governments, as my hon. Friend points out, that they have absolutely failed to fulfil the request for the minimum number of troops required to enforce the safe areas policy.

Of the 23 observers or monitors that the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe said that it would be putting into Kosovo to monitor the situation there, I understand that only eight or nine have been put in place and that some of them are Americans, not Europeans. The Serbian authorities are making difficulties and are refusing to co-operate with European Governments in Kosovo over the monitoring of the situation there.

The sad fact is that the entire United Nations peacekeeping budget for 1992, covering its tasks in the Balkans, Cambodia, Angola and elsewhere, was less than the combined budgets of the New York city fire and police departments for the same year. It is no wonder, therefore, that problems have arisen in Somalia and difficulties in Bosnia. The lesson is that the onus is all the greater upon the Governments of Europe and the Governments who comprise NATO to take a lead.

There are now 4 million people who depend upon humanitarian aid in Europe, 3.5 million of whom are still in the Balkans. Half a million of them are now outside the Balkans. Of those 500,000, 300,000 are in Germay, 80,000 in Switzerland, 73,000 in Austria and 40,000 in Hungary. In Britain, there are only 4,424. We do not need to look much further for an explanation of the British Government's complacency regarding the position in the former Yugoslavia. They have repeatedly insisted that British interests are not directly involved. There is no doubt that we should not be adopting that attitude if we, like Germany, had not 4,000 but 300,000 refugees living among us.

It is deeply ironic that a Government who have spent more than a year of parliamentary time on ensuring the ratification of the treaty of European union still, apparently, have no idea, no concept, of the significance of that to which they spent a year trying to persuade us to put our signature. The treaty of European union should at least signify or recognise the existence of a new Europe: a Europe without barriers and of common citizens. It should recognise a Europe in which Britain is no longer an island apart and a Europe in which Germany's refugee problem is also our refugee problem.

Right up to 1940, British Governments considered the fate of the Low countries of the Netherlands and Belgium as being of vital national interest to Great Britain. The trouble with the Foreign Office is that it still thinks that way. It has still to adjust to the new Europe which was created after 1945. The Balkans are to the European Community today what the Low countries were to British Governments in the past—an area of vital and immediate interest and importance on which British Governments simply cannot turn their backs.

Sadly, we can have no great expectation that action will follow this debate. Most of us in the Chamber today are just junior Back Benchers and we are ranged against a Government who claim to have the weight of diplomatic and military opinion on their side—and they claim that falsely, I would add, for the reasons that we have been given by the Government.

We will not accept what the Government try to tell us is now inevitable. We will not accept the extinction of a democracy and multi-cultural civilisation in Bosnia. We will never accept a settlement that is based on the principle of apartheid in the middle of Europe.

The American Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. has described Bosnia as a problem from hell. He is wrong. Bosnia is a problem not from hell but straight from the pages of European history. The way to solve the problem can also be found in the history books. The lesson to be learnt from the history books is something that we should all have learnt 50 years ago: one cannot pacify aggression by appeasement. The only way to stop aggression is to stand up to it.

9.57 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) who made an excellent speech and who outlined with controlled passion and lucidity the situation that we are debating this evening. I simply regret the fact that the Chamber is so empty even though, for a Consolidated Fund debate, I acknowledge that it is quite full.

The contrast between last Thursday and Friday and tonight is stark, yet the relative importance of the subject discussed, if we think about it for a moment, is also in stark contrast. What we are discussing this evening is, in its far-reaching consequences as well as in respect of its own intrinsic importance, a far graver situation than that which exercised us last week.

I have been a Member of the House for 23 years. During that time, I have felt, as every hon. Member feels from time to time, frustrated, elated and bored. However, until this past year, I have never felt deeply ashamed. I do feel ashamed about what has happened in the Balkans and about the lack of will and resolution displayed, particularly by the European powers, in the face of this catalogue of misery, crime and depravity. Two hundred thousand fellow Europeans have been slaughtered in Bosnia in the past 16 months, about 40,000 women have been raped, about 750,000 people have been wounded, many of them children and many of them badly mutilated, and 2 million of our fellow Europeans have been displaced —uprooted from their homes. The monuments and buildings which symbolised their culture have been wantonly destroyed or vandalised.

That is an appalling catalogue of desecration which impoverishes and shames us all that it should have happened. That it should have happened as the first great repercussion of the end of the cold war makes it even more shaming and shameful.

For a long time, the hon. Member for Western Isles and I have been involved in seeking to draw attention to those problems and to urge action. He and I were among those who, when Dubrovnik, a world heritage site, was being shelled—that alone was a reason for the rest of the world to take an interest—urged that a naval patrol and an air patrol should be put in place. I firmly believe, although I could never prove it nor could anyone disprove it, that had resolute action been taken then, we would probably not be having this debate tonight and many thousands of people would still be living in Bosnia in peace, accord and amity. as they had lived for generations.

I recently stayed with some friends. The wife was a Serb—from Mostar—and she said to me that in her childhood there was no more peaceful society. People got on well together, they lived side by side, they enjoyed each other's company, they respected each other's cultures, and they had a common culture, too. The word "multi-ethnic" is often tossed around without much thought or regard, but Sarajevo was a multi-ethnic city. Its mosques were among its most glorious monuments, but its churches also were revered and respected by people of all persuasions and name, yet in the past 16 months we have seen a city and a country destroyed.

What makes it so appalling is that Britain recognised that country as an independent nation. Last April. about 65 nations recognised Bosnia as an independent nation. It was given and still has a seat in the United Nations. That country was not a Muslim country but one with a united presidency—Muslim, Croat and Serb—which it still has, and with a Government who reflected those three cultures and symbolised the one that Bosnia was. We recognised it and we have stood by while it was being destroyed.

Of course, I yield to no one in my admiration for the bravery and skill of British troops. I do not gainsay for a minute the value of the humanitarian aid and the enormous courage that has been needed to take that aid to people, nor do I deny that many tens of thousands of people would have died of starvation and malnutrition had it not been for the aid that was taken to them, but we must not shelter behind praise for the troops because there has been a political vacuum.

I do not say these things easily. I have a high regard for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who will reply to the debate. I kept him up in the small hours in December 1991 during the Consolidated Fund debate, when we first debated the former Yugoslavia. I called for action at the time when Dubrovnik and Vukovar were attacked.

The west, collectively, has failed, as have the institutions that we created to guarantee the world order. What has happened in the former Yugoslavia is an indictment of the United Nations, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and every other institution to which we have all paid, from time to time, enthusiastic lip service. Above all, it is an indictment of the failure of NATO and the European Community to respond.

There is no point in saying that the British public did not want action to be taken. What sort of leadership is that? "Those are the people, I will follow them because I am their leader." If the Prime Minister had come to the House and said that a fundamental British and European interest was involved and that it was necessary to take certain action, what would have been the response? I suggest that it would not have been dissimilar from the response at the time of the Falklands war or the Gulf war. British people are not slow to recognise national and international interests.

In this country and other European nations there has been a craven refusal to measure up to the enormity of the challenge. I am ashamed.

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis that this is a European failure, but does he agree that two nations, Britain and France, take supreme responsibility? They are the two European members of the United Nations Security Council and they have the armed forces capable of taking action. Those countries, of all countries, are the most guilty. The evidence of opinion polls reveals that, way back from the time when Lady Thatcher first spoke about the need for action, the majority of British people have called for action.

Mr. Cormack

The cannon should be pointed at Britain and France, and at Germany, too, because its precipitate action in another context is also responsible for the failure.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

It is much more responsible.

Mr. Cormack

I note what my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs says. Be that as it may, at no time, either individually or collectively, did we convince the Serbs that we were prepared to take action.

I have talked to soldiers, diplomats and journalists. I do not want to break confidences or embarrass people, but suffice it to say that I am not persuaded—how shall I word this carefully—that what has been said in the House entirely reflects the advice that I am told has been given at a lower level. Perhaps that advice has not permeated to the top and, if that is the case, there is something wrong with the system. There is an appreciation among diplomats and those responsible in NATO and elsewhere that there is something that should and could be done.

Nobody in the House who has taken close interest in this subject has, in irresponsible and gung-ho fashion., recommended vast ground troop involvement.

We should pay tribute to the bravery of the journalists in Bosnia, among whom Martin Bell is perhaps the most outstanding. He said at a meeting in the House a couple of weeks ago that he was convinced that the Serb gun positions could easily have been taken out. They were not as mobile as some would have had us believe. If just a quarter of the resolve to teach Saddam Hussein a lesson had been applied to Bosnia, we would have turned the Serbs back. The technique of precision bombing is not restricted to one part of the world.

When we say these things we are told that there would be civilian casualties, but have there not already been tens of thousands of those? We are told that some soldiers would be killed, possibly British ones among them. I am reminded of the visit that I paid in April to the young men of the Staffordshire regiment who were celebrating their reprieve. They asked the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and me, "Why do you think we joined the Army? What is the Army for? Of course we have to go into action sometimes."

Had there been any resolve or determination the Serbs would have backed down. As Martin Bell reminded us, Karadzic recently signed the Vance-Owen plan because he thought that at long last the west would take action. When it became apparent that we would not, he reneged.

So much for the sorry history of the conflict. What of the future? If the end of this terrible episode is the extinction of a sovereign nation from the map of Europe, that will be a dire portent for the next century. If the message goes out that, having recognised a state, we were neither prepared to defend it nor to give it the means to defend itself so that it vanished in carnage from the map of Europe, that message will be heard in the former Soviet Union.

I do not want to be told that there are many other conflicts in other parts of the world. We do not refuse to help our neighbour just because we cannot help someone who may be in even worse trouble in a far-flung land. And we are talking about the centre of our continent; our neighbours.

If we finally fail—we have failed badly enough hitherto —and this nation disappears, that will be a most damning indictment. Today I was glad to see that The Independentdevoted the whole of its front page to a call to save Sarajevo. Colleagues may have seen and read it. I am persuaded by those to whom I have talked in the military and elsewhere that even at this late stage it would be possible to save Sarajevo, that great European city—to employ black humour at its most grotesque—whose citizens have been reduced to conditions worse than those suffered by people in the middle ages. Sarajevo is still there; it has not fallen. It need not fall and, if we are to rescue any vestige of honour from this appalling catastrophe, it must not fall. Even now, it would be possible to halt the Serb aggression by delivering an ultimatum, as suggested by the 80 congressmen to whom the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) referred.

Let us not balk at placing the responsibility where it belongs most—with the Serbs. In recent months, awful things have been done by all the communities involved, but, as was said at Edinburgh where we also held a Bosnian summit, which the hon. Gentleman and I attended—not that it did much good—the prime responsibility lay with the Serbs. They started it and they fuelled it from Belgrade, literally and metaphorically. Although we criticise some of what Croatia has done, we should not forget that, in defiance of some of those 41 United Nations resolutions, vast tracts of Croatia are still occupied by the Serbs. A couple of weeks ago, a senior diplomat said that, if we started by enforcing those resolutions, in Croatia, we would send out the right signal.

We cannot allow the situation to continue. If we do, it will not end there. Sooner or later we shall be sucked in anyhow. Will the Serbs end with Bosnia? No. Will they end with Kosovo? No. Unless this rampant belligerent aggression is halted, and unless the Serbs who believe in democracy—many do—are given a lifeline, we shall have in the Balkans the smouldering beginnings of a war which could become a conflagration at any time and could involve not only Bulgaria and Albania but Greece and Turkey. Two NATO nations could be fighting each other.

Let us also consider the signals that we are sending to the Muslim world. Some in the Muslim world are already beginning to show their disfavour in quiet ways. Do we want to enter the next century not only in a Europe in which a cancer has taken hold but in a Europe in which we are regarded as enemies by those in the middle east? Do we want to enter the next century with a Europe which, if it is not a cohesive continent, will not be in a strong position when the balance of power inevitably moves from the Atlantic to the Pacific? This debate covers all those problems.

You, Madam Speaker, have done the House a service in allowing three hours for this debate. The hon. Member for Western Isles has done us a service in choosing the subject matter. A number of us did likewise and we are grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for recognising its importance. I wish, however, that the debate could have been awarded a full day and a full House because if, when we return in October, Sarajevo has fallen and Bosnia is no more, we shall have written one of the most appalling chapters in European history and we shall reap the consequences. What is worse, our children and our grandchildren will do so, too.

10.18 pm
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) ended his excellent speech by saying that he wished that this debate was not being held with such a limited number of hon. Members here, although among those present are many, like him, who have been committed to the issue for a long time. He thought that it would perhaps have made a difference. Sadly, I do not think that it would. Like the hon. Gentleman, I read the front page of The Independent this morning. It caused me to look back at my papers and read: In Sarajevo, people are in their cellars without electricity, water or food. If you have children, think what that would be like. Soon, those who have escaped the shells will starve. Only force can be understood, and force should be used, and we should also give air cover for food and medical supplies. We can, of course, also do nothing and just let people die. That was a broadcast that I did on Channel 4 on 10 June 1992—a year ago. I mention that not to say, "Look how clever I was saying that on 10 June 1992", but to say to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South that I am afraid that we have been looking at the present situation for a very long time. The situation has simply become worse, but intrinsically it has been very bad for a long time.

I agree with the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) about NATO. I remember visiting the headquarters of Action Rapide in Paris about a year and a half ago. During the briefing, the general was asked specifically what he thought about the military implications of lifting the Beige of Sarajevo and he more or less said,"If you give me proper notice and 36 hours, I will do it". I do not think that the head of Action Rapide was given to exaggeration. It was possible; what was lacking, as has been repeated several times, was the will.

Two or three nights ago, a scrap of news on the television showed a man sitting behind an enormous gun, which appeared to have an enormous number of shells. He was just pumping them out into the air towards Sarajevo —to whatever it may have hit. We allow that to happen and we say that we cannot take any risks. Without some military action from the west, Sarajevo will ultimately fall and all over Bosnia there will he some sort of Srebrenica defeat. I am not looking for a military solution—none of us is—but without the threat and almost certainly the use of some military force, and with a threat of more, negotiation will not succeed. That is essentially what the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South said.

The hon. Members for Staffordshire, South and for Western Isles concentrated on Sarajevo and on the particular problems of Bosnia. Since many hon. Members wish to speak, I shall spend a little time on other related questions in the former Yugoslavia.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South was right to say that the Croats have problems with the occupied areas in Croatia, but what they are doing at Mostar is indefensible. They are clearing out all areas on one side of the river, preparatory to doing it on the other, with a view to making it the capital of Croatian Bosnia. I gather that there are between 6,000 and 8,000 Muslim men in camps on the edge of Mostar with a view to being transported goodness knows where.

I should like the Minister to say what action the Government have taken with the Croatian Government. He may find it difficult to answer all the questions, so I hope, therefore, that he will answer in writing. I ask questions only because I want to know the answers: that is what these debates are supposed to be for.

There is no doubt that economic sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro have been a considerable success. One needs only to look at the position of the dinar to realise that the collapse of the currency is nigh. I readily accept that it is an exceedingly difficult issue, and I am not being critical.

The question is, what are we trying to do with sanctions? Presumably, we are trying to put maximum pressure on Milosevic so that he, in turn, will do the same to Karadzic and General Mladic. That is the straightforward position. I understand that, when Lord Owen was here, he was saying sotto voce—rumour goes around in the House—that Milosevic was being quite co-operative, and we should be thinking in terms of progressively reducing sanctions. I would not wish to do that without four things —first, an agreement in Bosnia; secondly, an agreement in Kosovo; thirdly, an agreement in Vojvodina, which we must not foget, as it has a substantial Hungarian population; lastly, we have to look at somehow disarming Serbia. It is an enormous military power squatting in the region.

We have to face the fact that some in the House will say that sanctions are bad. I listened to the views put by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about Iraq. They say that our sanctions there are punishing women and children and making the population poor. If that argument can be applied to Iraq, it can easily be applied to the former Yugoslavia. That is a difficulty which all of us who think that sanctions are an effective and relatively peaceful way to bring pressure to bear have to face up to.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Is not the problem with sanctions that they are put forward as an alternative to engaging in military action? The hon. Gentleman has already spoken of the devastating economic effects; sanctions work in Kosovo as well and cannot be doing anything to help the situation there.

Sir Russell Johnston

Supposing I accept everything that the hon. Gentleman says, what else can one do? There is only the military action that we have been talking about, but there is a lack of will to do that.

Owen is wrong on Kosovo. I heard him say in the plenary session of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that he thought that the people of Kosovo ought to accept that they are part of Serbia, and that should be the end of the matter. I understand that he has said that elsewhere as well. However, that cannot be the end of the matter.

There is a population of 1.75 million, which is relatively homogenously dispersed in a compact geographical area, 90 per cent. of which is Albanian. It is all very well saying that there was a great battle in 1300-odd against the Turks which was lost and the area is now part of the soul of Serbia. I understand that and I understand nationalist feelings, but, in the 20th century verging on the 21st century, we cannot listen to such an argument.

We must look at the disarmament of Serbia—I have mentioned Vojvodena. That is a major issue, to which sufficient attention has not been devoted. Even if we got peace in Bosnia and an agreement in the areas that I mentioned, we would still be left with an embittered population. Milosevic could still be in charge, and we know what he did with the opposition within Serbia. If he has to hand powerful military forces, he may well use them.

I have two short specific questions that have not yet been properly mentioned. If the Minister has a proper opportunity to reply, I hope that he will. First, what is going on with the war crimes tribunal which was proposed in the United Nations? What has happened about the inquiry into the rapes which was instituted following the summit in Edinburgh with Dame Anne Warburton, who produced a report? What has been the follow through to that and how does it relate to the war crimes issue?

Secondly, the economic situation in Macedonia for a period was awful, because she was obeying sanctions and there was a problem with Greece. Of course, Macedonia has no forces of her own, but I understand that there are some American forces there. What is the up-to-date position about Macedonia? I think that the hon. Member for Western Isles spoke about CSCE monitors in Kosovo. I think that they have all been cleared out. Did not the Yugoslavs say that, because they had been put out of the CSCE, all other CSCE monitors were to be put out?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to interbene. The position is unsatisfactory. The Government of Servia have stated that the mandate of the CSCE to keep the monitors in Kosovo has been withdrawn. That is profoundly unsatisfactory. Some of the monitors are still there, because some are on leave and have not had their visas renewed. We are seeking to persuade the Government of Serbia to agree to a renewal of the mandate.

Sir Russell Johnston

I thank the Minister for that helpful intervention. It clarifies the position which, as he says, is highly unsatisfactory. We need a firmer basis.

I agree with the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South that this has been a test of European will and our humanity. We have shown some humanity: our troops and French troops have done enormous good. General Morillon and people of other nationalities have done well within the narrow confines of the United Nations mandates under which they had to operate. The lack of will and the absence of any capacity to take risks have been saddest. Neil Ascherson who writes so well in The Independent on Sunday described it some months ago as a policy of non-intervention disguised as humanitarianism. So far, the outcome has been to our shame, but, as the hon. Member for Western Isles said, it is not too late; it is never too late. If we begin by lifting the siege of Sarajevo, all things can become different.

10.32 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) has rendered the House a service by introducing this debate at this late stage just before the recess. The situation will grow much grimmer and much worse, and before we sit here again many more terrible and dangerous things will happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) has also done the House a service by articulating his views with great eloquence.

I do not totally agree with the analysis or the conclusions of hon. Members who have spoken. The issue has dark and expanding consequences for us all. That cannot be in doubt for a moment, although some people think that it can all be shut away in a box and put aside as it is happening in far away countries of which we need know nothing, and that it has nothing to do with us.

I join with as much feeling as I can muster those who praise the humanitarian work of the relief workers, the non-governmental organisations, the UNHCR and our troops who are protecting those relief workers. They are offering a superb and abnormal degree of protection. No words are adequate to praise what they are doing, and I hope and pray that they will not be forced to withdraw because conditions have become impossible. That threat is always present, but we have the assurance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that if the risks become too great or the mission impossible our troops will be rapidly withdrawn. I hope that that will not happen.

The humanitarian operation is right. The conscience of the world is rightly outraged by the horrific medieval atrocities that this terrible saga has revealed. It would be impossible, uncivilised and equally barbaric for us to stand back and say that we can do nothing. It would be impossible for us to say, "Leave them to fight it out, starve and die." My right hon. and hon. Friends have acted positively and constructively throughout in recognising that something must be done.

On the politico-diplomatic side, however, it is far less easy to see the positive aspects—the good that has been done by the policy-making efforts of the European powers. It may be said that we are now in such a miserable situation, with Sarajevo about to die, that to look back is to rake over the ashes and to cry over spilt milk; but I do not think that that is entirely right. Unless we can trace the way in which we got into this quagmire with more precision than we sometimes use in the emotion of the moment, we shall not find a way out of it, or guard against falling into equal chaos in the next crisis.

That applies particularly to Macedonia. People remember the parts of history that they choose to remember, but it is worth remembering that Macedonia is behind the present circumstances, which began to unfold when the Turks withdrew about 120 years ago. The motives born of that moment still drive the present horror. In the 1870s, Macedonia was the boiling point—the potential Bosnia, or killing field—that led to the Balkan crisis of the time. It is waiting to fulfil the same role, and it will do so unless we learn our lesson and do not follow the same miserable path.

Why is the world so critical of what has happened on the diplomatic front? The source of the beginning of failure is clear. At the outset, when it became clear that the old federation was going to break down in the familiar slaughter and the ancient ethnic quarrels would all be raised again, there was a choice for the international community. It was between saying, "We will not intervene in military or political terms; we will help relief workers, and intervene in a humanitarian context, but we will not intervene in a decisive policy way", and saying, "We will now embark on this operation, fully aware that one thing can lead to another; fully aware that we may have to intervene with increasing decisiveness, commitment and force. We are ready to do that, so that, from the outset, our threats will carry credible weight: they will have behind them the threat of full intervention".

The international community's first act was to step aside from that choice. It did not follow either of those routes, although either one of them might have led to greater coherence and less bloodshed; I do not say that either could have prevented what has occurred. Instead, the international community chose the option of uncertain, wavering half-intervention, adopting a number of dangerous options, each of which has made the horrors worse and prolonged miseries, dangers and, probably, the incidence of death. I believe that, looking back; some commentators, including hon. Members, think the same, looking forward.

First, we said that we would not intervene militarily but we had some diplomatic solutions to the problem. That was a dangerous first step. Again, a study of history would have shown—here I disagree with some hon. Members who have spoken—that no outside influence could ever have stopped the wish of the Serbs to regain their lands, after all those hundreds of years of being suppressed by Turkish and Ottoman rule. Any idea that that could have been stopped by plans, arrangements or diplomatic solutions was absurd vanity—unless, as I say, people were prepared to support it with massive military intervention.

The first half-baked semi-intervention, which has done more harm than good, was the attempt to impose diplomatic solutions, or detailed maps, on the unfolding agenda of greater Serbia and the greater Croatia—which were there and remain there—and on the hope and belief, now dashed and destroyed, of the Bosnians, including those sometimes called the Bosnian Muslims—

Mr. Cormack

They are not all Muslims.

Mr. Howell

As my hon. Friend says, they are by no means all Muslims—that they would have a whole area of Bosnia which they could rule.

Once the international community began to say that it did not accept that and had some better ideas, maps, plans and diplomacy, we began, even at that early stage, to fly in the face of, instead of working with, mitigating and redirecting the unfolding reality. We pretended that we did not understand that reality. We did not have the historical insight to see what would happen. That was the first of the fatal interventions. I shall come to the others in a moment.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I listen to the right hon. Gentleman's argument with increasing incredulity. He has made two assertions—one about greater Croatia and the other about greater Serbia. He speaks as if those nations had existed within a known time scale. But then he dismisses Bosnia out of hand. If he looked a little more closely at Balkan history, he would know that Bosnia existed as an independent state 500 years ago. Most of its current borders have been internationally recognised for the past 120 years. If that is the case, why does he go along with the appeasement of Serbia, and to a lesser degree of Croatia, at the expense of Bosnia?

Mr. Howell

That is the danger of mixing analysis of what is happening with what the hon. Gentleman would like to happen. He draws certain lessons from a particular point in history. One could go with a microscope over the history of the area and draw different lessons. We all try to draw the best lessons to see that we do not make mistakes in the future. I am not saying what I want to unfold; I am merely describing what is happening. I am not saying what I wish or plan it. I am not saying what I would impose on the area if I was king of the world. I am merely describing the unfolding reality. When politicians and diplomats plunge into a situation and try to defy it but deny themselves the force, machinery and equipment to do so, they end up in some sticky situations. As my argument unfolds, the hon. Gentleman may understand more what I am trying to say.

The second half-baked intervention was the diplomatic act of recognising Bosnia at the beginning of last year. It was against the advice of the Badinter commission, which said that Bosnia did not satisfy the conditions for an independent state. It is ironic that Mr. Badinter said that Macedonia qualified and yet we did not recognise Macedonia as a state. Bosnia, which he said did not qualify, has been recognised.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My right hon. Friend said that we had not recognised Macedonia. By voting for the admission of Macedonia to the United Nations, we have accorded recognition to Macedonia.

Mr. Howell

We have recognised it now, but all last year, when the Macedonians sought recognition, they were told that they were not on the list because of the Greek problem, with which we are familiar, whereas Bosnia had passed through the hurdle and become a recognised state. Many people said that that act of recognition would lead to more hideous bloodshed. The renewed intensity of the horrors, the adjectiveless killing that took place, and the new and ugly drive of the Serbian Bosnian forces as they moved against the Muslim strongholds was a terrible and predicted sequence. Recognition was not the only reason why the events that followed unfolded, but it was a diplomatic intervention which made the situation worse.

The third intervention was the decision to continue maintaining the embargo on the movement of arms in a way that discriminated against one of the combatants. Whatever else one says, clearly that was intervention. I must be careful in saying what might be the way forward. Some argue—and we may be close to this—that the answer is not to give more arms to the area to foster more killing but to reduce, if this is realistic, the arms available to the other combatant forces. Others say—as did my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the other day—that if we cannot see any other way forward, we may in due course have to consider lifting that arms embargo. There are those in the Washington policy-making machine who think that that point is near.

Whichever way one slices the argument and goes from here, the international community has intervened by holding the situation as it is. Whether one likes it or not, true non-intervention, and true military and political stand-off—and I am totally against humanitarian stand-off, because involvement there is right—would mean a lack of consistent and pursued implementation of the UN resolution that in effect denies the Bosnian Muslims the means to defend themselves.

The big lesson of half-intervention, the implications of which some of us in the Select Committee tried to set out in our recent report on the UN's expanding role, is that when the United Nations or a more regional grouping, such as the European Community, seeks to move into and grasp some horrific situation of conflict, it should first pause and ask itself a basic question.

It should first accept—and this is the theme of the Select Committee's report—that one thing will always lead to another, and that the smallest toe in the water of involvement in intervention is likely to lead to greater things. When it does, all the intervening nations or parties concerned must have the political will, resources and equipment to see the matter through. If they do not, they should not get involved in the first place.

I may be too idealistic, but that seems a necessary line of reasoning and test, to ensure that we do not see again the half-intervention—the realisation that it will lead to more promises, the raising of high hopes of intervention, backing down, a feeling of betrayal, bitterness, and the increasing sense that the international institutions have lost their authority.

In the Bosnian Muslim case, the disaster is wider—as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South warned. The signal has been sent to the ever-sensitive and rather divided Islamic world that moderate Islamic leaders who believe that co-operation with Europe, the west, the Christians—whatever term one likes to use—is the right way forward in bringing stability to the whole Islamic world, in the middle east, have got it wrong. It will be said, "Look at what these people have done. We put our trust in them, and that trust has been belied, undermined and destroyed."

Extremist, subversive and terrorist Islam—in total contrast to the moderate, wise Islam with which we need to work closely and befriend—has received an almighty boost. There are further sinister developments to come. The idea that the system would settle down under a greater Croatia and Serbia and a crushed Muslim Bosnia and that there would be equilibrium is false. It is more likely that we shall see an increasingly agitated Islamic interest. There has already been an offer of 10,000 Iranian troops to save Sarajevo or to maintain another area, and of Pakistani and Malaysian troops. Other countries have raised the banner of Islamic military intervention. It has not happened yet. I shall be fascinated to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who struggles nobly and with vast skill with these issues, whether that was just a straw-in-the-wind suggestion, or faint bravado, or whether that plan is going forward. Either way, it is exactly what policymakers said at the beginning must not happen.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Would not the spectre that the right hon. Gentleman raises be laid to rest if Britain, France, Germany and other NATO countries said today, "We are prepared to put in sufficient forces to lift the siege of Sarajevo and to give full protection to the so-called protected areas"?

Mr. Howell

That is a solution one can come to, but I am not sure that I have sufficient confidence to think that it is happening. In the past, there were many suggestions that it might happen but it did not, and that led to an even worse situation. I see no sign that the NATO powers are prepared to act in that way. If they were, it might have a beneficial effect on the Islamic attitude, but at the moment I see no sign of it.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

We on this side of the House are listening with bated breath to find out what the right hon. Gentleman suggests is the solution to this terribly complex problem. As he is Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, we treat his views with particular respect. He has been speaking for nearly 20 minutes, but we still do not have a clue.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman says that, because I am the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, I must have a wonderful solution that rises above the efforts of diplomats and all the others who have failed to find a solution. I cannot do that; I cannot deliver a miracle. I can only suggest that if we analyse what has happened clearly, we may, just possibly, be in a better position to halt the still downward slide and prevent the war spreading into, for instance, Macedonia, where at least we have taken the first right move. Preventive diplomacy has been followed by preventive deployment.

There are now, which I greatly welcome, American soldiers there—only a few hundred of them—but I hope and pray that, this time round, preventive deployment, or the beginning of intervention has behind it a credible threat: that there will be no question of ever withdrawing those troops, should they be attacked, should borders begin to be messed about with and should we begin to see the horrors in Bosnia translated on to the Macedonian map. I hope that that is what it means. It is important that we should make it clear that that is what it does mean so that we do not see Macedonia going the way of Bosnia.

No, I cannot at this late stage produce wonderful solutions out of a hat. I can, like every other right hon. and hon. Member, speculate on whether Sarajevo can be saved and whether that can be done either by some NATO force, which I do not believe will be forthcoming, or by—

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

No. I am about to end my speech. I have kept the House too long already.

Alternatively, we can speculate on whether Sarajevo can be saved by strengthening the Bosnians, perhaps even with the support of those Islamic forces, and by weakening the endless Serbian drive, incentive and determination to try to smash Sarajevo which at present the Serbs feel is necessary because they do not understand any other settlement and can see no prospect other than that, somehow, they must seize Sarajevo.

Mr. Gunnell

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

No. I am about to finish.

That is the grim prospect that we face as the House goes into recess. I do not offer cheap solutions or, indeed, expensive ones. The dangers are very great. It is possible to save Sarajevo if there is a whole combination of measures, not just the pouring in of NATO troops. That is what may occur. However, I see nothing other than blood and misery following on from the errors of the past. I pray and hope that those errors arc not repeated on the Macedonian scene.

10.53 pm
Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

The former Yugoslavia is one of the greatest challenges that faces not only the United Nations but each and every one of us.

Various reasons are given as to why we cannot intervene. We are told that it is a civil war between neighbour and neighbour and that it is a war with no front line. It is a war similar to that in which guerrilla-trained people defeated Hitler and put him to flight.

When we hear all the reasons why we cannot act, I sometimes wonder whether it is time to consider some reasons why we should act. Perhaps action would have occurred long ago if Bosnia had oil. We find that action occurs quickly from surrounding countries in respect of oil-bearing states.

What perturbs me is that ethnic cleansing smacks of the holocaust. From our not too distant history, we know the penalty that was paid by ignoring the slaughter of the Jews in Germany. Reasons were given then for why we could not act.

No one is entirely guiltless in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. However, the Serbs—above all—have consistently thumbed their noses at the United Nations. Yesterday, only seven minutes after a truce, the United Nations forces were attacked. I do not argue easily for the engagement of British land forces. However, if we are to abide by the United Nations, we must act together with a United Nations force. In respect of this issue, the United Nations has acted too little and too late.

Let us consider the growing request of the Muslims to be allowed to be armed. That would not have come about had there been an attempt to make an even playing field from the start. However, sanctions were never implemented enthusiastically and no thought was given to the point made by the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) that if we could not supply the Muslims, we should effectively have disarmed the Serbs.

There are many Bosnian Muslims in my constituency. One Muslim said to me, "We appreciate your food and we appreciate the bravery and dedication of your soldiers in getting it to us, but are we just going to be kept alive so that eventually we can be raped and butchered?" That is the challenge that we in this House face.

Will the United Nations eventually secure peace only on the aggressor's terms—the terms of a raped Bosnia and a butchered Bosnian Muslim population? If that is the case, the United Nations will be the principal loser—a latter-day League of Nations. Is the United Nations going to stand by while its authority is flouted and its troops attacked?

Also, we can and must embrace more enthusiastically the problem of former detainees and refugees and the sick and injured. We said that we would accept 1,000 ex-detainees and their relations. Germany agreed to take 2,000 and France agreed to take a meagre 385. Little Switzerland agreed to take 1,500. However, we have not yet taken a quarter of our promised quota. We can hardly set ourselves up as a world leader on humanitarian issues if we cannot, even now, fulfil that quota.

The situation is too fluid, too dangerous and too unstable to talk just about quotas. We should produce a policy that will react enthusiastically and quickly to the situation. As the slaughter continues, the casualties will increase and there will he a greater need for medical help for those who are injured: it calls for a policy of humanitarian support for our Bosnian neighbours.

It worries me when we consider what the United Nations did in the middle east, yet it is only now considering taking in only 300 ex-detainees. It is by one's deeds, not one's words or resolutions, that one is eventually known. There is growing evidence that the aggressors are determining play in the war. The League of Nations failed because its policy became one of appeasement. The United Nations is on trial. It is a test of every member country.

If the Serbs and other warlords win, the ideals of the United Nations will have been sacrificed, and the United Nations will founder on the rock of appeasement, just as the League of Nations did many years ago. The principles of the charter of the United Nations will be flouted if we do not act. The rising nationalism throughout the world will regard the conflict in Bosnia not as the end but as only the beginning of a world holocaust.

11.1 pm

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

This debate is an emotional affair, principally because of my own Serbian background. It might be assumed that, because of that background, I could be enormously supportive of Milosevic and try to excuse him or take a deeply critical and horror-struck view of all that has gone on in the name of so-called Serbia. Milosevic might be their leader, but he does not represent all his people.

Interestingly, during the election in December, despite the enormous, one-sided campaign that Milosevic conducted against his opponent, Milan Panic, who had been scorned and derided and had not been allowed access to the media, people who heard Milan Panic's message turned out to vote. It is remarkable that, despite enormous pressure—for example, names slipping off the electoral roll, jobs being lost, double registrations, and no registrations—34 per cent. of the electorate voted against Milosevic.

I say that with tremendous feeling for that beleaguered community. If there is any chance of bringing the terrible slaughter to an end, we must do everything in our power to back the opposition.

A few weeks ago, Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal party, was savagely beaten. It was interesting to note that the outcry that followed put more pressure on Milosevic than anything else that the international community had done. It shamed him. I was proud of the fact that our Prime Minister sent a letter of protest—quite right, too. The way in which Madame Mitterrand went to Belgrade and badgered Milosevic was also impressive, and quite right, too. It was interesting to note that, ultimately, he yielded to the pressure where it hurt, because, frankly, he was made a fool of. He did not like the reality that, at long last, some opposition had risen up. He did to the opposition the only thing that the butcher of the Balkans could do—he wiped it out. He closed down the Serbian Renewal party and made it impossible for other parties to function.

We can learn many lessons from that incident—and I hope that we will—because, for once, Milosevic had been challenged on his territory and he backed down.

I share the anguish expressed in the Chamber. I congratulate the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) on initiating the debate. I also support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).

I have watched the events of the past year with horror. I have tried to put my point of view to our Government. I accept that they are genuinely anguished and it is unfair to accuse them of complacency. I do not believe that that is right. The Government could protest, quite rightly, that they have spent more man hours on this issue than on many other topics and with less clear answers. I am sorry that the Government have encountered that difficulty.

I do not put all the blame on the British Government, because I accept that they have made a positive contribution in terms of humanitarian aid. The fault lies with international dithering—I use the word international deliberately. The European Community has failed. I believe that the countries that make up the UN have failed. The crisis over Sarajevo confirms that. Even as we speak, the shelling, the mortars and the sniping continue. That is the result of non-intervention. I find it humiliating that yet another ceasefire has been turned into a mockery after seven minutes.

It is humiliating to learn of the shelling of the French UN protection force in Zetra, just outside Sarajevo—a Serb snub if there ever was one. Mercifully no one was killed in Zetra, but 38 people were killed elsewhere. I find it depressing to read in the newspapers today of Barry Frewer, the UN spokesman, who said of the shooting: It is not being respected by either side. It is very disappointing. I find it disappointing that we seem to have difficulty accepting that defenceless people have a right to protect themselves. We should reconsider the whole question of lifting the arms embargo. I am encouraged by the fact that the Foreign Secretary has not ruled out the idea. At present these people are using what few weapons they have to hand; we are offering them no human protection. We are thereby exposing them to far greater dangers, because they are so vulnerable.

What is the definition of a safe area? In these areas residents and security forces alike are being killed. Spanish forces, for instance, are under fire from the Bosnian Croats. The other day two Canadian UN soldiers were wounded. And the British aid convoys are continually under fire.

The United Nations has said that it will launch air strikes if its troops are fired on. When will the allies take such action? What is the breaking point? If we continue to do nothing, it is hardly surprising that we are never believed.

There are dangers associated with inaction, too. The United Nations is no longer respected as a world authority. That could have dangerous repercussions across the globe. It sets a precedent. I am worried because the authority of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe process has been grossly diminished, even though it has been instrumental in activating monitors.

Scorn has been heaped on all the declarations of the past 50 years designed to improve the lot of the beleagued human race—the 1948 universal declaration of human rights, the 1950 United Nations human rights convention, and the 1960 United Nations covenant on civil and political rights. Is it really right to ignore them all? I believe that we ignore them at our peril.

I feel uncomfortable when I hear that this is not our war, or that we have no interests at stake in it. I do not accept that. Bosnia is at the heart of Europe and it is no good pretending otherwise. Greece is regarded as a healthy member of the European Community. Italy, Austria and Germany, all near Yugoslavia, are of course regarded as European nations. After all, where is the heart of Europe? Some people might not regard the Shetlands as exactly at the heart of Europe, but they are certainly part of it.

Yugoslavia and Bosnia are our prime responsibility. I do not accept the argument that we should exercise our responsibilities in Cambodia or Somalia but not in Bosnia. Certainly, if we can afford to send our troops there, we should do all we can—but surely not at the expense of a country and a people who are our own kind.

I do not condemn the Vance-Owen efforts, or those of their successors, to find a solution.

I know that the Minister has spent many hours meeting the leading personalities in the Balkans and I know how difficult and frustrating it has been. None the less, I do not believe that we should back off because of the difficulties. I do not believe that appeasement has ever paid; I cannot think of an example of where it has done so. The price will be tomorrow's account of bloodshed. It could begin in Kosovo. We could see the inexorable spread of a war that no one bothered or had the heart to stop in time. The danger now is that it has become unstoppable. Territorial ambitions may almost have been satisfied in Bosnia. Regrettably, Greater Serbia has come about and the Serbs could now turn their attention to Kosovo.

I was in Kosovo last December as one of the monitors of the election. It was eerie and uncomfortable to be in that silent town, with a people cowed, knowing that a bombshell would drop at some stage although they could not tell when; it was like the silence before a storm. Do people realise that all the schools there are closed, that children are not being educated? Do they realise that the people there are not getting jobs? The town is already under siege. I saw for myself that the warlord Arkan had his camps in the vicinity. It is hard to believe that anyone could say that it was hard to take action when the camps were so visible.

Undoubtedly, Milosevic will feel that he has unfinished business. I was disappointed to find that, in the mind of the socialist party, there seems to be a question of Kosovo being allowed to return to the 1974 constitution established by Tito. To give that autonomy seems like common sense when one is sitting in this country, but, regrettably, I found that the socialists and Milosevic take a wholly different view. That is why I fear that reason will, yet again, go out of the window.

As soon as Bosnia has been cleared up, the Albanians, then the Bulgarians and the Greeks will become involved. The Macedonians will also be under tremendous pressure. I congratulate the United Nations on deciding to put in a token force as a deterrent which, I hope, will be increased. Nevertheless, a widening of the war to embrace Turkey is a possibility. Anything could happen. We have a moral responsibility to decide when we should do something other than our very important humanitarian aid—although I do not denigrate the marvellous aid, which has saved many thousands of lives.

I have a particular interest in our aid convoys because they were organised through the Crown Agents, which are based in my constituency in Sutton. They told me about the morale of the drivers. They are not military men, trained for war; they are civilian truckies who decided to offer, at great risk to themselves, to carry out the important driving work. They sent a message back to the Crown Agents saying that, if the British troops are withdrawn because of fears for their safety, they will carry on driving because they believe that they should. I am proud of them for taking that action.

I am proud of our British troops. I have not heard a word of complaint about the dangers to which they have been exposed. They are a highly professional fighting force with a job to do. If anything, we hear of their frustrations at being unable to do more or to respond as their instinct tells them. I wonder to what degree they give debriefings to Ministry of Defence officials; and do officials listen and learn from their lessons?

We must take great care about the future of the Muslims in Bosnia. The Geneva talks get going yet again this week and some unsatisfactory partitioning will take place. If a viable area of country with access to the sea is not given to the Muslims, the price that we shall pay will be a Palestine for the next 40 or 50 years.

Furthermore, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said, we must watch the Islamic community. The Arab world is intensely following events on television. It is remarkable that they have not been more involved, but if in the long term the Muslims, or what is left of them, are left besieged and hopeless, they will turn to guerrilla warfare, aided and assisted by Islamic fundamentalists, and we shall be helplessly at their mercy until land is given to them. If the Geneva talks do not define clearly the Muslim territory and put in United Nations forces physically to protect them from the Serbs or Croats trying to take an extra bite, the price that we pay could indeed be terrible.

Ultimately, the real challenge and, I believe, the only way to bring this terrible war and fighting in the Balkans to an end is to concentrate more on President Milosevic. He is the inspiration for Serbian expansionism. The buck stops with him. The warlords do not act alone; they are sustained by Belgrade, where they return for more assistance. Milosevic is rightly known as the butcher of the Balkans. I find it difficult to accept that he is regarded by the international community as the only means to peace. I do not believe that we can achieve peace by accepting every word and promise that he makes, because since these terrible tragedies began he has been empty, cold and calculating. He has broken promises and has been determined to mislead and to try to get away with it.

Let us look again more closely at this man. The one moment when he was under genuine pressure was at the Athens summit because the Americans supported the concept of air strikes, which he believed were imminent. That is why he buckled down on Karadzic, went off to Pale and pressured Serbs by saying, "You must now accept a peace deal". What happened? We all suddenly leant back with a huge amount of relief and said, "Great, the deed has been done; we can now relax our vigilance." That may not have been the message that we intended to convey, but that was the impression that Belgrade got.

We had fine words from Milosevic. He would close the frontier; no more vehicles, assistance, weapons, oil or armaments would go from Belgrade to Bosnia. That did not happen. One or two roads were closed and eight remain open. The no-fly zones are continually breached. From a parliamentary answer, I discovered that of the 800 breaches, the allied forces had been able to intercept about eight, because of all the short helicopter flights ferrying personnel, the wounded and weaponry.

In his own land, Milosevic is tightening up his totalitarian rule. He is becoming a more skilful, intelligent and charming Saddam Hussein, who seems more acceptable but who somehow or other manages to have his hideous way. He sacked the president, Cosic, the man with whom he had worked closely, because he dared to question his methods.

Now, we must give all the support that we can to the opposition parties. We must assist Studio B so that it can extend its transmissions to the rest of Yugoslavia with the message about the kind of man that its leader is. If the hope of the international community is to rely on internal dissent, we must facilitate that and encourage the people who have the means and the will to stand up to him.

We should bear in mind just how Milosevic is tightening the ratchet in his country. Some 1,000 journalists were sacked from the state radio and television for daring to be politically incorrect. People in leading jobs —whether in universities, in medicine or the arts—lose their jobs if they are not politically correct and their places are taken by socialists at Milosevic's behest. We should also bear it in mind that he is taking action to purge the army, for the second time, of any leadership about which he feels doubtful. Some 40 officers are due to go within the week, to be replaced by younger officers who are compliant and who will assist Milosevic in his terrible work.

We are seeing a country that is moving dangerously towards a totalitarian state that will push wherever it can. I urge the international community to seize the political will and follow through UN resolutions by saying that if those resolutions are broken, we shall take action—and then do it. The Serbs are cowards when they are attacked, as we can see from what happened when Vuk Draskovic stood up to Milosevic. We have reports about cowardice in the field. They are not the great fighting men that people believe them to be. They just have heavier weaponry.

We should not be so awed by the Serbs. It is important that we take stock and realise that this Balkan monster will never stop until he is challenged by the will of the international community.

11.34 pm
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

It is not every day that I find myself on the same side as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland)—at least, I think that we are on the same side. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) not only on his initiative in obtaining this debate but on acting as an unofficial Whip to those of us who have a clear idea of what should be done in such a terrible state of affairs.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) on a very fine speech—as fine a speech as I have heard in some time. I do not say this in any party political sense, but I am only sorry that more of his colleagues were not here to hear it. However, he can have the satisfaction of knowing that he and his colleagues outnumber the members of the Press Gallery, to which we are not supposed to refer. Whenever we discuss something of great importance, the Press Gallery is empty.

The House and the country have been badly misled. From the outset. we have been told that nothing can be done about anything in Bosnia. We have been told that the terrain is impossible, that the people are impossible and that the experts are against doing anything. No doubt those same arguments were rehearsed in the 1930s. However, I think that we have been misled and that the experts, of all persuasions, have been saying something different. As the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South said, for some unaccountable reason the message has not reached those in high places—or if it has, it has been suppressed.

I hope that the Minister will say something about that, because I am genuinely puzzled about what has happened. The more we learn about what the people on the ground have been saying, be they journalists or whomever, the more puzzled we become. A number of distinguished journalists who have spent months in Bosnia have visited us in the House. The opinion of all those whom I met was unanimous. Indeed, not only did they speak for themselves, they spoke for many of our diplomats and military men with whom they are personally acquainted. For a long time, they have held the view that military intervention has been and is feasible, but it is getting less feasible by the hour. I remain puzzled why word of that, if only to rebut it, has not reached the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

From time to time, colleagues meet British diplomats in Yugoslavia, NATO or the United Nations. We are surprised to learn that they, too, feel that the Government's policy has been what one described recently as a diplomatic and strategic disaster with major implications for western security. One of the Government's own diplomats, with close knowledge of the position, felt so frustrated that he made that comment.

Another diplomat who spoke recently to some of my colleagues referred to the need for an ultimatum to the Serbs to be followed by military action. He was asked whether he had made that clear to his political masters. He said that he had. He was asked whether he had met them during his visit to London. He said that he had not because no one at the Foreign Office had asked to see him. They knew he was here, but no one asked to see him.

I am sorry to say that I am not really all that puzzled because I understand what is happening—we are being misled. The biggest surprise was to learn that there are senior people in the military who take a similar view about military action. Of course, we must always be cautious when talking to soldiers who say that a little strategic or surgical bombing, as they like to call it, will do the trick. Anyone who followed the various pronouncements of the military men during the Vietnam war will know that they got it badly wrong. Therefore, I do not suggest that politicians should always take what the military says as the absolute truth. However, it is surprising to hear very senior military people talking about policy to date as having been too little, too late. The word "appeasement" is openly used, and one now hears the former French commander on the ground, General Morillon, saying that the siege of Sarajevo should be lifted by military force if necessary.

However, the puzzle continues, and on 12 July the Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles that no advice had been received either from senior diplomats or from military figures that a solution could be imposed by military force."—[Official Report, 12 July 1993; Vol. 228, c. 682.] I should be surprised and amazed if what those of us who are not that well connected in the relevant circles had been saying—or at least a flavour of it—had not reached the Prime Minister. About a dozen of us wrote to the Prime Minister—I think that the letter was dated 14 July—and we have not yet received a reply. We put to him, in words which I think that he will understand, our firm view that the country is being misled. I hope that we shall receive a detailed explanation, if not from the Minister present tonight, perhaps from the Prime Minister later—I should prefer to hear it tonight.

The position is more complicated than it is being made to seem. Our diplomats and military personnel have been misled by Ministers about the state of public opinion and, perhaps, the state of opinion in the House. I think that they have been told not even to contemplate anything that involves military action, because the British public will not wear it and Members of Parliament will not support it. It is disappointing that some of the same people who whipped up hysteria over the Gulf war and the Falklands war—I do not want to be diverted by those quite separate issues—have been less straightforward about telling the public and the military the truth about Bosnia.

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)

I am puzzled. I believe that the feeling from the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Brussels is that military intervention is feasible. If that is true, is my hon. Friend implying that that advice from the most senior military personnel was never given to the Prime Minister or his senior colleagues, or does my hon. Friend feel that, for some reason, despite the Government assuring the House that no such advice about the feasibility of military intervention was given, they felt that it would be unwise to pass that advice on to the House?

Mr. Mullin

I cannot pretend to know what the position is but there is a serious problem. However, what most hon. Members present this evening have been hearing from those in positions of authority who brief Ministers daily is different from what Ministers say that those experts are saying. Perhaps the advice that those experts have given Ministers has been hedged around with qualifications—perhaps the experts have said one thing to us and another to the Ministers. I do not know what the explanation is, but I should like to hear the Government's version of events from the Minister.

Military intervention by ground troops would be practical and honourable. Plans for it exist already, but we lack political leaders capable of rising to the occasion. Our soldiers in the field—there are many of them—have been badly let down by the Government.

Ms Short

The answer might be that military personnel are not entitled to say what Britain should do politically; they can give that answer only if asked the question. If asked whether limited military action to stop the aggression and the destruction of multi-ethnic Bosnia can be taken, the answer is yes. But it is said that military action consists of political objectives secured by military means, and if the politicians will not ask the question, the military are not allowed to say, "Yes, we know how to do it if you want to do it."

Mr. Mullin

That is one possible explanation. I do not know what the explanation is, but I should like to hear it. The evidence that my colleagues and I have seen and heard does not accord with pronouncements of the most senior Government members.

Our soldiers on the ground in Bosnia have been badly let down. They have been placed in the humiliating position of having to negotiate—if that is the right word —with drunken gunmen in some cases. They have witnessed unspeakable atrocities without being able to do what they want to do and are capable of doing—intervene and put a stop to them. Soldiers who say that they are entitled to expect a clear objective from politicians are right. We should be giving a clear objective and grasping the nettle.

A number of suggestions have been made in the past which have become an excuse for not doing much. One suggestion was that there should be an air exclusion zone. That bore absolutely no relation to the problem, because everyone knew that the main problem did not come from the air. Others suggested that we should do a bit of bombing as a substitute for doing something of lasting value. That is no good, either. People who talk in vague terms are not grasping the nettle. I grasp it unequivocally —as I and others have done previously—and say that I am in favour of using as many troops as necessary for as long as necessary to bring this tragic state of affairs to an end.

I recognise that that is a large thing to say, but it is not an impossible thing to say. Frankly, it is a smaller objective than defeating Saddam Hussein and driving him out of Kuwait, liberating the Falkland Islands, which are 10,000 miles away, or using thousands of troops to maintain that not very perfect regime in South Korea for 40 years. It is feasible and we should do it.

The casualties are much more than simply the unfortunate people of Bosnia. The United Nations has been let down by its most senior members who are unable or unwilling to enforce its resolutions. We should be told clearly now—I thought that we already understood this —that negotiations without credible threat of force behind them do not work. The Serbs are laughing at the United Nations. They are not only doing that—yesterday, they were shelling the United Nations. On the 9 o'clock news tonight, I was pleased to see that United Nations soldiers in Bosnia have been given permission to shoot back when they are shot at. I agree with that. However, it is not the solution. There is an urgent need to restore the credibility of the United Nations. That can be done only by a calculated ultimatum to the Serbs, backed up by the threat of military action.

We must start somewhere. The situation has deteriorated so much recently that intervention is getting more costly, more dangerous and more difficult by the hour. The obvious starting place is that suggested by the 80 or so congressmen—to lift the siege of Sarajevo by whatever means are necessary. From there, one goes on, hopefully, to lift the siege of the other so-called United Nations safe areas and remove the artillery that threatens not only Sarajevo but one or two other places. Heavy artillery is fixed. It cannot be moved easily, but it can be destroyed easily—and should be. I remember Martin Bell, who knows something about the situation, telling us that clearly when he came to see us the other day. Unless someone tells me otherwise, that is what I will continue to believe.

Finally, I ask the Minister whether there is any level of atrocity in the former Yugoslavia that could cause us to support military intervention. If so, what is it? If there is none, will he say so clearly?

11.43 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) on securing this debate and on his comprehensive speech.

For the sake of brevity—as a number of colleagues wish to speak—I begin by asking the Minister several questions relating to the refugee crisis. As he and the House will know, in October-November 1992 the United Kingdom Government agreed to take 1,000 former detainees and 3,000 dependants. The latest figures reveal that, so far, we have received 250 ex-detainees and 424 dependants. I am grateful that the quota for ex-detainees has been extended to cover those who are deemed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to be vulnerable. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government will shortly consider increasing the quota of 1,000 to enable Britain to take more of the people who have suffered as a result of this horrific war in Bosnia.

Secondly, will the Minister assure us that the Government stand ready to receive more medical cases? So far, we have taken 68 and I am advised by the UNHCR that there is great urgency about persuading countries, especially those in the EC, to take medical cases. I hope that the Minister will say that the Government are sympathetic and will take more such cases. As we have heard in the debate, Sarajevo is in crisis. Hon. Members have mentioned Mr. Larry Hollingsworth, the UNHCR Bosnian representative.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I listened to the last two speeches, and I am listening to the hon. Gentleman. I have noted the almost studied indifference of Ministers. Would it hurt Ministers to listen to the speeches on this important subject?

Mr. Madden

I consoled myself by noting that the Minister was taking notes of my questions, and I expect to receive detailed replies.

Mr. Hollingsworth recently met hon. Members from all parties and stressed the great urgency of funding to enable his organisation to purchase plastic sheeting, shelter and other necessary items to protect the people of Sarajevo in the coming winter. Those purchases need to be made now, but they are not being made. Will the money be made available?

At the meeting in the House, Mr. Hollingsworth repeated the words that were reported in The Guardian on 20 July. That report stated: The head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' humanitarian operation in Sarajevo criticised the UN's programme as ineffective yesterday and called for military action to break Serbian blockades,… Speaking in London at the launch of a Refugee Council appeal for Bosnia, Larry Hollingsworth, a former colonel in the British Army, called for military force to allow aid convoys to reach Sarajevo and the besieged enclaves of Gorazde, Zepa and Srebrenica. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles said that a broad-based alliance of senior British diplomats, senior military commanders and senior aid workers holds the unanimous view that military intervention could and, indeed, should be taken, not only to protect the so-called safe areas, but to halt the aggression in Bosnia, which would, we hope, lead to an effective and sustained ceasefire. Hon. Members have confirmed what my hon. Friend has said.

A military commander recently said that rapid response military forces needed rapid response politicians. The central charge of the debate is that politicians, especially those in the European Community, but also those in the UN, have singularly failed to ensure that the aggression, genocide, rape, atrocities and horror of Bosnia should he halted. We believe that that can be done only through effective military intervention.

I hope that the Minister will not recite the usual catalogue of excuses for not engaging in such intervention. I hope that he will seriously consider the military-intervention options now available, which are mentioned regularly by the alliance of diplomats, military commanders and aid workers to whom hon. Members—including myself—have referred. I also hope that we can engage in a mature and sensible debate about the military options; many of us believe that now is the time to adopt them.

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

It is very unfortunate that the problems of Yugoslavia should have prompted so little interest years ago, long before the present crisis. In 1990, I went to Whitehall to tell the Minister of State—he will remember the occasion—that a crisis was looming. Precious few people wanted to know about the crisis then and for that reason many have not studied its root causes.

To a large extent, the crisis was caused by the over-decentralisation of the old Yugoslav state under President Tito. Not long after the end of the communist system in Yugoslavia, even Croat, Slovene and Montenegro communists thought of themselves as Croats, Slovenes and Montenegrans, rather than as Yugoslavs. When the nationalists in Croatia pressed for Croatian independence, the British Government at first adopted an even-handed approach. However, on 26 June 1991—when both Slovenia and Croatia declared independence—between 500,000 and 800,000 people in Croatia were members of the Serb ethnic group. Many lived in very compact areas, in particular the area around Knin and Krajina. In Serbo-Croat, "Krajina" means borders or frontiers. There was a substantial Serbian majority in many parts of the large frontier area between Knin and central Croatia.

When Croatia became independent—or was declared independent—in June 1991, non-Croatian citizens were immediately "ethnically cleansed". Serbs were immediately declared not to be citizens and were refused passports. They were driven out of their homes and jobs through intimidation. After only a few months, 60,000 Serbs were refugees in Serbia, having fled from Rijeka, Zadar and Zagreb itself: indeed, it is now said that about one third of the Serb population of Zagreb has been ethnically cleansed and driven away. Important people in particular were intimidated by the Croatian regime.

At the beginning of May, I visited the mass grave of Serbs and Muslims who had been massacred by the Croats between November 1991 and March 1992. Hon. Members should mark the dates, which include part of the period before Bosnia-Herzegovina was recognised as an independent state—the period when it was still within the state of Yugoslavia that was recognised by the international community. The Croatian army had invaded and taken over Bosanski-Brod and Deventa and massacred large numbers of people. I shall never forget seeing bodies exhumed from the grave at Bosanski-Brod. The first to be taken out of the grave was a woman. I know that it was a woman only because of the blue skirt and white spots. I saw 38 other corpses laid out. I remember the stench. The interesting thing is that that area was designated under the Vance-Owen plan to the Croats.

I might be accused of being pro-Serb. I remind the House that I was the first person to mention the names of Šeselj and Arkan. In the debate on the Queen's Speech on 1 November 1991, I warned of those dangerous neo-fascist nationalists who are now undoubtedly war criminals following events in Croatia.

We must bear it in mind that many of us are being hoodwinked. Not only the Government are being hoodwinked. Indeed, to a large extent, I congratulate the Government. I thank God that there has been no military intervention by British or United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia. It would have made the situation a million times worse. So many of the people who talk of military intervention have never been to the former Yugoslavia and seen the situation for themselves. They have certainly never been under fire. They do not know what it is to be bombed. Military action certainly does not make for a retraction of effort on behalf of those who are accused of aggression.

The public relations firms have come into their own in the Yugoslav crisis. The Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, led by a Muslim fundamentalist in the shape of Izetbegovic, who wrote the Islamic Declaration in 1970, reprinted in 1990 in Sarajevo, have said that a majority or even a substantial minority Islamic population cannot live at peace within the political and social systems of non-Islamic communities.

It is false to imagine that the Muslims have been exclusively victims. We often hear people and sometimes Government spokesmen say that all groups have perpetrated atrocities. Yet the only ones which we hear about in the media are those committed by Serbs. Undoubtedly, atrocities have been committed. How many people in the Chamber tonight have referred to Muslim atrocities? They have certainly taken place, but the Muslims are running a good PR operation, especially from New York. [Interruption] I have listened quietly and I have not interrupted anyone.

Hon. Members should look a little further than their noses. If they picked up the 16 December 1992 edition of Epoca, the Italian magazine, they would see an illustrated article about the torture of Serbian prisoners by Muslims in Sarajevo. If hon. Members read the edition of the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit published at the end of last week, they will find that a Muslim commander in Sarajevo has been sacked by the Bosnian Government because 28 Serbs were massacred in a mass grave just outside the centre of the city of Sarajevo. Those hon. Members who cannot read German should have that article translated—but they should not claim that the Muslims are totally innocent because they are not. I was told by an Italian and French journalist in Bosnia that the Europa and Zagreb hotels in Sarajevo arc used as brothels by Muslim soldiers, who force Serbian women and girls into those hotels. It should not be suggested for one moment that all the atrocities are committed by one side.

It is suggested that British soldiers should be sent into Bosnia to fight on behalf of people who are committing atrocities, but that is not something that I should want to see. It is interesting that many of my hon. Friends are keen to see British troops withdrawn from Northern Ireland and rushed to Yugoslavia.

Sanctions have prevented the Serbs from putting across their case. Ian Greer and Associates acted for the Serbs at the beginning of the conflict but they are prevented from doing so now because of the sanctions. That is also true in the United States. [Interruption.] Hon. Members can heckle as much as they like, but Major General Mackenzie —the United Nations commander in Yugoslavia until last November—was quoted in a Los Angeles magazine as saying that every ceasefire that he negotiated was broken by the Muslims. General Waldren, who recently gave up his command in Yugoslavia, said the same about the recent ceasefire negotiated at Srebrenica. Hon. Members should study the details, and not believe the propaganda that appears in our newspapers.

I will not defend Milosevic, Tudjman or any of the other leaders. None of them is a true democrat. Tudjman's Croatia is no more democratic than Serbia—it is to a large extent less so. At the time of the election to which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) referred, Mr. Micunovic, leader of the Democratic party, told me that Belgrade television was controlled by Milosevic. When I asked about the press, Mr. Micunovic said that the press was on the side of the opposition. I said, "I wish that had been the case in our last general election. We might just have pulled it off."

Mr. Barnes

I accept that paramilitary excess exists on all three sides—perhaps more heavily on some than on others. What is to be done about three groups that are at each other's throats when at least one of them has far more military power than the others?

Mr. Wareing

The important thing is that human rights should be respected in Croatia and Bosnia. International pressure must be brought on them both to ensure that human rights are respected on their territories. If a solution is to be found for Bosnia, it must be acknowledged that it is not a state but a province. It was a province under the Austrians and Turks and in the former Yugoslavia. The human rights of all Bosnia's ethnic groups must be respected in any solution—and that solution cannot be imposed on the significant Serb minority. If we forget their plight, no lasting solution will be found.

12.4 am

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

I am grateful for having been called to speak at this point. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) has been squeezed out. I shortened the time of my wind-up speech on behalf of the Opposition in the hope that he would be able to speak.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), though the word "congratulate" is not perhaps the most appropriate word in the circumstances, on obtaining this debate, which is in relatively prime time by Consolidated Fund Bill standards. He spoke with conviction and authority. Although, as he knows, I do not agree with every word he says, I respect the strength of feeling that he expresses. My hon. Friend was joined in the passion of his speech. as on so many previous occasions, by the hon. Member for Staffordshire. South (Mr. Cormack). What they say brings a dimension to the thinking on this most worrying subject that should be heard. Those who urge caution over the former Yugoslavia would find, were they here, that they were in the minority at this evening's gathering of right hon. and hon. Members. Perhaps that is why they have stayed away.

I, too, recognise that the tragedy that we see unfolding in the country that used to he called Yugoslavia, or in the conglomeration of new countries that used to be called Yugoslavia. must affect all of us. Those who watched the news this evening saw the choir of schoolchildren that used to travel the world. The realisation that those children are hiding in buildings that are being bombed every moment brings home the awful reality of the situation.

It is difficult to escape feeling emotional when watching something that is happening in a country that for so many years was the holiday destination of many citizens of this country. The killing, the destruction of property, the outrage of mass rape and the effect that the war has had on so many innocents, including the millions of children in that country, is not something from which any of us can easily walk away.

I do not underestimate for a moment the depth of the tragedy, but it is important to recognise that there have been two successes. The first—I accept that it is a limited success—is that, contrary to all the predictions of the last two years, the conflict has not yet spread largely outside the areas where the fighting initially took place.

Ms Short

Not yet.

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend says "Not yet." I accept what she says. However, there has been some limited success in containing the conflict to that area. I shall turn later to why I believe that it may continue to be contained.

Secondly, the humanitarian effort has been successful. I refer not just to the troops under the United Nations flag who have protected the convoys. As the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) said, civilian truck drivers have gone to that area and stayed there, notwithstanding the dangers. Non-governmental organisation people have served there, as have civilians who work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other organisations. This huge operation has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise would have died of starvation or cold during one of the nastiest and bitterest winters in that part of the world. We should not forget that they did an enormously successful job. The number of casualties, high though it already is, would have been much higher had they not gone to the area. We must not underestimate, either, the difficulties involved in assisting in this bitter conflict.

It is easy, in the security of this Chamber, debating this issue in a civilised manner according to rules that have been formulated over the years, to talk about putting troops into the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), whose views on previous wars and conflicts I have listened to with interest in the past, said—as if this was easy—that he would send in as many troops as it would take for as long as necessary.

Mr. Douglas Hogg


Mr. Robertson

The Minister confirms that; and I wrote down what my hon. Friend said. That is easily said, but not so easy to do.

Mr. Mullin

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Robertson

I will give way briefly, but I have only a limited time.

Mr. Mullin

I quarrel about the word "easy". I did not say "easy" and of course it is not easy and one accepts that. I was talking about the same degree of determination as that displayed in the Gulf and Falklands wars. That is what I was talking about.

Mr. Robertson

I know that my hon. Friend did not use the word "easy". I am ascribing "easy" to his comparison to what was done in the Gulf war and in the Falklands war. Those wars are not comparable, and my hon. Friend said that himself. Even if there was the political will, the physical logistics of the area might make it extremely difficult to attempt anything of that nature.

Mr. Macdonald

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not only some Members of this place who are advocating that course? Larry Hollingsworth, who has been in charge of the humanitarian aid effort in Bosnia for many months now, has said that force should be used to try to deliver that aid. It is not just the armchair theorists who are saying that; it is also being said by the people on the ground.

Mr. Robertson

Some people on the ground say that, but others do not agree. Cedric Thornberry was in the House only a few weeks ago and he argued the opposite view. He said that if we start to impose military personnel in any kind of peace-making capacity, we would close down the humanitarian effort almost overnight. Even before we could start to deploy the limited troops available, we would stop the humanitarian effort which has created such life-saving capability.

I do not want to enter that argument too deeply. My party and I believe that there are serious problems in respect of the involvement of an open-ended commitment of a military peace-making exercise. I would like to leave the point on that parenthesis as I believe that there are other things that Governments could do and should be doing at the moment. The fact that they are not doing these things is assisting the degeneration of the conflict.

First, the international community in general should recognise that serious errors have been made in the conflict. Those errors include the way in which recognition was given prematurely to Croatia, and perhaps also to Slovenia, and the poverty of will that characterised the way in which mandatory economic sanctions were first imposed on Serbia. For 10 months, the Serbs were able to get around the potential of economic sanctions by setting up dummy companies and the like.

Had we implemented the sanctions with the vigour and force that we are now deploying, perhaps a greater impact would have been made on Mr. Milosevic at a time when that might have mattered very much in relation to the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It all matters not just because we are outraged by what we see on our television screens, but because that wave of refugees coming way beyond the borders of Bosnia, Croatia and even Slovenia will be a problem for the nations surrounding that benighted part of the world and also for many other countries, including our own. Many of my hon. Friends have referred to the fact that, despite the Government's initial offers to take in refugees, especially those who were former inhabitants of the detention camps, we have not even reached the miserable level that the Government originally offered.

The problem matters also because the credibility of the UN and of international institutions is at stake as a result of what is happening in that part of the world. Of course, the fighting need not necessarily stop even with an agreement, if an agreement were to be reached in the next few weeks. That endless fighting will undoubtedly affect the rest of the world.

We must recognise that the Washington agreement was a disgraceful watershed for which our Government, along with others, share responsibility. In one fell swoop it destroyed the Vance-Owen plan and left no real political objective in its place. It was an open invitation to the Serbs and Croats to move quickly to partition what was left of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The constant loud reference to the ending of the arms embargo that we heard from the Americans simply gave greater impetus to the Serbs and Croats who wanted to grab as much territory as possible before that eventuality occurred.

The agreement claimed that there would be safe areas, but they were in no way to be made safe. Has that not been vividly displayed since then? It claimed that the borders of Bosnia would be sealed to the supply of arms coming in from Serbia, but there was no way in which they would be sealed. It said that there would be threats against further action from Serbia and from Croatia, but there was to be no back-up to those threats at all—not even the possibility of limited air strikes on supply routes which might at the time have had and might even yet have an impact on the fighting that is taking place in Bosnia. There was to be no action, and there is still no action, taken against the land-grabbing of the Croats who are still engaged in aggression in that part of the world.

What should we do? I make a few limited suggestions, because the House wants to hear the Minister's reply to the many points that have been raised. First, we must make safe areas safe, as was promised. That means a British commitment to supplying the 7,500 troops that the United Nations Secretary-General said were necessary to carry out that promise. All those troops have been promised, but they are certainly not in place. I understand that they are short of the logistic and technical support that would allow them to be deployed to the former Yugoslavia, and to Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular. The British Government could make available that logistic support, and they should do so immediately.

It is right that there should be troops from Islamic countries, but I go along with the Government in their resistance to the use of troops from Iran. Islamic troops are an important signal to the Muslims in that part of the world.

Secondly, we must be much tougher on Croatia, and we must be tougher immediately. Although they have taken large numbers of refugees—of course, there is a worry that they would move them out of their territory—what is happening on the side of the Croatians in the south of Bosnia is as unacceptable as what the Serbs are doing in the north.

Thirdly, we must make it clear that any three-way partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a long-term solution for that part of the world. Indeed, it is a recipe for long-term violence in that area. We need to escape from the mentality that keeps people in small ghettos without any passageway, especially to the sea. We must cut off supply routes to the Bosnian Serbs where they are still using force.

Mr. Gunnell

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Robertson

I am afraid I cannot give way. I apologise to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Gunnell

Will my hon. Friend answer a fourth question?

Mr. Robertson

I have a couple of points to make before I finish my speech.

We must cut off the supply routes and we must be prepared—

Mr. Gunnell

Will my hon. Friend answer a fourth question? What would he do about Sarajevo?

Mr. Robertson

I apologise to my hon. Friend because I am in the last few seconds of my speech. I cannot curtail the Minister's time for replying to the points that have been made. No doubt the Minister will take my hon. Friend's question on board.

We must also consider the long-term future of the refugees in the area. We must do something about the recognition of Macedonia, and we must do more about deploying more troops to the area. Kosovo's guarantees and observers must be maintained in position because it is extremely important that it is protected.

That list of items is the minimum that we can do and the minimum that we need to do at this time. We must do what is necessary and what is possible, and we must do it right away. To wait any longer is to court real disaster.

12.19 am
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

The hon. Members who have been present throughout the debate would agree that its tone has been measured and concerned. By the standards of the House, the debate has been remarkably free of party rancour. That is how it should he, because we all accept that what is happening in the former Yugoslavia is the greatest tragedy that Europe has seen since the end of the second world war. It is not just the greatest tragedy; it is a tragedy that was precipitated and carried forward by crime and wickedness on the part of many of those who are participating in the leadership on all sides.

I agree with much of the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who said that all sides have a responsibility to bear in the matter. I think that the Serbs are the most guilty, but all the participants —Serbs, Croats and Muslims—have been guilty of crime and wickedness in the war.

It is also true that our concern is greatly deepened by the fact that we have 2,400 troops in Bosnia and many people from the Overseas Development Administration, the Royal Air Force and other service men on the ground, all of whom are engaged. All of their lives are at risk.

The debate has been treated with the gravity that it deserves. I find it somewhat odd, however, that among those who are most prominent in calling for military engagement are many who opposed British involvement in the Gulf war. As the hon. Member for West Derby also pointed out, many of those who are most keen to see British military engagement in the former Yugoslavia are those who want us to withdraw from Northern Ireland. It is difficult to reconcile those opinions.

When people talk about public support for military intervention, I believe that they are wrong. When I look round the Chamber, I accept that, probably, the majority of those present are in favour of military intervention, to some degree. I do not believe that that represents the majority view in my party and I suspect that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) does not believe that it represents the majority view in the Labour party. I have made it my business to try to determine where political views lie and I do not believe that they lie in deepening military engagement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said that the issue was about leadership. He said that one should go to people and say, "These are the issues: support us." That is an important point. but I should like to reply to him in something like the language used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). I do not believe that one commits oneself to military action unless one is prepared to suffer all that is required and to go on for as long as may be necessary. I do not believe that one can do that unless one's effort is truly underpinned by national will. I do not believe that that will exists in this case.

In common with me, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) has heard the leader of his party speak on Yugoslavia on many occasions. We know that, for many months, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has called for a forward policy of military engagement. It has taken many forms, but the right hon. Gentleman has always pressed for that policy.

I was in the Chamber on 11 June when the Minister of State for the Armed Forces reported to the House on the occasion when British troops had been engaged in action and had killed certainly one Croat and possibly two. At that point, the right hon. Member for Yeovil responded by saying that we should now consider withdrawal.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), sitting in front of him and referring to the right hon. Member for Yeovil, said: I have never heard such a two-faced statement in my life. The right hon. Gentleman wanted more troops before. Now he wants them out."—[Official Report, 11 June 1993; Vol. 226, c. 559.] I believe that the Liberals' policy is unsustainable and that it varies: it is difficult to identify. Secondly, when the body bags start coming back, the public support will fall away—

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)


Mr. Hogg

No, I want to make progress.

It is important to stand back and identify the chief elements of the the war and of our policy. Bosnia's is essentially a civil war. It is perfectly true that Serbia and Croatia are involved to some degree, but the principal participants in the fighting in Bosnia are the people of Bosnia. And what are they fighting about? They are fighting about the character of the country in which they live. This is essentially a civil war, not a war between independent states.

It is primarily this fact which distinguishes Bosnia from the Gulf. In the Gulf there was a clear act of aggression by one sovereign state against another. The political objective could be clearly defined: the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait. But the political objective in Bosnia is an agreement between people who have been murdering one another for two years—an agreement to live in harmony. I do not believe that we can bring about such an agreement by the application of external force.

We are content to continue as long as we can with a policy of delivering humanitarian supplies. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and my hon.

Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) were right about that. Not only soldiers and RAF men are involved; so are the ODA drivers and many others. Two thirds of the population of Bosnia now depend on external aid and there is no provision for the forthcoming winter. So, unless they are inevitable, we must not take measures that put at risk this aid. If we do, when the winter comes, there is a risk—perhaps even a probability—that people will die in their tens of thousands.

Mr. Bayley


Mr. Hogg

No, I want to make progress.

We are also pursuing a policy of sanctions. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber asked why. He was good enough to admit that the impact of the sanctions on the Serbian economy had, in many respects, been effective. We are pursuing this policy because it is the only way of putting continuing pressure on Serbia and Serbia is the only power capable of bringing the Bosnian Serbs to heel. We will continue the policy until an agreement that is honestly implemented is in place—

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise what he has just said? He has said that this is the only way of putting pressure on Serbia. Does he really mean that? Is that now the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Hogg

If I have time, I shall deal with other questions of military action.

A further point about the structure of our policy is that we are seeking to create the circumstances in which the three parties to the conflict can come to an agreement. Whatever agreement they are likely to reach will certainly be associated with misery, disappointment and word eating. We know that, but there is a chance—even a reasonable chance—that the three parties to the war will come to an agreement. That is why I welcome enormously what Lord Owen and Mr Stoltenberg have done and the presence of all the relevant parties at Geneva. We cannot make them come to an agreement, but we can create the circumstances in which they are capable of coming to an agreement. We can create the mechanisms and the international principles that will guide our approach to the outcome of such an agreement, but we cannot compel people to come to an agreement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said that he is ashamed of the failure of Europe. We have to face the fact that there are many conflicts in Europe that will not be solved by international action because conflicts that are in essence civil wars can be solved only be agreement between those engaged in them. It is a great error to suppose that the United Nations, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, NATO or any other such body can, by the application of external force, put an end to such conflicts.

Something else to which I take grave objection is the way in which people condemn what the British Government have done. We have been at the forefront of the international effort: we convoked the London conference; 2,400 British troops are now—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Time is up.