§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)
British armed forces have served in former Yugoslavia in support of United Nations missions since 1992. Their task has been difficult and sometimes dangerous. Eighteen British soldiers have lost their lives, and 41 others have been seriously injured in the course of duty. They have helped to save many thousands of lives. We are rightly proud of them, as they can be proud of themselves.
Since the summer, conditions in Bosnia have changed completely. At the London conference in July, the international community declared itself ready to take military action against the Bosnian Serbs. Britain took the lead with France in creating a reaction force, and was involved in the NATO action that followed. Since then, the international community has worked long and hard to support the American-led peace effort. At last, a settlement has been achieved.
The peace implementation conference, organised last week by the British Government, made substantial progress with planning the civilian aspects of the peace agreement. Carl Bildt was appointed to oversee its implementation, guided by a small steering board, which includes the G8 nations and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
We expect the peace agreement to be signed in Paris on 14 December. At that point, the military task will be transformed. Within a few days, NATO will take over full military responsibility from the United Nations and deploy forces to implement the agreement. Our mission is to oversee the separation of the warring factions and the return to barracks of their soldiers, and to provide the security necessary for Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish national institutions and hold free elections.
NATO's mission is rightly limited in scope. It is also limited in duration—to 12 months.
For the first time, we have a comprehensive peace agreement. Its implementation requires international forces that are capable of deterring any breakdown in the peace. Only a NATO-led force can fulfil that mission. It will be NATO's first ever land operation. The plan involves some 60,000 troops, of which over 13,000 will be from Britain. We will supply a brigade, and a divisional headquarters to command one of the three military sectors.
In addition, Britain has the leading role in commanding NATO's Rapid Reaction Corps, a British-led, multinational NATO force. We will provide most of the field headquarters controlling the whole operation, including its commanding officer, General Sir Michael Walker.
Britain's contribution is formidable. It expresses our willingness to fulfil our obligations as a key member of NATO and our international role as a member of the permanent five of the Security Council of the United Nations. It also indicates, in the clearest manner, the strength of our commitment to the security of Europe. Such responsibilities carry a cost which we are prepared to bear.
It is my duty to be sure that our forces are able to carry out their purpose and to protect themselves. Of course, they will use persuasion to implement the peace, and in 836 the British Army even the most junior ranks have experience of making highly sensitive judgements on the spot; but when they need to take robust action, they will be equipped and authorised to do so. We shall be sending Challenger tanks,AS90 heavy artillery and armed helicopters. Our force will include the full panoply of signallers, engineers, medical teams, and logistic troops. They will have with them 7,500 vehicles and 7,000 tonnes of ammunition.
To move those forces rapidly to Bosnia involves a complex operation by sea and air, including, for example, 250 RAF transport flights. Military planners and civil servants have worked long hours to prepare a plan to deliver our forces and their equipment safely and on time.
We have done everything possible to minimise the risks to our people, yet there will be dangers. It will be important to them to know through this House that they have the undivided support of the nation. Once more, Britain's armed forces are deploying far from home, not to conquer, not to make war, but in the service of peace, this time as part of a NATO-led force. The Government know that they will carry out their responsibilities with great distinction.
I hope that the House will take this opportunity to express its support for the men and women of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, and the reservists and civilians who accompany them. We wish them all success in their mission and, when the task is done, a safe return to their families.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I thank the Secretary of State for Defence for coming to the House to make this important statement. There will hardly be a Member who does not have a constituent out there in Bosnia serving peace, as the Secretary of State reminded us.
I am more than delighted to be able to assure the Secretary of State that he has the full support of the House. Our hearts go out to the men and women who are travelling to Bosnia to try to ensure that the peace sticks.
We have heard the Secretary of State announce what amounts to a new chapter in the sorry saga of Bosnia, a chapter which the whole House hopes will have a happy ending. Some people, especially in the press, have sought to denigrate the role of the UN and UNPROFOR but, happily, no one in this House has done so. As we look forward, may I say how much we are indebted to the men and women who have served with such distinction in the past. As the Secretary of State reminded us, some of them have paid the ultimate price. We all know that they have saved thousands of lives, and they can wear their medals with pride. As we approach Christmas, we think of their families.
Similarly, we wish our troops who will serve on the new mission every success, and we trust that they will all return home safely. As the Secretary of State reminded us, their mission is worth while, but is not without great risks. The history, complexity and viciousness of the situation is there for us all to see. Some of us saw the terrible pictures on television. Within days of villages being transferred back to the other side, there was wanton arson and the burning of decent homes, which serves to remind us of the viciousness of the conflict and the difficulties therein.
The peace will be based on the will of the three parties. One of the new organisation's tasks will be to ensure that the peace holds. Our experiences in Northern Ireland will 837 serve us well in performing the tricky task of brokering peace, and ensuring that peace continues between the three differing factions.
We welcome the strengthening of the rules of engagement, which is much to be desired. We have argued all along that, in those sometimes impossible situations, our troops should not be disadvantaged.
Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the House that this NATO-led operation will be covered by a United Nations mandate, and that, when the current UN mandate runs out at the end of January, it will be renewed? It is important that the operation has the UN's blessing and support.
Will the right hon. Gentleman also say a word or two about the heavy equipment to be transported to Bosnia? If our troops are to protect themselves and do the job, they need their heavy equipment: Challenger tanks, howitzers and so on. As the Secretary of State knows, in the past we could not provide equipment to our troops, because we simply could not transport it in time. I understand from a parliamentary question that we are to borrow two United States ships to transport some of the equipment. Will any further United Kingdom ships be involved in that operation? The House would expect that equipment to be in position when our troops arrive.
Will the Secretary of State also say a word about the delivery of aid to Bosnia? I presume that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will continue to operate. Our RAF Hercules have already taken 26,000 tonnes of food into Sarajevo. Will those mercy flights continue? What advice is the Secretary of State giving to organisations that wish to continue to send relief over land? What protection will be offered to those convoys? What role will NATO play in that respect?
§ Dr. Clark
No, it was not part of the statement. I must ask the question, because aid will be provided. British people want to send aid, especially at this time, and the whole House wants to know how we shall co-ordinate separating the warring factions and delivering aid.
However, I believe that we are all conscious that we are sending our troops at a particularly special time. At a time when the rest of us seek to spend time with our families, we shall ask our service men and women to leave theirs and go to serve overseas. Therefore, as we wish the men and women godspeed and pray that every one of them returns safely, it becomes us all to think of the families who will be left behind.
§ Mr. Portillo
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the welcome that he has given to the statement, and for the words that he has spoken today, recalling that we do all indeed have constituents who will be travelling out to Bosnia.
I join the hon. Gentleman in praising what has been done by the United Nations. UNPROFOR has done much to contain the conflict; it has saved a lot of life, and it may take credit for its part in paving the way towards the peace agreement that we now have.
I also join the hon. Gentleman in condemning the scorched-earth attacks that we have witnessed on our television screens. Those have no part in the peace 838 agreement that has been entered into by the warring factions. I shall now answer the hon. Gentleman's questions.
There will be a United Nations Security Council resolution. It is planned that that should be put into effect immediately after signature of the Paris peace agreement on Thursday 14 December, and would therefore cover the NATO deployment.
I can confirm the importance of heavy weaponry. I do not want to imagine the position in which we would need to use our tanks or heavy artillery, but it is important to face down possible confrontations from warring factions. Heavy weaponry is important for the protection of our people, and ultimately, if any of our people needed to be withdrawn from an area, it would provide the best possible cover for them to do that safely.
To transport that equipment, we shall use the shipping that is best suited to the task. The United States has a certain amount of specialised shipping, which we are making use of, but we may well need to make use of other shipping assets, including ferries. We shall charter ships as they are available to us. That will include a certain amount of United Kingdom shipping, but let me make it perfectly clear that we are not requisitioning ships; we are chartering ships on the open market, and it will be the ships that are available at the time. Their nationality is not the vital point; the point is that they should be available. A great deal of United Kingdom shipping is not available—it is working hard on commercial shipping projects.
Of course there will continue to be aid. The UNHCR will continue its operations in Bosnia. The RAF is available in principle for mercy flights, but much of the aid can now be delivered by road, which is more effective and more cost-effective. The purpose of sending in such a large force is to separate the warring factions, create a zone of separation and create safety and security, so that convoys and ordinary civilians are able to go about their business no longer in fear of their lives. Creating that position of security is a vital task for the implementation force.
Finally, although I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said, what is more to the point is that the armed forces will be very grateful to have the support of the Labour party.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
I am sure that the whole House, and all the constituents we represent, will applaud the fact that 13,500 British troops, including about 750 territorials, all of whom are volunteers, will be sacrificing their Christmas at home to enable former Yugoslavs to enjoy, one hopes, theirs in peace for the first time for nearly five years.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that all the implementation forces will have robust rules of engagement? Will he say something about the new phrase that I believe he coined—"mission creep"—and say how far that NATO mission must creep to make it necessary for the NATO forces to be withdrawn before the 12 months are up?
§ Mr. Portillo
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I should perhaps emphasise that many of the forces going to Bosnia will still be able to enjoy Christmas in the UK. Given that the heavy equipment takes some time to move by sea, they will often fly out to join their equipment. and 839 they will fly out in the days between Christmas and new year or in the new year. Some, however, are already in Bosnia, and others will be there in time for Christmas. I anticipate that the reservists will number 460. We will be required to involve a larger number, given that we must allow a margin for unfitness and so on. Those reservists will be most welcome. Generally, they perform specialised functions and will play an important part.
The rules of engagement are NATO-wide. All NATO forces have agreed to the same rules of engagement, which are robust but also sensitive—and they have benefited from a particularly strong British input, given our experience of policing situations in Northern Ireland.
I did not coin the expression "mission creep"— I believe that comes from across the Atlantic—but I am determined that the NATO operation will be limited in scope. We have no business inventing one task after another. The important point is that we have a clearly defined job. We shall do it in 12 months, then come home.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
I express my support and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends for the operations that the Secretary of State has described. I share his confidence that our forces will fulfil their responsibilities with distinction and professionalism.
In a careful use of language, the right hon. Gentleman said that the mission will be "limited in duration" to 12 months. May we take it that that is a target and not a deadline? May we take it also that, if the peace agreement is on course for successful implementation, there will be no automatic withdrawal on the expiry of the 12-month period?
It appears from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that there are a number of important distinctions between the force now proposed and that which operated under the aegis of the United Nations. Am I correct in thinking that one of the most important distinctions is that the so-called dual key system will not operate, and that, if commanders on the ground require the full and effective use of air power, there will be no hindrance?
§ Mr. Portillo
I am most grateful for the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks on behalf of his party. The mission defined for the NATO implementation force is perfectly clear and well achievable within 12 months. The separation of the forces, establishment of zones of separation, return of forces to their barracks and holding of elections can well he done within the 12-month period—and must be done. There is no point implying to anyone in Bosnia that they have longer than the 12 months specified in my statement—and by the other countries that are signatories—in which to implement those necessary elements of the Dayton agreement to which they are signatories.
There is a distinction between the United Nations operation and the NATO operation. There is no dual key but a clear command and control structure. The mission can be successful only if the civilian aspects of the peace agreement are implemented, by which I mean the development of the institutions of a free society of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The focus of the London conference on Friday and Saturday was on making sure that, under Carl Bildt's guidance, those civil institutions come into existence—which will enable the NATO force to withdraw and leave behind a satisfactory situation.
840 It is certainly not intended to inhibit the forces from exercising the rules of engagement, up to and including the use of air power if necessary.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for telling the House so clearly that the operation will be NATO-led. I assume that he and the House understand that the difference between a UN-led operation and this NATO-led operation is that the latter is a peace enforcement operation to implement an agreement, whereas the other was a peacemaking operation.
Can my right hon. Friend give the assurance—which I believe he gave the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)—that there is total confidence in the ability of the NATO-led forces to operate as they think fit, without undue interference from the UN? Although I admire the work done by UNPROFOR working under the aegis of the United Nations, it is imperative to understand the need for an absence of interference.
What will happen if there is no peace agreement after one year has elapsed? I appreciate that there is no absolute deadline, but the House is aware of the pressure put on the American contribution by Congress—and that if the operation is not completed in one year, the Americans will go. In those circumstances, can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the Government have contingency plans well in mind?
§ Mr. Portillo
I can certainly give a number of the assurances that my hon. Friend seeks. As he says, this will be a NATO-led force. I remind the House that we envisage possible contributions from 14 non-NATO countries, and that we are particularly pleased that Russia will operate alongside the NATO force. My hon. Friend is right to say that this means no undue interference from the United Nations. The political control of this operation is through the North Atlantic Council, which is the political council of NATO.
On the last point, when we enter and when we leave is not a matter for national decision making. Since this is a NATO operation, we will be all in, all there and all out together. Nobody will peel off halfway through the operation: we will act in concert in arriving and leaving.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I have the darkest misgivings as to whether this force will be able to withdraw in decent circumstances in my lifetime. May I ask a specific question about the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which will presumably—and rightly—supply the armaments necessary? I am told that its official complement is only 316. If it is to be the tank regiment involved and it is to provide the cover that the House knows will be necessary, surely its complement should be extended very quickly.
§ Mr. Portillo
The tank regiment involved is the Queen's Royal Hussars, Catterick. I had the pleasure of visiting it yesterday. It has two squadrons of Challenger 1 tanks, and it will take with it about 26 Challenger tanks. The officers expressed no reservations yesterday about the state of the regiment's equipment, supplies, spares and fuel, even though I pressed them on that. Of course, we intend to ensure that our troops are well supplied in the field.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
I echo my right hon. Friend's support for and admiration of our 841 troops, and I thank him for the part he has played in the more resolute leadership of recent months. I would like him to make one thing plain. If the civilian population is threatened, will the NATO forces be able to react as if they themselves had been threatened?
§ Mr. Portillo
They will react, because they are there to implement a peace agreement that does not include the continuation of the slaughter of civilians. Therefore, the NATO forces will deal even-handedly with violators, from whichever side, who seek to undermine the peace agreement that they have entered.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the crucial date is not some day in December 1995, but some day in December 1996? I understand that the implementation force is required to be even-handed, but—as we have seen in the past—even-handedness can be on one side only. Ceasefire agreements have collapsed by the dozen over the past three and a half years.
What provision is there to review the position in 12 months' time, and is there the prospect of going the extra mile? We know that the United Nations has been criticised by all its member states, which have used the United Nations Organisation as a whipping boy for failing in the past. That has been unjustified, because the United Nations has come of age in the past five years over this issue. Will the Secretary of State do his utmost to ensure that our associated nations are advised that the United Nations may have the problem of picking up the pieces long after NATO has withdrawn in 12 months' time?
§ Mr. Portillo
I echo my agreement that the United Nations has come under unjustified criticism. It has done the job as well as it could, and some of its failings have been due to its member states rather than to its organisation. This is a robust military operation, and it is not surprising that there is no other organisation like NATO that can do it.
I dare say that there will be many crucial dates. In responding to the hon. Gentleman, however, it would not be right in any way to open the prospect of the operation continuing for more than 12 months. It is critical that NATO should know that it is 12 months, and that we should know that it is in this place. Above all, it is critical that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina should understand that, after a certain period, if there is to be peace in their country, peace must be generated from within; it cannot perpetually be imposed from outside.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)
Is my right hon. Friend able to give details of forces from Colchester, in my constituency, which are likely to be deployed as part of the operation? May I endorse his guarantee that 12 months is the absolute limit, which, both politically in Bosnia and throughout the NATO countries, is a very important one, and that, if the agreement begins to come unstuck before the 12 months has ended, we shall not seek, in my right hon. Friend's words, to try to impose a peace that the Bosnian and Serb peoples do not want?
§ Mr. Portillo
In the list of forces that I am reading, I see no reference to Colchester. I do not exclude logistical and engineering units, for example, which are based at Colchester being part of the force. I know that 24 Air Mobile is my hon. Friend's particular concern. The bulk of that force has returned to England. Those who 842 have been left behind will be returning shortly. They will not be part of the operation. They are one of the few exceptions to the otherwise general rule that the British forces that are there with the United Nations mission will remain and be part of the NATO implementation force.
I emphasise again that I think that the 12-month limit is important. I am not getting into any speculation about what would happen if the mission failed. The mission is clear—separate the forces, return them to barracks and hold the elections. All that is achievable.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the biggest problems that we shall have to face among the different warring factions will be the movement of large populations from one area, village or town to another in the implementation of the so-called peace treaty?
Is the right hon. Gentleman really asking us to believe that he is requesting support from all hon. Members for a so-called 12-month operation, which is not clearly defined? It might extend a month or two, but we do not know for how long. We know that it is in some way connected to the American presidential election next year; it is probably connected as well to the election in Britain. If that is all true, and we have that knowledge, the Serbs, Croats and Muslims know that as well. Therefore, will the operation end in 12 months?
The chances are—it may as well be put on the record because many in this place know and understand this—that the operation will continue for much longer than 12 months, based on everything that we have known has taken place in the Balkans over the past centuries, and certainly over the past few years.
In this place, we are supposed to speak the truth. That being so, why is it not said from the Dispatch Box that British soldiers are facing an operation this Christmas—we are all worried about them—and that they could be facing it next Christmas and much longer after that?
§ Mr. Portillo
I do not say that because that is not the position. We have a NATO operation, which has been defined as lasting 12 months. A number of us have committed ourselves to that position. For example, the German equivalent Minister has made a commitment to his Parliament of 12 months. He has authority from his Parliament for 12 months.
It is true that Serbs and Croats take account of what goes on in the House. That is why I think that it does no service to the House, to the country or to our troops for the hon. Gentleman to start opening up doubts about 12 months, and especially to imply that the operation might extend by a month or two; I said no such thing.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that this is not the first time in history that British troops have been involved in peacekeeping operations of this sort. Is he able to assure us that the supremacy that is required in the air to ensure that the troops on the ground carry out their tasks properly will he a continuing requirement throughout the period that our troops are involved?
§ Mr. Portillo
Yes, domination from the air is essential. Operation Deny Flight, as it is known, will continue, and the role of the air forces and, indeed, sea aviators will continue to be extremely important. Although we are talking today mainly about land forces being committed 843 to Bosnia, we should never forget that there are already about 3,000 service men—mainly from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force—serving outside Bosnia but connected to the Bosnian operation, many of them afloat but some of them at Italian bases.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
Having helped to deliver aid to refugees from what were supposed to be United Nations safe areas, I think that it is a tragedy that this action was not initiated before the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa, and some of the other atrocities; but better late than never.
Will the Secretary of State accept that it is absolutely essential, not only for the people of Bosnia but for the credibility of NATO, the United Nations and the international community, that the operation, the peace, should succeed, even if it involves staying there into 1997 or beyond? Can the Secretary of State say anything about what may have been done to minimise the risk of casualties from friendly fire from the Americans or any members of the international force?
§ Mr. Portillo
There have been many tragedies along the way. I came to my position only in July and, from my perspective, I would say that only after the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa was it possible to put together the international consensus, which coalesced at the Lancaster house conference in July, to enable a more robust attitude to be taken against the humanitarian atrocities that we were witnessing.
The credibility of NATO is involved here, but as I have said, ultimately the people of that area have to love peace more than they love war for the peace to succeed. I do not think that it is possible for the international community to give a guarantee that peace will last. We can go any distance to create the conditions in which peace can be given a chance, and I believe that the international community is doing that on this occasion.
As far as avoiding friendly fire is concerned, that is of course an important matter. One of the attributes of the NATO operation is that we have the full panoply of intelligence provided by the United States and others at our disposal, and that means aerial photography, satellite photography and the most sophisticated forms of intelligence, so that we should be able to manage the battlefield—if we are involved in a battlefield—and have a good understanding of where our forces are, as well, of course, as the enemy forces if we found ourselves in that position. I still very much hope that it will be an operation of persuasion and peace implementation, not an operation of fire—friendly or otherwise.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
Although we must hope that the process works and that our troops are safe and free from danger, the troubled history of Yugoslavia must cause us to exercise some caution. Will my right hon. Friend ignore the siren voices from the Liberal Bench and the Labour party, and make it absolutely clear that one year means one year as far as we are concerned?
§ Mr. Portillo
At every level of the planning of the operation through NATO, it has been understood that it was limited to 12 months, and that is the understanding of every participating country.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
While we wish the entire force success and safety, can the Secretary of 844 State say what arrangements are in place to facilitate the exchange of prisoners, both military and civilian, and what determination there is within the force to bring to justice those who stand accused of war crimes?
§ Mr. Portillo
The Dayton agreement makes provision for the exchange of prisoners, both military and civilian, and the implementation force will play a role in supervising those exchanges.
As far as war criminals are concerned, NATO is currently drawing up guidance for its forces. I think it inconceivable that, if wanted war criminals fell into the hands of the implementation force, it would not hand them over to a competent authority for trial. One of the things that we need to establish is what precisely is a competent authority, in all the areas in which the implementation force would be operating. It is a difficult legal question, with which NATO is wrestling at the moment, but with the intention that, if the implementation force is in possession of war criminals, they will be brought to justice.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Canberra aerial photography reconnaisance squadron from Marham, which has been flying over the former Yugoslavia on very long missions day in, day out? Does he agree that the security of Europe and NATO are synonmous? Surely these events vindicate the Government's line that NATO must be the key pillar for Europe's security and peacekeeping.
§ Mr. Portillo
I happily join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the aerial photography reconnaisance flights that have been carried out—as he says—day after day, in difficult conditions, bringing vital data for our forces.
As for my hon. Friend's second point, it is remarkable that we should recently have seen Russia's willingness to co-operate with NATO and French willingness to draw closer to it. When we need to carry out a robust military operation in Europe, it must be NATO that undertakes it: only NATO is capable of that. Moreover, for as far ahead as we can see, only NATO will be capable of performing such a function.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Will the Secretary of State give an absolute guarantee that the arms embargo will not be lifted while British troops are out on this mission? Will he also give a guarantee that the defence exports part of his Department will not be busy trying to make arms sales while another part is looking after the security of British troops?
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important subject—the question of arms control. The Dayton agreement foresees that one of the conditions for lasting peace will be a better balance between the armaments possessed by the different warring factions. It is clearly preferable for that balance to be achieved through the disarmament of the Croats and Serbs to a level close to that of the Bosnian Muslims; if, however, we fail to make progress in disarming those factions, the Dayton agreement envisages the possibility of training and weapons being provided for the Bosnian Muslims.
There will be a conference on arms control in Bonn shortly before Christmas, and I think it extremely important for the international community to use all its resolve and muscle to ensure that we adopt the former 845 rather than the latter route. Particularly with our troops on the ground, we want a reduction rather than an increase in the number of arms in theatre.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)
My right hon. Friend may recall that, several years ago, before he became Secretary of State for Defence, I pointed out in the House on a number of occasions that British troops were being sent to Bosnia to police a United Nations—as it then was—ceasefire, and not to take part in guerrilla warfare.
As each Parliament goes by, even the youngest among us recognise that the House contains fewer and fewer right hon. and hon. Members who have any experience of service life, let alone active service. Given that a safe area is safe only if it is militarily safe—and given that the provision of aid, and other matters raised by some hon. Members earlier, may well be laudable aims—will my right hon. Friend not lose sight of the important fact that there is a long way to go before we attain a proper peace?
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, through the rules of engagement, service men on the ground will be empowered to defend themselves adequately if they come under attack in the days and months ahead, as they may well do?
§ Mr. Portillo
The present situation is different, in that we now have a peace agreement to which the three parties have signed up, and we are going there to implement the peace agreement into which they have entered. The implication of that is that we shall use persuasion to ensure that they meet their obligations; but, if persuasion does not succeed, we shall use force. Certainly, if we come under attack ourselves, we shall respond robustly.
Of course, the rules of engagement cover self-defence, as they always have, but now they also cover the ability to implement the peace agreement to which those people have signed up. I very much hope that persuasion will be enough, but we are sending the weaponry that is necessary to give persuasion the best possible chance, and, if persuasion fails, to ensure that other methods succeed.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Although I have not conducted any sort of survey among Scottish soldiers destined for Bosnia, I am confident that our service men and service women would much prefer the heavy equipment that they will need to be carried in ships flying the red duster, rather than flags of convenience.
Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will do all he can to hire British ships to carry that equipment, even though our merchant fleet has shrunk to a ghost of what it was? Surely that equipment is better carried in our ships than in ships hired on what he calls the "open market". Pehaps he should give less emphasis to the "open market", and show much more confidence in the red duster.
§ Mr. Portillo
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is on a strong point. We are not deploying in a war situation or in an emergency, and we are not requisitioning 846 shipping. We are moving equipment according to a carefully worked out plan, and we will take the shipping that is available on the days that we need to move that equipment.
I am pleased to say that much of British shipping is busy. It has contracts, and it is working. Those ships' owners do not want to be disturbed by British Government demands. We will take the shipping that is available. That will undoubtedly include some British shipping, but what our forces want is their equipment to be delivered to the right place at the right time, which we will do in the most effective manner possible.
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
The Secretary of State talked about NATO forces' role in implementing the success of the agreement's civilian aspects. Will he acknowledge that that includes the right of return of refugees, as well as the free and fair elections that he mentioned? Is it not essential to NATO's credibility that neither of those be thwarted by force over the next 12 months?
§ Mr. Portillo
Yes. The right of return for refugees is an important part of the Dayton agreement. Naturally, I have been concerned, as others will have been, at the stories, especially those about Sarajevo, implying that tens of thousands of people will feel it necessary to leave their homes as a result of the peace agreement. The point of that agreement is that people living anywhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina should be able to do so in security.
The point about Sarajevo is that that city should be able to return to its famed previous position as a multi-ethnic city at peace with itself. These are the implementation force's objectives: to ensure that, in the next 12 months, people feel that degree of security and that, where they have left their homes, they felt secure enough to return to them.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
Sometimes it is wise to take 12 months at a time, and, although we are all aware of the problems that are faced with paramilitary forces and with the need to control any action or excess that is engaged in by those forces, we also need to realise the possibilities that exist in relation to civil society. Many people in Bosnia have always opposed the violence, intimidation and action that have taken place. The hope is in that civil society being built up and that, in those circumstances, troops go on to he in safer situations and can begin to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Portillo
Of course, I try to keep my eyes well open to the realities and to see more than 12 months ahead, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that today the House is concentrating on an operation that has been designated by NATO, and that has a life of 12 months. He is absolutely right, of course, in saying that the success of that mission and of peace depends on the building of institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina that attract the trust of the people and that eventually make them desire peace more than war.