HC Deb 25 March 1999 vol 328 cc536-619

[Relevant documents: Minutes of Evidence taken by the Defence Committee on 24th March (HC 39-vii).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jane Kennedy.]

1.4 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

Let me begin by making an apology. As the House probably knows, I have returned from the Berlin meeting of the European Council on Agenda 2000, which I think was the right thing to do; but we expect the negotiations to continue late into the night, and an RAF plane is on standby to take me back. I hope that the House will understand, given the circumstances, if I cannot stay until the end of the debate.

Last night, NATO air forces commenced strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia, supported by cruise missiles. The whole House will wish to salute the courage and professionalism of the British and allied crews that were in action last night, and will share the relief of their families over the safe return of all allied planes.

When he replies to the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will deal more fully with the details of the military operation. I will open the debate by explaining why that action had become necessary, despite our determined efforts to find a diplomatic solution through negotiation.

The decision to commit service personnel to military action can be taken only with the greatest reluctance. No one in the Government did not want to avoid taking that step; if it had been possible to find a way forward by any alternative avenue, we would not have taken it. It was with regret that we came to the conclusion that there was no longer any alternative. Every member state within NATO came to the same conclusion. The decision to hand over to the NATO commanders the power to initiate air strikes was unanimous.

Last night, eight member states had planes participating in the operation. Others supplied essential back-up. NATO has demonstrated an impressive unity and resolve. Our best prospect of securing our objectives is through maintaining that unity and resolve.

The solid basis for that unity is our common revulsion at the violent repression that we witness in Kosovo. Since March last year, well over 400,000 people in Kosovo have at some point been driven from their homes. That is about a fifth of the total population. In Britain, the equivalent would be over 10 million people. We have seen villages shelled, crops burned and farm animals slaughtered—not for any legitimate military purpose, but as acts of ethnic hatred.

President Milosevic has been given repeated opportunities over that year to demonstrate his willingness to accept any solution that did not require military action. In June last year, he was warned to stop the repression against the civilian population. He did. He stuck to his word for six weeks and then the killing began again in August. In October, he signed up to the Holbrooke package. He agreed to reduce his troops in Kosovo to the level at which they stood before the conflict began; to co-operate with Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe verification monitors and to halt military action. He has broken every one of those undertakings.

President Milosevic not only has more army and security police in and around Kosovo than he is permitted; he has double the number agreed under the Holbrooke terms. At the end of last week, the OSCE was reluctantly forced to withdraw the verification monitors because of its concern for their safety. They were not receiving co-operation from the Belgrade forces. On the contrary, in its place, they were facing increasing intimidation.

Worst of all, the repression in Kosovo has again been resumed. Two months ago at Racak, 45 men, women and children were murdered. They were executed at close range for no other reason than their ethnic identity. In the past few days, another 25,000 refugees have been forced to flee their homes. We have all seen the television shots of homes burning while women and children flee on foot, not knowing where they may find a safe refuge.

I very much regret that the people of Serbia themselves are denied the same opportunity to see those pictures, which provide the truth about what their Government are doing in Kosovo. This week, President Milosevic closed down B92, the last major independent broadcasting station in Belgrade. It is able to re-broadcast to other outlets in Serbia only through an ISDN line supplied and funded by Britain. Journalists from the station who have interviewed me in recent weeks have been arrested, or are hiding in fear of arrest. President Milosevic's repression in Kosovo is paralleled by his suppression of freedom in Serbia.

I understand fully the motivation of those hon. Members who would rather have seen the conflict resolved through dialogue and negotiation. I myself would have preferred that, but it is President Milosevic who has frustrated every attempt to find a solution through dialogue.

It is also President Milosevic who has prevented us from finding a solution through the United Nations. Three times in the past year, we have sponsored resolutions on Kosovo in the Security Council—resolutions that called on President Milosevic to halt the conflict, to pull back his troops and to admit the International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate atrocities. He has responded to none of those resolutions. It is President Milosevic, not NATO, who is challenging the authority of the United Nations.

No nation has done more to seek a peaceful settlement for Kosovo than Britain. It was Britain that convened and chaired the Heathrow meeting of the Contact Group which sent Dick Holbrooke last October with a mandate to negotiate a ceasefire. It was Britain which then made a leading contribution to the verification mission to monitor the supposed ceasefire. It was Britain and France that jointly chaired the peace talks at Rambouillet and in Paris.

As a result of those talks there is a detailed peace plan which is fair to both sides. It would provide Kosovo with its own assembly, president, laws and internal security. It would also provide full protection for the Serb minority within Kosovo, including an elected body to protect and promote their language, religion and curriculum.

We have reached out to both parties to make peace. I am sorry to say that only one party has reached back. The Kosovo Albanians promised at Rambouillet that they would sign the peace accords after consulting their people. When we met at Paris they kept their word. They signed up to the peace accords in full, including the commitment to demilitarisation by the Kosovo Liberation Army. They were willing to compromise in the interests of peace.

I regret to say that the Serb delegation made no attempt at Paris to reach agreement. They took an even harder line than at Rambouillet. My colleague Hubert Védrine and I took the decision last Friday to suspend the talks, because there was no point in prolonging them while the Serb side was not negotiating in good faith.

Even then, it was not the last chance we gave President Milosevic for dialogue. Dick Holbrooke went again to Belgrade on Monday to find if there was any way, even at that eleventh hour, to find a solution through dialogue. When I spoke to him on his return from Belgrade, he told me that he had never found President Milosevic more defiant or less interested in dialogue. President Milosevic even insisted that there was no fighting by Serb forces in Kosovo.

We have tried repeatedly, right up to the last minute, to find a way to halt the repression of Kosovo Albanians through negotiation. It was not possible, and the person who made it impossible was President Milosevic.

We were left with no other way of preventing the present humanitarian crisis from becoming a catastrophe than by taking military action to limit the capacity of Milosevic's army to repress the Kosovo Albanians. We will continue with this action until we secure that objective, but President Milosevic can halt it at any time by signalling that he is willing to pull back his troops, to honour the ceasefire he signed in October and to accept in principle the Rambouillet peace plan.

This morning some of the broadcast media have been interviewing voices from Belgrade complaining about military attacks on Serbia. It would be helpful if, for balance, they also reflected the views of the Kosovo Albanians, who have long been pleading for NATO intervention to halt their villages being assaulted by armoured tanks and heavy artillery.

I defy any hon. Member to meet the Kosovo Albanians, to whom I have talked repeatedly over the past three months, and tell them that we know what is being done to their families; that we see it every night on the television in our own homes; that in the region we have a powerful fleet of allied planes; and yet that, although we know what is happening and have the power to intervene, we have chosen not to do so. Not to have acted, when we knew the atrocities that were being committed, would have been to make ourselves complicit in their repression.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that one of the most warmly greeted statements made by the Deputy Prime Minister last night was the warning to any Serb forces or individual troops who committed atrocities that they would have to account for their actions in a war crime tribunal, no matter how long it took? Would he like to take this opportunity to reinforce that warning and to apply it to President Milosevic himself?

Mr. Cook

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's question. Judge Arbour has again confirmed that the remit of the International War Crimes Tribunal extends to Kosovo. We shall hold personally responsible not just any field commander who is present when his forces carry out atrocities in Kosovo, but their political leaders in Belgrade.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

In addition to that clear and important message, will the Foreign Secretary reinforce the message that was implicit in what he said a moment ago: that the people of Britain and our European sister countries want the people of Yugoslavia to have the same freedom as the Albanians to enjoy what they regard as important in Kosovo? We do not want to deprive them of that. The offer of such a settlement remains on the table today, as it has for the past six months.

Mr. Cook

We have repeatedly told President Milosevic and his Government that we want to find another relationship with Belgrade. If Belgrade changes its politics of repression and ethnic confrontation, we shall be willing to look at ways to build bridges between Serbia and the modern Europe. The tragedy for the people of Serbia is that they can see all the countries on their borders building bridges with Europe. Two of those countries are in the process of accession to full membership of the European Union. Others have developed trade agreements with the European Union. They are all building bridges that are closed to the people of Serbia solely because of the politics of their Government in Belgrade. If that changes, the relationship between Serbia and the rest of Europe can change as well.

The first reason why we took action was that we were aware of the atrocities that had been carried out and we had the capacity to intervene, but that is not the only reason. Our confidence in our peace and security depends on the credibility of NATO. Last October, NATO guaranteed the ceasefire that President Milosevic signed. He has comprehensively shattered that ceasefire. What possible credibility would NATO have next time that our security was challenged if we did not honour that guarantee? The consequences of NATO inaction would be far worse than the result of NATO action.

As a result of NATO's expansion to include Hungary, it has a common border with Serbia. How can we be committed to securing peace and maintaining the stability of NATO's borders while one of our immediate neighbours is conducting a violent military operation?

If we had turned a blind eye to the bloodshed and conflict over the border, the outcome would not have been peaceful. During the past year, President Milosevic has suffered from the delusion that he can defeat the Kosovo Liberation Army by confronting the whole Albanian population. The predictable result has been that the strength of the KLA has grown from a few hundred to more than 20,000. President Milosevic has been its best recruiting sergeant. As a result, the conflict is greater and it would have continued to get worse if we had not intervened to curb President Milosevic.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will my right hon. Friend refer to relations with the Russians? I was talking to The Economist's correspondent in Moscow, Edward Lucas, who asked what would happen to Russian cargo ships or aircraft that might be carrying arms to the Serbs. Are they likely to be intercepted by NATO forces? What is the position of the valuable contacts that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had with the Russians over the Arctic fleet and the millennium bug? Has all that co-operation vanished?

Mr. Cook

I assure my hon. Friend that that contact and co-operation will not come to an end through any wish on our part. I do not believe that there will be any wish for that from the Russian Government. My offer of help with radioactive waste in Murmansk was very warmly received by the authorities there. I am confident that they will want to proceed with what they know is a solution to a pressing problem.

We also maintain regular dialogue with the Russian Government. I was present in Berlin last night when we interrupted our European Council in order that Chancellor Schroder, as President of that Council, could speak on the telephone to Mr. Primakov. Russia has been supportive throughout of our attempts to broker an agreement through negotiation. I regret the fact that we cannot find common cause on the need for military action, but I am absolutely confident that Russia shares our impatience with President Milosevic and that he must bear the main responsibility for the situation in which his country is placed.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I heard on the radio this morning that the Prime Minister had said that he would talk to Prime Minister Primakov today. Given that it is extremely important that we should understand the Russians' sensitivities and do nothing that is too provocative towards them, has the Prime Minister yet had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Primakov, and can the Foreign Secretary report back to us on that conversation?

Mr. Cook

I understand that it has not yet been possible to make the arrangements for that call, but I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last night that we should seek to maintain the dialogue with Mr. Primakov as a matter of urgency. I will also seek to speak to my opposite number, the Russian Foreign Minister. We are very anxious to maintain dialogue.

I want to take this opportunity to respond to a point that I neglected when I replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I am confident that the Russian Government will not seek to break the United Nations arms embargo on Serbia. I know that voices have been raised in Russia urging that; but as yet we have had no suggestion from the Russian Government that they intend to supply arms to Serbia, and I do not expect that they will do so. We will certainly want to confirm that when we speak to the Russians.

If we had not acted now, we would have been obliged to act in the future when the situation had become worse. If the situation had deteriorated and the conflict had continued, it would have spilled over into the neighbouring countries, at which point NATO would have been forced to act, but in more difficult and more dangerous circumstances.

We have withdrawn all our diplomatic and other Government personnel from Yugoslavia, and for some time we have warned all other British nationals to leave. There are several thousand British service personnel deployed elsewhere in the region, in Bosnia and in Macedonia. I repeat to the House the clear warning given by the Prime Minister, that any action that targets those personnel will be met with a response that will be swift and severe.

Responsibility for the present position lies squarely with President Milosevic.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Article 51 of the United Nations charter says that any nation that is attacked has the right of self-defence. Was the statement that my right hon. Friend has just made intended to contradict the legal right of Yugoslavia, under bombardment, to defend itself?

Mr. Cook

Certainly not. The statement that I have made is fully in line with article 51: if our troops are attacked, we will employ self-defence to protect them. We are acting clearly on the legal principle that the action is justified to halt a humanitarian catastrophe.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)


Mr. Cook

I will not give way again, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

There is a pressing need to stop the crisis. The best way in which President Milosevic can halt further attacks on Serbia and on his forces is by halting the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo for which he is responsible.

This is not the first humanitarian crisis for which President Milosevic is responsible. In the early 1990s, he was at war first with Slovenia and then with Croatia. The massacres at Vukovar and the merciless bombardment of Dubrovnik were representative of a war driven by ethnic hatred. In the mid-1990s, Milosevic was the prime player in the war in Bosnia which gave our language the hideous term, "ethnic cleansing". Only after three years of fighting, in which a quarter of a million people were killed, did NATO find the resolve to use force.

It is President Milosevic's brand of ethnic confrontation that has brought a decade of violence and suffering to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Dafis


Mr. Cook

I said that I would not give way again. Others want to speak in this debate.

Now we are seeing exactly the same pattern of ethnic violence being replayed in Kosovo. The same reports have emerged this week of masked paramilitaries, separating the men of the village from the women and children. We now know what happened next when that happened at Srebrenica—all the men were massacred. We cannot allow the same tragedy to be repeated before us again in Kosovo. That is why our service personnel were ordered to take action last night, and that is why the House should back our resolve to halt any more ethnic cleansing being imposed by President Milosevic.

1.25 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

The House meets today against a sombre background. The decision to send our young men and women into action is a most awesome responsibility. No one who has taken part in a Cabinet decision to authorise military action, as I have, can be insensitive to the difficult judgments that have to be made. No burden on Government is more onerous.

This is also a sombre occasion for the House. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear on Tuesday, we support the Government's action. I know that the House will be united in its wholehearted support for the men and women who are taking part in the perilous action with skill, courage and great devotion to duty; for those who are backing them up, both in the area and at home; and for the families of those whose lives are at risk. Of course, we all share the relief the Foreign Secretary expressed that all our planes returned safely last night. But this House is an assembly of free men and women—it is not a rubber stamp. There are anxieties, concerns and doubts in all parts of the House, and they must be listened to with respect.

I believe that the action that has been taken is consistent with the requirements of a just war. There can be no doubt that what we have seen in Kosovo is a humanitarian crisis. We have seen it developing, growing and worsening for many months.

Who can forget the sight of families fleeing for their lives, their homes and villages razed to the ground? Who can forget the misery of those who have seen their loved ones brutally murdered? Who can forget the television pictures of massacres, such as that at Racak? There is a danger that statistics may mask the reality of the human suffering, but the facts are stark.

Since fighting broke out in Kosovo last year, more than 2,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. Relief agencies—who themselves have carried out their work tirelessly under impossible conditions—estimate that at least 25,000 Kosovar Albanians have fled in the last few days alone. They have done so in response to wave after wave of brutal aggression.

There are those who say that despite that aggression, despite the crimes against humanity that have been committed and despite the untold human misery that we have witnessed, NATO and the west should have stood by. I am not one of them. However, there are serious questions raised that merit a clear and comprehensive answer.

One of the requirements of a just war is that the suffering that is an inevitable consequence of military action should be less than the suffering that that action prevents. I have not been made privy to the detailed assessments of the matter, which NATO will doubtless have made—nor would I expect to have been. However, it is reasonable to assume—and I hope that I am right in assuming—that over the months that have been marked by a series of threats of such action, that careful assessment has been made of the consequences.

I have been critical in the past of the way in which those threats have not been followed through. Today is not the occasion to repeat those criticisms—sorely tempted as I was by the self-congratulatory tone of the Foreign Secretary's account of the diplomatic history of these matters.

There can be no doubt that last night's action was the product of lengthy planning and preparation. It must, too, have been the product of careful assessment, part of which will have included answers to the questions put from different quarters of the House last night and earlier in the week about what will happen after the bombing has stopped. I do not ask for detailed answers to those questions today. However, some matters appear to be clear, and I should be grateful if the Defence Secretary would confirm my understanding of them when he winds up.

First, the dispatch of troops to Macedonia some weeks ago was carried out with the declared intention of entering Kosovo in order to keep a peace that had already been made and of enforcing a ceasefire that had already been agreed. That is a very different proposition from having troops fight their way into Kosovo to impose a peace that has not been made and a ceasefire that has not been put in place.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made it clear on Tuesday that the support that he was expressing did not extend to that situation. The Foreign Secretary appeared to agree on the "Today" programme this morning that there was no question of our troops being used to fight their way in. I hope that the Defence Secretary will confirm that that is indeed the position.

My right hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the Opposition asked last night whether clear criteria had been drawn up under which the success of the action would be measured. He did not ask for those criteria to be identified, and nor do I. However, I repeat his request for an assurance that criteria have been drawn up and will be used to assess the success of the action that is taking place. In due course, once the action has finished, we expect an honest report on those criteria, and on the extent to which they have been met.

Many questions have been raised about the legal basis for NATO's action. Those questions are serious, and they require comprehensive answers. Is it the Government's view that the relevant resolutions of the Security Council—resolutions 1160, 1199 and 1203—provide a sufficient legal base for the NATO action? Or do the Government contend that there exists in international law a general right to intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe? Is it their view that the action breaks new ground in international law?

It is extremely important to be clear about these important questions. On "Newsnight" last night, the Minister of State went so far as to suggest that there is in international law an obligation to intervene to prevent humanitarian disasters.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

A moral obligation.

Mr. Howard

The Minister did not use that word last night. If that is the Government's view, then I can only say that the obligation has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. I hope that we shall hear a clear view from the Defence Secretary on whether or not that is the Government's view.

What is the Government's view of the observations of the Secretary-General of the United Nations? Is it the case, as reported in this morning's newspapers, that at the European Union Council in Berlin, references to endorsing the military action that has taken place were removed from a statement at the request of Austria, Sweden, Finland and Ireland? It is of the utmost importance that we have answers to those questions, and the greatest possible clarity in explaining and establishing the basis on which the Government contend that NATO's action is lawful.

I hope, too, that it will be possible for the Secretary of State for Defence to tell us more about events on the ground today in Kosovo. What reports are there of action by the Serb forces? Have there been further attacks on Kosovo Albanians, their villages and homes?

I believe that the whole House shares the hope that sooner rather than later, the Government of Yugoslavia will cease their oppression of the Kosovo Albanians and return to the conference table. The Rambouillet proposals were fair to all parties. As we know, they have been accepted by the Kosovo Albanians, although they fell far short of their ambitions. They should be accepted too by Mr. Milosevic. That would enable the action to be brought to an end without further suffering or casualties, without the further use of force. If the action continues, I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Secretary of State for Defence that he will continue to keep the House informed. In the absence of an acceptance by Mr. Milosevic that the repressive action by the Serbs against the Kosovo Albanians must immediately end, the Opposition support the Government in the action that they have taken.

1.36 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

It is already clear that solemn though the language of the debate is, it is inadequate to meet the gravity of the circumstances. When we express support for our armed services, as I suspect every hon. Member would wish to, none of us should underestimate the possibility—some would say likelihood—of casualties, both civilian and military. It is a grave and solemn thing to send young men and women to war. Those in the House who oppose the action that has been taken should understand that those of us who support it do so in the full and certain knowledge of the depth of responsibility that we ask our armed forces to accept.

In the comfort of the television studio or the safety of the House of Commons, it is all too easy to underestimate the unmitigated horror of modern warfare. However, it is just as easy to underestimate the distress and suffering of the people of Kosovo, shelled out of their homes, their possessions looted and burned, and their lives traumatised by the relentless and unforgiving brutality of the forces under the command of Mr. Milosevic.

Some people in the House implacably oppose military action by NATO.

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

I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman feels the same anxiety about the action taken by President Tudjman when Croatian forces drove 280,000 Serbs out of the Krajina. Those who survived the journey are refugees. Would he prescribe the bombardment of Zagreb? If not, what is the difference, because the Serbs believe that that is important?

Mr. Campbell

It is well known that the hon. Gentleman has a particular standpoint in relation to Serbia.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

Answer the question.

Mr. Campbell

I will, but it is right that we should understand the standpoint of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing). At the time, my party, and particularly its leader, condemned what happened to the people in the Krajina. We consistently condemned the atrocities of both sides in Bosnia. We take no lessons on consistency on the problems of the Balkans from any party or hon. Member. Now let me get on.

Some people in the House implacably oppose military action by NATO. Some implacably oppose military action of any kind. Some opposed it in the Gulf war and some have opposed it in relation to Iraq since then. That is an understandable and entirely respectable position. However, I feel bound to observe that their case would be strengthened if their condemnation of Mr. Milosevic's actions were as vehement as their criticism of NATO. They say that there should still be negotiations. In response, I ask two questions: how long must negotiations last before it becomes clear that they are pointless, and what trust can we have in a Government who preach the virtue of negotiation while brutally persisting in a scorched earth policy in Kosovo?

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)


Mr. Campbell

Forgive me, I must make some progress.

Kofi Annan said last February, when he returned from Baghdad in the understanding that he had reached an agreement with Saddam Hussein—an understanding that proved to be ill-founded—that diplomacy works. However, diplomacy works best when it is supported by the credible threat of force.

Mr. Dalyell

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has posed two questions, may I put one to him? When has bombing by itself, without the use of ground troops, had the kind of success that many of us desire?

Mr. Campbell

Before the creation of the Dayton peace accord, there was a four-day campaign of air strikes on Bosnia of an intensity that had not been seen since the Gulf war. That campaign was instrumental in persuading the parties that it was better to seek a peaceful solution than to continue with the aggression and the warfare that had characterised their relations for five or six years. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that bombing, of itself, is not a policy, he is entitled to that view. Indeed, it is a view that I share—and I shall tell him why in a little more detail in due course.

If we say that diplomacy works best when it is supported by the credible threat of force, the logic of that position dictates that, when diplomacy fails, we must be willing to contemplate the use of force. No one could claim in this case that there was a rush to judgment in deciding on military action—indeed, some hon. Members believe that the Government have been dilatory in these matters. No one could claim that due warning was not given of the likely consequences.

We must ask ourselves: why are we here? We are here because of a humanitarian tragedy that has arisen not by accident of nature, but as a result of the persistent and calculated actions of Serbian forces in deliberately targeting ethnic Albanian citizens. That is what brings us here—that and Mr. Milosevic's refusal to agree to a settlement on the grounds that a NATO-led force could not be allowed to supervise such a settlement. That force would have the purpose not simply of protecting Kosovo Albanians and ensuring the implementation of the agreement, but of protecting those 5 per cent. of Kosovo inhabitants who are of Serbian origin and who need protection as well.

There need be no more bombs and cruise missiles: Mr. Milosevic has it within his power to bring the operations to an end. That is an end game to which I hope that all will willingly sign up. I believe that the behaviour of the Milosevic Government is such as to remove their moral right to govern Kosovo on the basis of a 5 per cent. Serbian population and its historical associations for the Serbs.

Kofi Annan said last night that these matters are the primary responsibility of the United Nations. That is certainly true, but they are not the exclusive responsibility of the United Nations. International law existed before the United Nations. I shall outline what I believe to be the factors that, taken together, justify the intervention. First, the clear purpose of the intervention is to halt the deliberate policy of systematic and brutal ethnic cleansing which is a clear breach of human rights.

The second factor is that the consequences of that policy are potentially destabilising to the region, with an inevitable and increased loss of life. The third factor is that every effort has been made to achieve a solution by negotiation; there has indeed been exhaustive diplomacy. The action that is taking place is consistent with United Nations purposes as set out in article 1 of the charter. Those who are familiar with the article will recall that it provides To maintain international peace and security, and to that end to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace and the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace. The action is consistent with article 1, but it is also consistent with resolution 1199 where the Security Council expressed itself as gravely concerned about the excessive and indiscriminate use of force by Serbian security forces and Deeply concerned also by reports of increasing violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law. The Security Council called on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to cease all action by the security forces affecting the civilian population and order the withdrawal of security units used for civilian repression. In resolution 1203 the Security Council stated that it was Deeply concerned at the recent closure by the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia of independent media outlets in the Federal Republic. That policy at least seems to be consistently applied. The resolution also stated that the Security Council was deeply alarmed and concerned at the continuing grave humanitarian situation throughout Kosovo and the impending humanitarian catastrophe, and re-emphasising the need to prevent this from happening. It demanded immediate action from the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Albanian leadership to co-operate with international efforts to improve the humanitarian situation and to avert the impending humanitarian catastrophe. That, in sharp language, sets out the obligations that those Security Council resolutions created and which have been breached in their entirety by the Milosevic Government.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that resolution 1199 did not give explicit authorisation for the use of force? It merely stated that the Security Council decided should the concrete measures demanded in this resolution and resolution 1160 (1998) not be taken, to consider further action and additional measures to maintain or restore peace and stability in the region. The question must arise as to why that further action has not been taken by NATO.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman is correct. The resolution does not give explicit authority. I am endeavouring to set out the fact that the finding of authority need not be confined explicitly to resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. I have set out a number of criteria against which the intervention falls to be measured. One of those criteria is that the intervention is consistent, as I said, with both resolution 1199 and resolution 1203. As far as we are aware, the action is consistent and requires to remain consistent with the law of armed conflict—namely, that only minimum force is entitled to be used.

Furthermore, the intervention is consistent with article 52 of the charter, which provides that regional organisations such as NATO have a role, and that their role is authorised as long as their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. Article 52 states: Nothing in the Present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action, provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. In my judgment, it is clear beyond any question that there is adequate legal justification for the action that has been taken.

Let those who say, "This is a sovereign country in whose affairs we should never intervene," ask themselves this question: suppose the action of repression consisted of the use of biological weapons, which had the potential not only to achieve the mass destruction of the people of Kosovo, but to spill over into other countries. Could we still argue that there was no authority for intervention to inhibit and prevent action of that sort? We could not. I submit that that is clear corroboration of the justification for intervention in the current case.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that for those of us who come to the view that the action can be supported only reluctantly, not least because it is the first time in our lifetime that we have acted against another European country, the other justification to add to the legal ones is that it is the common view of all the democratic partners in the regional organisation to which he refers that, in the interests of our continent and its peace, it is necessary to support the people of Yugoslavia against a Government who are interested in repressing them and their liberties, not defending them?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. That is a speech, not an intervention.

Mr. Campbell

My hon. Friend has made his point and it is well worth making.

The Government's military aim has been adequately set out both by the Foreign Secretary and by the Secretary of State for Defence elsewhere, but there is as yet no clear political aim. I suggest to the Government that that clear political aim should be to damage the military infrastructure on which the Milosevic regime is based, to an extent that that regime is no longer willing to tolerate that damage and is persuaded—even compelled—to return to negotiation. If we are to achieve a stable and durable solution, that can best be achieved by the creation of a protectorate—

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

Ah, ground troops—half a million should do it.

Mr. Campbell

The right hon. Gentleman need not become over-exercised—I shall come to his point in a moment. The optimum outcome would be one that was achieved by negotiation, but if negotiation were to prove unsuccessful, we would be bound to consider other means at that stage.

It is wrong to say that we would never consider further military action, because we cannot predict the conditions or the circumstances of the time. One would want to take into account the extent of possible opposition, the likely effectiveness of opposition forces, the possible or probable levels of casualties on both sides, the availability of forces to carry out the task, and the political cohesion of the allies. If those factors sound familiar, they should: they are precisely the considerations that arose during the Gulf war when, despite all predictions to the contrary, the issue of going beyond the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait and going on to Baghdad arose as a serious one for consideration by the allies. The decision on that occasion is known, but it was for consideration at the time, not by reference to a prescriptive position adopted in advance.

For any Government, military action is a serious test of political will. Perhaps the most serious test of political will facing those who embark on military action is to sustain that will if things go wrong, as they assuredly may. As long as the Government continue to display the political will that has lain behind the decision to commit British forces in the current circumstances, they can rely on our support.

1.54 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was right to return from Berlin for this debate. He will have been told about the response of the House to yesterday's statement and he will have judged from the comments today that there is at least this consensus in the House: we all recognise the gravity of the situation; we are all concerned about the safety of our troops and those of our allies; and we all recognise the enormous uncertainties.

There was—on this point perhaps, I part company with some hon. Members in our democracy—a certain inevitability in the move towards war once President Milosevic had rejected the deal that was on offer at Rambouillet and Paris. The reluctance to move towards war was demonstrated by this week's final attempt to find a solution and to issue a final warning to President Milosevic, who showed Mr. Holbrooke that he was still obdurate.

Why is there uncertainty? It is partly because of the recognition on both sides of the House that there is a lot of history in the Balkans; some may say that there is too much history in the Balkans. During the second world war, the Serbs were our allies. They had a magnificent role in fighting against the Nazis, while some who are now our allies were ready to collude with the Nazis at that time. The Serbs know the terrain; they have high morale; and they are united.

The uncertainty is due also to the recognition that bombs do not bring peace; but there is no consensus among our allies for ground troops to be committed to the quagmire and minefield of the Balkans. That was dramatically demonstrated in the United States, when the Senate only just voted—by 58 votes to 41—in favour of air strikes. There is no serious prospect of the US committing ground troops to the area, save after an agreement and only to underpin any such agreement. All our allies would display the same reluctance to commit ground troops.

There is recognition also of the great collateral political damage that will have been caused, not only to Montenegro, which was separating itself in part from President Milosevic and Serbia, but, more important, to relations with Russia. The Contact Group's consensus and political unity with Russia, which was acting alongside NATO, has been a great prize, and it is sad that we have forfeited that prize as a result of the bombing. We naturally understand the sensitivities in the Duma and why Premier Primakov has to freeze relations with NATO.

If some in Russia now threaten to break the embargo, however, we must ask whether they have already done so in part, and I cite the example of the Russian aircraft that was stopped in Azerbaijan two or three days ago. By breaking the embargo, they would wholly undermine the principled position that they purported to take at the Security Council of the United Nations, because they would be breaching a UN embargo. The collateral political damage must be put in the balance.

There is recognition also of the danger of mission creep and, because the area is so combustible, the danger of other states, including some of our NATO allies, being engulfed.

The problem that we must all also recognise is that, when the conflict ends, it may not be possible to re-establish the status quo ante. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister say yesterday that the Rambouillet package is still on the table, but that assumes a willingness on the part of the Serbs and Albanian Kosovars to live together in a new Kosovo. After the ethnic cleansing and Serbian heavy armour bombardments, which has destroyed villages, does anyone seriously expect people to live together in an autonomous Kosovo? That is very unlikely.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

May I raise with the hon. Gentleman an issue that, surprisingly, has not so far been mentioned in the debate? Many fear that the bombing will enrage the Serbs and encourage them to retaliate on a large scale against the Kosovars. The issue has been raised by a Kosovar journalist in The Guardian today. He says that, unless ground troops are committed, there will be no way of averting a humanitarian catastrophe.

Mr. Anderson

That is part of the high-risk operation, but in spite of it, the Foreign Secretary and his NATO allies were right to go in.

Why do I say that? We must all recognise that President Milosevic was offered an excellent deal at Rambouillet. He would have retained the integrity of Yugoslavia; sanctions against his country would have been progressively reduced; and he would have secured protection of the Serb minority in Kosovo. All that, and the possibility of a new chapter in the relationship between Yugoslavia and Europe—our Europe—has been undermined as a result of his intransigence.

How do we justify the bombing, with all its high risks? As the Foreign Secretary has underlined, the very credibility of NATO was at stake. Having huffed and puffed and given so many final warnings, we would have been incredible, as we would on any future occasion on which NATO sought to threaten other countries, if we had crept away in the face of the very clear evidence of further bombing and further ethnic cleansing. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the remarkable unity not only in NATO, including the three new members since 12 March, but among other countries that have suffered from the Balkan tragedy, such as Romania, which has shown total support for the action.

I will not go over the criteria of the just war theme in detail, but the cause is just on humanitarian grounds. It is absolutely clear that the Government and our NATO allies had exhausted all other means. The action has limited aims and methods. International law has moved on from when we said that the integrity of sovereign states was sacrosanct. That disappeared, or was at least diminished, with the formulation of the universal declaration of human rights. The matter was taken further following the Helsinki process in 1975, and recently with the development of the doctrine—not obligation—of intervention due to an imminent or actual humanitarian catastrophe.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)


Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)


Mr. Anderson

I shall give way only to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), as many other hon. Members want to speak.

Mr. Gill

The hon. Gentleman is talking about the humanitarian tragedies around the world. Why does this one deserve the intervention of NATO? Other tragedies are being played out in Africa, and elsewhere, on which western nations are apparently neutral.

Mr. Anderson

I shall answer that intervention head on. Of course there is morality in a humanitarian response. Of course we can be faulted for not intervening in other areas, such as Rwanda, where, between April and June 1994, 750,000 or 1 million people were massacred in a genocide. Perhaps we can be faulted for that, but, in the murky world of international relations, we must consider not only morality, but our interests. In this case, in our Europe, our interests are mightily involved because, as was said earlier, Hungary, which is now a member of NATO, borders Yugoslavia, and because we have the problem of more than a million refugees in our Europe already.

Mr. Blunt


Mr. Anderson

No, I will not give way.

There is a real danger not only of the conflict spreading to the immediately neighbouring countries, one by one, but of Greece and Turkey, our allies, being brought in. Therefore our interests are mightily involved. I believe that the combination of our interests and morality justifies the intervention. That is the background.

The dangers, of course, are clear. It is, at one level, an intervention in a civil war. When one intervenes in a civil war, one intervenes on one side. We must be clear and warn the Kosovar Albanians that they should not take advantage of the damage to the military assets of the Serbs.

Of course the situation is murky. We must stress the limited nature of our aims. With all the high risks involved, I believe that this limited operation is, indeed, justified. However, we should beware of dressing up our aims too much in absolutist terms, as there would then be a danger of our being drawn along the road to using ground troops and to a much wider intervention.

We must stress that we will keep open all lines of communication between us and President Milosevic, and we must be ready to respond when there are serious signs of flexibility on his part. We should respond on a basis of principle and we should do so with caution, because of the past form, past actions and past prevarication of President Milosevic.

2.7 pm

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I apologise to the Foreign Secretary and to the House for the fact that I was not able to be present at the start of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. No discourtesy was intended.

I join right hon. and hon. Members in recognising the manifest gravity of the situation that we face. I well understand the strong feelings in all parts of the House. I have lived through earlier debates of this kind. Strong feelings have been evident on those occasions too, sometimes evoked by the same right hon. and hon. Members as on this occasion.

Listening to recent broadcasts and hearing the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the noble Lord Healey making common cause on the matter reminded one how, on other issues, unexpected alliances may form, as similar criticisms are expressed.

I paid tribute to the Prime Minister for his statement which, by its clarity, conveyed to the House how grave the situation is and how dangerous the consequences could be. He said that the consequences of the action that he had authorised on behalf of the Government and the country could be extremely serious for our country. He added that the consequences of not acting could be more serious still. That is indeed the case.

I was struck by the comments of other speakers in the debate about the spillover which could flow from those actions. I was interested to read in the newspaper this morning that Secretary-General Solana had offered a security assurance to Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Albania and Macedonia that, if they were attacked as a consequence of the position that they adopted on the matter, NATO would come to their assistance. I am not sure whether that report is accurate, but it is a significant and crystal clear indication of how wide the implications of this action might be and how serious its consequences could be.

It is never easy to act. Comments and speeches similar to those that have been made recently were made before the Gulf war and before the Falklands events, and I could certainly make as powerful a speech as many right hon. and hon. Members on all the dangers and difficulties of the action that the Government have taken. I recognise the difficulty that the Government are experiencing, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, are also exercised over the legal basis of this action.

One of the features of the actions that we were able to take during the liberation of Kuwait was that, for the first time, the UN Security Council was able to act with full authority. The Security Council actually worked, because those events coincided with a period of paralysis during the transition of the Soviet Union into Russia. We did not face the prospect of the paralysis of the UN, which we had faced for the previous 45 years; whenever difficult issues arose in client countries of one bloc or another, the UN was powerless to act.

I say with great sadness that we appear to moving back to a situation in which the UN, in the Security Council, is not able to speak with the clarity that many believe a humanitarian crisis demands. Such a situation did not exist during the Gulf war.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said that the European Union summit meeting communiqué has been withdrawn and that certain countries have dissociated themselves from these actions. I do not want to make a political point, but it is worth noting that those of us who have been concerned about a common foreign and defence policy being initiated under the authority of the European Union can see very clearly from that illustration why it is important to keep authority for defence policy out of the European Union. I listened for the names of those countries carefully; certainly three of them are neutral and they would be faced with problems in this sort of situation.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

My right hon. Friend has made the extremely important point that the United Nations works effectively only when one of the great powers, as in the Korean war, happens to be out of the field. The other side of that coin is that the veto powers were given to the great nations when the UN charter was drawn up, after careful thought, precisely to ensure that action would never be taken in the name of the UN which threatened the fundamental interests of a great power. That is one of the dangers today. Russia sees its interests as being threatened by an organisation whose actions are not fully endorsed by the UN itself.

Mr. King

I do not want to get into the territory of a discussion about the enlargement of NATO and the fears of Russia. However, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said, although the permanent members of the UN Security Council—the great powers—have the power of veto and are able to block action, in no humanitarian catastrophe, no matter how great, should the world have to accept that it is paralysed. NATO is the only organisation with the power and effectiveness to act, to try to correct a totally intolerable situation, and the judgment of the vast majority of Members of the House is that we face such a situation now.

The interesting discussion about the lack of UN authority for the use of force extends to Operation Provide Comfort. I was involved in the arrangements for providing air cover and the prohibition of the flying of Iraqi aircraft over northern Iraq. Hon. Members will remember the pictures of the hundreds of thousands of Kurds on the mountain tops, freezing to death as they were pursued and persecuted by Saddam Hussein. During the follow-on actions at the end of the Gulf war, after Kuwait had been liberated, we imposed a no-fly zone for Iraqi aircraft and helicopter gunships. We did not have specific authority from the UN, but we acted under resolution 688, which appeals to all Member States … to contribute to these humanitarian relief efforts", and insists that Iraq allow immediate access by international humanitarian organisations to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq". That operation has continued, without specific authorisation under the UN. Its conduct has been justified on the basis that it is implementing the humanitarian objectives of that UN resolution.

Mr. Alan Clark

Operation Provide Comfort was, within its own definition, a successful affair, but surely it is not correct to infer from that that an extended authority to bomb the civilian population of another sovereign country—in order to alleviate the suffering of civilians in that same sovereign country—is in any way parallel, or can in any way be justified, on the basis of humanitarian aid.

Mr. King

May I go on to say what I believe is the objective of this exercise, which may help my right hon. Friend? It is the degrading of military assets. He was a Minister with me in the Ministry of Defence at that time and he will recall that our planes, which were providing air cover over northern Iraq, were instructed to shoot down any Iraqi planes and to destroy any Iraqi weaponry that was used, either on the ground or in the air, to persecute the Kurds. Our planes were bombing military assets, if necessary, in northern Iraq. There is, perhaps, more of a parallel than he may have recognised.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)


Mr. King

May I make a little progress? I do not want to take too much time.

The example of northern Iraq leads me to my next point. I hear the facile statement that air power can never work and we are bound to need ground troops. We did not need ground troops in northern Iraq. I visited Operation Provide Comfort, which was a spectacular success, and we had one Royal Marine commando helping to provide humanitarian relief. Médecins sans Frontières was operating there as well. There was no Iraqi Government presence because the area was occupied by ground troops—Kurdish Peshmerga, who had a level playing field because they were not facing Iraqi air power and helicopter gunships or the sort of oppression that they had not been able to resist previously.

What interests me about Kosovo is the future situation on the ground. Degrading the military assets, capability and resources of the Yugoslav army—and, therefore, its ability to oppress the people in Kosovo—raises the question of how the Kosovo Liberation Army will react and what its activities will be if it has rather greater freedom of manoeuvre. I repeat the call made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East for restraint by the KLA, which is very important. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will support that.

If the KLA seeks to exploit what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife yesterday referred to as the semi-protectorate situation that will exist, the arguments for the action that the Government have taken will become extremely difficult to sustain. That action may be considered merely to have presented an opportunity for another side to oppress and to score some points in return. In such circumstances, subject to the position on the ground, air power can make a contribution.

I should make one further point, in parenthesis, before returning to my key plea to the Government. When the Prime Minister made his statement, I raised the question of support for our armed forces. I am seriously worried, because it is not sufficient to say in the House how splendid our armed forces are and how proud we are of them, unless we accompany those tributes with support. Our armed forces must have confidence that they will be supported. One of the features of the conflicts in the Falklands and in the Gulf was that the forces we put on the ground had the fullest possible support for the task that they had to undertake. I am worried about the overstretch that our forces will now face. The Prime Minister said that he was confident that our contribution could be sustained. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State for Defence would explain to the House how that will be achieved. To all other observers, it seems that we are facing an unsustainable situation.

The Government's action was the least worst of the alternatives. Having committed our forces to this action, they are entitled to support, provided that our forces know that there is an end objective. The objective must be to keep the political track open. We must continue to repeat the message that that opportunity for negotiation is available and that the bombing need not continue. The offensive need not be sustained, provided President Milosevic responds to the approaches that have been made to him.

If those approaches are to be successful, they must be accompanied by a communications offensive in Yugoslavia. I was struck by something that I heard on the radio this morning. Someone who was interviewed in the street said that he did not know who to be more angry with, Mr. Milosevic or NATO. The challenge for the Government and for NATO is to ensure that people are more angry with Mr. Milosevic over the present events in Yugoslavia and Kosovo. If we win that battle, that—perhaps more than the bombs and the offensive—may persuade Mr. Milosevic to change his mind about the disastrous course on which he is embarked.

Some of us recently met the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton, when he was in London for NATO's 50th anniversary. He said last night at the Pentagon press conference that he was still hopeful that Milosevic would take the peaceful route. I do not know on what intelligence or better information that hope is based, but it must be the hope of all of us in the House. With maximum persuasion not just of President Milosevic, but of the people of Yugoslavia, I hope that that can be achieved.

2.22 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Nothing I am about to say excuses Milosevic, Tudjman and many other people involved in hideous acts of ethnic cleansing and attacks on populations who cannot defend themselves. However, I want to begin by pointing out that the former Yugoslavia was destroyed from outside, not from inside.

First, the former Yugoslavia was destroyed economically and politically. It was destroyed economically because of the requirement of international financial institutions that debts should be repaid to international banks at all costs, despite massive deprivation, problems with communication, agriculture and employment, and divisions between different areas of Yugoslavia because of those massive economic pressures. Its Government were obliged by the terms of the International Monetary Fund and others to cut social expenditure to meet their requirements.

The Yugoslavian tragedy is that the country has been placed in a position similar to many African nations. Almost all the tragedies in Africa are associated with similar economic conditions and backgrounds. Only a few nations, such as Tanzania, that have had considerable international debt have been able to avoid break-up and conflict such as occurred in Yugoslavia.

Secondly, the former Yugoslavia was destroyed from outside by the German-inspired recognition of the secession of two of the richest republics in Yugoslavia: Slovenia and Croatia. The recognition of Slovenia and Croatia and the conflicts that followed led to the crisis in Bosnia. We must recognise the background to the present situation for which the world community has a serious responsibility.

Mr. Gill

Is not the significance of the German recognition of those two states the fact that it happened at a time when the European Union was talking seriously about a common foreign policy? That shows that when national interests come into play, some countries will break away from the common approach and take action that proves to be damaging to the general good of the European political scene.

Mr. Barnes

I realise that the Conservative Government had some responsibility for agreeing to those arrangements and to that recognition. They responded to those pressures, and did not take action to try to sustain the position of Yugoslavia, to rebuild it and to encourage multi-ethnic links.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Barnes

I want to make some progress.

The economic and political circumstances that I have described enabled Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic to play the ethnic card. The horrors that we have witnessed are their responsibility and that of others involved in this terrible conflict. That card is now being played in the Serbian-KLA conflict in Kosovo.

Mr. Tyrie

The hon. Gentleman seems to have completely missed the most important cause of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, which was the rise of Serbian nationalism driven by Milosevic. Milosevic initiated Serbian nationalism in a dispute in Kosovo, and that subsequently led him into ill judged military adventures in Croatia. The idea that the IMF or Germany alone were largely responsible for the collapse of the former Yugoslavia misses the key ingredient, which was Serbian nationalism led by Milosevic.

Mr. Barnes

My argument is that Serbian nationalism led by Milosevic was a key element in the conflict, but the circumstance that allowed him to play the ethnic card was the collapse of Yugoslavia through the economic and political pressures from outside its borders. That in no way excuses Milosevic. For a long period, the political leaders of Yugoslavia had not played the ethnic card: there was considerable pressure during the time of Tito and others not to do so. When the circumstances changed, Milosevic used it—initially in Kosovo. He met Serbs in Kosovo and gave in to the pressure. He later went to rallies where he played the ethnic card and has used it since in the most terrible way. He is utterly to be condemned.

However, we should not ignore the background to the collapse of the former Yugoslavia or deny our responsibility for it. If we do so, we shall be ignoring the fact that international action must be taken to ensure that such conflicts are removed from the world and other opportunities are advanced.

Dr. Starkey

If my hon. Friend is implying that western nations have responsibility for this situation, does that not make the argument even stronger that we should now intervene to stop the current undoubted humanitarian crisis?

Mr. Barnes

I suggest that my hon. Friend should wait to hear my conclusions. She may be somewhat surprised by them.

Once the conflict had broken out between Croatia and the Serb paramilitary forces, it was difficult to find a means of preventing or containing ethnic cleansing from outside—although I noted the earlier observation by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), on Krajina, that we might have been able to act against Croatia to that end. Two considerable powers were in conflict, both receiving logistic and political support locally that squeezed out those who were trying to establish peace and reconciliation. It was necessary to resort to different areas for defence.

In such circumstances, international intervention was awkward, although many brave people in the wider Yugoslavia stood up to press for peace and reconciliation. In the early days of the conflict, a "peace caravan" travelled through Croatia and Serbia. It was similar to the "peace train" that travels between Northern Ireland and the Republic in a bid to end paramilitary activities in that island.

When the conflict reached Bosnia it was three-sided, and it had changed in logistical terms. The paramilitary groups belonging to the Muslim forces were weaker, and were in defensive positions. I felt that effective external action could have been taken then, but it was not taken until late in the day. At the time, I advocated the use of United Nations forces in Bosnia to block the entry of Serbian and Croatian military supplies, which I thought would ease the tensions. I also advocated the establishment of safe havens—not the safe havens that were ultimately established, but havens that would be protected by United Nations forces, and would seek to create cross-ethnic municipal administrations. That might have led to a rebuilding of some of the characteristics of the old Yugoslavia, in which people were willing to work together. Instead, we had to wait and wait, until the bombings and the Dayton accords.

Now we return to Kosovo, where for the first time a major political leader—Milosevic—played the ethnic card. In June 1989, addressing 1 million Serbs, he claimed that armed conflict to establish a stronger Serbian stance should not be ruled out, even at that early stage. In the conflict between the Serbian troops and the KLA, ordinary Albanians are caught in the middle. Similarly, ordinary Serbs and, for instance, the Hungarian population in Vojvodina in the north have been caught up in the conflict, sometimes directly and sometimes in economic terms, as a result of hyperinflation and similar difficulties experienced by Yugoslavia. The sanctions regime did nothing to help; indeed, it exacerbated the problems to a disgraceful extent. We should have been concerned about the taking of such political action.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Sanctions are hitting the emerging democracy of Macedonia very hard. The people there are suffering through no fault of their own, when they are trying to assist the peace process.

Mr. Barnes

I am now opposed to the use of sanctions as political weapons by outside nations—whether against Iraq, Libya or Serbia—unless there are clear signs in the country concerned that the mass of the population feel that sanctions will help their purposes. When sanctions were imposed against South Africa, the African National Congress supported them. Those sanctions were justified, as became clear later when it was made plain that the ANC spoke for most of the South African people; but I am reluctant to support sanctions in different circumstances, partly because there may be knock-on effects in neighbouring countries.

Given the mess that confronts us now, it is too late to turn the clock back. In the current circumstances, we cannot build a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, although that does not mean that we should not have such an objective. We must ask ourselves whether bombing is the only option in our attempt to protect the Albanians of Kosovo. Certainly, it involves serious problems. NATO, not the United Nations, is doing this; but we know that it could not be done by the United Nations, because it would not be passed by the Security Council. Given that fact, should we simply stand by without resorting to some other tactic?

We should be very worried about action that amounts to the invasion of a sovereign state; but should we rule out such action in all circumstances, even when the most heinous forms of human abuse are being perpetrated? However hard people try to ensure that only military objectives are met, there are bound to be civilian casualties. We must weigh that against the potential ending of the action of the Serb forces against the Albanians of Kosovo.

It has already been suggested that Serbian elements may retaliate by threatening to launch further attacks on the Albanians if the bombing continues. The Yugoslav people will hate the situation, and will turn to their Government for protection—a Government including fascists such as Seselj, whom we should certainly not encourage. Moreover, the conflict could well spill over into other areas that are already experiencing conflict. None the less, I feel that at this juncture there is no other honourable way in which we can seek to protect the Albanians in Kosovo.

No one is willing to risk putting ground troops into Kosovo itself; so how else can we seek to protect the Albanians? People might not expect me to say this, given the stance that I adopted in regard to the Gulf war, Iraq and other conflicts. I was opposed to bombing, on the ground that it was counterproductive. In reluctantly supporting the proposed action, I do not want to give NATO a blank cheque: our Government's continued support for NATO's action must be highly conditional, and we must be able to monitor it closely. At least the American Senate has been able to vote on what should happen. I think that our Parliament should be able to vote before our troops are involved. That, however, is a problem related to our constitutional system and the fact that our Prime Ministers operate using the royal prerogative—a wider problem, but one that we need to tackle.

In supporting NATO, we must constantly insist that only military targets should be hit—although civilians will of course be hit too—and that the action should stop whenever Milosevic moves towards a compromise. It is also advisable to persuade the Germans to end their involvement in the military activity, because of the reaction that it is creating among the Serbian population owing to their history. Those are not matters that we should take lightly. I accept that Germany has a democratic system; it is within the western community. It is an entirely honourable nation, but given that Germany recognised Croatia and has joined in the attacks, the Serbians' perception of the matter is a serious problem.

Mr. Alan Clark

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the House's attention to the sensitivity of using Germans. Does he know how many Serbians who are now being attacked by British and American aircraft lost their lives in the second world war helping air crews that had been shot down—

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

They are dead now.

Mr. Clark

Of course they are dead, as the hon. Gentleman rather tastelessly interjects. They lost their lives helping our air crews to escape.

Mr. Barnes

They lost their lives helping our air crews to escape. A perfectly decent system began to be established in Yugoslavia after the war. It was a communist regime. It had the problems of centralism, although that was used to keep the forces together. It tried some decent experiments in economic democracy through worker self-management, which many of us had high hopes for. We wanted the political element of that system to be established at the same time, however.

There was great hope for Yugoslavia, which came out of the communist system with some economic potential, although there were still pressures. It could have been a nation that we would have wanted to be associated with, a nation to be proud of, a nation that we might have wanted to have all sorts of links with and connections in. If that had happened, we would not be in the mess that we are in today.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Will my hon. Friend consider the difference between the example that was posed by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) and the position today? Is it not true that NATO is targeting military sites to dismantle a military capability, rather than indiscriminately bombing the Serbian population, so the comparison that has been drawn is entirely invalid?

Mr. Barnes

I seriously hope that what is being done is exactly what the Government described and said would be done—the NATO objectives. I hope that the people who are planning these activities do not decide that, for some strategic or other reason, other actions have to be taken, directed against civilian populations. That is why we must keep a eye all the time on what is taking place and be willing to condemn that which we feel is unacceptable. We may have to revise our assessment of what we think is justified, but the action, if it is restricted to those objectives and is examined by us carefully, is justified in current circumstances.

Because of the problems and needs of the area, we should look beyond the current situation and consider how on earth we can build and rebuild peace and reconciliation throughout former Yugoslavia. I shall suggest some things that we might do, but already a number of problems need to be confronted following the action that has taken place.

Why is it that the Novi Sad area in Vojvodina—right in the north of the country—has been attacked; it has a Hungarian-based population? Is that important for strategic reasons? The same argument applies to Montenegro. Why have attacks taken place in Montenegro? Is it that key radar and other installations needed to be taken out as part of the attacks on Pristina and Belgrade? If so, have they been successful? Will that be an end to activities in Montenegro, which is an area of Yugoslavia that has been attempting to detach itself more and more from the central regime in Serbia?

I hope that it is clear from my remarks that I believe that the correct position was determined by what occurred economically and politically outside Yugoslavia, and that we therefore have a great responsibility to seek to knit together again multi-ethnic institutions throughout the area—institutions in what are now new nations, and institutions between new nations; we should seek to work for that.

If I were to accept that that could not be done in Yugoslavia, I would pack up politics because I believe in people coming together, sharing, associating with each other, working together for their common interests and their common improvement. I believe that that can be done not only in a difficult area such as Yugoslavia, but in African nations and on a world basis. It is an objective that we should all have. We should look for the means by which to achieve it.

In doing so, we should seek to work with those people in former Yugoslavia who want exactly those things. It is not that no one there has thought through the problems and difficulties and still see themselves as Yugoslav, rather than Croatian, Serb, Bosnian, Albanian Hungarian or whatever; they see themselves as part of a common body together, and having common concerns and interests. There are people there with democratic spirits who are concerned with social well-being and social welfare. We should direct ourselves towards those objectives, rather than the easier objectives—things that are easier to identify. We are bombing those areas to try to get simple solutions. As necessary as that might be, it is no use if it is not part of a much broader picture, in which we should be involved.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, may I inform the House that many Members want to speak? Shorter speeches will mean that some will not be disappointed.

2.47 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I preface my remarks by saying that of course no hon. Member welcomes the sight of the atrocious behaviour of the Serbs in Kosovo, or, indeed, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia or Slovenia. The activities that we have seen on television are to be wholly condemned. I bow to no one in my fury and condemnation of such atrocious humanitarian offences, but we have to conduct ourselves in a legal way, and in a way whereby we can consistently seek peace not just in Yugoslavia but throughout the world.

The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) has reminded us of the background to the history of the conflict, which began with an action on the part initially of the German Republic under Mr. Genscher—I call it Genscher's revenge. Against the better judgment of the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Hurd, he decided to recognise Croatia and Slovenia. That was an illegal action. It was outside the United Nations—it was outside all commonly perceived ideas of the UN and, indeed, of international rule of law. That is what started it. At that point, the Serbs, or all those who wanted to keep Yugoslavia together, were perfectly justified in taking up arms against that decision. They should at least have been given a proper hearing at the United Nations. The Security Council should have discussed the matter and, if it was impossible to keep Yugoslavia together because of the differences between the republics within that country after the fall of Tito and the end of the cold war, Yugoslavia should have been divided in an orderly way, however difficult and prolonged those negotiations might have been.

Mr. Frank Cook

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the most provocative element of that episode was that the new Croatian constitution made the Serbs of Krajina into second-class citizens?

Mr. Wells

That is right. As a result of that action not being properly negotiated, many serious injustices took place and ancient passions were inflamed. We cannot ignore such passions because they keep coming to the surface, whether in Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Sierra Leone or anywhere where difficult human relationships have to be faced. That is why we should remind ourselves of what we are doing and of the fact that we must have the rule of international law, however frustrating it may sometimes be.

I want to talk about the legal aspects of what we have done because, in my view, it is illegal.

Mr. Wareing

On the recognition of Croatia, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that an article written in The Times by the now Lord Hurd on 3 December 1991 supported the continued recognition of Yugoslavia and the non-recognition of Croatia. He changed his mind seven days later and I have an idea that that had something to do with the opt-out that Germany supported for us in the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Wells

That is interesting speculation. I also looked up the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I know the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) is now a distinguished member. The 1991 report shows Douglas Hurd giving evidence and saying that he opposed the recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. I asked him why he eventually went along with the recognition. He said that we had so recently established the foreign affairs pillar of the Maastricht treaty, in which the European Union agreed to work together on foreign affairs, that he thought it would be discourteous to Germany, which said that it would unilaterally recognise Croatia, if we did not go along with that. I think that that was major mistake.

I want to look at the legalities. I saw the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), on "Newsnight" last night with Jeremy Paxman. They were talking about the legality which, if I quote the hon. Gentleman correctly, revolves around the necessity of upholding the view of the United Nations on the issue of whether gross offences against humanity were being committed, since one of the objectives of the United Nations is to prevent such offences. I wonder whether the Minister or his officials have looked at research paper 99/34, produced by the Library. It talks about article 2(4) of the UN charter which states that all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. The Library paper states: It has sometimes been argued that the prohibition in Article 2(4) on the use of force 'in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations' implies that the threat or use of force in a manner consistent with those purposes would be legal. However this is not a position that is universally accepted. Indeed it has not been accepted and we need to be on our guard. Since the end of the cold war we have begun to transgress the normal international rule of law on these matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) remarked on our intervention in Turkey to defend the Kurds, with which I entirely agreed. That was covered by the same article as that under which we were acting to prevent Saddam Hussein's takeover of Kuwait. This matter is not covered by that article.

We are getting into the habit of consistently going in on one side of a civil war in many countries—this is one of them. The arguments given to us by the Foreign Secretary today were the arguments of a partisan. His arguments, and therefore those of the country he represents, were on the part of one side of a civil war. That precludes the Foreign Secretary, this country and its allies bringing about a proper peace which can be seen to be just and acceptable by all sides of a civil war. Civil wars are the most difficult, protracted and bitter disputes in which countries can indulge.

In the light of the illegality of—

Dr. Starkey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wells

I will not give way at the moment.

On the television last night we saw President Yeltsin talking passionately about how the wrong action was being taken. We could see then the intervention of another partisan, this time on the side of Serbia. Russia is, of course, dangerously allied with China, which is a major friend of Albania and has been for many years.

By ignoring our obligations to take these matters back to the UN and back to the frustrations of the Security Council—I understand those frustrations—which is what the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has said we should do, we are in danger of beginning to fight a civil war on two sides. It would involve Russia, its friends and allies and China on one side, with the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States on the other. That is not likely to produce peace. We must try to produce peace in this tragic situation. That may involve force, but if that force is to be applied, and seen to be applied, even-handedly, it must be authorised and backed by the entire United Nations, including the major powers of Russia and China.

We must tell our Government, the European Union and the United States to go back and negotiate. They should bring in Russia and China and talk and talk and talk.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)


Mr. Wells

I must give way to a fellow member of the Select Committee on International Development.

Dr. Tonge

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he not think that all those avenues have already been explored, and that talking has gone on for long enough? If his solution is to return to the negotiating table, how will he protect the people of Kosovo while that happens?

Mr. Wells

The people of Kosovo will have to be protected and we shall have to find a means of doing so. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] I am being tempted to go on for longer than I anticipated. A ceasefire must be negotiated in the same way as one was negotiated last September. The idea that there cannot be negotiations and that a ceasefire cannot be—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman may be saying things with which other hon. Members disagree, but he must be given a hearing.

Mr. Wells

We should not despair of securing a reasonable ceasefire and a protection mechanism. That can be achieved and the effort has to be made. However, I agree that we must prevent continued violence by the Serbs against the Kosovars and a regrouping and rearming of the Kosovars to fight a more vicious war.

Dr. Starkey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wells

No, I shall not give way. I hope that the hon. Lady will have an opportunity to speak.

I should like to make just one more point before I finish—I know that a lot of others want to speak. We have heard from the Government and from every quarter in NATO that ground troops will not be used except as peacekeeping forces. The wool is being pulled over our eyes. A bond to the peace table cannot be produced simply through the use of missiles and air forces. Ground troops will have to go in and they are going to have to fight their way in. I expect that the Foreign Secretary will come to the House and say that NATO has been forced to use ground troops. Make no mistake—this policy will lead to the deployment of ground troops and to the exacerbation of the situation. Turkey may be brought in and the affair may enlarge until it engulfs Europe.

3.2 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

The House knows that I am opposed to the action that has been taken. I hope that there is a Division tonight. If there is, I shall vote against the war.

I may secure more agreement in the House when I say that this debate should have taken place months ago. Some of the speeches that we have heard show that the House contributes experience and knowledge to issues in a way that a Foreign Office brief cannot. If the Foreign Secretary had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), with which I agreed, he would realise that it was wrong for British troops to be committed to war without the House of Commons discussing the matter. That is not just a constitutional question. The Government could have tabled a motion in support of their action whenever they liked. They did not do that because they did not think that Parliament mattered. I say that with some feeling.

We agree that there is a terrible humanitarian crisis. It is a civil war. For anyone who has any doubts about my view of Milosevic, let me explain. I am bitterly opposed to Milosevic. Why? Because, faced with a political problem, he used force—the same reason why I am against the Government's action. If Milosevic had had any sense, he would not have withdrawn autonomy from Kosovo and he would have realised that the problem had to be resolved by getting round the table with the Kosovars, but he did not do that. NATO has come along and repeated the mistake on a bigger scale.

Dr. Julian Lewis


Mr. Benn

I have only a short time, because so many people want to speak. I hope that the House will allow me to continue, unless I provoke anyone unduly, which I do not mean to do. I have an opinion, but I do not intend to express it in language designed to provoke.

When we are told that so many extra thousand people have become refugees in the past few days, we have to recognise that the air strikes have made the situation worse. The monitors have been withdrawn because of the bombing, so there is nobody there to look after the area—and faced with the likelihood of an attack, the Serbs have moved their troops across the country. Whether their troops are there to repress the Kosovars or to defend their border I do not know, but if this country were threatened with a possible invasion, we would send people all over to prepare.

I do not accept for one moment the reason given by Ministers for the war. They say that it is a war for humanitarian purposes. Can anyone name any war in history fought for humanitarian purposes? Would the Red Cross have done better with stealth bombers and cruise missiles? Of course not. War is about power, for the control of countries and resources. The other humanitarian crises that have been mentioned are informative—the Kurds, the Palestinians and the people of East Timor. The British Government are still arming the Indonesian Government when they are repressing the people of East Timor. What is the basis of that? I am not asking the Government to go to war with Indonesia, but do they have to go on arming the oppressors?

Those arguments create doubts about the credibility of the operation. Up to 5,000 Iraqi babies die every month according to the Quaker Irishman Denis Halliday, who was in charge of the United Nations oil for food programme. Is that humanitarian? When I hear Ministers say that we have gone to war to prove that NATO is credible, by God I shiver. The argument that we have to kill people to show that we are strong does not carry any weight with me or with the rest of the House.

Many people have spoken about the history, including my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). Kosovo has been in Yugoslavia for many centuries. The Yugoslays were under the Turks for a long time and fought them very hard. Then they were under the Austro-Hungarian empire, which they also fought very hard. The Archduke was killed at Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist. I have been to the spot where it happened.

During the war, the Nazis set up a fascist Croatia and, as the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) said, hundreds of thousands of Serbs died. Fifty years ago tomorrow, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia signed a treaty with Hitler. The following day he was overthrown by Simovic. In the House of Commons, Mr. Churchill, who was not talking about the leadership of any particular Yugoslav Government, said: I therefore turn to the story of Yugoslavia. This valiant, steadfast people, whose history for centuries has been a struggle for life, and who owe their survival to their mountains and to their fighting qualities".—[Official Report, 9 April 1941; Vol. 370, c. 1592.] When the Serbs took on Hitler, Russia was neutral and America—the great America—had not come into the war because it had not yet been attacked at Pearl Harbour. The Serbs took on the Nazis and until the day that I die I shall be grateful for that.

If I may be allowed one other personal reference, I joined the Home Guard that week. I was 16. I was given a tin hat, a uniform, a gas mask and a rifle and was sent out at night with a bayonet because we were told that the Nazis might land by parachute. We were also told that they might come disguised as nuns. I am glad that I never met a nun on those nights. By God, even if we forget our history, the Serbs do not forget. A Serbian woman of about 85 rang and told me the story. She said that she was in Belgrade when Simovic overthrew Prince Paul.

The House suffers from its lack of knowledge of history. I was in a debate on television with a fellow Labour Member of Parliament who said that he thought that the Serbs had fought with the Germans. I do not blame him for not living through it, but an interest in history is a requirement for credible politics.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire rightly pointed out that the International Monetary Fund broke up Yugoslavia by imposing such a debt that the richer republics thought that they would do better outside. As the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said, Genscher helped to break it up. He boasted when he left the German Foreign Office that the disintegration of Yugoslavia was his greatest achievement. Why we went along with that—whether it was as a trade-off for our Maastricht opt-out—is a matter for speculation, but it is certain that we did and now we are witnessing a war for control of the Balkans.

The Kosovo Liberation Army—some people might call them terrorists, but I do not want to use extravagant language—is armed and supported by the Germans and the Americans. Who did the Americans put in charge of the monitoring forces? Ambassador Walker. And what was he doing 10 years ago? He was financing the Contras against the Nicaraguan Government under the authority of Reagan, for whose actions Clinton has recently apologised. Is it not worth looking back a little before the day that we were born? We have provided the KLA with an air force and called it NATO. That is what it wanted all along. We are told that Kosovo is to be a protectorate. Has international law advanced to the point where, if we do not like a country we can take one of its provinces and call it a protectorate? That reminds me of Victorian England, which was a bit before my time.

This is a war of aggression, I regret to say, because the United Nations is the only body authorised to use force, but Britain and America will not go to the Security Council, because they are afraid that Russia would use its veto. Russia has a greater geographical interest than we have. The Americans can hardly use the veto as an argument, as they have used 27 vetoes to protect Israel when the Security Council would have disciplined it for many breaches of resolutions, including when it invaded southern Lebanon.

What this is all about, apart from the domination of the Balkans, is the setting up of NATO to replace the United Nations. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been brought in. It seems to me that, with all those countries' problems, the need to rearm would be one of the lowest priorities of all, but the arms industry in America will do very well out of the extension of NATO. NATO is redefining its objectives. Its main objective now is to cut itself loose from the discipline of big power unanimity, which lies at the heart of the UN charter.

It upsets me when British Ministers describe anything that the Prime Minister and the President do as "the international community". That claim does not bear examination. We are in a minority in the world on many issues. I greatly regret the fact that we take our orders from Washington. That is not because I am in any way against the Americans, as some of the most radical traditions in the world are American.

Six months ago, the Americans bombed Sudan on the grounds that chemical weapons were being made there, and the British Government went along with it, but nobody believes that there were any chemical weapons in Khartoum. We took our orders from Washington. I do not want to be disrespectful. but when President Clinton makes a statement, I no longer feel obliged to believe that it is necessarily the truth.

I do not want to be a scaremonger, because we do not know what will happen, but bombing does not usually achieve its objective, although it may have some marginal influence. The Prime Minister said that it would take 100,000 to 200,000 ground troops to occupy Serbia, and I doubt whether the Americans are ready to put in that number of bodies, because of the Vietnam war. They would be happy for the Europeans to go in, but the Americans would be happier outside in their stealth bombers and behind their cruise missiles.

The Serbs have always fought extremely hard. There is a danger of the conflict spreading. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked, if Russia decides to send support to Serbia, will the planes be shot down and the ships attacked? Will it be held to be a breach of the United Nations charter? We are breaching it, but we are told that that is for humanitarian reasons.

People talk of appeasement. Some of the most valiant chairborne soldiers in the country live in the House of Commons, some of them on the Labour side. Anyone who has been in the Army knows what the chairborne troops are: they fight from their office desks. There was no appeasement of Hitler before the war: Chamberlain supported him. That is a much more serious charge.

Anyone who has read the captured German Foreign Office documents will know that Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, was sent to see Hitler in Berchtesgarten—I have the transcript at home—and said, "Herr Chancellor, on behalf of the British Government I congratulate you on crushing communism in Germany and standing as a bulwark against Russia." Like it or not, that was not appeasement but support. If we had taken a position against Hitler earlier—I am not suggesting a war—we could have stopped the matter there.

We represent our troops. I do not know if there are any pilots from Chesterfield, but their wives or families may well be there. We had no chance to speak for them before they were committed to battle. It is not right to send young men and women into battle and then shelter behind them. In the Suez war in 1956, I had a letter from an RAF pilot in Cyprus who wrote, "I am in the RAF and I think this is a war of aggression. What shall I do?" I wrote back and said, "I share your view, but I am not telling you what you should do, because you are under orders as an officer." It is not reputable to hide behind the troops whom we have sent into battle.

I want to say something else, which I hope is not too strong. I wish there were more interest in soldiers who fought in previous wars. What about the Gulf war veterans exposed to depleted uranium? Where is the support from the Government for them? Our boys in uniform are lauded as heroes when they fight, but later they have to queue up at the dole office and try to get a means-tested grant. They are told that we do not have the money. Why? Because it has been diverted to a humanitarian war to kill more people.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

What my right hon. Friend is saying is extremely interesting but will do nothing at all for the people of Kosovo. What is the alternative strategy?

Mr. Benn

My hon. Friend may not come to the House often, but I have been arguing it—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Until now, the debate has very good-natured and temperate. We must keep it that way.

Mr. Benn

I know that it is very offensive to people to hear an argument that they do not like, but I am giving it and—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There is a lot of noise in the Chamber. The worst thing that can happen is if the Deputy Speaker keeps getting to his feet, so that no one gets to speak except the Deputy Speaker. I do not want that.

Mr. Benn

I will come to the question of what should be done at the end, which is where one would normally put one's proposals. There is great opposition to the war, and not only from a little left-wing clique, as was demonstrated by the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford. Henry Kissinger is against the war, as are 41 senators. Sky Television had a poll yesterday—although I do not have much time for Murdoch or polls—and 55 per cent. were against the war and only 45 per cent. in favour.

Do not believe that wars are popular. They are marvellous the day they break out and everybody is happy, as they sell newspapers and boost ratings and make commentators into world statesmen but, by God, when the consequences become apparent there might be a very different attitude. I was opposed to the Suez war and spoke against it in the House. Looking back, I have no regrets for issuing a warning on that occasion.

We are asked what should be done. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford told us: the United Nations should convene a peace conference, without the threat of bombing that came from NATO. The Russians and the Chinese would support that, the bombing would halt and the humanitarian aid would go in. If we are in a jam, so is Milosevic. He has to find a way of living with the people of Kosovo. For him to be faced with the reality that confronts him is the best chance of peace, but killing people does not automatically solve problems. It did not work in Iraq.

No amendment has been tabled, as that is not permitted, but as in the Norway debate in 1940, we can vote against the Adjournment. I shall do that tonight, with a very heavy heart. I have been in the Labour party for 57 or 58 years and have been a Labour candidate 17 times in parliamentary elections, and I never thought that I would be asked by my party to vote for a war against the charter of the United Nations, in a way that could make the situation that confronts the world far more serious.

I hope that the House will accept that for me to go into that Lobby tonight will be one of the most difficult things that I have done, but it is something that is absolutely essential if we are to stand true to the values on which the Labour party rests, of internationalism, peace and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

3.19 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Nobody could for a moment doubt either the sincerity or the passion of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He is an adornment to the House, and rightly won a recent award as speech maker of the year. I pay tribute to him as a parliamentarian par excellence and I share his love of history, but I am afraid that I cannot share his interpretation of it. I believe that his speech, passionate as it was, was profoundly wrong in many particulars.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he could not remember a time when we went to war for a humanitarian cause. I would say that going to war against Hitler was going to war to suppress evil.

Mr. Benn

In all fairness—this is an important point—we did not fight Hitler because of his persecution of the Jews; we fought because he challenged the power of the west. When Hitler died in 1945, the obituary in The Times did not mention the holocaust. I contributed in a minor way to the war, but that war was not about human rights—it was a bit more than that.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree to differ on that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) must be quiet in the Chamber. She has come in late in the day, and I can hear her quite often. I enjoy listening to her, but not at the moment.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Hitler was monumentally evil, and we went to war to defeat the monumental evil that Hitler represented.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) made an excellent speech—but, again, it was a speech with which I could not agree. He made some perfectly valid and interesting points about the recognition of Croatia. However, he did not say that at the time Croatia was being recognized—December 1991—Milosevic' s tanks had already done terrible damage. Milosevic had already unleashed an onslaught against innocent people. His evil was already apparent.

I do not like to say, "I told you so", but I wish to refer to the very first debate that took place in this House on the Balkan war. It took place in the small hours of the morning on 12 December 1991—a debate on the Consolidated Fund, which we do not have now. I initiated the debate on the situation in Croatia because I was deeply disturbed by what was happening. I said that we should take as a reason for intervening the fact that Dubrovnik, a world heritage site, was being shelled, and that there was proper reason for us to put in a naval and air patrol to deter Milosevic at that time.

I said in the debate: I hope that a message can go out that there is a new resolve in the west and that we are determined to ensure that the killing, the destruction and the brutality stop".—[Official Report, 12 December 1991; Vol. 200, c. 1162. It did not stop, because it was not possible for the west to get together and to act against Milosevic.

A year later, I went to Edinburgh at the time of the Edinburgh summit to take part in a rival summit, called to highlight the problems in Bosnia. At that rival summit, the then Foreign Secretary received most courteously Harts Silajdzic, the Bosnian Foreign Minister, who made one of the most moving speeches that I have ever heard.

Harts Silajdzic said that we may have thought that there was nothing worse than killing a child, but there was—killing a child after having tortured it. He said that we may have thought that there was nothing worse than raping a woman with the most ghastly force, but there was—doing that, and then herding women into rape camps and killing them. It is under Milosevic that those things have happened, and they have happened year after year.

We have seen nearly a decade of unmitigated evil under the leadership of one of the evil geniuses of the 20th century. If NATO has any justification at all, it must have a moral imperative. To allow these things to happen in our continent is, frankly, shaming to us all.

I support without reservation and with absolute fervour what the Government are doing. I support totally the statesmanlike and supportive speech from the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), today. I am delighted that Members on the two Front Benches are in such accord—as they should be at a moment of international crisis.

I regret that action has taken so long, as does my right hon. and learned Friend, but I understand that the Government—like the Conservative Government over Bosnia—tried time and time again to bring Milosevic to the negotiating table, to get him to agree and to get him to act as a decent human being.

Let us not forget Edmund Burke: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Perhaps good men have not done enough, quickly enough. Milosevic has been in power now for a decade, and has laid waste to Bosnia and caused tremendous damage in Croatia. Now he is suppressing—with a brutality that has not been surpassed since the days of the holocaust—the Albanian people of Kosovo.

There have been atrocities on all sides, of course. Of course, things have taken place of which we would all feel deeply ashamed. However, the great majority of those deeds of evil have been committed at the behest of Milosevic. It is right and proper that we should be taking action, and I rejoice at the fact that it is the whole of NATO that is taking action. As the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out last night, and as the Foreign Secretary underlined this afternoon, this is a united NATO action, supported by all the nations of NATO—that means the new nations, also.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of talking to the Hungarian ambassador. Hungary is one of the newest entrants, and it now forms—as the Foreign Secretary said—NATO's border against Serbia. Is there anything strategically or morally defensible in allowing the rape of a people and the laying waste to a country just across the border from NATO by a man who is obsessed with power and motivated by evil? That is what the action is about.

There are great risks, and the risks are greater because we have taken a little longer than we might. However, we should not be speculating about difficulties this afternoon. We should be giving the united backing to our troops that they deserve. We should accept that those who are in charge of the operation are not tyros who know nothing about military strategy or aerial bombardment; they are men and women of great experience and distinction who know how to conduct a campaign. I believe that they will be able to conduct a campaign with precision, and that they will be able to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible; we profoundly hope and pray that they will.

If Milosevic is brought to his knees—either at the negotiating table or, more rightly, in the dock—we shall have achieved something notable. In this House today, we should be supporting our Government and our troops, who are engaged in a crusade against evil. That is what the action is about.

3.28 pm
Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

If my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) divides the House tonight, it will be the first time in my 12 years in the House that I will find myself in an alternative Lobby on an issue of international politics. I have had no disagreement with my right hon. Friend's principled opposition to what has happened in many other conflicts. Like him, I have no doubt that the question of Iraq and Kuwait was solely about oil.

However, in my constituency, I have seen over the last decade a stream of refugees—many of them tortured—coming from Milosevic's war zone. I can confirm virtually everything that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said. I believe that Milosevic has used the worst evil possible to rise to political power, to divide his people, to trade on fear and to operate a regime of systematic mass rape, murder and genocide.

The only scandal that remains with western Governments is that we have not indicted Milosevic for war crimes. Too often, we have had to co-operate. Too often, we have negotiated with him while, year by year, he has dragged his feet as his butchers have worked their way through one part of the former Yugoslavia after another.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield that one is mad to consider any political issue until one has looked at the history.

When I consider the history of Yugoslavia, however, I find many matters that my right hon. Friend has not discovered. Like most analysts of this conflict, he started with the second world war, and the heroic Serb opposition to Hitler. I salute that service, but Yugoslavia was not created during the second world war. Nor was it created with the consent of its component peoples. Yugoslavia is a totally artificial state, created by the great colonial powers at Versailles in the aftermath of war. I cannot conceive of any role for a socialist in defending that legacy of Victorian imperialism.

Yugoslavia was cobbled together across an international dividing line that had existed for 1500 years. The eastern and western Roman empires bisected the land between what are broadly the Croat and Serb areas. It was divided then between the west and the Ottoman empire. A nation was later created by imperial powers for their convenience at the end of the first world war, without consultation with any of the component populations. It brought together people who had a history of warfare, and who shared no common religion and no common language. It is simply amazing that Yugoslavia survived as long as it did.

I remember being in the House in 1991 when the then Foreign Secretary told us, in the aftermath of free and democratic votes by the peoples of Slovenia and Croatia, the British Government's view that there should be no change in the status of Yugoslavia. I asked why. Why, when we celebrate our own independence and nationalism day after day, were we denying the rights to exercise the same freedoms to people who had been subordinated in a wider federation?

When Yugoslavia was set up, it was not a democracy; the old, feudal Serb monarchy dominated it. In the 1930s, Albert Einstein organised a round robin of protest, which was signed by many Members of the House of Commons, denouncing the use of terror by the Serb monarchy against the Croat leadership. That fact is conveniently forgotten when we try to understand why, when the Germans marched in, so many Croats lined up with them. The world had ignored the systematic brutality of the Serb monarch.

We were lucky that Tito—a great statesman—managed to hold the whole package together. But from the moment of his death, it started to unravel. Tito died in 1980. In 1981, there were protests and demonstrations throughout Kosovo as Albanians demanded stronger autonomy and the upgrading of their regional status to equivalence with that of the other six component republics.

The Albanians were not the only ones making demands. In Serbia, the Serbian Academy of Sciences began to stir up nationalism with a notorious report, published on 24 September 1986, that talked about historic injustices to the Serb people. The nation was starting to fall apart.

What would any responsible leader do in that case? Would he try to pull people together? Would he try to build safeguards, or to recognise legitimate demands? Or would that leader do what Milosevic did: go to Kosovo to whip up a fury that could be ridden to power?

Many of my friends on the left view the former rulers of Yugoslavia as wonderful old communists. When one reads the internal debates of the Yugoslavian Communist party in the late 1980s, when Milosevic rose to power, one finds that the old communists warned, one after another, "Beware of what you are doing. Beware of what you are unleashing." There should have been more condemnation of Milosevic then and when he suspended the effective autonomy of Kosovo in 1989.

If we had moved decisively with air strikes when Milosevic first sent his troops into Slovenia—I, along with Mrs. Thatcher, was one of the first Members of Parliament to call for the use of air strikes to stop that armed intervention—we might not face the current disaster. We might not have seen the slaughter and the dismemberment of Bosnia.

What we are seeing is not western or Yankee imperialist attempts to establish control of the region. Let me tell the House why 41 American senators have voted against intervening: they see no interest, and no bounty, in it for America. Intervention is simply about human rights and, frankly, they don't give a damn about that. They are not incipient members of some new Marxist peace party; they are simply saying, "There's nothing in it for us, and who gives a damn if Milosevic is killing Albanians?"

Throughout the 1990s in my constituency, where there is a substantial Muslim community, I have seen the most horrifying stream of refugees. I saw people who had been tortured and driven from their homes because the west was so slow to act in Bosnia. I denounce the atrocities on both sides. The fact that the west was silent as Tudjman organised the driving out of Serbs from Krajina was an outrage. Frankly, he should be under indictment for his crime and for the liquidation of whole Serbian areas in Krajina.

However, that does not justify what Milosevic is doing now to the Albanians. What did Milosevic do when the Krajina refugees arrived in Belgrade? They were not allowed off the train. They were not allowed to seek comfort among their Serb neighbours. They were sent, against their will, to the Albanian areas of Kosovo to tip the balance of the population there. Even now, when Milosevic can have no doubt about the resolve of the west, what were the last images we saw? Serbian tanks systematically obliterating one Albanian village after another.

What about a breathing space? If we were to stop this action, would Milosevic stop the destruction of the Albanian areas in Kosovo? Of course not. He would recognise that breathing space for what it was—a sign of weakness. He would press on, seizing every day, week and month to carry on his ethnic cleansing.

Where my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and I diverge is that we see different parallels. I see this action not as another Vietnam, but as a classic parallel with the rise of Hitler in Germany. Hitler rose by exploiting fear of the Jews; Milosevic has risen exploiting fear of Muslims. We heard Hitler demand, "All Germans within one state." That is exactly the cry we hear now from Milosevic—"Intervene in Slovenia, in Croatia, in Bosnia; seize the areas so that all Serbs come under one Serb nation." Europe cannot be governed in that way. Nationalities are scattered across Europe, and there is no way to draw up ethnically pure communities.

Mr. Dalyell

Curiously enough, I agree with much of what my hon. Friend is saying. Would he address one point, however? If this action is about saving villages, is not the only way in which to do that to send in ground troops? People are reluctant to send in ground troops, but I must ask—gently—whether bombing by itself will do anything other than strengthen Milosevic's hold on his own people. It is a terrible dilemma.

Mr. Livingstone

I hope more than anything that the bombing will deter Milosevic. But we must not let him think that because some voices in the west are raised against the bombing, he need simply hold on long enough for us to lose our will. If the bombing fails, we must not give up. We must not step back and say, "Sorry, we can do nothing more." If the bombing fails, there will be a legitimate debate in the House of Commons and other Parliaments about the need to intervene with ground troops. Let Milosevic consider that the alternative. It is not a matter of whether we continue bombing or stop it; if the bombing does not persuade Milosevic to treat his own people as human beings, the west should not step back and ignore the situation.

If I had seen any sign over the past decade that all this was part of some imperial plan by America, I should oppose it. However, even with all the horrors of Bosnia, Clinton was eventually forced to move only with the greatest of reluctance after American television showed pictures of Bosnian men starving to death in camps. At every stage, Britain and America have been reluctant to act, and slow to act. There has been no grand imperial grab for power. Everyone would rather avoid the problem.

If I have one criticism of successive British Governments, it is that they have been slow to react and have allowed a monstrous tyrant to continue. Others have complained, saying, "Why intervene in Kosovo when horrors happen around the world?" I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) who denounced the fact that the west stood by for so long while genocide happened in Rwanda.

We are no longer in a world divided along ideological lines. In those days, the superpowers often kept some reasonable order in their own areas. The end of the cold war has made a more dangerous and deadly world for many minorities who find themselves on the wrong side of an international border.

It is the duty of the nations that have the military power to protect individual communities from systematic genocide by evil regimes. Milosevic is not a democrat. Every election is rigged, and the media are controlled. I imagine that the vast majority of the Serb people would be happy to see the back of him. Where the west has the power and uses it wisely, I will support intervention. I would have supported immediate intervention in Rwanda.

I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield. If on his way home tonight, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield saw a woman being raped by a group of thugs, he would intervene at the risk of his life. Why should we as a nation stand back when the same thing has been happening on our doorstep for the best part of a decade? My socialism and driving moral force are not defined or constrained by lines drawn on a map, certainly not when they were drawn by imperial powers at Versailles in 1919.

3.41 pm
Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

We have been waiting for a little while now for the Foreign Secretary to come to this place to deliver an account rendered of his ethical foreign policy and the ups and downs that have attended it. We are still waiting, but he entertained us with a highly specious speech. Much of his reasoning was faulty. He never touched on the central rationale that he should have addressed: why the bombing and killing of civilians in one part of a country are likely to ameliorate the killing of civilians in another part of that same country. He illustrated his argument with absurd analogies such as the claim that 400,000 people in Kosovo are the equivalent of 10 million in the United Kingdom. He referred to the anxieties of the Hungarians, for which there is no evidence. There is no reason why the Hungarians should be anxious. They border not Kosovo, but north Serbia. They probably favour what Serbia is doing in the interests of a strong and stable Serbia. This chain reaction or domino effect argument that people, including the Prime Minister, use is invalid. They never sustain it with historical argument, or even by example.

I must first make a disclaimer by complying with the usual obeisance to the courage and professionalism of our armed forces. Nothing that we say here must be thought to criticise or undermine that. One of my sons was decorated with the Gulf medal and Omani cross. With many of my family having had military careers, I hope that my credentials will sustain my protestations.

British service men have a very clear idea of when they should be committed to action and risk their lives. Hon. Members may have read Sir Michael Rose's book. Our service men are clear about the credentials of those who oppose Serbia. I know from my immediate contacts that many of them regard the Kosovo Liberation Army as a bunch of thugs deeply involved in the drug trade who operate refugee rackets in this country. They do not see why they should stand idly by while the KLA, too, perpetrates its atrocities.

I cast no doubt on the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), but a sustained propaganda movement in the dissemination of information has been running for a long time. It has all been consistently anti-Serb, right from the start. The Bosnians maintained a high-powered public relations machine in New York which constantly fed United Nations debates. There is no doubt that many atrocities were committed by those opposed to the Serbs in earlier encounters in what the House agrees is essentially a civil war. We are debating whether to intervene on one side in a civil war. Much of the information is faked, cooked up by PR machines or without real basis. If my hon. Friends or Labour Members do not believe me, they should read Sir Michael Rose's book.

Sir Patrick Cormack

My right hon. Friend is delivering a most extraordinary speech. Does he deny Srebrenica and the appalling atrocities committed against Bosnia when it was—rightly or wrongly—a fully recognised sovereign state? Does he deny that those things happened?

Mr. Clark

I am saying that an expensive, sophisticated propaganda machine has operated over a long period in one direction. We are not debating history or Srebrenirca. For an impartial, objective look at these things, hon. Members should read Sir Michael Rose's account. We are debating whether we are doing the right thing in bombing on a massive scale. One has only to read the headlines in this morning's newspapers to see the triumphalism of many accounts. Last night, I saw a happy scene of young people laughing and joking in a national park in Belgrade. The BBC commentator gloatingly said that they did not have any idea of what was coming in their direction.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that what is happening in Kosovo is ethnic cleansing? I was there with UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, a couple of weeks before Christmas. There can be no doubt that the Serbs under Milosevic are trying to achieve ethnic cleansing in the area. With my own eyes, I saw schools that had been shelled and health centres that had been razed to the ground. People talked of families that had been taken out and killed. Refugees were streaming out of Kosovo. That is not propaganda, but the reality of Kosovo.

Mr. Clark

I defer to the hon. Gentleman's personal experience. I do not doubt that he told the House what he saw. But we are debating whether we are within our rights and whether it is proper for us to bomb a sovereign country, effectively an act of war, without the authority of the United Nations or of this House of Commons, in pursuit of the interests of one side in a civil war. Civil wars are horrendous. The hon. Gentleman saw many appalling scenes. Very well; he saw them. They were in the course of a civil war. He did not say what he saw the KLA doing or whether he followed it around. I do not want get into those details. They are not central to this debate. We are debating whether the House should authorise our taking sides in a civil war in the Balkans.

Let us consider the legalities. We are doing this outside the authority of the United Nations. It is no good cooking up the small print of various resolutions; we are acting outside the authority of the UN Security Council. We are told that we have to do it, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, because we have to show that NATO has the macho will to do it—that, if it does not follow up, no one will believe in NATO any longer. One may ask what that matters, but it a pretty thin argument to justify intervening in a civil war.

There are other aspects to which the House should direct its attention. What is the legal position on liability consequent on actions taken in a war that is ostensibly under the auspices of NATO? Suppose, as is highly likely, that one or more cruise missiles land on a factory in south Belgrade making baby materials. Will that company have cause to take action against the Ministry of Defence? Surely it will. What is the basis for that action? Serious consequences flow from recklessly scattering high-explosive ordnance over a country with which one is not legally at war, and those consequences will be addressed in terms of civil liability. Perhaps the Minister will tell us about that in his winding-up speech.

There is an even more serious aspect about which I wish to warn the House. It is likely that the bombing will not work. The Prime Minister, in one of his more facile and idiotic soundbites—to which he is greatly addicted; he repeats them so often that hon. Members get sick of hearing them and we give him a little wave—said that the intention of the last round of bombing was to put Saddam Hussein back in his cage. What does that mean? It is ludicrous. The Prime Minister would not be drawn as to the meaning of that statement—and he certainly would not confirm whether Saddam Hussein was back in his cage.

Given the opportunity, it might be worth our asking the Prime Minister whether he wants to put Mr. Milosevic back in his cage. We could then question the Prime Minister a little more about what that means. I predict that Mr. Milosevic will not go back into his cage, according to any rational reckoning of the meaning of that statement. The bombing will intensify, the targets will become more diffused and then the first hints will be trailed—initially, by commentators and by others in the friendly press and media, and then possibly through oblique answers to questions in the Chamber—and we will be told it will be necessary to commit ground forces up to a certain level, under certain conditions and in certain localities, with appropriate restraints imposed on their actions and so on. We will find that we are committed to taking sides not just from the comfort of our chairs or the safety of our stealth panels, but on the ground. Our kith and kin and our children will be serving in a mountainous guerrilla-dominated location.

The House should think carefully about that prospect. We should not allow ourselves to be conditioned gradually over the ensuing weeks and months into regarding that action as first inevitable and then desirable. The entire Chamber must resist such an outcome.

3.53 pm
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I oppose the NATO military action in Yugoslavia. The action has not been endorsed by the United Nations—I do not care what fancy words or phrases may be used—it does not have the unanimous support of the Contact Group on Kosovo, and it contravenes the sovereign status of a recognised state. I oppose the action mainly because I think it is likely to cause more civilian casualties and could lead to an escalating conflict in south-east Europe.

I listened carefully to the Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who talked about a "just" war. He said that the suffering caused should be less than the suffering that we are seeking to prevent. However, I believe that the suffering in south-east Europe could be much worse as a result of this action.

I make it absolutely clear that I have no truck whatsoever with President Milosevic. I saw his barbarous handiwork at first hand when I visited Bosnia and Vukovar in Croatia. Some 80 per cent. of that once beautiful Danubian city has been reduced to mostly rubble, and much of what remains standing is mined. If there were ever a monument to the futility of bombing, it is Vukovar. The present generation should study that lesson.

I have also talked to the Krajina Serbs about mass expulsions and I visited a mass grave. I will not join in the demonisation of the whole Serb nation because it is stuck with a monstrous, barbarous leader any more than I will condemn Albanian Kosovars for the murderous activities of the KLA. Hon. Members should stop impugning the motives of those of us who oppose more killing, because we all approach this situation from a different angle.

I have been a member of the civilian affairs committee of the North Atlantic Assembly for seven years. For the past two years, I have chaired the sub-committee for security and co-operation in south-east Europe; so I recently visited many of the countries involved, either directly or indirectly, in the present conflict. A few weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal) and I visited Macedonia, where we had frank discussions with the leading politicians—both Albanians and Macedonians—in the Government. Albanian MPs told us stories about the killings perpetrated by the Serbian Black Hand gang in Kosovo and we discussed language problems and so on.

It is claimed that ethnic Albanians make up 25 per cent. of the population of Macedonia—although most people accept that the number is far greater. The refugees streaming over the border from Kosovo to live with relatives in Macedonia are swelling those numbers. The Macedonians to whom we spoke are extremely worried about the situation. They realise that allowing the NATO extraction force to be stationed in Qumanova in Macedonia is viewed by the Serbs as an unfriendly act. However, they were willing to allow that in order to do their bit towards securing peace in the area.

I asked the Macedonians whether they would allow their territory to be used as a base for aggressive acts against Yugoslavia. Every person said that they would not allow NATO or anyone else to use Macedonia as a base from which to attack either Serbia or Kosovo. It is against the Macedonian constitution to allow its territory to be used for hostile acts against any nation.

I have already mentioned by way of intervention how the sanctions against Yugoslavia are hurting Macedonia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is the largest market for Macedonian products. A serious economic situation is developing, which is very damaging for the Government as unemployment and poverty increase. It probably led to Macedonia's taking the rather naive decision to recognise Taiwan, which has had wide repercussions and prompted the Chinese to use their veto to end the United Nations preventive deployment force—UNPREDEP—mandate in Macedonia.

My committee and I visited EXFOR, the NATO extraction force, and we received excellent briefings from General Valentin and General David Montgomery. One could not help but be impressed by the efficiency of the extraction force. However, the generals pointed out the difficulties and dangers that they faced simply in trying to extract the OSCE observers. They explained that the helicopters could not fly if the weather closed in and that it was extremely difficult to extract a couple of thousand observers if particular bridges or roads were mined. It made me think about the difficulties associated with waging a ground war in that kind of terrain.

I want to refer to the peace process at Rambouillet because my right hon. Friend said that Belgrade was the stumbling block as it refused to negotiate. I have a copy of the Serb contribution to the peace process, "The Basic Elements of Substantial Self-Government in Kosovo". I also have a draft copy of the agreement that NATO tried to impose; there is little difference between the two documents. There are two sticking points. First, an ambiguous passage in the NATO draft document could lead to a referendum that would take Kosovo away from the Serbs. There is no question but that such a referendum could lead to separation and a separate state. The second sticking point is the proposal to put NATO troops on Serbian territory; the Serbs will not go along with that. That was confirmed when I met the deputy ambassador of Yugoslavia and many other Serbs.

The Serbs said that they were presented with an ultimatum, not a negotiating ploy. I think that the Serb case deserves to be put before the House. That is not to condone any of the atrocities that have been committed, but it is only fair that the House hears the Serb case. How would we feel if events in Northern Ireland had escalated out of control and the rest of the world—some of whom thought that we were not doing too well there—had issued an ultimatum through a military alliance, telling us to accept an agreement because, if we did not accept their terms, Aldershot would be bombed? We would be outraged and in uproar. We have to realise how Serbs think about their country. We must try to get away from the massive propaganda that we hear.

The Serbs have refused to capitulate to our ultimatum and, as we know, the result is the bombing, which I think is profoundly wrong. Far from making Milosevic more unpopular, it will strengthen his hand. The natural process by which he might have been removed will now be halted.

In Yorkshire, we have the largest Serbian community in the country. This morning, I spoke to some Serbs from Halifax. They are heavily represented in organisations such as ex-service men's clubs and the British Legion. Younger Members of the House often do not want to dwell on the second world war; they always look bored and sometimes shout down those of us who speak of it. Some of us are old enough to have experienced that war. I can just remember it; when I was a little girl, every male member of my household was involved in the war. My father was away for years. Some men did not return and some returned badly injured. We are entitled to talk about that experience.

War is a terrible thing, which follows its own dreadful course. At terrible cost, the Serbs held the German army at bay. We cannot escape history; that is what happened. I am a member of the British Legion and I go to the cenotaph and see Serbs there. They are some of our oldest and dearest allies. The Serbs who contacted me are incredulous that we are bombing their country—a European country. They do not like Milosevic; they want to get rid of him too, but they do not see why we should be bombing Serbia.

In respect of the instability in the region, it was excellent that we put in place the partnership for peace. We began to build up extremely good relations with the Russians among the various parliamentary organisations and at other levels. That work has now been put on hold. My committee was to visit Russia in a couple of weeks' time, but we have been told that they do not want us. Who can blame them? At present, Russia poses no threat to us, but that is not to say that it will not do so in the future. The bombing of Serbia will give great encouragement to Zhirinovsky, Lebed and other more sinister people waiting in the wings in that destabilised country.

The other day, the Russian Foreign Minister said these chilling words: If a fire burns in Kosovo, and it follows into Macedonia and Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, then another large war in the Balkans would be ignited. It is not beyond the bounds of anyone's imagination that that could happen.

We must start talking again. We have put at risk countries in that area. The words of the Montenegrin leader should make us all sit up and listen. He said: I believe that the bombing of the FRY would strengthen the regime of Mr. Milosevic. For this reason, I have always maintained that instead of air strikes we should persist with political talks, to find a solution that would bring about long-term political stability in Kosovo. He is a man who is bravely leading Montenegro along a different path and, for his troubles, he too got bombed last night.

I agree with other speakers who have said that we should get the United Nations in and start a peace conference. We should involve the Russians, the Chinese or anyone who is interested in stopping the bombing. We should make the KLA and the Serbs sit around the table. Let us not forget that the KLA has killed hundreds of Serbs in Kosovo; there is a civil war, although one side is more heavily armed, and I accept the practicalities of that situation.

Of course, I hope with all my heart that our forces keep from harm, but I also wish with all my heart that not another Serb is killed by bombs launched by NATO. I take a simple, practical view: if a NATO bomb kills a Serb, it is NATO and the NATO countries that are responsible for those killings.

4.6 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I think that none of us—certainly not the Foreign Secretary when he spoke today or the Prime Minister in his statement earlier this week—would say that we have a death wish or hatred for the Serbian people. Nothing could be further from the truth. On both sides of the House and throughout the country, the reaction is the same now as it was for events in Iraq. As far as we were concerned, there was no fight with the Iraqi people, but we were against the Iraqi regime. That is also true of Serbia. As long as Milosevic leads a regime that is so intrinsically evil to the people whom he claims to represent, and he is prepared to punish them in such a severe and hideous way, the natural reaction of all decent people is to be repelled by that and to want to try do something about it.

Like many hon. Members who have spoken today, I have visited the area on several occasions. Before I went to Kosovo and Albania, I thought that I had seen the worst things that I would see in my life. I had seen children die through hunger in the deserts of Africa and had seen people locked up in the hideous asylums of Romania and other countries of eastern Europe. I had seen civil rights atrociously denied to people right across the world.

However, nothing had prepared me for what I saw on the borders of northern Albania and in Kosovo. My group travelled by helicopter and landed in a place where a firefight had just finished. We saw people who had been shot and their heads hacked off and left as an example for other villagers. That is a horrendous sight. We saw children shot, then stabbed and mutilated. We saw women who had been raped, not once but several times, then shot or hanged as an example to others. Those events are horrendous to contemplate. Those were not rare occurrences; they were everyday events for the people of that region, as they had been for some considerable time.

As the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) said, it is right and proper to put aside the suggestion that the KLA are blameless. Far from it. I also witnessed the atrocities that they had committed. They had killed unarmed civilians, as an example to others; they had shot and then mutilated the bodies of Serbian soldiers who had surrendered. The suggestion was made, "In a civil war in a country like ours, nobody surrenders to anyone. The minute you stop shooting, you're dead." That cannot be right. The Prime Minister spoke for all those who believe that it is not possible to watch the scenes that we have seen on our television screens, or to read the graphic details in our newspapers as we have done, and then, as a nation and as a member of NATO, to stand by and let it continue.

There has rightly been criticism that these events were allowed to continue for so long, but no one who has said that the bombing is wrong has come up with a viable solution that stops the killing. Everyone who has spoken has been unable to suggest an alternative to bombing Milosevic, depriving him of some of the killing kit that he has at his disposal, and perhaps shocking the people of Serbia into realising that Milosevic has got it wrong.

Listening to the World Service today, I was staggered to hear interviews with people in Serbia who were surprised that bombing had occurred. Right up until 7 o'clock last night, some of them had believed that Milosevic would once again pull a magician's trick and somehow con NATO and the rest of us into calling off the bombing. Today, the Serbian people are in a state of shock, horrified that, for the first time, bombs and missiles have been targeted on them.

Hon. Members are right to say that what we have done is horrendous to contemplate. Anyone who saw the Prime Minister talking about it in the House this week could not have failed to see the strain and tension in his face. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) spoke of his own conflicts of conscience when he, as a member of the Cabinet, had to make similar decisions. Anyone who feels that the action is being taken to protect and defend NATO's macho image must be mad. Human beings have had to make those decisions in respect of other human beings who are dying.

It is right to repeat the statistics. Twenty-five per cent. of the population of the region of Kosovo have been forced to move from their homes, which have been destroyed. Thousands of people have been killed, and tens of thousands wounded or injured, either by direct action or by having to endure terrible trauma and forced movements across the region. European Union countries currently hold 1 million refugees from that region. Those people have been forced to move from their homes because of a regime led by a madman that is so evil that it believed that that was the right thing to do.

How on earth can we reason with people who genuinely believe that it is right and proper to massacre women and children, blow up their homes, or force them from the region in which they live? How can we reason with people like that? How can hon. Members who say that we should have gone on talking believe that there is a genuine solution to be found at the negotiating table? Of course there is not. The Serbian people have the answer in their hands: they have to decide whether they want to be governed by a regime that disregards human life in such a cavalier manner.

It is despicable to suggest that we are acting for any other reasons than the right ones. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is extremely selective in recounting history to support his argument, and he should have stayed in the Chamber throughout the debate and heard some of the rebuttals. He claims that it is better to talk than to drop bombs, but he did not make a single suggestion as to how that would prevent one more person from being killed. In his well crafted speech, the Foreign Secretary spelt out the method of negotiation that had been exhausted. Did he not say that, when Milosevic agreed to call a halt, it lasted all of six weeks? That simply gave him, his armed forces and the Serbian police an opportunity to regroup and return with an even more heavily mailed fist to inflict pain and suffering on the people.

No one can be sure that the bombing campaign will be sufficient to knock sense into the heads of the Serbian people. I greatly doubt whether it will ever be possible to knock sense into Milosevic's head. However, I hope that the Serbian people will realise that this is being done to bring peace to the country and to stop the murderous actions that have been carried out, supposedly in their name. I hope that they will see sense.

From the three occasions that I have visited the area, I know that it is not hard to find some who want a Greater Serbia, in which the people of Slovenia and Croatia are reunited with their Serbian brethren. Equally, one does not have to go far in the region of the legions of the KLA to meet those who believe that their only salvation is a Greater Albania.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

The hon. Gentleman is speaking with some passion, but I want to be clear as to his argument. He says that he is not absolutely sure that the action being taken will bring the Serbs to heel, yet with his next breath, he tells us that the aim of the mission is to bring peace to the country. To anyone with a sense of logic or common sense, that does not hold up.

Mr. Hancock

Others who have spoken in the debate and who previously questioned the Prime Minister have suggested that we should go on talking. My point is that no one—not one of us, not the Prime Minister, not the President of the United States, and not the generals leading the campaign for NATO—can say that they believe that this action alone is a solution, but we hope and pray that it will be. Most reasonable people hope that we do not have bomb again, and that enough harm will have been done to ensure that people see sense; but none of us—even the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes)—can claim to be sure. I hope that we can achieve a solution.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The hon. Gentleman is making a clear case for continued bombardment to ensure that some sort of talks take place. However, if that does not happen, is he prepared to support the deployment of ground troops? At what point do they stop: do they occupy the whole country, or merely parts of Kosovo? We deserve to be told by those who support the bombardment exactly what the endgame is.

Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman has made the point that I put to the Secretary of State for Defence when he came before the Select Committee on Defence yesterday morning. I asked the right hon. Gentleman, "What do you do if, at the end of the day, you have to commit ground forces?" His reply was the same as the Prime Minister's: "It is not our view that we will have to face that." Nobody wants that, but we all have to keep at the back of our mind the possibility that we might be confronted with a nation that has been bombed into a unit of resistance and that can be overcome only by land forces being sent in to protect the people.

Sir Peter Tapsell

So that is the policy is it?

Mr. Hancock

No, I do not think it is. It is a possible end scenario, and certainly the most painful end scenario that could ever be contemplated. That is why we must be seen to be united today in what we want from the campaign in which NATO is exercised on behalf of the whole of the civilised world.

Mr. Galloway

That is absurd.

Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman might think so, but his behaviour on these issues is, on occasion, beyond satire.

We owe it to those who are today putting their lives on the line to try to prevent further loss of life. We need to know what the next stage will be, but nobody wants to contemplate deploying ground forces. We must hope and pray that what we will do today, tomorrow and probably for another few days will be successful in achieving negotiations for an agreement that we can defend with land forces.

Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), I am 100 per cent. certain that we need a protectorate so that we can guarantee the lives of the people in Kosovo because they deserve no less and no more than most of us readily take for granted.

4.21 pm
Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

I do not usually participate in debates in the Chamber because I do not see the sense in speaking for speaking's sake. I became aggrieved once when it was assumed that because I did not speak, I was in favour of one side of the argument or another. That assumption was made by an hon. Member to whose view I was totally opposed. Sometimes it is necessary to stand up and declare a position because we owe it to the electorate who put us here.

This is a grave situation that has underlined to everyone in the country the effects of warfare, especially on families, but we are particularly aware of those effects in Portsmouth.

I have great admiration for many hon. Members who have spoken. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) excelled himself, as did the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and others. There are people here who can say what needs to be said in a far clearer and more defined way than I can, but as a Member of Parliament, I cannot see the pictures of people being raped and murdered and their villages being torched, and do nothing.

I do not have a solution other than the one that we have. It is dangerous to have cold feet once we have started a campaign. At this stage, we should be forceful and united. As events progress, we may have to reconsider our actions. Hopefully, there is a will in the House to escalate those actions if it is necessary. If we do not believe at this stage that we have more power at our disposal and are prepared to go to greater lengths, we should not have started the campaign. Once we have committed service people to engage the enemy, it will be necessary for the House to have unity of purpose. Nothing is more demoralising to people risking their lives in a foreign country on our behalf than to realise that Members in this House are undermining the policy for reasons that they believe are good, but which are dangerous for the troops in action.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman therefore agree with me, and many hon. Members, that that is the very reason why we should have had a proper and full debate before our armed forces went into action, and that it is a disgrace that we were unable to do so?

Mr. Rapson

I have been a Member of the House for only a short time, and the House's processes work on the basis that the decision-makers are better informed than a debate in the Chamber would necessarily be. Decisions are made and we then debate the issues, as we are doing now, in an Adjournment debate, without a vote. It would be dangerous to have a vote to say whether we should go ahead with this action. That might be anti-democratic, but it is the best way. I have one power because I have a single vote, which is equal to that of every other Member. Many hon. Members are much more experienced, knowledgeable, clever and worldly, but at the end of the day, one vote cancels out an opposite vote.

Mr. Corbyn

Will my hon. Friend think carefully for a moment about his argument that the House should not take a vote on these matters? We are sent to the House as Members elected by our constituents. The House has the ability to ask a Government to make war, or not to make war. Under royal prerogative, that power is limited; but does not my hon. Friend think that we have a responsibility to make a decision on this matter—I am opposed to the bombing—and to answer to our constituents for it? We should not just abdicate that responsibility.

Mr. Rapson

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I am only giving my view, which is that, although I have been in the House for only a short time, I think that the process that we have always used is right, and I do not want to change it.

Some hon. Members have given us a history lesson today. It is necessary to remember the past, but we must also consider the present. Many of the people whom I represent are much younger than me. They think about what is happening and are concerned and angry about the television pictures that I have already mentioned, and which have been better described by Conservative Members. My constituents want something to be done, and they get frustrated if we do nothing. It is no good preaching history lessons to them and trying to justify our actions according to events that occurred 50 years ago. We must be guided by history in our actions, but we must consider the present, because situations change. I respect people's views and sensitivity about the Luftwaffe, the German air force, but events have moved on and Germany has changed, as we have seen, and it has a democratic structure. We must weigh such considerations against what is happening on the ground.

My view is one of simple support for the Government because I can find no reasonable alternative that is better, and it is imperative that we protect our service people who are in action. I state clearly and precisely that if it is necessary to upgrade our action to pursue the objective of bringing Milosevic to the negotiating table to settle an agreement for peace in that country, we must be prepared to do so. The situation could escalate and might be fearful, but if we do not have the necessary resolve now, it would have been better not to have started our action.

Mr. Hayes

I want to ask the hon. Gentleman a question, and it is not meant to be a clever question. He has spoken with great humility, unlike the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), and said openly that the action may have to be escalated and that the situation might be fearful. Does he believe that there is a mandate from the British people for that decision? Would people in his constituency and elsewhere agree with him? My instinct, following the events of the past few days, is that that would be a tight judgment, and the Government should not assume that the majority of the people would agree with them.

Mr. Rapson

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The public are, perhaps, more fearful than we are. I am prepared, as a Member of the House, to be accountable for the action escalating, if necessary. If we are to enter a fight, we must win the fight; otherwise we should not enter it. I must live with that and support that decision. I am aware of the escalation scenario and what could happen if Russia became involved. We could be facing a sophisticated enemy. Then, escalation could be enormous—I realise that.

We must however have the resolve to say to our Front-Bench team, the Secretary of State and others involved that this House is prepared to support them in an escalation of action, if necessary. I am one who is prepared to do so at this stage. I hope that other hon. Members will realise the necessity to make that very clear, rather than, during our first debate since the conflict began, expressing worry and getting cold feet. I do not have cold feet.

I can be accused of being an armchair soldier; unfortunately, that is all I am. I have been elected as a Member of Parliament; all I have is a voice and a vote to use as necessary. I must take the responsibility of making a decision on behalf of my electors. I am here to do that; the Government have my full support—and more if they ask for it in future.

4.31 pm
Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)

There can be no doubt that, today, we are nearer to a large-scale conflict on mainland Europe than we have been at any time in NATO's history over the past 50 years. The questions before us are whether we can make this work, rather than whether we will make it work, and whether we can contain the conflict. In his address to the American nation last night, President Clinton spoke of the importance of engaging in the Balkans precisely to contain the conflict. It was interesting that, unlike our Prime Minister, President Clinton found time yesterday to talk to the Russian President.

Although there were extremely good reasons why the Prime Minister could not be in the House last night, many hon. Members feel that he, and not the Deputy Prime Minister, should have made the statement, especially given that Serbia has today announced that it believes itself to be in a state of war. It is significant and sad that, for a debate on a very grave issue, so few hon. Members are present on either side of the House. I am afraid that that is one of the reasons why many people outside the House feel that this Chamber is no longer as great as it was. Rightly, many will ask why, on a day of such importance, so few hon. Members are present.

It is critical that we discuss the issue of containment because the conflict in the Balkans runs the very severe risk of spreading out of control. In talking about containment, President Clinton did not reflect on just what might happen if the conflict were to spread out of control. It is right that we have begun to focus—I raised this following the statement last night—on the problem of Russia.

Historically, Russia is Serbia's closest ally. There can be no doubt that, in Russia, there will be two consequences of the bombing. Nationalist sentiment will be inflamed in a country which is already inherently unstable. The response from the Russian Government and the Russian Parliament is in itself at the moment divided and mixed. In the past 24 hours, Russia has spoken of "unlawful acts of NATO" and "undisguised aggression", and said that it will consider revising its relations with NATO. It has warned NATO leaders that should the military conflict expand, Russia reserves the right of taking adequate measures, including military ones. We must ask what on earth Russia means when it refers to the conflict expanding and to reserving the right to take adequate measures, including military ones, if it does so.

It is possible simply to dismiss this; it is possible to say that such words are simply verbal threats. That is a very dangerous and serious calculation to make given that we know that Russia is in a very difficult political position at the moment. It is a very difficult calculation to make given that President Yeltsin has issued a statement that Russia is discussing further steps in the wake of NATO's air strikes.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that we have heard very sincere, excellent and heartfelt speeches. I regret that I must intervene on a point that might be seen as controversial. Despite the explanations, the hon. Gentleman criticised the Prime Minister for not being present last night, and went on to tell us about the Russian view. Does he think that President Yeltsin is the best person to speak for Russia at this time?

Mr. Woodward

It is jolly interesting that we have heard from President Yeltsin. It would be unkind to refer to last night's statement, except to say that it is my belief and that of my constituents that, when young men and women are risking their lives for this country, the Prime Minister should be in the Chamber. I am simply reflecting and representing my constituents' views. I should be delighted if the right hon. Gentleman came to my constituency and discussed his views with my constituents.

The Foreign Secretary has said that he does not believe that the Russian arms embargo will be lifted, but the Russian Parliament has called for a resumption of arms sales to Yugoslavia, which Russia's beleaguered arms exporters will undoubtedly back. We must recognise that action in Kosovo will aid future extreme nationalists in Russia. It will certainly make President Yeltsin's position more precarious. The long-term effects of the policy will undoubtedly stir up anti-west sentiment.

Having said all that, I am not making an argument for not continuing with the action on which we have embarked. We must prosecute this cause. It would be ludicrous if, after a day or two of difficulty, NATO somehow suddenly decided to stop the bombing. The result of that in Kosovo would be a final solution such as the ethnic cleansing that we have seen so far. It would be a green light to Milosevic to do whatever he wants in Kosovo. This is the policy that we have, and this is the policy that we must continue. However, that is not an excuse for the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and senior members of the Government not to enter into greater and fuller diplomatic negotiations with countries such as Russia which will find it difficult to support the action.

There are many, including some European Union leaders and Governments, who are very concerned about NATO's course of action. Part of the reason for that is that they are not clear why—specifically—we are taking this action. What is the specific objective of the bombing, and as such, when will the bombing end?

The Prime Minister has described a range of aims and hopes that he would like to be fulfilled by his policy, but which takes precedence? If the goal is to stop the atrocities being committed on the people of Kosovo, will the bombing continue until the humanitarian aggression ends? If the goal is to degrade Serbian military capability, at what level will we deem it to have been so degraded that we stop bombing? Indeed, to be frank, is it realistic to think that simply degrading military hardware will bring an end to ethnic cleansing? We may manage to bomb all the tanks, but there is low-grade warfare, too. A soldier can simply throw a hand grenade through the window of a house, and up goes the house.

This is a very different campaign from the one fought in Iraq. I supported the action in Iraq. I now support the action that we are taking in Kosovo. However, the Government need to be far more careful and much clearer about what the specific objectives are. If the goal is to bring Milosevic back to the table or to persuade him to agree to the Rambouillet statement, and if he refuses to come, does that mean that the bombing simply goes on?

The problem is that nobody knows the specific objective that lies behind the Prime Minister's stance. It would be fitting for the Foreign Secretary and for the Prime Minister soon to tell the House explicitly not the military tactics, but the military objectives. Can they be defined?

Serbia has now declared itself to be in a state of war. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether that is different from a declaration of war by Serbia, and what difference that makes? What is the difference between being in a state of war, and declaring war? Can he tell the House what position that leaves Britain and NATO in? Are we, too, in a state of war with Serbia? Is NATO in a state of war with Serbia?

What will we do if Milosevic, evil and skilful as he is, uses the attack to strengthen his own position—to kill even more? We know that he is closing down his own media. If his position is strengthened, where does that leave the Government's future strategy?

On Wednesday, Montenegro's President Djukanovic said that Milosevic was intent on an irrational policy of confrontation with the entire world. Today, Djukanovic's Administration is in mortal danger. To what extent does the Foreign Secretary believe that the action that we have taken and the response that may be forthcoming from Milosevic will put the leadership of Montenegro in jeopardy?

What action will we take if that leadership falls? Will the restoration of that leadership, if it should fall, become a secondary and binding condition for the cessation of hostilities against Milosevic and Serbia? Will the bombing continue until that leadership is restored?

There are grave risks in taking no action. Clearly, that is no longer an avenue for us to pursue. We are no longer debating whether we should take action, but we need to be clear about what on earth that action is likely to achieve. For example, it is ludicrous to suppose that all over Kosovo and Serbia, tanks are not being dispersed. They are hardly going to be left together in car parks for us to bomb. Of course, the ideal place to park a tank is in the middle of a village in Kosovo. We may hit it; we may not.

Those may be risks worth taking, but let us beware: there will be dreadful pictures for the country to see. Last night the Deputy Prime Minister constantly sought refuge in the theme, "We see it on the television. Something must be done." That could come to haunt the Government in an entirely different way from the way in which they see the situation now.

There is a danger that the bombing will lead to an escalation of violence against the Kosovars. As one Serbian leader said, the Serbs might be inclined to finish the task off in Kosovo. That raises a crucial question for the Government. How realistic is it to think that without the use of ground forces or anti-personnel weaponry, we can stop individual Serb units from killing ethnic Kosovo Albanians in the villages? The risk is an even greater bloodbath.

We may well see an escalation of the crisis. What will be the effect of that, and what will be our response if Milosevic succeeds over the next few months in destabilising the entire region? For example, he could push Albanian Kosovar refugees into Macedonia. He would destabilise Macedonia's ethnic balance and would end up drawing Greece, Bulgaria and Albania into a wider quarrel. He could destabilise Bosnia, inciting Serbs to attack Muslims again, or take on western targets from the peacekeeping force.

What would be our response to that? Would it be to give him an extra 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles tonight—an extra punishment beating? Would we extend the bombing a little longer, or take out another village? To what extent has the Foreign Office calculated the possible extent of the instability?

There are worrying signs from the United Nations. It is foolish for any hon. Member to dismiss the authority and the legitimacy of action that comes from the United Nations. If we use it as a stick to beat Saddam Hussein and tell him when he cannot act, we cannot now choose to ignore it ourselves. Rightly, questions are asked about the legitimacy of our actions. To ignore those questions would be foolish in the extreme and could jeopardise the resolution of future conflicts. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) spoke extremely lucidly on the matter.

Again, can the Foreign Secretary tell the House why, if we have the necessary resolutions behind the action, the Secretary-General of the United Nations does not stand fully behind NATO's action? Why, yesterday, when the Secretary-General described this as a grave moment for the international community did he not endorse fully and clearly the action that NATO was taking? Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what steps he is taking to establish the full support of the Secretary-General?

One of the more unfortunate moments in the Deputy Prime Minister's statement last night came when I asked him whether he could tell me whether the Security Council was meeting last night. He had nothing to say. He did not know. The issue is too serious to be handled by those who do not know.

Lives are at stake in Kosovo, on both sides of the argument. The lives are at stake of all the young men and women who are flying and engaged in action tonight, including those from Brize Norton in my constituency, from where the refuelling operation and some of the communications operations take place. This is serious business, and we cannot have a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister, made because the Prime Minister is not in the country, when the right hon. Gentleman did not even know whether the Security Council was meeting and did not consider it necessary to pick that up as a reference.

We cannot have a situation in which, by the time of the debate today, the Prime Minister, who is committing our forces to fight, still has not spoken to his Russian counterpart. That is dilatory. The Secretary of State for Defence shakes his head, but the Foreign Secretary was asked at the beginning of the debate whether contact had been made, and he said that it had not. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to contradict the Foreign Secretary, I am sure the House would be delighted to hear that contact has been made and the content of it. The right hon. Gentleman does not rise. That suggests to the House that there has still been no contact.

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

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman, who continues to speak about the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary as though no Minister from the Ministry of Defence was present, has at last recognised that I will be replying to the debate, not the Foreign Secretary, who has gone back to Berlin.

The Foreign Secretary made it clear that the Prime Minister intends to speak to Prime Minister Primakov. As far as I know, it has not yet been possible for that contact to be made. It takes two to make a telephone call. The Prime Minister will, I know, be speaking to Mr. Primakov.

Mr. Woodward

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's intervention. Had he been in the Chamber when I began my speech, he might have understood a little more of what I was saying. None the less, we are glad to see him now.

In the light of the speeches that have been made, and as he is with us and willing to rise to speak, can the Defence Secretary tell us whether it is realistic to say that we will not use, in any circumstances, ground troops to make a peace? Can he tell us categorically not that the Government have no plans to use ground troops, but that they will not do so? Again, I give the Defence Secretary the opportunity to reply.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

We have had 18 minutes of this.

Mr. Woodward

We are asking difficult questions, but they are also serious. Conservative Members support the Government, but the Government would do well to remember that two thirds of the 16,000 people involved in today's BBC poll were against military action in Serbia. Ministers would do well not to mock those Conservative Members who wish to lend their support, because they may find that the going is not always easy and that lives are lost. At those moments, they will be grateful for the House uniting behind them and not dividing against them.

Mr. Coaker

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that his constituents, and mine, would think it indefensible if their Government and their Parliament stood aside from what they have seen on television? People are being massacred and driven out of their homes. Would not our constituents then say, "What are you doing about that?"?

Mr. Woodward

In today's world, the greatest danger faced by anyone in any western democracy who is involved in defence and foreign affairs world is the cry from those who see pain, anguish and slaughter on their television sets. The response from viewers, rightly, is, "Something must be done." The danger for a Defence Secretary, a Foreign Secretary, a Prime Minister or a President is that there is a knee-jerk reaction and something is done.

Mr. Coaker


Mr. Woodward

No, I will not give way again.

The response in a number of conflicts around the world is, "Something must be done, so we'll do it." That ends up with soldiers coming home in body bags. This is not an easy situation for the Government; no Conservative Member pretends that it is straightforward for the Government, but we ask for clarification and credibility for a policy that can be built and maintained if the public know where actions will lead, not where they may lead.

We did not fight against the aggression of a Nazi dictator in the second world war because we thought that it might just lead to victory; we were fighting for victory, whatever the cost and whatever we would win. Such resolution is staunch. Having embarked on military action, is the Defence Secretary prepared to pay the price that must be paid to win and to prosecute the cause to its end—even if that means ground troops going in, not only to keep a peace but to make a peace—or is that a price that he would not pay?

I am sorry that the Defence Secretary has to defer to the Foreign Secretary, but the Foreign Secretary went to Rambouillet. At its beginning, he told that conference that we would commit up to 8,000 troops to keep a peace. Does that offer still stand and are there any circumstances in which we may move from peacekeeping to peacemaking? The Foreign Secretary was absolutely clear in his statement and, if the Defence Secretary would like, we will find it for him. [Interruption.] Is the Defence Secretary intervening?

Nothing could be more disastrous than the House dividing on this matter and the Government losing the support of the Opposition, but the Government should not take that support for granted. A lot of people up and down this country strongly believe that the actions taken last night are not justified and that British interests are not involved. Many of us—probably most of us—believe that taking action was the right thing to do, but the Government must be careful of their arrogance and their complacent treatment of the House to ensure that, over the next few days, they keep the entire House on their side.

4.54 pm
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) says that he supports the Government; to me, it sounded for all the world like the support that the rope gives the hanging man. Almost every Conservative Member, with certain honourable exceptions, has supported the Government in that vein.

Tests of public opinion have been undertaken in the past 24 hours, although they have been limited. Telephone polls, vox pops carried out in the streets by the newspapers and telephone calls to Members of Parliament—as well as the empty green Benches behind me on the Government side of the House and the paucity of Government supporters who will enter the Lobby tonight to vote positively to support this war—all show that this is an enterprise that the British people are very reluctant indeed to support. That is at a time when the bombing has only just started and the action is at the apex of its popularity. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, wars are always popular on the first day—when the first world war was declared, people hung out bunting, blew trumpets and marched to the enlistment offices—but war has a habit of swiftly turning sour.

It is a funny old world. How things change. Several Conservative Members, notably the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), made clarion, powerful speeches. They argued powerfully for the centrality of the United Nations and for international legality, and against this war.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend makes the point well. Does he believe that, by bypassing the United Nations over this bombardment, the ability of NATO countries to have any influence over the UN in the future will be limited? Perhaps more seriously for the rest of the world, the UN will feel that it is impossible to intervene in any situation because NATO will act unilaterally and ignore its views.

Mr. Galloway

It is my view—which again I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield—that one of the main reasons why we are engaged in this operation is that an attempt is being made to substitute NATO for the United Nations. America cannot count on getting its way on each and every issue in the United Nations, but it is the overwhelmingly dominant partner, politically and militarily, in NATO.

If people do not understand the anxieties of Russia about the burgeoning muscularity and expansionism of NATO, I refer them to the wonderful exchange on "Newsnight" this week between Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Paxman. Mr. Gorbachev was being pressed by Mr. Paxman on what he had to worry about from the expansion of NATO. Mr. Gorbachev replied, "Mr. Paxman, if you really don't understand why Russia is worried about the expansion of NATO, why on earth are you working for the BBC?" NATO, with this new-found role, is about to face de jure as well as de facto new realities. That is one of the reasons why we are having this debate.

Once upon a time, Liberal Democrats were men who wore beards, sandals and long, woolly jumpers. They believed in the United Nations and they believed in peace. Increasingly, with each campaign, they come before us not in woolly jumpers but in ever-grander military uniforms. I give the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) this advice as a friend and an admirer—I even have money on him in a forthcoming contest. It is that the brass on his admiral's uniform is becoming ever-more blinding. I have watched with wonder the Liberal Democrats' mounting infatuation with matters Balkan over the past few years. They have followed the old man—the departing leader of the Liberal Democrat party—wherever he wanted to go. "War war" is the Liberal Democrat slogan. Another—we know this, because we were told so by the right hon. and learned Gentleman—is "Vote Liberal for a European ground war". The Liberal Democrat party is the only party in the House that is openly calling for the insinuation of ground forces, including our own, into the morass that is the Balkan battleground.

As I say, it is a funny old world, and we have seen it all this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, whom most would agree to be worthy of some respect, was heckled by an individual who was in the Chamber briefly, only to leave for a long period, only to come back. Perhaps he will heckle me next. He is an individual whose name most hon. Members would not even know.

Dr. Julian Lewis

As a regular attender of the Chamber, I must say that I know that individual's name perfectly well. I know his constituency, and I know that he comes here regularly. I do not think that he heckled the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn); I think that he intervened in a perfectly respectable way, and was dismissed in a thoroughly irresponsible way.

Mr. Galloway

No doubt, the hon. Member concerned will be greatly strengthened by the support that he has just received from a former Secretary of the Newham, North-East constituency Labour party. I am sure that he will find it very comforting.

I appeal to my hon. Friends, in particular, to curb their tendency to go over the ball at right hon. and hon. Members who hold a different view from the majority of Members. This is an assembly of free men and women. It is not a football stadium to which people come with scarves and rattles to support their side, come what may, right or wrong. This is a free Parliament.

Mr. McNulty

I will not bother to respond to the point about attendance, but I was not going over the ball. I was not at a football game. I asked what I thought to be an entirely genuine question—"What is the alternative?"—and I received no response other than further hot air.

Mr. Galloway

I will not be drawn further down that road.

This morning, The Independent reported—exaggeratedly, but it had a point—that I was jeered by my own side last night when I raised a point about the participation of German forces in the bombardment of Yugoslavia. The Independent was right, up to a point: I was jeered. Let me say this to my hon. Friends. Each of us must approach these matters through the portals of our own experience, and I have some experience—a little more than my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), I venture to suggest—of the Balkans as an area, of its politics and of its history.

For a short time, I was president of the British Albanian Society. Many years ago, I visited Kosovo with the former Member of Parliament for Epping Forest, Mr. Norris. On our return, Mr. Norris memorably said that most MPs did not know whether a Kosovar was something you ate, drank, licked or drove, and that was true.

I have written a book about the Balkans—about Romania—and I have travelled widely there, so I think I have the right to put the point of view that I am about to put. I am against the operation for many reasons; some are legal, some political, but I wish to dwell on the practical. This is an operation that will not work: it will not achieve the ends that are claimed for it. I believe that it will not only fail to dispose of the age-oldcenturies-old—hatreds and enmities of the Balkans, but pour petrol on already dangerous flames. The operation is unbalanced and disproportionate.

Let me deal first with the lack of balance. I made the point to the Deputy Prime Minister last night; he did not deal with it. Everyone has concentrated on the suffering and bloodshed in Kosovo. As I say, as someone who visited it long ago, I am second to no one in my concern about that, but one of the reasons why there is such suffering and bloodshed is that there is an armed separatist war going on in Kosovo.

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Galloway

I shall later.

An armed separatist insurrection is going on in the territory of Serbia.

Mr. Austin

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Galloway

Let me develop my argument.

Armed separatist rebellions are going on in many places. I could deal with them all day and night, but I will deal with just two. An armed separatist rebellion is going on in south-east Turkey. It has been for decades. About 13 million Kurds support, to a greater or lesser extent, the activities of the PKK, the armed separatist rebels in Turkey. Whether any of us support them or not is, for these purposes, irrelevant. No hon. Member is calling for a NATO bombardment of Turkey because it has dealt in the harshest possible way with that armed separatist rebellion, and that is not least because Turkey is a member of NATO and, indeed, its air bases are regularly used by NATO forces to fly punishment missions against other countries.

It is accepted by all Governments, including the British Government, that Turkey has the right to fight to maintain its territorial integrity. I hazard a guess that, no matter how brutal and how bloody the Turkish Government's efforts to quell the Kurdish rebellion in the south-east of its territory become, there will be no international bombardment of Turkey to force it to desist. Still less will anyone call for British and other forces to invade Turkey and to establish a protectorate in its south-east provinces. I am willing to bet my salary for the rest of the time that I am in the House of Commons that no British Government will ever support such a call, but that is exactly what we are doing in the case of Kosovo.

For all the crocodile tears that have been shed in the debate about the need for the Kosovars not to try to exploit the situation, or to push the boundaries out further, the Kosovo Liberation Army has a clear goal. Let me quote the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci, in the newspapers this morning: Independence of Kosovo will not come as soon as we hope. It all depends on our organising and on our fighting in Kosovo in the future. We have allowed ourselves to be hijacked as the air force of the Kosovo Liberation Army in its attempt to win separation for that territory from Serbia, which, in international law, possesses Kosovo.

I do not deal with the extent to which I think the Milosevic Government have grotesquely exacerbated the national tensions in Serbia. When they cancelled—Milosevic himself made the decision—the autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo almost a decade ago, they set a clock ticking, and started a process that was bound to lead to the violence and bloodshed that we see today. I merely ask the British Government to take great care, because the arguments that they are advancing for intervening in the civil war in Yugoslavia will be advanced by others in other theatres and will, at best, show the Government to be guilty of double standards and, at worst, lead the Government into ever-more bloody and complicated territory.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

I do not challenge for a moment the hon. Gentleman's right to make this sort of speech. He and I have faced each other across the Chamber and in television and radio studios on many occasions where we have had robust exchanges and, I hope, always managed to respect each other's point of view. The hon. Gentleman made a powerful case against intervention. What would be his alternative action or non-action? If he were presented with the right of decision and no bombing campaign had begun, what would be his proposal?

Mr. Galloway

I shall come to that towards the end of my remarks. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, it is normal to put one's proposals at the end. I hope that he will have patience.

Since television has been mentioned, I shall digress briefly. I have lost count of the number of people who have said today, in support of the action, that we had to do it because of what we saw on our television. That is an extraordinary notion. As the hon. Member for Witney made brilliantly clear, when we see something on our television, something must be done, even if that something makes matters worse. It leaves aside the reality that, when appalling suffering takes place in areas where television cameras are disinterested or find it difficult to reach, as in Rwanda—in Rwanda it was both—absolutely nothing will be done.

The making of policy, and especially the making of war, is a hazardous business if it is to be predicated upon the scissors of the editor of "Newsnight" or the emotive commentary of Kate Adie. We must have a better basis for going to war and conducting international relations than that which is seen on our television screens.

There are conflicts or humanitarian catastrophes—to use the vogue word—all over the globe and the Queen does not have enough soldiers to address every one of them. If we are to deal only with those that are thought televisual enough to make it on to the transitory editorial choices of the British or other media, we will be drawn into a very selective use of international force.

When I hear that we must do this because we have to show NATO's credibility, I am reminded of nothing more than the arguments for the starting of the first world war in the very place that we are discussing today. The railway timetables were such that there was an inevitability about the need to go to war at that time. One should only take decisions about war and peace after the most serious evaluation and calculation of the effects of that war. It should not be because, if we did not go to war, somebody might argue that we did not have the cojones or the macho attributes referred to by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark). We must have better reasons than that.

Mr. Austin

A few moments ago, and last night when my hon. Friend put a question to the Deputy Prime Minister, he gave the impression that the Serbian repression against the Kosovo Albanians was in response to a terrorist KLA separatist, secessionist movement. Given my hon. Friend's understanding of the history of the Balkans, will he accept that, under the Tito constitution, the Kosovars have their own federal assembly, their own separate representation in the federal presidency, their own national bank and supreme court—essentially internal autonomy with Serbia—all of which was taken away by Milosevic? When Ibrahim Rugova tried, through constitutional means, to establish a civilian administration, which was successful for a while, it was greeted with repression and the full force of the Serbian forces long before the KLA had any legitimacy or support among the Kosovars?

Mr. Galloway

Not only do I accept that, I said it a few moments ago, although not as eloquently as my hon. Friend—I mean that sincerely. Milosevic set the clock ticking with his decision to strip Vojvodina and Kosovo of their autonomy.

That leads me neatly to my penultimate point. The break-up of Yugoslavia, including the process that led to the stripping of autonomy from the territories that I have mentioned, is the primary reason why we are discussing the issue today. When I mentioned German participation yesterday, it was not just because I wanted my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to imagine how it seems to Yugoslavs to see a German aeroplane dropping bombs on them, given the history of that territory in the lifetime of many people there and in this Chamber, but because Germany played a despicable role in the break-up of Yugoslavia. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield was right. Mr. Genscher, once the permanent Foreign Secretary of the Federal Republic of Germany—a fellow Liberal of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife—boasted in his memoirs that his greatest achievement in politics was the break-up of Yugoslavia. That break-up unleashed all the dark, sleeping forces of ethnic hatred and rancid nationalism that have emerged out of the swamp of the Balkans and are eating each other up.

On the admirable Nicky Campbell's programme on Radio 5 this morning, the airwaves were blocked with people of Serbian background and people of Albanian background phoning in. The hatred that they felt for each other was so poisonous and so violently expressed that it would have given even the most gung-ho supporter of the Government's policy second thoughts. When a civil war is as complex, deep and full of hatred as this one, intervening on one side—as we have done—has to be fraught with danger.

My final point—I shall put my proposals soon—is that the Government are making a big mistake taking Russia for granted. I beg them not to be complacent about Russia. They should not imagine that Russia's poverty will make it comply with whatever the west decides. That poverty and instability make Russia a potentially ultra-dangerous feature of the equation. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary seemed to say today that, because he had offered the Russians money to deal with the Arctic fleet, they would go along with our actions and return to business as usual. If he did not mean that, I apologise, but, if he did, it is a dangerous argument.

Dark forces stalk the streets of Russia, too. Russian nationalism is on the march, not only in the Duma and the Kremlin's corridors of power but, most importantly in the streets, in the ranks of the millions of unemployed and under-employed and in the ranks of the army, which feels humiliated and underpaid, maybe even unpaid, with weapons that may not be dependable and with an uncertain future.

No one should underestimate the strength of the Russian people's association with Serbia. They are co-religionists, with a common culture and strong historical ties. Even now, Russian citizens will be volunteering to go to the front line of the struggle. It is only a matter of time before the Russian Government are prevailed on to break the so-called embargo. The idea that there can still be an arms embargo on Serbia when 13 countries are bombing it is ludicrous, as is the idea that there can be non-intervention by Russia when there is massive intervention by those countries.

People say that negotiation was tried and talks went on ad nauseam, but negotiation was not properly tried, as NATO wanted to keep Russia out of the equation because it wants a NATO-imposed pax Americana. There will be no solution without negotiation and no meaningful negotiation until the Russians are brought into the centre of the process.

Instead of sending German troops to police the peace in Kosovo, we should consider sending thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Russian troops. The process will not be a peace process if it leads to the dismemberment of Serbia, which will never accept the removal of Kosovo from its territory—if we were in Serbia' s shoes, neither would we.

We run the risk of unleashing even more dark forces in Serbia and Kosovo. In the pause between the bombing, there will be more bloodshed, not less. The more bombing there is, the more bloodshed there will be. The greater the risk of collateral and civilian damage, the more pressure there will be from the real hard-liners in Serbia. If hon. Members think that Milosevic is the worst that Serbia has to offer, they have not looked closely at Serbian politics. The real hard-liners will unsheathe their swords and a terrible, terrible night will have begun.

Mrs. Mahon

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just received a wire from Reuters, saying that the Italian Government say that the Serbs have suspended the offensive in Kosovo following the strike and that it is time for fresh diplomacy. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister can enlighten us on whether that is true.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

That is not a point of order for the Chair, but I am sure that the whole House heard the hon. Lady.

5.23 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

We have heard some passionate and powerful speeches, not least from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), in an excellent debate. Many right hon. and hon. Members appear to have firm views and a clear understanding of what they believe should be the solution. I do not know what the solution to the problems of the Balkans is, and I suspect that the House, which has been grappling with those problems for the best part of 100 years, does not know either.

It has been said about Ireland that, in 1914, we were discussing the fields and steeples of Fermanagh and South Tyrone when the great tide of the first world war rose up and drowned the steeples, and that, as the war ended, the water subsided and the same steeples and fields of Fermanagh and South Tyrone emerged again to exercise the House. The same could be said of the Balkans. We have been discussing these issues from Gladstone onwards. Frankly, none of us has any solutions. One of the most charming speeches made today was by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson), who spoke with great humility and from the heart, and did not pretend to have a solution.

I want to sound a few warnings. I want to follow up what the hon. Member for Kelvin said about Russia. I do not claim to be an expert on the Balkans, but I am married to an Orthodox half-Russian. Over the years, I have come to know a little about the Russian soul and psyche. I give a solemn warning to the House and to the Government; they must not underestimate the intense pan-Orthodox and pan-Slavic feeling in Russia today. We may find it hard to understand, whether we are religious or not, but the Orthodox faith is a national faith of the Slavic people. We may be unleashing a tiger that we cannot control.

The House should not underestimate the intense feeling in the Russian soul at present that their nation has been utterly humiliated in the past 10 years. There are extraordinary parallels between Russia today and the Weimar republic. We should not underestimate the intense humiliation in Russia caused by the fact that Ukraine, which the Russians feel to be a part of their soul and of their country—it is known as "little Russia" in Russia—has been taken from them. It may be obvious, but we are embarking on something dangerous.

I cannot match the experience of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), but in my 16 years in the House of Commons, I have not known such a grave moment. I have studied the history, and I have never known the House of Commons to be so disunited on the day after we have declared war. It is a pity that we did not have the debate before, but nobody could claim that the House of Commons is united in supporting the Government's action. This is a grave and serious issue.

I want to try to be constructive, as well as sending a warning. The only country that has any influence with the Serbian leadership is Russia; Russia is the key. Unless the Government, the American Government and NATO can engage the Russian Government speedily, we could be embarking on a dangerous course.

I do not take sides between Croats and Serbs—I am completely neutral. However, no one should underestimate Serb sentiment and determination. We are not dealing with an Arab conscript, sent into the desert to try to invade some oil wells. We are dealing with a people who believe in their heart of hearts and with an absolute passion that Kosovo is an integral part of their homeland. We may dismiss the view, but they believe that, for centuries, they have stood on the frontier of Christendom. We may think it ridiculous to think in terms of history all the time, and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North said that we should think of the present. Of course; but if we are to understand the situation, we must understand what motivates the Serb people whom we are now bombing.

I am afraid that those who ignore history will receive an unpleasant lesson. Every single Serb schoolboy and schoolgirl knows that in 1389, in the Battle of Kosovo Polje, the Serb forces were defeated and, as a result, the country was overrun by the Ottomans in 1459. It may seem extraordinary that we are talking about that, but that is what they believe. Every single Serb schoolboy and schoolgirl knows what Prince Lazar said as he went into that battle: It is better to die in battle than to live in shame. Better it is for us to accept death from the sword in battle than to offer our shoulders to the enemy. It is not a question of good guys and bad guys. There have been the most appalling atrocities committed by both sides. However, the Serb nation has a greater responsibility; I do not deny that for a moment.

We must understand that it was intensely controversial in Serbia when Kosovo was given autonomy in 1974. Serbian writers claim that up to 200,000 ethnic Serbians had to leave Kosovo. It is true that Kosovo is dominated nowadays by ethnic Albanians, but it was not always so. The people of the Serbian nation believe that they are being forced to leave their own homeland. The House may not like that point of view, but the Serbians believe it, and that is why they will never surrender that part of their nation.

Mr. Tyrie

It is true that that point of view is strongly held in Belgrade. It is also true, however, that the Serbs left Kosovo in an economic migration to a higher standard of living, largely in Belgrade. They did not leave as a result of any forced emigration caused by the Albanian community.

Mr. Leigh

A memorandum that has been widely distributed in Serbia talks of ethnic Serbians having been massacred, raped and forced out of their homes. It may be overblown; it probably is, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to say that the prime motivation may have been economic migration. However, the Serbians believe that they are gradually being eased out of their own homeland. We must recognise that point. If we fail to do so, we shall never make progress.

Kosovars—the ethnic Albanians, that is—are not being offered an independent Kosovo. They are being offered autonomy. That is not in itself some simple solution on which western politicians can all agree. Autonomy is highly controversial to the Serbian people.

I want to speak briefly about international law. It is obvious that there is no justification for this action under international law.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

indicated dissent.

Mr. Leigh

I have heard what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) has said, but there is no justification under international law for bombing a sovereign state because one is horrified by what is being done within that state's boundaries.

Mr. Campbell

Is it the hon. Gentleman's opinion that no matter what the nature of the enormity being inflicted by a Government on their people may be, there will never be circumstances in which intervention would be justified?

Mr. Leigh

I was talking about international law, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman returns with an argument that I must accept. Let me put it to one side, however, while I continue to talk about international law.

We are creating a new international law—one that proclaims the point of view advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If we accept that new international law, we must ensure that we are not accused of hypocrisy. We must enforce the new international law that there should be no hiding place for dictators or for Governments who oppress their people. We must enforce that new law fairly and equally throughout the world.

What has gone on in Turkey throughout this century? What happened to the Armenians? What happened to the Kurds? I submit that what happened in those cases is of far greater barbarity and horror than even the horrors inflicted on the Kosovar Albanians. The hypocrisy of our debate—what I find utterly sickening—is that people are dressing themselves up in moral outrage on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians, but they are not prepared to intervene to help the Kurds because Turkey is too powerful and too useful to the western alliance.

By all means, create a new international law, but be fair. Do not forget what is happening in Africa. Do not think that because these people are Europeans, we should be concerned about them, but not about the massacres in Africa. We know that this new international law will never happen. We do not have the will or the resources.

We are going wrong because there is a feeling that we are dealing with an appalling dictator, a Hitler figure, who will try to eject the Albanian population entirely or murder them. I make no apologies for the Serbian leadership, but I assure the House that the people in those villages have lived together for centuries. If we blunder in, we could make the situation much worse. I believe that we have, by our blundering, our lack of will and our in-out approach, made the situation in Bosnia far worse.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does my hon. Friend deny the reality of the massacres in Bosnia or Kosovo, or that Milosevic is responsible for them?

Mr. Leigh

Of course not. I do not defend Milosevic in any way. I do not deny what is going on. I am saying that we must not assume that if we do nothing, the massacres will continue and the entire population that has existed there for centuries will be evicted. That is extraordinary reasoning.

The massacres and difficulties could be exacerbated by outside pressure. The Serbian army has 239 M84 tanks, 65 T72 tanks, 785 T55 tanks and 181 T34 tanks. The safest place for those tanks now is in the Kosovar villages. We could make the situation far worse by intervening in this way.

No one can say what will happen if bombing fails to change the Serbian leadership's mind. It is absurd for the Liberal party to suggest that we can turn Kosovo into a protectorate, and that the British Army, which is already 86 per cent. committed—committed to a greater extent than at any other stage of its peacetime history—could enforce a peace on the ground in a wooded, hilly area against one of the toughest fighting peoples in the world. The area is like Wales, not an empty desert. I cannot believe that the Liberal party, with all its fine traditions—

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Oh, come on.

Mr. Leigh

What are the Liberals trying to convince the House of? We all know that the British Army will never be committed to this area in any event. We all know that this is fundamentally an exercise in hypocrisy. What is so moral about being prepared to bomb from the air and use cruise missiles, inevitably killing some innocent civilians? How is it moral to bomb from afar, but not be prepared to send our people to enforce the peace? I do not believe that there is any morality in that.

It is true that we have intervened before. In 1914, we were prepared to go to war to help the Belgians; in 1939, to help the Poles; in 1990, to help the Kuwaitis; in 1982, to help the people of the Falklands. In all those cases, we were prepared to commit our ground troops. We had the moral strength, the feeling of outrage and the determination to commit our own people on the ground to enforce just solutions.

Even in Iraq—and I had grave doubts about bombing that country—there was a military plan in place. I hate the term "degrading capability"; I prefer to say that we are "at war". At least in Iraq we were trying to bomb chemical facilities and possible nuclear installations. What are we bombing in Yugoslavia? If Milosevic is determined to ethnically cleanse the Kosovar people, he does not need tanks or chemical weapons. He has 30,000 troops on the ground, but he would need only a few gendarmes. We cannot bomb just these people. The House of Commons must be prepared to send Britain to war and to endorse the action on the ground—but we cannot do it. Therefore, this action is the most grotesque hypocrisy.

I shall end as I started: with Russia. In an attempt to make ourselves feel better, we are putting at risk the world order and our friendship with Russia. The House of Commons should have had an opportunity to vote on this action before we sent in our aeroplanes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

I must make an appeal for shorter speeches if many more hon. Members are to be heard in the time remaining.

5.41 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

If I must be brief, I shall start by reminding the House that I represent Westminster on NATO's parliamentary assembly. I am vice-president of that assembly and vice-chairman of its defence and security committee. I am a member of the joint monitoring group that oversees the work of the permanent joint council, which is a channel directly between NATO and Russia. In addition, I am the special rapporteur on the reform of the Russian armed services and special rapporteur on the reform of the Ukrainian armed forces.

I am very dissatisfied with this debate. We have heard one or two good speeches, but an awful lot of ignorance has been displayed. There has been a stream of invalid comparisons, sloppy logic and selective historical references. That angers me because we are discussing serious issues.

It is grotesquely inaccurate to say that these matters have not been debated. Ten months ago, I took part in a Rose-Roth seminar held at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, which was attended by senior politicians and diplomats from every Balkan country. Someone said that Russia has not been involved in the discussions, but I must tell the House that Russia was very well represented at that meeting. I discussed these issues with Vladimir Ryzhkov, who was Russian deputy Prime Minister under Chernomyrdin; with Volotnikov, a very influential Communist; and with General Popkovitch and other people who carry real weight in Russia.

The dialogue has continued for months. The Kosovars who attended the seminar in Macedonia were split down the middle: one half wanted autonomy and the other half wanted independence. When we attended the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe parliamentary assembly 10 days later, one Kosovar on the rostrum was arguing with another on the floor of the hall. They yelled abuse at each other in much the same way as some hon. Members have done today.

One of the problems is that the Kosovars have not spoken with one voice. Milosevic had the voice, and he still does. There has been much talk, quite properly, about Serbian heroism in world war II and comparisons have been made with the Milosevic regime. Such comparisons are entirely invalid and inaccurate. Mention has been made of Germans and the Luftwaffe. That is entirely wrong because Germany is now a democratic nation—what is more, it is part of NATO.

That brings me to the essential point. We have talked today about the fact that the Prime Minister and the British Government have declared war. They have done nothing of the kind. They have engaged in a collective action in compliance with a decision that was taken collectively by NATO—a treaty organisation of which we have been a member for 50 years. We cannot turn around and walk away from our treaty obligations. After protracted negotiations with Milosevic and after his successive breaches of faith, the collective wisdom of NATO was that the only way to stop the slaughter was to take this action. I do not like that; however, although it is regrettable, it is necessary.

I remind the House of my comments the other day; the bombing did not start last night, but months ago. When the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) tells the House of Serbian culture and of the Serbs' determination and commitment to go on until the end, I am well aware of that because I have seen Serbs kissing the bombs as they put them into the field mortars. They sent those bombs sailing on to some defenceless community across the valley, who had no weapons of that calibre to fire back.

We must be sensible and realistic. It is no good trying to force the dialogue that has been called for today. I get a bit sick of hon. Members wringing their hands and parading their consciences in the Chamber, while people are being shot in the back of the head. Those people are not combatants, but old women and young boys. Combat did not matter to the 20 people who were found slaughtered in a gully. They were not killed because they were engaging in combat; they were killed because they were of the wrong ethnic origin and the wrong religion.

We can make nice legal points about why we should or should not take this action, but, frankly, I do not want to take part in that debate. We cannot allow slaughter to go on in that state. It is utterly wrong. The approach adopted by NATO is to disarm the major weaponry of the Yugoslavian army. The tanks mentioned by the hon. Member for Gainsborough may well prove to be a problem to the KLA and it is true that NATO's air strikes may be providing cover for the KLA, but they are also providing cover for those who are not members of the KLA. The Serbian tanks could well be taken out by Apache Longbows in the fullness of time; I hope that does not happen, but it is a military reality that it could easily be done. Technologically, there is no comparison whatever between the NATO strike capability and that of the Serbians. The Serbian communications networks will be in a mess now, and their logistic routes will not be as easy as they were.

I do not know what the reaction will be to the reports on the wires—which my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) has told us about—that Mr. Milosevic has announced the cessation of his action in Kosovo. That is one bonus. We must hope that he goes a little further and signs the agreement that was on the table in Rambouillet, as he should have done originally.

NATO has allowed itself to be conned. The KLA was prepared to sign the Rambouillet agreement for autonomy only, even though its members wanted independence. I have no doubt that the KLA agreed to sign that agreement to put Milosevic in an embarrassing situation. I discussed those matters with General Klaus Naumann, who chairs the military committee. General Naumann and General Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander, spent more than 20 hours face to face with Milosevic, trying to talk sense to him. Naumann came away from that meeting convinced that Milosevic needed armed intervention to protect himself from his own electorate in the event of his making concessions to the Kosovar demands. I do not know whether that is true, but it was Naumann's analysis and I have heard many other senior commentators express similar views. If that proves to be true, I shall be hugely relieved, and I am sure that the rest of the House will be as well. The fact that Milosevic has called a cessation of the action might indicate that there is some substance to that analysis. I pray to God that there is.

What worries me far more is the long-lasting effect of all this. In our dealings with Russian representatives, not at the most senior level, as that is the privilege of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, but at the middle level, we have found huge suspicion of NATO. We must recognise that and understand the reasons for it. We have been their declared enemies for 50 years and only in the past 10 years have we begun to stretch out a hand in friendship. The Russians have great difficulty believing that NATO is not an offensive organisation. Only in the past eight months have we begun to get them to accept that the whole logic and purpose of NATO now is to create a collective security architecture for a Europe that includes them. What is most sad about the current circumstances and the response that we have had to make to Mr. Milosevic's madness is that our task in explaining NATO to the Russians may well have been lengthened.

The Russian side of the joint monitoring group contacted me yesterday, asking for a statement and a meeting. They wanted the meeting to be in Brussels yesterday afternoon, but they only contacted me at lunchtime, so it was somewhat difficult to arrange—it sounds funny, but it is deadly serious. The suggestion was made that they should meet us in Dresden on Sunday morning. They replied that they would meet us then if no bombs had been dropped, so that meeting has gone by the board. I only hope and pray that the next time we meet them, on 16 April—at NATO headquarters, funnily enough, if they do not call it off—we shall be able to redeem the situation with them, hopefully having in the meantime redeemed it with Mr. Milosevic.

5.52 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I had not intended to speak in the debate. Like the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson), I realise that, when our armed forces are in action, it is time to support, not to criticise. That is why I say again that this debate should have taken place months ago. However, I struggled with my conscience and decided that I had to speak out.

We have heard some excellent speeches from all sides of the argument—speeches that were full of knowledge and emotion. The debate has thrown up some strange alliances: between the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and between my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). I, too, should speak out. I regard myself as patriotic, but that does not mean that I can allow things to be done that I believe are profoundly misguided.

I can claim to have some knowledge of the subject, having studied Serbo-Croat language, literature and history for five years at London university. In those days, Serbo-Croat was a single language, but such is the bitterness and animosity in that region that the one language I studied is now regarded as three. I remember coming to a Committee Room of the House of Commons 20 years ago to listen to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—his constituency was further south at that time—address the British-Yugoslav friendship society. I studied briefly at Belgrade university and at Pristina, and I have visited Yugoslavia many times, albeit not in recent years.

I have been rebuked several times by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence for referring to history. I understand that we must always look forward, but in that region—perhaps more than in any other region on our continent—history is deep in the heart of the people.

I am bitterly opposed to the regime of President Milosevic, and, for several years, I have been the treasurer of the Friends of B92, which supports the independent radio station in Belgrade that has been highly critical of that regime. One result of the action has been that the radio station has been closed down and its editor, Veran Matic, detained.

Why, then, do I have misgivings? I could echo many of the statements that have already been made, but I do not want to detain the House. It is profoundly dangerous to attack an independent sovereign country. As we have heard, the problem, however unpleasant it is to witness, is essentially a civil war. I am not a lawyer and I cannot speak about international law, but it seems that the UN has given the operation no legitimacy. Above all, if we in this country stand for anything, we stand for upholding the law, including international law. Making the rules for ourselves because we know best is a dangerous precedent for any country to set. No national interest of ours has been threatened.

I doubt that the operation will have the desired effect, although I was heartened by the reports that the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) read out, and I sincerely hope that they are true. If they are true, and the situation has changed, I have been wrong, and I shall admit that.

None of us can be anything but moved by the pictures of slaughter that we see in the newspapers and, in particular, on the television screen. A few weeks ago, a Kosovo lady who lives over here and who is married to an English man came to see me in my surgery, and powerfully put her case for intervention. She showed me pictures of her family in Pristina trying to live a normal family life. As I have a young family, I found that disturbing, but I think that the action that will take place will only make the situation worse.

As I said, I hope that those who, like me, have serious misgivings—we have heard many hon. Members express them—are proved wrong. Today, our thoughts must be not only for our service men and women, but for the victims of war, because in war there are only losers.

5.58 pm
Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

It is difficult to imagine how a woman living in Belgrade is feeling this evening and the horror that she must be going through. The tension in the House reveals what a difficult issue we face today.

Many of us have been gently rebuked for not having an historical basis for our contribution, but it is difficult for us to get to grips with many of the issues. The situation reminds me of an old joke in which somebody is asked whether he or she was going to a particular place and is then told, "Well, I wouldn't have started from here." This is a difficult issue and we must deal with the present situation, which is extremely severe.

I do not have any doubt that there is a mandate. I do not have any difficulty acknowledging that we are able to act collectively, or that there are humanitarian United Nations resolutions to enable us to do so. I have no doubt that the members of NATO are entirely united on this action. I do not share the views of some of my hon. Friends that the involvement of the German air force is negative. For many people, it is positive. We should be celebrating it as an example of how we can come together after years of conflict.

One thing that we do know, and on which we are all united, is that there is no question but that the violence against Kosovar Albanians must stop. The international community has no right to stand by and allow what we have seen to go on. Many hon. Members have said, "Well, we do not intervene here; we do not intervene there," but that does not make it okay for us not to do anything today in Kosovo, which is the big issue. How do we have the right to put at risk the fledgling democracies in the surrounding area, which are just beginning to emerge in their own right, by asking them to absorb the trouble and difficulty? We must assist them and ensure that we are there for them. The wider implications must be taken into account.

Many hon. Members do not share my view that the act of taking collective action is an inevitability. I very much respect and understand their view. The Select Committee on Defence visited Russia just last week; we were with members of the Duma for much of the week. I felt their pain and anger at the action, and, in the few days that we spent with them, I heard people saying that we must choose another way and that reaction is not an inevitability. I take heart from that. I have heard very negative comments in this debate about the Russian reaction. I very much hope that, at the end of this terrible experience, we will be able to come together again.

I have been so heartened by what I have seen while serving on the Defence Committee. Committee members have looked at the "Partnership for Peace" in Brussels, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe—SHAPE— and how NATO member states work closely together. One realises as a result that a difference can be made, that there can be a different way forward.

What would I do if I were one of the poor women in Belgrade? What would I do if I were just a Serbian woman who was trying to get by and make a living? I have sons and feel very angry about what is happening, but I do not receive any free information. Nobody tells me both sides of the story; I do not hear the wonderful history to which I have listened in this debate. I receive only the information that is fed to me by the Government. I am told only of the 14th-century history that makes it so important that we go to war in a barbaric reaction to events. I cannot even hear an independent radio station, because it has been closed down. All I have is the World Service or, if I am lucky enough to be in a hotel room, BBC World.

Mr. Randall

I believe that the independent television station TV Studio B is still broadcasting.

Laura Moffatt

It is extremely good news to hear that there is still one station left, but that does not compare for one moment with the information here that enables me, as a mother, to make decisions. We should be concerned about that. There is no question but that I would be brainwashed if I were in Belgrade.

Mr. Frank Cook

Would my hon. Friend care to speculate on the contents of the Belgrade newspapers tomorrow morning? Will the citizens of Belgrade be able to hear the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)?

Laura Moffatt

That is a lovely point well made, and I shall let it stand as it is.

I do not share the depressing feeling that things cannot work in Russia. As full members of the Contact Group, they have been there for us. The situation is not irretrievable.

We must remember all those who took part in efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement—the United States envoy, Richard Holbrooke, our Foreign Secretary, and all those involved in the talks at Rambouillet, who tried to make sure that the debate went on. They must have heavy hearts today. We must let them know that we understand their feelings and support the work that they did. We must thank them for persuading the Kosovars that they could sign up to the agreement. However, we cannot allow the Kosovar people that they can now do what they like. They, too, must make sacrifices. Those who tried to bring about an agreement have not failed. It is the Belgrade Government who have failed.

I have a message for the poor people in Belgrade, especially the women, who must wonder what is happening to them. I have three precious sons of my own. A few months ago, one of them came home and announced that he was going to join the Territorial Army. I was so pleased for him, because I believed that he was doing it for the right reasons. He would improve his skills and make new friends, and more important, he was going to offer himself as a reserve for what I believe to be one of the best armed forces in the world. We should salute the work that they do, as many hon. Members have done in the House today.

If I were a woman in Belgrade and my son came to me and said that President Milosevic wanted him to sign up—as he is asking a million men to do—to go to Kosovo and continue that hideous work, what would I say as a parent? My view would be entirely different, of course. I say to the women in Belgrade, "Do not allow your children to be used in such a way by such an evil regime. Do not allow that to happen. We did not give birth to those children to allow them to be used by people who have no understanding of the human rights of others."

It is important that those messages get through. We must tell ordinary people throughout Yugoslavia that they are free people who can make up their own minds. I have little doubt that they would also like to get rid of the regime. We can have a free Europe only when there are equal partners in Europe. We cannot allow action such as we have witnessed to take place in our part of the world. That must not happen. I am proud that we have taken action collectively to try to stop it.

6.8 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

I had not intended to speak in this debate, but there have been so many interesting speeches—some of which I will comment on obliquely in my remarks—that I decided to participate. It is sad that we did not have the chance to have this debate earlier, and are having it now, while military action is taking place. Several speakers made that point.

Everyone is agreed that Milosevic is an extremely nasty piece of work. He is responsible for the collapse of Yugoslavia, with his bid to form a Greater Serbia. He bears more responsibility than anyone else for the terrible events in Bosnia. It was the Serbs who began the policy of mass ethnic cleansing, which has been the most abhorrent feature of the events in former Yugoslavia over the past few years. We could, and I believe probably should, have tried to stop Milosevic earlier. We should have taken the Bosnian action that we took much sooner than we did.

On Kosovo, it is a tragedy that, for 10 years, the Kosovars had been practising peaceful resistance to the Serbs, and that they were ignored by the west. Rugova, a man who believed in peaceful resistance, has lost the argument with his people. He argued that, if the Kosovars carried on pursuing his peaceful line, the west would eventually come to their aid, but the west did not come until violence by the Serbs radicalised the Kosovar community. Only when the violence escalated was the west prepared to act.

Now that the west has acted, the credibility of the western alliance is on the line. We should back our forces. We have no alternative but to back this action and to see it through as best we can. Operations are under way, so the legal and institutional issues—whether the war is just and whether there is a sufficient body of international law to justify intervention on humanitarian grounds—scarcely matter. The issue is whether we can succeed in these operations and achieve our objectives.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister cited two objectives. The first was an humanitarian objective, which he defined more closely by saying that we had to deplete the Yugoslav army to the point where it could no longer continue with the oppression. He put forward a second objective only in response to questions. Referring to other parts of the Balkan region, he said: The best insurance against the spread of conflict is to take precisely the action that we are taking. We know from bitter experience that we cannot afford such instability on the borders of Europe."—[Official Report, 23 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 165.] In other words, the Prime Minister was positing the geopolitical objective of arresting and hoping to prevent the spread of conflict.

My deep concern is that, although we have the best of intentions, military action will not achieve either objective. The risk is that it will increase suffering, lead to greater displacement of people and perhaps even increase ethnic cleansing. I find even more worrying the prospect that, also with the best of intentions, we may increase the risk of conflict spreading to neighbouring countries, particularly Macedonia.

Mr. Gill

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that we are sending entirely the wrong message to Russia? The North Atlantic treaty has been very effective and its fifth article spells out the fact that NATO forces will engage only in defence of our mutual interests, but we are witnessing the phenomenon of NATO acting offensively at a time when central and eastern European countries are joining NATO. What message does that send to Russia?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a lengthy intervention.

Mr. Tyrie

The wider issues of the west's relations with those countries that could still pose a medium-term threat to our security are crucial. Foremost among them are our relations with Russia. I will say a few words about that later, but I want to discuss Macedonia.

Macedonia, which sits just to the south of Kosovo, is the only country of former Yugoslavia to succeed in breaking away without recourse to conflict. Furthermore, it has a large ethnic Albanian minority—about a third of the population. When Macedonia broke away and became independent, the view was widely held that it would be impossible for it to sustain that independence, but, under extremely skilled and wise leadership from Gligorov, it has succeeded.

Macedonia has not only succeeded in remaining independent and preventing incursions by its neighbours—it has not been swallowed up by them, as many predicted—but prevented ethnic conflict domestically, by integrating the Albanian community into the process of government. Macedonia deserves the highest possible praise for what it has achieved politically. I am deeply concerned about one possible repercussion of our action: if Serbia made an attempt to get at western forces based in Macedonia, Macedonia could be dragged slowly into a wider southern Balkan conflict. If that were to happen, the destabilisation of the whole of the southern Balkans would become an extremely unpleasant prospect. The Greeks have made clear their determination to take a view, possibly a military view, should Macedonia collapse. The Bulgarians have held a claim on Macedonia way back to the mid-19th century and the treaty of San Stefano. Leaders in Bulgaria from time to time make bellicose remarks about Macedonia. It is widely believed that the Bulgarian secret service was behind the assassination attempt on Gligorov a few years ago, which almost killed him.

People have asked, "What other option was there?" There were other options besides the policy that we are pursuing. One would have been to act earlier against Milosevic. Another would have been to try, even now, to guard against the spread of the conflict to Macedonia and to prevent further destabilisation of Albania. The opportunity for those options is fast passing with this military action. We must all hope that the campaign that is under way succeeds in its objectives, even if many of us share doubts about whether they are achievable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) referred to Russia. In the long run, all of us in the west must pay much greater attention to the dangers that have come with the hurt pride, the inflamed nationalism and the anti-western sentiment that we have stirred up in Serbia. We must all recognise that Serbia is a microcosm of parts of the east where people feel that they were the losers from the collapse of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war; biggest among those is Russia.

Almost everyone in eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union feels that they were gainers. The Asian republics of the former Soviet Union feel that they were gainers. Ukraine and the Baltic republics think that they were gainers. Russia, which is a deeply nationalistic country with a long and proud history, feels itself to be a big loser. We must recognise that, when a country as important and as large as Russia feels that its national interest has been damaged and its pride has been hurt, it may react.

The skill with which the west approaches what I believe will be a growing problem in the longer run—of dealing with Russia and an increased need to recognise its sensitivities—and the skill with which the west manages the problems of the rest of the former Soviet Union are big issues. Such issues lie behind the enmity that we have witnessed in the past few days. For the moment, we must deal with a smaller country that has also lost its empire, feels deeply aggrieved and is determined to hang on to what it considers and has always considered to be part of its territory: Kosovo.

6.18 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

Time is short, so I shall be brief and discard most of my prepared speech.

The military intervention in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is a source of great sadness. It has come about because of the racist, nationalist leadership in Belgrade and its internal security police, who continue to engage in ethnic cleansing.

My central point is that, as we start a new century and a new millennium, we must try to halt the rise in holocausts. If the United Nations will not do that, someone else must. Cambodia and Rwanda have been dreadful stains on the international community.

Mr. Corbyn

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cohen

No, I cannot.

Like the Nazi slaughter of the Jews, what happened in Cambodia and Rwanda was a dreadful stain on the international community. There is a genuine baseline for human rights and humanitarian action under international law, but it must be strengthened. The international criminal court is an important start, but NATO states must become more fully democratic and uphold human rights.

The issue of sovereignty is regarded as inviolate, even when such atrocities occur. Holocausts and humanitarian disasters take place in some countries, but there is no external intervention. I would compare the sovereignty of states with the sovereignty that the head of a household had a hundred years ago. The man of the house could beat his wife and abuse his children and the rest of society would do nothing. Even a decade ago it was not illegal for a man to rape his wife. That domestic sovereignty was inviolate, just like international sovereignty is now. Women and children were considered second-class citizens. In Kosovo, the majority of Kosovar Albanians are treated as worse than second-class citizens.

I believe that the use of humanitarian human rights to prevent holocausts should be placed on a par with sovereignty in international law. War makes me sick, but we must stand up to ethnic cleansing.

6.20 pm
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

Nothing I have heard today has changed my view that in Mr. Milosevic we are dealing with an extremely evil person leading an extremely evil regime. He has ruined the chances of a peaceful transition in the Balkans over the past 10 years, and he has ruined the prospects for his own country. He has committed vile crimes in Bosnia, and they are beginning to be repeated in Kosovo. For that reason, we support the efforts that the Government have made over the past year to stop what is happening, and to bring long-term peace to the Balkans. We support the air campaign which, as I understand it, has been designed to force Mr. Milosevic to conclude the agreements that we have negotiated in France, and to desist from the atrocities in Kosovo.

Emotions have run high on both sides of the debate, however, and I do not think that emotions should be allowed to dictate a great nation's foreign policy. I have some questions to ask the Government, which I hope the Secretary of State will be able to answer. I want us all to be able to understand the Government's strategy better.

This has been one of the best debates in which I have participated. We have heard widely differing views, strongly and sometimes passionately expressed. We have heard different views from members of the same party. We have heard passionate speeches opposing the Government's policy from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark).

We have heard equally passionate speeches supporting the Government from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and the hon. Members for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). Difficult questions were raised in the thoughtful speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and of my hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Mr. Woodward), for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). We have heard speeches supporting and opposing the Government's policy across and within parties.

As the hon. Member for Stockton, North said, the debate has featured a very selective use of history, but I do not want to go into that. I think that it is time to look forward, and to spend a little time examining the Government's aims and the methods that they have chosen to employ. Those who have spoken passionately in favour of the Government's cause have a dilemma, in that those who are in favour of their policy are actually in favour of the removal of the Milosevic regime. I think that they must acknowledge that that is not likely to be achieved merely with air power. Those who are against the Government's policy—in some cases, for very good and solid reasons—have no answer to the question, "What would you do about the atrocities that are being committed in Kosovo?". That seems to me to be the central issue between the two sides, and in the debate generally.

There is a moral dimension to the issue. We all want to stop suffering anywhere in the world if we can. If we knew that we could stop things like this easily, we would of course do so. In his explanation of Government policy, the Prime Minister has made a great deal of the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo, and it is true that it is awful: the pictures that we see are appalling and distressing, and make us all want to do something about the situation. However, a great many similar crises are taking place in the world, in a great many other places. They do not reach our television screens; perhaps they are happening a long way away, in a continent of which we know nothing. There are no calls for western troops to become involved in those crises. What happened in Chechnya five or six years ago was an almost exact parallel with what is happening in Kosovo, but there was no question of our intervening there. We must be careful about how far we carry the issue of moral obligation.

Mr. Benn

Chechnya is a good example. Whether or not there was any prospect of it, there is no doubt that the Russians believed that the expansion of NATO into eastern Europe might at some stage involve an intervention in the Russian Federation.

Mr. Maples

I would love to debate the future of NATO with the right hon. Gentleman some time, but I will not let myself be distracted now.

Last night, the Minister of State said on television that there was a duty, or an obligation, to intervene to prevent humanitarian disaster. I think that there must be more than that for a Government to intervene: there must be a real issue of national interest as well. In the case of Kosovo, it is a question of the stability, or otherwise, of the Balkans. Is there a danger of the crisis in Kosovo leading to a wider war? I would be interested in the Secretary of State's view of how the situation might develop. Do we still think that a flood of refugees into Macedonia might destabilise that country? Do we think that the demands for a Greater Albania might cause problems in the region?

There was until recently a United Nations force in Macedonia that was designed to stop that destabilisation. Its authority from the United Nations has been removed. What do we do now? Does the Secretary of State think that, in the long run, there is a serious possibility that the conflict might draw in Turkey and Greece? That is a central issue.

My hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) and for Chichester have raised the question of relations with Russia, which have obviously been badly damaged by the decision to begin bombing. Russia cannot be allowed to veto NATO action. We cannot allow it to say what is, or is not, in our interest and how we should pursue it. At the same time, our relations with Russia are extremely important and it is not in our interest that they should be damaged. Perhaps that damage has been inevitable following the events of the past two or three days, but I hope that serious efforts will be made soon to repair those relations.

The central question in relation to the Government's policy is: will the bombing work? The Prime Minister seems very confident that it will. If we knew that it would, every hon. Member, or almost every hon. Member, would wholeheartedly support the Government, but we know of too many cases where it has not worked and has reinforced political support for the regime that has been the target.

There is a possibility that the new generation of smart weapons and extremely accurate bombs and cruise missiles, which enable specific targets to be taken out while minimising civilian damage, may raise the cost to an aggressor and give us leverage that we would not have had with very inaccurate bombing. If that proves to be the case, it will open a whole new arena of possibilities in the management of international crises. It remains to be seen whether that happens.

The Government's objectives are to get Milosevic to sign up to the agreement and to degrade his military capability for action in Kosovo, but he does not need that advanced, sophisticated military capability to continue to commit atrocities in Kosovo; trucks and automatic rifles will be enough. Can the Secretary of State give us some idea—I know that he cannot tell us details of the air campaign—of how long he expects the operation to last?

Usually, bombing is the precursor to a ground attack, as was the case in the Gulf and has classically been the case in many other wars. The imposition, or introduction of ground troops to the conflict before there is a peace agreement would add a new dimension to the conflict. Hon. Members have expressed serious reservations about that.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister made it clear that he ruled that out. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence said the same in equally categorical terms in evidence to the Select Committee on Defence. We take that as an absolute commitment.

For the NATO force in Macedonia to fight its way into Kosovo would be dangerous. A much bigger force would be needed. Some people have estimated that it would take 100,000 to 200,000 troops. I am not in a position to judge, but it would certainly require more than the 28,000 that are planned to be in Macedonia. They could end up suffering heavy casualties.

One is reminded that troops often go into conflicts on one side and end up upsetting that side. Northern Ireland is a perfect example. We went in to help the republican side and ended up as its enemy, getting shot at.

We have to concede that there is a strong possibility that the bombing will not work. What will the Government do if it fails? They are not prepared to use ground troops—we agree with that—so what will they do? Will they escalate the bombing until they get some result, not knowing for sure whether they will achieve their objective, or will they walk away from the conflict?

There has been much talk of NATO credibility, but once having started the conflict, walking away would damage its credibility considerably. On the other hand, there is a risk—a real danger—of getting sucked deeper and deeper into the Balkan quagmire. The Conservative party has made clear its opposition to the use of ground troops before there is a peace agreement—to our troops fighting their way into Kosovo.

Mr. Wells

How credible do you think NATO would be if, having bombed, we did not put in ground troops and there was no outcome? Do you—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must address the Chair. I call Mr. Wells.

Mr. Maples


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I called Mr. Wells to complete his point.

Mr. Wells

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My point is that that would leave NATO's credibility in enforcing peace in complete tatters.

Mr. Maples

I was trying to explain that that is the dilemma that I see the Government facing. It is a question for the Secretary of State and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), I shall be interested in his response. If the bombing does not succeed there will be enormous pressure for NATO to use the troops that are sitting in Macedonia. I believe that they have become a hostage to fortune and I query the wisdom of having pre-positioned them. The alternative, if the bombing fails, is to use that force or to extract it. I will be interested in the Secretary of State's views on that.

We can talk about NATO action, but none of this would be happening without the involvement of the United States. It is US air power, intelligence and communications that make such operations possible. Without the United States, the European members of NATO do not have the means or, I suggest, the will to act on their own. I hope that this will bring a healthy dose of realism to the ambitions of the European Union to develop military capability independent of NATO and the United States.

For a long time I have felt that we need a long-term strategy for the Balkans. We have never really had that. In the past, we have reacted to events, to television pictures and to atrocities and we have tried to deal with them on an ad hoc basis without a long-term plan or endgame, as some people might put it. I hope that the Secretary of State will develop that in his reply. What sort of a Balkans do we foresee at the end of our intervention in Kosovo? There may be other areas that we will have to look at, because Serbia might become aggressive in Sanjac in the north of the country and it now looks as if there are difficulties in Montenegro. The entire area is unstable. The Bosnian Federation looks equally unstable, if not more so, and without the United Nations force which is there at present, it is unlikely that the Federation Government or the Dayton solution will be able to continue.

There are many unresolved conflicts around the Balkans and I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us whether the Government have a long-term view. If we do not, it is difficult to see where the different actions are leading us. We need to know that there is a strategy. Do we foresee a Balkans of even smaller nation states with all the implications that that has for redrawing boundaries and difficulties over whether ethnic minorities lie on one side or the other? What role do we see for Serbia in the future of the Balkans? How can Macedonia be stabilised, and how can the ambitions for a greater Albania be contained?

As I have said, there are many unresolved issues which we will have to address in one way or another if we want to bring lasting peace and stability to the Balkans. I hope that the Government have addressed those problems. If they have not, the danger is that we will end up reacting to events or, worse, reacting emotionally to television pictures without a long-term plan for what is in our nation's best interest, which is to establish stability in the Balkans. How we achieve that is extremely difficult and I am not sure that we should be embarking on these military adventures without some concept of where we want to end up.

One of the ingredients for that solution will be more democratic governments in the region—there are far too few at present. I suspect that an essential ingredient will be an end to Milosevic and his regime. That has been one of the main troublemakers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester made clear, the rise of Serb nationalism has been at the heart of the break-up of Yugoslavia. Economic development is always an ingredient. Slovenia has become relatively quiet and I suspect that that is largely because it is getting on with earning a living. I know that it was easier for Slovenia because there were fewer minorities.

If we can help with the economic development of areas where there is peace, there is a chance of distracting people from age-old ethnic conflicts and persuading them that it is not worth fighting because we can create something that is worth living for and protecting. However, lasting stability will need more than that. I should like to hear the Secretary of State develop that theme. How much have the Government thought the issue through? Will they share their thinking and their strategy with the House?

Kosovo presents a daunting challenge to statesmen and generals. All the countries of NATO and those in the Contact Group who are outside NATO face that challenge. The House and the Government have committed our armed forces. We have put them into action and asked them to kill and to risk being killed on our behalf. We often talk as though the situation were an international game of chess, but we are asking people to risk their lives. We have to have confidence in the policy that we are asking them to implement. Our forces and their families will know that our thoughts and prayers are with them. We know that they will, as always, acquit themselves with skill and courage. We wish them good luck and great success in their endeavours.

I question whether the bombing campaign will be successful. I am sure that those doubts are in the Government's mind as well. We must all hope that the Prime Minister is right that the bombing will stop the atrocities in Kosovo and bring Milosevic back to the negotiating table so that we can put in place a peace agreement that NATO forces can help to implement and police.

However, there is a strong possibility that the bombing will not achieve its objectives. If it does not, the options that the Government will face are unattractive. The pressure to involve the NATO ground troops stationed in Macedonia will be very strong, as will the pressure to escalate the air strikes. The only alternative to those two courses of action is to withdraw and admit that we have not achieved our objectives. None of those is a satisfactory outcome.

I hope that the Government have thought the issue through. I hope that they have a long-term plan for resolving the crisis and pursuing the action on which they have embarked, but I am not confident that they are clear about what they will do next if the bombing fails.

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

I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). This has been a remarkable debate. Sombre, serious, passionate and crossing party lines, it has done a lot of credit to the House of Commons. That makes it all the more difficult to reply to the debate and to pick up many of the points. I hope that the House will indulge me by allowing me to answer some of the serious, detailed points that have been made and not take too many interventions. A lot has been said and asked and I should like to deal with those points in the remaining minutes.

As a direct result of Siberian intransigence—sorry, I should get the country right. I assure the House that those who are in charge of targeting know better. As a direct result of Serbian intransigence, as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister told the House last night, British forces participated in a substantial strike by NATO forces against targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. NATO has taken that action because all other means of preventing a human catastrophe in Kosovo have been frustrated by the Serbs.

Despite the intense diplomatic efforts of the international community to secure a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosovo and to prevent a humanitarian disaster, the Serbian Government have refused to allow a peaceful solution to the crisis. The result, as we have all seen, has been a developing humanitarian catastrophe in which Yugoslav and Serbian security forces are destroying whole villages and making tens of thousands homeless. Only yesterday, before we had to embark on air strikes, the Ministry of the Interior special police were reported to be razing villages to the ground in central Kosovo in the areas around Podujevo, Srbica and Komorane. That was only 24 hours ago, when, I believe, President Milosevic still doubted our resolve and our ability to do something, and still believed that the air attacks would not take place.

Several right hon. and hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who once held this onerous position, asked me to report on what happened last night, when NATO aircraft and naval forces began military operations against targets in Yugoslavia. The offensive action—involving sea and air-launched cruise missiles as well as manned aircraft from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Spain—was supported by aircraft from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Turkey, flying essential fighter cover, air refuelling and defence suppression missions. In all, 13 NATO air forces were involved. The first targets, mainly facilities associated with the Yugoslav air defence system, were hit just after 7 o'clock. Assets used included air-launched cruise missiles fired by US B52 aircraft, which had taken off from RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire earlier in the day, and Tomahawk land attack missiles fired by United States Navy ships and, for the first time, by HMS Splendid.

Follow-on attacks were conducted by manned tactical aircraft, including RAF Harrier GR7s, based in southern Italy, using Paveway 2 laser-guided bombs. Other targets included facilities associated with military units directly involved in aggression in Kosovo. Let me repeat for emphasis what I said last night and throughout today: all the targets and any future targets are military, not civilian. They are chosen with enormous care.

Just over an hour after the first cruise missiles impacted on their targets, six RAF Harriers were tasked to attack an ammunition storage facility to the east of the Tomahawk target. Four of the aircraft were armed with two Paveway 2 1,000 lb laser-guided bombs—the type used extensively and with considerable success during Operation Desert Fox—and the other two acted as escort.

The bombers were tasked against explosive and ammunition storage buildings in a Yugoslav military ammunition storage facility that was known to support the Ministry of the Interior special police, who have been at the forefront of repressive actions against the Kosovar Albanian population. Such facilities contribute significantly to the Serbian security forces' repressive capability.

It is too soon to give any results of the United Kingdom attacks but, as confirmed earlier today by the NATO Secretary-General and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, overall, the attacks by NATO aircraft and ships are assessed to have been successful.

Several hon. Members have questioned the degree of international support for NATO action. The 19 nations in NATO that are involved are united in their resolve. The United Nations Security Council, as the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) said, met last night. The Security Council is not made up only of its permanent members—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia—but of other members of the international community. NATO's action has received the support of Security Council members Canada, Argentina, Slovenia, Malaysia, Gambia, Bahrain, the Netherlands and Gabon, in addition to France, Britain and the United States. Apart from China and Russia, the only opposition came from Namibia. Indeed, the UN Security Council, of which China and Russia are permanent members, has repeatedly condemned the actions of the former Yugoslavia in Kosovo.

Three UN Security Council resolutions—1160, 1199 and 1203—have condemned Serb actions in Kosovo. We believe that the UN understands that we could not allow Milosevic to attack the civilian population of Kosovo with impunity.

The shadow Foreign Secretary asked about the four non-NATO members of the European Union. I have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—who has had to return to Berlin—to make it clear that Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland were all fully supportive of the declaration adopted by the European Council, and did not seek to distance themselves from it in any way. Of course, the European Union is not NATO, but all member states were united in support for a strong and clear statement. They did not seek to make any amendments to any draft that was tabled.

Mr. Howard

Will the Secretary of State confirm that that statement does not endorse military action? Why does it not do so?

Mr. Robertson

The European Union is not NATO. The EU members who are in NATO made the declaration supporting military action, as one would expect.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Robertson

No, I am afraid that I must continue if I am to answer the issues raised by my hon. Friend, and others.

Russia has figured largely in the debate, from quite surprising sources not known in the past to give much support to Russia's role within the world. This is an issue of some concern. British-Russian relations have improved markedly over the past two years, and we value those relations. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to the Russian Prime Minister Mr. Primakov earlier today. The Russian position is well known, but the discussions between the two Prime Ministers were perfectly friendly.

Hon. Members have asked about the military objectives of the Government and of NATO. They are clear cut; to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe by disrupting the violent attacks currently being carried out by the Yugoslav security forces against the Kosovar Albanians, and to limit their ability to conduct such repression in future. We have not set ourselves the task of defeating the Yugoslav army. We are engaged in an effort to reduce Milosevic's repressive capacity, and we are confident that we will achieve that.

Hon. Members have asked when the bombing will stop, and when we will assess that we have achieved the objectives. What happens next is essentially up to Milosevic himself. The next stage is there for him. At Rambouillet, the Kosovar Albanians signed up—in compromise to their principles and objectives—to a text that would have protected the integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Milosevic can agree to that deal at any time. If we are convinced that he is genuine, the air attacks will stop. The international community also expects Milosevic to show, in more than just a nominal sense, that he will stop the violence and carnage in Kosovo.

I wish to refer to the question of a legal base, which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) dealt with in some detail. He made an interesting and valuable point which the House should bear in mind; that the principles of international law—indeed, international law itself—did not start with the UN. International law preceded the UN, and these principles are there whatever the UN charter says. They are clear.

There are those in the House who doubt that there is a legal base, and have questioned the legality of the action. The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark)—who has left the Chamber—asked a question about civil liability with which I wish to deal. We are in no doubt that NATO is acting within international law. Our legal justification rests upon the accepted principle that force may be used in extreme circumstances to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Those circumstances clearly exist in Kosovo.

The use of force in such circumstances can be justified as an exceptional measure in support of purposes laid down by the UN Security Council, but without the Council's express authorisation, when that is the only means to avert an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. UN Security Council resolution 1199 clearly calls on the Yugoslav authorities to take immediate steps to cease their repression of the Kosovar Albanians and to enter into a meaningful dialogue, leading to a negotiated political solution.

Several hon. Members asked for a precedent for attacking a sovereign nation from the air in the light of the legal provisions. That point has been answered by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who has more reason than most of us to know. I was here, at the Dispatch Box for the Opposition, when there were calls from all over the country and all over the world to save the Kurds who were being systematically exterminated by Saddam Hussein. The precedent, the principle and the emergency situation were the same, and we took action to save the Kurds. The no-fly zones are still in place, and thousands of Kurds who would not otherwise be alive today remain in them.

The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea asked about civil liability if any weapon were to hit civilian targets. I understand the legal position to be that no circumstances can arise from our actions that would give rise to liability for compensation for damage to civilian property.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the shadow Defence Secretary and some of my hon. Friends all asked about strain on our armed forces. Even those who have not raised that issue in debate are concerned about that point. Ours are the finest fighting forces in the world, but they are involved in more active operations today than at any other peacetime period. Of course, the term "peacetime" takes on a new meaning in the dangerous post-cold war world.

Some have prayed in aid the Chief of Defence Staff's reference to planning assumptions in the strategic defence review. He gave evidence to the Select Committee on Defence last July, saying that the assumptions are planning tools and that it would be a mistake to think that the levels were absolutely in stone".

As we explained throughout the review, we may, in particular circumstances, decide to do less than its assumptions provide for, or we may be able to do more. SDR planning was based on being able to mount two concurrent operations at full brigade level. Maintaining deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo will be very demanding but the overall forces involved are not of that order.

The Chief of Defence Staff is content with the current proposals. If we deployed, we would not be talking about indefinite deployment. As the situation improves, we will look to reduce numbers. After the likely replacement of the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps with another headquarters, the numbers should fall markedly in that theatre.

Several hon. Members have raised the issue of ground forces. Some have said that there is no solution that does not involve land forces fighting their way into Kosovo, or being part of a force that was doing so. The Liberal Democrats have chosen to talk about achieving some United Nations protectorate, and maintaining it with the land forces who would be opposed on entry to Serbia.

We have not set ourselves the task of defeating the Yugoslav army. We are engaged in an effort to reduce Milosevic's repressive capability and we will achieve that. We have no intention of sending ground forces into Kosovo except with the agreement of both parties. This is a limited military action with a strictly humanitarian objective, which we believe can be achieved through air strikes. We do not think that it would be right to escalate this into a major ground invasion, in which many lives might be lost and the humanitarian crisis could be made worse.

Sir Peter Tapsell

Is there a single general at the Ministry of Defence who has been prepared to advise the Secretary of State in writing that he believes that the stated objectives of the NATO command can be achieved by air strikes alone?

Mr. Robertson

It is the view of the chiefs of staff and the Chief of the Defence Staff that what we are doing is right, appropriate and achievable.

Sir Peter Tapsell

The Secretary of State has not answered the question.

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman may disagree with me. I am the chairman of the Defence Council, and there is civilian control of the military in this country. In this case, they are in absolute agreement with the political decision that has been taken, not just by me or the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom but by the Governments of all 19 NATO countries. I know that we are talking in the British Parliament and that we have British preoccupations, as we should because we are committing British forces to this endeavour, but this is a NATO operation. It has been planned, it has been debated and it has been the subject of consultation since last October and before. Military commanders from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe right down the chains of command in 19 countries have come to that conclusion. It is not for me or the hon. Gentleman to question their military judgment. At the end of the day, it will be for politicians to decide, having balanced all the factors. That is what I have and the Defence Ministers of those countries have done.

Hon. Members have expressed anxieties about what we are doing. Whatever position one takes, it is possible to express concern about the use of air strikes as the way to stop what we know will otherwise be a catastrophe, with ethnic cleansing, war crimes and the destruction of human beings, crops and villages. It is entirely possible to make such criticism, but what are the alternatives? I have not always agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), but tonight he made a passionate speech that I thought was right. He recognised the weaknesses and problems involved, but at the end he asked how we could live with the atrocities taking place and do nothing. He could not think of any other alternatives.

What alternatives are there? We have tried diplomacy to exhaustion over the past year. Every chance has been given. It is in the self-interest of Yugoslavia and Serbia to accept the Rambouillet accords. The separatist movement in Kosovo has accepted staying within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It has compromised. What suggests to President Milosevic that he should not sign up to something so eminently sensible? A year after the diplomacy started, after all the chances, the killing goes on. They were doing it yesterday, and they would be doing it today if the attacks had not taken place.

We could try appeasement. That was the policy before the second world war. There were those who believed in it. Why do not we give them Kosovo?

Mr. Benn

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Question is, That the Question be now put.

Hon. Members


Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think the Noes have it. Mr. Robertson.

Mr. Robertson

We could try appeasement but I do not think that anyone in the House or the country would go along with that at all. We could stand by and watch the butchery continue. We could watch the television pictures and know that what they showed was only a small component of what was going on in that tragic country.

Mr. Benn

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is normal for the Chair to put the Question several times to be satisfied. I shouted "Aye" and, in fairness, it would be right for the House to have a chance to register its opinion on the principle of the matter. I put it to you that it would be right to have a vote tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I accepted the motion and put it to the House. It appeared to me, on listening to the voices, that it was decisively beaten. My decision was not challenged at that time, otherwise we would have proceeded to a Division. Mr. Robertson.

Mr. Robertson

If we did not take a stand against the savage, merciless, brutal violence being perpetrated today in Kosovo, what hope would there be for our continent in the 21st century? As the Prime Minister said, if the Balkans ignite in flames, the conflagration could spread to many other parts of Europe, and not just neighbouring countries. The lessons of history—and not just of this century—are that we must stand up to aggressive bullies.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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