HC Deb 24 March 1999 vol 328 cc483-95

9.5 pm

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr.John Prescott)

Earlier this evening, four British aircraft, together with missiles from the submarine HMS Splendid, attacked targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as part of a co-ordinated NATO air strike. Two other aircraft flew supporting missions.

Hon.Members may have heard the Prime Minister's remarks from Berlin earlier this evening, when he said: I want to pay tribute, at the outset, to our forces. We owe a huge debt to them for their courage, and their professionalism. Tonight, there are families in Britain who will be feeling a real sense of anxiety. They can feel too a real sense of pride at the contribution their loved ones make to peace and stability in Europe. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in echoing those sentiments.

The UK Harriers operated out of Gioia del Colle in Italy. In addition, attacks were mounted by seven United States Air Force B52 bombers from Fairford in Gloucestershire.

The strike in which they participated was a very significant one, involving both air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles and manned aircraft from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Spain. A number of other allied air forces flew supporting missions.

The targets being attacked in this first phase were mainly elements of the Yugoslavian air defence system, but also included a number of Serbian military facilities related to the repression in Kosovo.

The NATO military action, which has the full support of all 19 member states, is intended to support the political aims of the international community. It is justified as an exceptional measure to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe.

It is, and will continue to be, directed towards disrupting the violent attacks being committed by the Yugoslav army and the Serbian special police force and weakening their ability to continue their repressive strategy.

Two United Nations Security Council resolutions, 1199 and 1203, underpin our actions. Both demanded that the Serbs cease all actions against the civilian population and withdraw the security units used for civilian repression.Milosevic has been in breach of every single part of those UN resolutions.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, a quarter of a million Kosovars, more than 10 per cent.of the population, are now homeless as a result of repression by Serb forces. Sixty-five thousand people have been forced from their homes in the past month, and no fewer than 25,000 in the days since the peace talks broke down. Families are being uprooted and driven from their homes. There are disturbing reports of the destruction of whole villages.

Over the past few days, we have all seen harrowing and unforgettable images on the television and in newspapers. The scenes are more reminiscent of the middle ages than of Europe on the eve of the 21st century.

I would remind the House that the decision to initiate air strikes was taken last night only after it became clear that the final diplomatic effort in Belgrade had not met with success and that all efforts to achieve a negotiated political solution to the Kosovo crisis had failed.

Over the past year the international community, with Britain at the forefront, has made intensive efforts to seek a peaceful solution.Milosevic has either rejected these approaches or entered into undertakings on which he has subsequently reneged, notably his blatant failure to observe the limits on army and special police numbers in Kosovo.Military force is now the only option.

NATO's position is clear, and was set out in its statement of 30 January. We seek to bring an end to the violence in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and support the completion of negotiations on an interim political settlement.

Three demands were made at the time, all of which Mr.Milosevic has so far rejected: he has not ended his use of excessive and disproportionate force in Kosovo; he has broken the undertaking that he gave last October to reduce Serb forces in Kosovo to pre-February 1998 levels; and he has so far refused to accept the interim political settlement that was negotiated at the peace talks in France earlier this year.

Tonight the NATO alliance—19 nations of which 13 flew their aircraft tonight—has backed its words with action. It has hit hard and it will continue to hit hard until its military objectives are achieved.

What happens next is up to Mr.Milosevic. It remains open to him to show at any time that he is ready to meet the demands of the international community. The demands are reasonable: they are an autonomous Kosovo within Serbia and an international military force to underpin the settlement. We hope that the Yugoslav people will understand that this is the only practical basis on which to move forward without further bloodshed.

I take this opportunity tonight to address a warning to those in the Yugoslav army and other forces who may be in receipt of orders to repress the Albanians in Kosovo: "Do not assume that you can carry out such activity with impunity.You have a personal responsibility not to exceed the bounds of international law.You run the risk of being prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague if you do so."

I also address the Kosovar Albanians: "You have had the courage to commit yourselves to the path of peace. It is imperative that you remain committed to that approach and refrain from provocative actions in the days to come."

Neither NATO nor the United Kingdom is waging war against the people of Yugoslavia. We will make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.Our objective is to reduce the human suffering and violence against the civilian population of Kosovo. We seek to bring to an end the human tragedy now unfolding.

We know the risks of action and we salute the bravery of our service men and women who are undertaking these operations on our behalf. To the families of the brave men and women of our armed forces involved in this action—and indeed to the British people as a whole—I say this: we should remind ourselves that history has proved time and time again that standing up to aggression is the only way to stop such brutal leaders.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to the House yesterday: If Kosovo was left to the mercy of Serbian repression, there is not merely a risk, but the probability of re-igniting unrest in Albania, of a destabilised Macedonia, of almost certain knock-on effects in Bosnia, and of further tension between Greece and Turkey. Strategic interests for the whole of Europe are at stake." —[Official Report, 23 March 1999; Vol.328, c.161.] We, as fellow Europeans, cannot contemplate, on our own doorstep, a disintegration into chaos and disorder.

This is indeed a grave moment. Those who have doubted NATO's resolve have been shown to be wrong. We are prepared to see this through. We do not expect that air attacks will lead to an instant end to the brutality in Kosovo-Yugoslavia has a substantial military machine and is under the control of a ruthless man. But our attacks will make it clear to the president and his security forces that if they continue to use excessive force in Kosovo, they will pay a very high price indeed.

Mr.Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his statement. As he says, this is a grave moment and our forces are engaged in a perilous mission. We join him in giving our armed forces our full support and we have total confidence in their skill, courage and ability. We share with their families and loved ones the combination of pride and anxiety that they must be feeling.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, we support the Government in the action that they have taken. We also entirely support and endorse the warning that the Prime Minister has given to those who may contemplate using disproportionate and inhumane methods in the province of Kosovo.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that the action is aimed at military targets and that every effort will be made to avoid civilian casualties?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm—even if it is not appropriate to spell them out in public—that NATO has clear criteria by which it will judge the success of its action? In view of the accusation by Russia that this is an act of aggression, will he take the opportunity to set out clearly for the House the legal basis for NATO's action? In view of the massive movements of refugees to which the Prime Minister referred yesterday, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what action the Government are taking to help the Governments of Albania and Macedonia cope with the consequences of this tide of human misery?

Tomorrow's debate will allow the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence to update the House, and will allow Members to discuss this matter in more detail. However, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will keep the House fully informed as developments unfold?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am grateful for the support offered by the right hon. Gentleman—which is shared on both sides of the House—for the Government's action. I can confirm that our targets are totally military, and not civilian. I understand the concern of the Russians about the legal justification—to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—but the use of force is justified under international law to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian disaster. We believe that what is happening in Kosovo could be such a disaster, and that is the legal justification for our action on this occasion. We will review what we can do to help Macedonia and Albania, and perhaps in the debate tomorrow we can give further information to the right hon. Gentleman. The House can be assured that we will continue to keep it informed, as we have tried to do this evening by reporting to it on the very first occasion when we could make a statement.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

President Milosevic is a loser. He was a loser in Bosnia, when he could have emerged with a much better deal, and an excellent deal was available to him at Rambouillet.Ultimately, he will lose. What lines of communication are still open to him? Is the deal that was on the table at Rambouillet still available to him?

The Deputy Prime Minister

Yes, I assure my hon. Friend that the deal is still available, and everybody would want to see it pursued and achieved. At the moment, we are trying to prevent a humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo.Our lines of communication are the normal ones through the various UN bodies and organisations. We will be available to be informed if there is any change of mind but, at the moment, the NATO action clearly is to prevent such a tragedy and to prevent the Yugoslav authorities from deploying their military might, as they are at the moment.

Mr.Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

This is clearly not the occasion upon which to probe the Government on the precise nature of the operations that have been undertaken, or which may be undertaken in future. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is right for us to express our support for our military, and to express the hope for the safe return of all the aircraft and aircrew involved in the operations this evening? Does he agree that other, wider issues can be left until the debate tomorrow? Is it not right that the House should be in sombre mood, because to ask our young men and women to risk their lives in aid of political objectives is a sombre and anxious request to make of them?

The Deputy Prime Minister said that the scenes had been reminiscent of the middle ages. Have they not also been reminiscent of the second world war, which we believed had been fought to put an end to that kind of repression? Finally, will he confirm that, at any time, Mr.Milosevic has it within his power to bring an end to the operations by bringing an end to his own opposition to the political settlement which remains on the table?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am grateful for the right hon. And learned Gentleman's expression of support and for his understanding of the difficulty concerning how much information can be given on these occasions, which I am sure the House fully appreciates. We hope for the safe return of our aircraft, and if that happens in the latter minutes of this discussion, I shall of course inform the House. Everyone would want that to be the case and will bear in mind the great contribution of our soldiers and aircrew.

This is indeed a sombre moment and, on reflection, there are comparisons with the lead-up to the second world war, but we would do best to keep those memories in the back of our mind and learn the lesson that if we appease dictators they go on to create even greater mayhem and repression. We must say to Mr.Milosevic, "You started it, and you have the chance to end it. We have to make it clear that we consider your actions repressive and offensive. We want to stop them, and that is what we are doing with our NATO forces."

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that the only body in the world that can deal with an humanitarian crisis is the United Nations itself, by organising a peace conference without the threat or the use of force and providing aid on the necessary scale? Is he also aware that NATO does not act on behalf of the international community, and never has done?

People of my generation, who lived through the 1930s and the 1940s, feel a sense of utter shame and disgust that the British Government should be breaking its solemn commitments to the United Nations and launching air attacks on Serbia, which was praised to the skies during the war, because it was the Serbian resistance to Hitler that gave us the opportunity of the victory that we secured. To demonise Serbia now, when Yugoslavia was deliberately broken up by western policy makers, is to mislead the public into a crusade that does not exist.

The Deputy Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman should bear it in mind that, regardless of whether they were allies many years ago, the Serbs today are murdering an awful lot of people in Kosovo. I understand that he is talking of 50 years ago and the concerns of the 1930s and 1940s, but there were great debates in our movement at that time about Hitler and about hawking one's conscience about. I am bound to say that we were wrong not to have dealt with appeasement at that time, and I hope that we have learned our lesson. That is why we are doing what we are doing today.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

The whole House is united in condemning repression, from wherever it comes, and pays tribute to our troops. Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that, despite the constraints that we are naturally under, there is genuine concern about the effect of bombing a sovereign, independent nation, about the innocents who may lose their lives and about what will happen if the bombing fails to shake the dictator's resolve?

Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that there can and will be no question of sending in ground troops, and will he inform the House of his plan for the future if bombing fails to achieve its object?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I think the whole House shares concerns about what may happen, but I have made it clear that the targets are military, not civilian. As for innocent people losing their lives, that is happening to many thousands in Kosovo and was happening throughout the time of negotiations, when the repression of innocent people, many of whom were driven out of their homes, was continuing as we tried to find an agreement.One has to make a judgment.

The Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that we have no intention of sending in ground forces to fight a war in Kosovo.Our forces are in the region to support a settlement, if agreed, and not to fight their way in, which would require more than 100,000 troops and risk high casualties. There is not general agreement in favour of such action.Our targets are specific. They are basically military and we are clear about what we intend to achieve.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the bombing did not start tonight and that bombing has been going on for some considerable time against the Kosovar Albanians? Does he agree that appeals for dialogue, although they have been heeded and continued, are somewhat futile when one party believes that the only useful dialogue is through the barrel of a gun? Does my right hon. Friend agree with the school of thought that Milosevic needed that armed intervention to protect himself from a backlash among his electorate if he made any concessions on Kosovo? In the fervent hope that that proves to be correct as quickly as possible, will my right hon. Friend tell us what measures might be in train quickly to restore normal relations between ourselves and Russia, which may have been adversely affected in the continuing negotiations?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I think the House will agree with my hon. Friend's comments that a great deal of repression was going on in Kosovo before the bombing and during the negotiation of the UN resolutions that made it clear that the Serbs should desist—they failed to do so.Of course we are concerned about relationships with countries such as Russia. We shall maintain those contacts, and those countries have made it clear, both in the UN and other councils, that they deplore the actions that have been taken. While there may be disagreement with the actions that have been taken by NATO today, there is no doubt that those countries do not support the position put forward by Milosevic and his Government.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I have considerable support for the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. Compassion for the humanitarian difficulties that have been faced, including massacres, in the past months—almost years—is worthy of our support on humanitarian grounds. When the Deputy Prime Minister says that military installations are being bombed, does that include the ground forces of the Serbian nation? That is the area that causes us great concern. If we are to intervene and the war is to finish, we want to be certain that not only radar installations and airports are destroyed but that Serbian ground forces are rendered useless and cannot intervene.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that on such occasions one does not detail the military targets. That is normal practice. I understand the reasons for his question, but he can be assured that the targets are military ones.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will my right hon. Friend relay to those pilots who are out there tonight in darkness over Yugoslavia a simple message from the House of Commons? That is that we overwhelmingly support them in their endeavours. They are acting for Britain and we are proud of them.

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has made it clear in a powerful way that that is exactly what the House feels. It has shown in its expressions that we fully support them in the pilots endeavours and admire the courage that they use to achieve them.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the great sense of dismay that many in the House feel? Does he agree that we have gone to war without there being a sufficient national interest, without there being a clear understanding of the strategic and political objectives, without there being a proper exit strategy and without the authority of the House? The right hon. Gentleman and the Government will have the support of the House because the credibility of NATO has been put at issue and because our service men are in action, but we should not have been brought to this pass.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I should have thought that the right hon. And learned Gentleman would be from his experience of Bosnia at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that these matters are extremely difficult and that our justifications for taking the actions were the ones that I outlined. The national interest is in upholding international law. We act within that international law and the use of force is justified under that law to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian disaster. There is no doubt that that was about to take place and, indeed, has been taking place for some time. Frankly, one must make a judgment: do we want to sit in front of the television, observe what is happening and say, "Is this in the national interest?" I think that the overwhelming majority of the public will see those events and want this Government to do something and, along with other NATO countries, go in to try to stop it. That is what we are doing.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I hope that my right hon. Friend accepts that we recognise the difficulties that we all face in this grave situation. Will he reiterate to those who need to be told that the House overwhelmingly supports the Government and British and NATO forces? Will he ask doubters what consolation it would be to a Kosovan running away from being killed to be able to say that the British Government did not act, but were upholding a precise, legalistic definition of international law? We can be proud of what we are doing.

The Deputy Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend has made clear, the House overwhelmingly supports our forces in this action. We offer our consideration and sympathy to the families of our soldiers, airmen and airwomen. We are proud to be involved in these matters, we have a right to be involved, and our action is based fully on international law. It will help people who are being brutally repressed, and that is the job of a democratic nation. I am proud to belong to a country that is part of an alliance trying to stop that repression.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

The Deputy Prime Minister should know that there comes a moment at which taking action on humanitarian issues is necessary, whatever doubts we have. The Government have done absolutely the right thing.

Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the right hon.Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Bean) that his views are much more like those that pertained at the time of the League of Nations than those that currently exist? Will he take note of the fact that all 19 members of NATO—not just America and Britain—are involved in this exercise? Will he consider whether all 19 members have understood the full implications of launching an aerial bombardment on military targets, which may have to be protracted and which may require other measures if political objectives are to be achieved?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I want to take this opportunity to inform the House that all the Harriers have returned safely. We shall all be pleased about that.

I must tell the hon.Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) that the House of Commons should reflect all points of view. No one can be absolutely sure in his or her judgments, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Bean) is entitled to express his view. That is what democracy is about. Differences of opinion are the nature of democracy.

I believe that the 19 nations fully understand the consequences of this action. We shall maintain consensus throughout the action.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Can we return to the subject of the Russians, which I raised yesterday with the Prime Minister? Hon.Members who sat in the previous Parliament will remember our Russian-speaking colleague Harold Elletson. He rang me tonight from Moscow to say that the Duma had passed a resolution not discouraging Russians from going to fight for the Serbs. That is alarming.

Even more alarming, however, are suggestions that Russia is prepared to provide Serbia with a supply of arms. Can we be told, factually, what contact there has been with the Russians, what they have said and how contacts might be maintained?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be well aware that Russia agreed with the Security Council resolution that made it clear that Serbia should desist from its terrible actions. The Russians made it absolutely clear that they thought that Yugoslavia was in breach, and was causing a humanitarian catastrophe. While they have made it clear that they do not agree with bombing, I do not believe that they will support the actions of some of their own people to join the Serb forces. We are doing what we believe to be right.Others must make their judgment. Normal contacts will be maintained with other countries through diplomatic channels, as we would wish.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Can the Deputy Prime Minister assure the House that the actions that have begun have in no way compromised the security of British troops already serving in Bosnia and Macedonia?

The Deputy Prime Minister

We have already made it clear that all necessary measures have been taken to protect NATO troops in neighbouring countries from a possible attack by Yugoslav forces. The Yugoslav Government should understand that any attack on those troops would lead to the most serious consequences. That has been made clear by our military commanders. I hope that the Yugoslays understand fully.

Mr.Peter L.Pike (Burnley)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this House is united in wishing that the action had not been necessary? We all hope that there will be no civilian casualties, but the simple fact is that civilians were dying in Kosovo as a result of the actions of Milosevic. It is therefore clear that the solution to the problem is for Milosevic to sit down and talk now. The sooner he does that, the sooner the action can cease. We would all welcome his decision to do so.

The Deputy Prime Minister

The House will recognise that a real humanitarian catastrophe is evolving in Kosovo. It is estimated that more than 25,000 people have fled their homes since Sunday 21 March and that there are 420,000 refugees in and outside Kosovo. I think that the Yugoslav authorities understand all too well exactly the position that we have taken. We should like to see peace. We should like to see them accept the agreements that were negotiated in France. If they did so, the military action could end, but in the meantime we are not prepared to step aside and let them commit atrocities.

Mr.Michael Colvin (Romsey)

Everyone in this House acknowledges the seriousness of the situation and the heavy burden of responsibility on the shoulders of Her Majesty's Government. At a time when our armed forces are putting their lives at risk, it is necessary to demonstrate solidarity. We wish them well, notwithstanding the reservations that many of us have about this operation. There will be plenty of time to express those reservations tomorrow afternoon during the debate. What will constitute a success in this operation? What will happen if Milosevic does not return to the negotiating table as a result of the air strikes?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's expression of solidarity and support.Of course, these matters are day-to-day judgments, but the objectives of the bombing are clear. They are to curb the ability to attack the people of Kosovo and to disrupt the armed forces of Yugoslavia involved in the violence in Kosovo. We have made it clear that that is the intention of the action that we are taking and we hope that it will have some effect.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

In the interests of balance, will the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledge that one of the reasons for the tremendous suffering and bloodshed in Kosovo in the recent past has been the armed separatist rebellion in the country, and that that is a two-sided, not a one-sided, fight? Given his knowledge and sense of history, will he comment on what the impact on the psyche of the Yugoslav army and people is likely to be of the knowledge that this evening the Luftwaffe, the German air force, is in action over Yugoslav skies — [Interruption.] Hon.Members tut, but hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs were massacred by the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe within the lifetime of Members of this House.

Lastly, with that sense of history and with reference to previous wars that the Deputy Prime Minister has made —and given the widespread unease in the House that this action was easier to start than it will be to finish —would he like to predict whether this will all be over by Christmas?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The House will have heard the comments made by the hon.Member. Some of this inflammatory remarks are not helpful. He refers to history in a limited way. There is a new democratic Germany and it is offering its troops to help save lives in Kosovo. That is a proper democratic objective. I am proud that the Germans have joined in. Nineteen NATO nations have agreed the action and 13 of them, especially Germany, have air forces involved. The House will welcome that. The hon. Gentleman talks of massacres, but many people were being massacred in Kosovo.President Milosevic is the person responsible for those massacres and he is the one who denied autonomy to the people of the area. That is the history of today, not 50 years ago, and the one to which we have to address ourselves.

Rev.Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

We understand the concerns expressed in the House, and I believe that I speak for many people, if not all, in Northern Ireland when I say that we are in sympathy with what has happened.Our prayers are with the naval and air forces that are in action. We trust that there will be no need to engage the Army in any action in future, but when the Secretary of State is giving warnings to Milosevic, will he bear in mind what might happen if Milosevic does not listen? Perhaps, the President is saying the same things in Serbia tonight to rally his people. From our experience during the second world war and recently in Northern Ireland, we all know that bombing does not detract from the courage of the people, but strengthens their endeavour.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I welcome the expression of support given by the hon. Gentleman, as I welcome it from all quarters of the House. Whatever concerns there might be that bombing adds to people's resolve, we shall continue to try to achieve agreement and dialogue between disagreeing parties —as we have done for a long time. Indeed, one party had signed up to the agreement in France, but the other decided not to do so. Whenever there is disagreement, one seeks agreement, and in this case we are not prepared to stand aside and observe the tragic consequences that are unfolding in Kosovo. I think that our action is right and, in the main, that is shown by the consensus among the 19 NATO countries.

Mr. Alan Pilliams (Swansea, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, desirable as the suggested United Nations peace conference might be, it would offer nothing to those helpless people who at this very moment are running ahead of the Serbian tank tracks and trying to hide from their death squads? Although we acknowledge and respect the consciences of our hon. Friends who feel that they cannot support what NATO is doing today, most Members of this House could not live with our consciences if we did not support it.

The Deputy Prime Minister

Again, my right hon. Friend is referring to the point I made earlier about diversity of opinion in the House. All of us who have watched these tragic circumstances evolve —especially when we see those events on television —are often asked to find a balance between practical realities and conscience. The Government have decided to join the other 18 NATO nations to prevent such events from taking place. That is a proper balance and we are right to support it.

Mr.John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Do not our service men over and around Yugoslavia tonight deserve our confidence and our faith rather than our speculations? Will Her Majesty's Government assure the House that they will have the courage to see this matter through until the mission is fully accomplished, namely, that the poor, suffering, oppressed people of Kosovo are granted the opportunity to decide their own political destiny in freedom and in peace?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I agree very much with the political objective expressed by the hon. Gentleman, as will most Members of the House. However, we are discussing the military objectives that we have set. Those objectives are clear —they are to curb Milosevic ability to attack the people of Kosovo, and to disrupt the armed forces of Yugoslavia and their violence in Kosovo. That is a proper military objective which it is to be hoped may lead to the political results described by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although it is important for hon.Members to express their opinions freely, what is important tonight is that a message expressing the full support of this House goes to the service men and women in our armed forces? Is it not a consequence of doing nothing that the slaughter will continue and the pictures on television to which my right hon. Friend refers will get worse and will be shown more frequently? Will there not be dire consequences for the whole region if we do nothing? I assure my right hon. Friend of my full support, and that of most Members of this House, for the actions that have been taken by the Government.

The Deputy Prime Minister

What has been notable and unsurprising is that the fullest support has been expressed on both sides of the House. There is solidarity for our purpose and unity in support of service people. As my hon. Friend says, watching pictures of slaughter on television leads us to think deeply about the actions that we must take. As he rightly points out, history teaches us that there are consequences for the whole region.Perhaps certain historical lessons are clearly in our minds. This action is right; the military objectives are clear and we shall seek to achieve them.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that there are hon.Members on both sides of the House who have serious reservations about the current strategy's potential for success. However, it is undoubtedly true that the best outcome for all is that the current strategy is a success, so now that our armed forces are in action I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that he, as the representative of our Government, and our armed forces and those of our allies have our full support in making a success of the strategy on which the Government have embarked.

The Deputy Prime Minister

Once again, I am grateful for that expression of support. As the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, everyone, whatever view they hold on the matter, feels great concern at this time. We need to give our fullest support, and that support has been offered by hon.Members on both sides of the House. We shall work extremely hard and our armed forces will seek to achieve success in the targets and aims we have set for ourselves.

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

Did my right hon. Friend hear the statement issued tonight by Vuk Draskovic, who is a long-standing political opponent of President Milosevic, stating that the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia will unite all Serbs everywhere in opposing their enemies? Does my right hon. Friend realise that it is now extremely likely that the war in Bosnia will be re-ignited and that Serbs in other parts of the former Yugoslavia will unite? While he is about it, can he explain why British foreign policy towards the Serbs in respect of Kosovo differs from our policy toward the Croats in respect of Krajina, where 280,000 Serbs were ethnically cleansed?

The Deputy Prime Minister

Many lessons of history have been referred to this evening, but we have to deal with what is happening now, which is that Mr.Milosevic is carrying out a policy that is killing thousands of people in a most horrific way.My hon. Friend suggests that Mr. Draskovic —

Mr. Wareing


The Deputy Prime Minister

Whatever his name is, he is not the leader of the opposition, but is a Deputy Prime Minister in the Milosevic Government.

Mr. Wareing

He still opposes him.

The Deputy Prime Minister

If he is a Deputy Prime Minister, he does not oppose, but I shall not get into that argument. Clearly, whatever the history and whatever references to that history my hon. Friend wants to make, an overwhelming catastrophe is taking place in Kosovo and we have decided that we cannot simply sit by and watch. We know who is committing those acts and we have decided to attack military targets in order to curb those people's ability to attack the people of Kosovo. That action is right and that is what we are doing.

Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)

I, too, join hon.Members in expressing support for the service men and for the action that is taking place tonight. We clearly had no choice, and it is clearly the right thing to do.

However, there is a grave danger ahead that the conflict will not be contained. The Deputy Prime Minister has given an account of the Russian response during the past few days, but will he tell the House what has been the Russian Government's response to the attack this evening? Given the historical allying of Russia to Serbia, will the right hon. Gentleman also tell us what the Government's response would be if the Russian Parliament were to sanction volunteers going to Serbia to aid the Serbs? Is it true or not true that aeroplanes found today were bound for Serbia and came from Russia? Finally, will he tell the House whether or not the Security Council is in session, or plans to be in session?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that Russia has made it clear that it disagrees with the action; that is well known and it is an honourable disagreement. However, the Russians did agree with the UN resolution that made it clear that the Serb actions taking place should not take place, which the Yugoslav authorities have totally ignored. The dialogue will continue and we want it to do so. If the Russians have a decision to make on what further actions they should take, we want to discuss that with them, but it is their right to make that decision. We have made ours, and we think that it is absolutely right. It is consistent with the UN resolutions.

As for the reports on the Russian aeroplanes, I do not know a great deal about the matter except that it seems to be clouded in mystery and that people are not too sure exactly what happened. We shall, of course, continue with dialogue and discussion within the UN.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

This is a grave evening and I do not believe that any Member of the House views the events of this evening lightly. Does my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister agree that given the systematic breaking of virtually every commitment and agreement that President Milosevic has previously given, for the international community to do nothing at this stage would be a position wholly lacking in credibility? Does my right hon. Friend agree also that when we are dealing with an evil aggressor, just as in 1939, there comes a point when talking as a means of resolving a conflict is no longer a viable option, and that the decision on when that moment comes is a matter for acute judgment? I believe that the judgment that has been made this evening will be supported by the vast majority of Members and by the vast majority of people in the country.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I believe, like my hon. Friend, that our action is supported overwhelmingly by Members of the House, as we have seen this evening, and by the general public. I believe also that the actions that have been taken by President Milosevic are ones that appal the world, that need to be condemned and that are entirely unacceptable. I further believe that the judgment that we have had to exercise will be shown to be correct. I hope that it will lead to a better situation. At least it offers the people of Kosovo hope of escape from the repression that they now face. That is the least that we can do, that is what we have embarked upon, and I think that it is right to do so.

Madam Speaker

Thank you. We shall be returning to these matters tomorrow.

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