HC Deb 21 June 1999 vol 333 c755
11. Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

If he will make a statement on the current security situation in Kosovo. [86541]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

As at 18 June, some 18,000 KFOR troops had deployed to Kosovo. KFOR has been successful in maintaining a large measure of stability in very difficult circumstances.

Ms Squire

Will my right hon. Friend join me in warmly welcoming the agreement reached with the Kosovo Liberation Army on disarmament, and in paying tribute to all involved? Does he agree that that is a very significant step towards creating a peaceful and stable Kosovo, and that a vital part of any peace-building process is enforcement in a consistent and even-handed manner for all groups and individuals threatening violence? Does he further agree that, once again, the British armed forces have surpassed themselves and demonstrated why they have an international reputation for dealing evenly and justly with all those involved in a potential conflict?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is right, and her words will be heard with great respect, including in theatre. The necessity to act even-handedly and impartially is absolutely critical if Kosovo is not to suffer another exodus, which might be smaller but would be equally sad. General Sir Mike Jackson made it absolutely clear on his first day in Kosovo that he would act with firmness and determination, but even-handedly. I believe that that message is getting through.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Some 13,000 British troops will be used to maintain the security of Kosovo. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that will mean that almost 90 per cent. of land command personnel will either be committed to operations, or warned to deploy on operations? In those circumstances, what will the right hon. Gentleman do about overstretch and about the retention of personnel? Such a large number of Army personnel committed to unaccompanied operations overseas means that we will be losing troops because their families will not stand for it.

Mr. Robertson

In many ways, I have answered that question already. I have underlined how important families are. I hold strongly in my mind the principle "recruit a soldier, retain a family", as does my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. At the moment, the total number of British troops committed to Kosovo is 13,000, and I expect a significant reduction after about six months.