HC Deb 29 October 1996 vol 284 cc445-6
8. Mr. Churchill

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about British forces in Bosnia beyond the end of 1996. [355]

Mr. Portillo

If there were any international military force in Bosnia in 1997, we would expect it to be NATO-led and we would expect the UK to play its part alongside our allies.

Mr. Churchill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that IFOR has proved to be a powerful demonstration of NATO effectiveness, and that a key ingredient of its success has been the full participation of United States forces? Does he further agree that all the efforts made by our Government, our service men and women and our allies in the past four years would come to nothing if the United States does not extend its commitment to maintaining the peace in Bosnia beyond the end of the year?

Mr. Portillo

Clearly, the international community must be involved in Bosnia next year, and my hon. Friend's assumption—that that will involve a military component—is shared by many others. Any military component must involve the United States, and the US Administration have made it perfectly clear that a NATO operation would have to involve the US. The importance of alliance solidarity is well recognised by the US Administration, but they are waiting, as we all are, for the decisions—whatever they may be—to be ratified at the London conference at the beginning of December.

Dr. Reid

The Secretary of State will know that the presence of our troops in Bosnia has helped to save thousands of lives. If there is to be a continued presence, the Opposition will support British troops participating with our major allies on the ground. Does he accept that when the winter snows have melted and the refugees have returned, the tasks and conditions confronting any military force will change considerably and that it would be easy for such a force to be sucked into a civilian policing role? Will he therefore give an assurance that if our troops are to participate in Bosnia after the end of the year, they will have clear objectives, rules of engagement and tasks that will be within the competence and expertise of a military force and will not replicate tasks that should be carried out by a civilian police force?

Mr. Portillo

Of course, if there is to be a military presence next year, it will have clear objectives and the military will be asked to perform tasks suitable to the military. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for the policy that we have been pursuing. I am also grateful that Labour policies were not pursued over the past 17 years, so that the troops were available to send to Bosnia.

Mr. Mans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if British forces are to be in Bosnia next year, they must be properly funded? Will he impress on his Cabinet colleagues—particularly the Chancellor—that that money must come from outside the defence budget or, if it is to come from inside the defence budget, that it must be in addition to funds that would have been made available were our forces not to be in Bosnia next year?

Mr. Portillo

It is, indeed, recognised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the costs of the IFOR mission are eligible for a claim on the reserve.