HC Deb 29 March 1999 vol 328 cc731-48


The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the European Council in Berlin, which I attended with my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This European Council had two principal tasks: to reach agreement on the Agenda 2000 package of negotiations for enlargement of the European Union, including changes to agriculture spending and to the structural and cohesion funds; and to prepare for the appointment of a new European Commission. I pay tribute to the immense skill shown by Chancellor SchrÖder in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion. The conclusions of the Council have been placed in the Library of the House.

The European Council was, however, overshadowed by events in Kosovo, which were constantly in the minds of European Council members during the meeting, and I shall begin with that matter.

European Heads of State and Government were unanimous in condemning Milosevic's barbarity and intransigence and in supporting NATO action. Air strikes are continuing and intensifying in the wake of the renewed repression in Kosovo. Thirteen additional Royal Air Force planes are being committed to the NATO operation this week. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will join me in giving their continued full support to the British forces engaged. Thirteen countries have aircraft committed to that operation.

Even as we speak, there are continuing atrocities perpetrated by Milosevic against defenceless Kosovar civilians, but one thing should be made very clear: the idea that this barbarity and renewed ethnic cleansing started last Wednesday when NATO began its campaign is simply absurd.

The massacres that we are witnessing now were planned by Milosevic in the past two months when he built up an army and special police presence in the Kosovo region totalling 40,000 troops and 300 tanks—a deployment far greater than at the height of last year's fighting and savage repression. In the two days prior to the NATO campaign, 20,000 people were driven from their homes, and in the past month, 65,000 were driven from their homes. That is in addition to the 300,000 people who were driven away last summer. It is now clear that Serb participation in the Paris peace talks was a cover for Milosevic's offensive preparations. We now know that on 20 March, the day after the talks were suspended, armed Serbs started summary executions and ethnic cleansing. They have continued ever since.

In our view, our response to those appalling acts, far from halting or slowing down the allied action, must be to intensify it and see it through to a successful conclusion. For every act of barbarity and every slaughter of the innocent, Milosevic should be made to pay a higher and higher price. I hope that no one who has seen the utter, callous brutality with which the Kosovar Albanian people have been treated is under any remaining illusions about the nature of the Serb regime. The proper answer to that is not weakness but strength.

We are also addressing the growing refugee problem created by Milosevic's brutality. I have today set up a cross-departmental group to respond rapidly to that crisis. A joint military and civilian team will visit Macedonia and Albania later this week. The Department for International Development has allocated an extra £10 million as our initial contribution to the international effort, in addition to the help that we had already committed.

I shall now turn to Agenda 2000. On agriculture, the European Council agreed to phased price cuts of 15 per cent. for milk and cereals, and 20 per cent. for beef. It also set limits on agricultural spending, bringing the common agricultural policy under tighter control than before. Agricultural spending by 2006 is planned to be less than 2 per cent. in real terms above its level next year, and falling. Of course, some of us wanted more, but it is worth contrasting this outcome with the increase of 9 per cent. agreed at the Edinburgh European Council in 1992—and UK consumers will, when these reforms have been implemented, benefit by about £1 billion a year, or £65 for a family of four.

On the structural and cohesion funds, the European Council agreed that spending in the existing Union should total 213 billion euros in the period 2000 to 2006, an 11 per cent. reduction in the Commission's proposal. Within that total, full and proper account will be taken of the interests of the UK.

Cornwall, west Wales and the valleys, and South Yorkshire will qualify for the first time for assistance under objective 1 of the structural funds. Merseyside will retain its objective 1 status. A safety net will safeguard the position of regions of the UK qualifying for assistance under objective 2 of the structural funds. This will cover 14 million British people. There will be a special package for Northern Ireland, assuring assistance at a level equivalent to objective 1 status. There will be a special transitional programme of assistance totalling 300 million euros for the highlands and islands of Scotland, which no longer qualify for objective 1 status. That sum is double the amount available for other areas losing objective 1 status, and is comparable to the amount that the highlands and islands would have received as an objective 1 area. That is a tremendous deal for Scotland.

The negotiation also covered the revenue side of the Union's finances. It was agreed that more revenue would be raised from contributions linked to gross national product and less from value added tax receipts and customs payments. There is also to be a change in the way in which payment for the UK abatement is divided among the other member states. But no change was made to the own resources ceiling, the limit on revenue available for the Community budget. That is significant and welcome.

In the past two major negotiations on European finance, in 1988 and 1992, the European Union, when it made changes, agreed an increase in the revenue ceiling: that is an increase in the share of the European Union's wealth which taxpayers can be required to contribute towards EU spending. For the first time there has been a major Community financial settlement without an increase in the potential burden on taxpayers. In 1988, the settlement envisaged spending rising by 17 per cent., and in 1992 it foresaw spending rising by 22 per cent. This time spending within the EU 15 will fall in real terms over the period covered by the agreement.

On the abatement, I am delighted to report that the presidency conclusions say in terms that the UK abatement will remain. In line with the 1988 and 1992 European Council conclusions, the UK accepted that we should not make a windfall gain out of changes to the method of EU financing; that is the gain from a switch from VAT to GNP contributions and from an increase in the collection costs for traditional own resources. On the same principle, I agreed that the abatement will not apply, after enlargement, on an amount of expenditure in the new member states equal to the pre-accession aid in those member states which is itself now unabated. So any expenditure unabated now will remain unabated after enlargement. But the vast bulk of expenditure in the new members after enlargement will qualify for the abatement, because it is abated now. The result is that there will be no reduction in the United Kingdom's rebate. Our objective was secured. I said that the Government would maintain the abatement. We have done so.

Heads of State and Government also agreed to invite Mr. Romano Prodi, former Prime Minister of Italy, to be the next President of the European Commission. I warmly welcome his appointment. Mr. Prodi has a strong record of economic and political reform.

The European Council's intention is that the new Commission should be appointed and start work as soon as possible after the European parliamentary elections, and remain in office for the remainder of this year and the five years starting from January 2000.

There was unanimous agreement among Heads of State and Government that the new Commission will need to give urgent priority to a programme of far-reaching modernisation and reform, in which Community funds, programmes and projects are properly managed, the Commission's services are correctly organised and the highest standards of management, integrity and efficiency are ensured.

The middle east peace process was also discussed at the European Council, and we urged that the transitional period established under the Oslo agreement be extended beyond 4 May 1999, with the aim of reaching agreement on final status issues within one year.

I am pleased to say that agreement was finally reached on the trade and development agreement with South Africa—an historic step in consolidating prosperity and democracy in South Africa and developing the European Union's relationship with that country.

To sum up, the outcome on Agenda 2000 is an agreement that makes significant reforms to the CAP; puts the Union's financial house in order in preparation for enlargement; brings spending under control and reduces Community spending as a proportion of Community GNP, even after allowing for the costs of enlargement; gives a fair deal to UK regions that receive support from the structural funds; and maintains the UK abatement.

That is a good result for Britain and has been achieved by a new Government who have rejected the sterile confrontations and isolationism of the recent past, and who engage constructively with Europe to get a better deal for Britain. I commend it to the House.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)

On Kosovo, the Prime Minister knows that we have expressed our hopes and concerns about the long-term future of policy towards Kosovo, but he also knows that we have expressed support for the present action and the air strikes, and I reaffirm that support today.

The loss of a NATO plane is a reminder of the great risks that our aircrews run as they do their job, and the rescue of the pilot is a reminder of the extraordinary ability of the armed forces involved. Does the Prime Minister agree that we went into the action in full knowledge of those risks, and that we should now have the resolve to see it through? Nothing would be more disastrous for the humanitarian situation that he described or to the credibility of NATO than if we backed out of what has been started.

I welcome what the Prime Minister said about refugees. May I ask him three specific questions about events in Kosovo? First, he referred to an intensification of military action. Can he confirm that NATO has extended its operations to target Serbian ground forces? Will that mean a new combat role for the allied rapid reaction corps based in Macedonia? What protection will those NATO forces give to Macedonia?

Secondly, what is being done to try to involve Russia in our diplomatic efforts? Will the Prime Minister tell the House what contact he or the Foreign Secretary have had with the Russian Government in recent days?

Thirdly, what preparations are being made now for aid, reconstruction and peacekeeping in the event of the military action being successful, as we all hope?

On the matter of the European Council in Berlin, however, is it not the case that the summit failed to agree on many of the objectives set by the Government, and failed to make the fundamental reforms necessary to prepare adequately for enlargement, or to make the European Commission effective and respected?

The Prime Minister's spokesman said two weeks ago that the common agricultural policy reforms agreed by farm Ministers were "unsatisfactory" because they did not go far enough, yet the Prime Minister has accepted a deal that falls significantly short of even those reforms. Ministers said last week that now that the euro was in existence, the cohesion funds were an anomaly to be re-examined, yet the Prime Minister has signed up to a deal that keeps those cohesion funds in place for the future.

A Foreign Office Minister said this month that the objective at Berlin was to freeze the EU budget, yet it was agreed at the summit that the EU budget would rise. Is not the result of the Berlin deal that British contributions to the European Union, taking account of the rebate agreement, will go up? Is not that the truth of the matter?

The other thing that the Prime Minister promised us before Berlin was root-and-branch reform of the Commission. The commitment to a new Commission later this year is welcome, provided that it means a new Commission. Can the Prime Minister confirm that, at the end of a major summit of EU leaders, just one week after the explosive report on fraud, all the Commissioners who resigned, including Mrs. Cresson, are still sitting behind their desks at the Commission; that those Commissioners are still looking forward to receiving £250,000 pay-offs; that there is still no truly independent fraud office to police the Commission; that no instructions have been given to the new Commission President to make sure that the Commission does less in the effort to do better; and that, on the contrary, Downing Street says: integration is part of our mantra—the PM is busy integrating now", in the words of the right hon. Gentleman's spokesman?

Is it not true that a summit that was supposed to prepare the EU for the next decade has left it with a largely unreformed agricultural policy; with cohesion funds still there; with enlargement more distant rather than nearer; and with a disgraced Commission still in place?

The Prime Minister

First, on Kosovo I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and I agree that it is important that we have the resolve to see this through. The intensification certainly includes action taken against the repressive forces in Kosovo. There is no new role there envisaged for our own forces in Macedonia. In respect of Russia, I have myself spoken to Prime Minister Primakov. The Foreign Secretary has been in close contact with his opposite number in the Russian Government and is due to speak again to him later today. We are putting aid and peacekeeping measures together now, and part of the humanitarian package is making sure that we get aid to people there.

In respect of the European Council, it is best to compare the deal that was secured by this Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, I think it is a fair comparison; the Opposition do not seem to want to make it, though, do they? On our basis, real-terms spending within the 15 falls, but one wonders what the Conservatives negotiated when they were in office: it rose by 15 per cent. in 1988 and 22 per cent. in 1992, and at Fontainebleau it rose by more than either 15 or 22 per cent. That is what happened when the Conservatives were negotiating for Britain. They did not merely remain isolated; they were pretty unsuccessful in their isolation.

I seem to remember that the key tests that were set for me were—point number one—whether I would maintain the United Kingdom abatement and—point number two—whether we would get a good deal on structural funds. That is what the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were saying a few weeks ago. I notice that he did not even mention either of those two points in his statement. I take that as the best endorsement for my negotiating position I can have.

However, the right hon. Gentleman is right that we wanted the reforms to go further. He is wrong that root-and-branch reform has been put off in respect of the Commission. Not at all; we are due to meet the President elect of the Commission within the next couple of weeks and we will agree specifically—there is no doubt about this—a clear mandate for reform of the European Commission and the way that it operates. People in Europe expect no less from us and we intend to deliver it.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Bearing in mind the statement that is to follow on Northern Ireland, I am reminded of the old saying about sorrow coming not in single spies but in big battalions. The Government are in for quite a tough week, I think.

On the European summit, is it not the case that there is good news and bad? The good news is that the Government have retained the rebate; the bad is that they have done so—as, indeed, others have succeeded in doing—by sweeping everything under the carpet. The summit did not tackle the tough decisions that needed to be tackled. I understand why that is so, because the Government were facing two crises—one in the Commission and the other in Kosovo—but is it not the case that they will have to be tackled and that we cannot safely widen the AEU until they have been tackled?

On the question of Kosovo, may I put four brief points to the Prime Minister? First, is it not the case that, if the voices of the Kosovar Albanians were heard in the Chamber, they would be saying, "For God's sake, don't stop until the job is done."? I can tell the Prime Minister that I have been in touch with people in Kosovo in the past 24 hours, and that is exactly what they are saying: "It is appalling, it is terrifying, it is horrific, but please keep going and, if you can, speed it up."

Secondly, will the Prime Minister give us a clear assurance that whatever needs to be done to cope with the humanitarian catastrophe—which has been described as the worst that we have seen since the second world war—will be done, not only for reasons of humanity but for reasons of stability? One of Milosevic's clear and specific intents is to ensure that the appalling flood of refugees now being forced—at gun point and by atrocity—over the border into Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro destabilises those countries.

Thirdly, would it not be useful if we heard a little more about the pressures and divisions growing up within the Former Republic of Yugoslavia? Montenegro has clearly said that it is Milosevic's fault that the intervention is taking place and wants to leave. The Vojvodina are saying the same thing and the Sanjak similar.

Lastly, on the question of troops on the ground, may I put this to the Prime Minister? Surely he will agree with me that there can be no point in terminating this operation—or, indeed, in putting the lives of our service men and women at risk—and leaving Kosovo with less than a durable and sustainable peace. If that is to be done, there is no other way to do it than by establishing, whether by law or in fact, an international protectorate. Rambouillet is one way to do that, but if Milosevic will not agree we shall have to establish it anyway. The only way to do that and to secure peace is to have troops on the ground. If that is not the Government's plan at the moment—as I believe it is not—will the Prime Minister at least say that he will not exclude it in the future?

The Prime Minister

On the European Union summit, I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that we have swept all the issues under the carpet. It is worth pointing out that the EU 15 are in agreement about the enlargement process—the five plus one coming into the European Union. In one sense, as I said earlier, we would have preferred more fundamental reform of areas such as the CAP. However, we have agreed a basis on which structural funds are hugely reduced for the 15. Countries throughout Europe are prepared to give up some of their European Union money to allow enlargement to happen. Taken together, the structural and cohesion funds are less than the European Commission was looking at. There are elements of CAP reform in the cuts in the price of beef, cereal, milk and other products, which are very important for the future. We now have an agreed basis for enlargement to happen, and there is no reason for the process to slow down.

Although people can always say that perhaps we should have gone further and done better—I would say that myself in relation to some of the areas of reform—it is worth underlining what we did agree. One of the great pluses for Britain was that we were not the people who were proving difficult in this negotiation. We secured every single objective that we wanted—[Interruption.] For the benefit of those Opposition Members who are shouting, we did it without the absurd and often counterproductive posturing that has characterised their relationship with Europe over the past few years.

In respect of Kosovo, I agree with the first three points that the right hon. Gentleman made about the Kosovar Albanians. He is absolutely right: if people ask their representatives, of course they will say that what is happening on the ground is terrible, but it is absurd to imply that before the NATO action began those people were living an untroubled and stress-free life. This has been building up for months and months.

On the humanitarian crisis, I agree that we must do all that we can to ensure that people can go back in safety at a later date. What the right hon. Gentleman says about Montenegro and other areas is absolutely correct. We cannot do enough in pointing out to our own people, particularly when we have people reporting from Belgrade, that we are dealing with a state-run media. People there are shown what they are allowed to be shown, and nothing else—[HON. MEMBERS: "Like here."] No, as a matter of fact, it is not like here. People should know the difference.

As for troops on the ground, we have made it clear that we favour ground troops in pursuit of a viable settlement. We have said all the way through, however, what the problems are with putting in ground troops to fight their way through. In respect of the international protectorate, I believe that, de facto, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, Rambouillet offers a proper protectorate. Obviously, the purpose of the ground troops would be to go in in support of that.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

No objective observer, on the continent or in this country, can deny that the Berlin Council was a triumph for both the European Union and the Prime Minister. Why? Because we are now perceived as a part of a team, not as isolationists sniping from the sidelines. As part of a team, we can reach a good deal for this country, including—I speak as a Member from south-west Wales—objective 1 status for my area. On that subject, how will the Government respond in terms of matching funds for my region and others?

On Kosovo, the solidarity of the European Union and the NATO 19 has been magnificent. Will my right hon. Friend spell out what financial assistance will be given to the neighbouring countries to allow them to cope with the flood of refugees? Will he confirm that, throughout the bombing campaign, we shall not lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, there will have to be a political settlement?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments on the Berlin summit. The issue of matching funds, like any expenditure of money, will have to be dealt with within the resources that we have available to us. My hon. Friend was right on the rebate. I should point out to hon. Members that, over the next few years, because of the settlement that we have gained, not only on the rebate but in the structural funds, Britain's actual net contributions will—for the first time since we joined the European Community—be far more in line with those of comparable countries such as France and Italy.

On Kosovo, we are giving financial assistance to the countries that have to deal with the problems of refugees. Part of the £10 million that I announced earlier is to deal precisely with that. I agree with my hon. Friend that, ultimately, there will have to be a political solution. We have always wanted a political solution. First, however, we must stop the murderous repression in Kosovo.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

Will the Prime Minister place in the Library a paper setting out in the fullest possible form the justification for his statement today that, two months prior to the current military operations, Milosevic was planning the comprehensive ethnic cleansing of Kosovo?

The Prime Minister

I am perfectly happy to give the House—and anyone else—the evidence of that. There is absolutely no doubt about what has been happening. If the right hon. Gentleman and others like him want evidence of it, I shall list some of the things which happened long before this NATO action started. For example, over a year ago, in February 1998, in Likosane, 26 people were killed. Shortly afterwards, in March, in Donje Prekaze, 54 people were killed. Shortly after that, in August 1998, the entire town of Junik was destroyed. In Donje Obrinje, in October 1998, 18 people died. In Racak, in January 1999, 45 people were killed.

Those examples do not include all the places that were "cleansed" of people who were driven from their homes. A quarter of a million people were homeless before the action even started, and that number is on top of those who had to leave their homes even earlier. There is no doubt about what has been happening in Kosovo. To those who say that such actions began only when the NATO bombing began, I say that it has been going on month after month after month. The only difference is that now the situation is getting the publicity that it deserves.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Will the Prime Minister reject out of hand the perversity of the position of the Conservatives—who reject federalism while in the next breath complaining when various European Union countries try to assert their national interest and when they do not get all they would wish out of a European Union summit? May I also warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's defence of the British abatement—which demonstrates that the fact that we are positive in our relationship with Europe does not mean that we have abandoned our national interest? Finally, does my right hon. Friend feel that enough progress was made on reform of EU finances to ensure that enlargement starts before 2006?

The Prime Minister

On the desire for even greater reform, my hon. Friend is right to point out that part of the difference in the common agricultural policy reform agreed at the Agriculture Council was that it was agreed by majority voting, whereas there has to be unanimity at the Council of Ministers and at the prime ministerial, Heads of Government and Heads of State level. Of course, we should have liked things to go further, but that is not to understate the reform that was agreed.

On the rebate, I have always noticed that other countries firmly defend their interests within the European Union. Any notion that France, Germany or Spain do not fight for their own national interests would be contradicted by attenders at any one of those meetings. The difference is that, when those countries have a national interest to be secured, they do not think that standing up for their own national interests will be helped by being anti-European. That is the difference between the two.

On my hon. Friend's final point, the settlement provides a basis for enlargement. Now there should not be any hold-up in the enlargement process, except for what is necessary to ensure that those countries are in a fit state to join.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

Everyone will be just as appalled as the Prime Minister at the increasing viciousness of the Milosevic regime to the Kosovars since the start of the bombing. Did the Prime Minister predict that increasing viciousness, particularly given the evidence that he has just outlined? if he did, why was not more of the immediate military action focused on mitigating it?

The Prime Minister

We held back from military action to give the political process a chance to work. That is what we were trying to do for months and months. We were doing that not because we were unaware of what was happening on the ground but because we wanted, if at all possible, to go the extra mile to get a diplomatic solution. Unfortunately, we did not get that. Repression is going on now in Kosovo and our obligation is to act. We have taken action and we should take it all the way to see it through.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Prime Minister aware that, whatever the legality or morality of the war that has been launched against Yugoslavia, the bombing has gravely worsened the refugee crisis, quite apart from the ethnic cleansing, which, as he said, has gone on for some time? The refugees alone may well destabilise the Balkans and the situation may get out of control. Is he also aware that General Wesley Clark saying that NATO would "devastate" Yugoslavia—a phrase that I heard him use on the television—was bound to consolidate opinion in Yugoslavia around their Government, as would happen in any country?

Russia—the one country that might have some influence—has been alienated. Is it not clear that, at some stage, there will have to be discussions? Rambouillet is dead. There is no possibility of going back to Rambouillet and sending troops in after we have bombed a country. What is required is United Nations action, a ceasefire of the kind that the Prime Minister urged so skilfully in Northern Ireland, and bringing in someone of international status—maybe Nelson Mandela or someone of that character—to try to get the sides together before the situation gets totally out of control.

The Prime Minister

First let us be clear where the responsibility for the refugee crisis lies. It is not NATO bombing that has caused the refugee crisis; it is the policy of brutality and repression against innocent Kosovar Albanian people. I have no doubt that, when their country is subject to air strikes, there will be anger among the Serbian population, but let us not forget that they do not get the full picture. There is no proper news communication. There are no free newspapers. There is no independent television station that reports to the Serbian people what is being done in their name in Kosovo. Many ordinary Serbian civilians, even though they may dislike the NATO bombing campaign, would be horrified by what is happening in Kosovo under the Milosevic regime. We remain willing at any point to engage in peace talks and mediation, provided that Milosevic comes back into line with the agreements that he made last October and has never honoured. Any agreement has to take Rambouillet into account. Of course it has to be based on that. Rambouillet offered a good deal for Serbia. That makes it all the more tragic that Milosevic preferred to intensify his repression rather than accept the deal.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Is not the Prime Minister's failure in Berlin demonstrated by the fact that the European Union development budget for the next seven years was passed without alteration, in spite of the fact that we are highly dissatisfied with it, that it is the cause of much of the fraud and maladministration of the Commission and that it is not focused on the poverty base that we want to tackle?

The Prime Minister

The negotiation concentrated on Agenda 2000, the structural funds and the common agricultural policy, but Britain is taking the lead on development issues in the European Union, and doing a good job of it. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman meant to say that the Berlin summit was a failure in general. I am too modest to read out quotes from newspapers from other European countries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I could be prevailed upon. It may be perceived as a failure by the hon. Gentleman, but that is not the picture from outside.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his efforts to secure objective 1 status for Cornwall. May I ask him to convey the thanks of the county to the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, who has been tireless in his commitment to Cornwall? Does my right hon. Friend have a message to convey to the people of Cornwall as we look forward to a new economic era?

The Prime Minister

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, whose efforts have been more tireless than anyone's—as I have been able to testify every time I have met her in the past year or so. She has worked extremely hard to bring this about, and has urged on us the importance of objective 1 status for Cornwall. We negotiated hard for that because, although Cornwall has many tremendous advantages, it has real problems of economic restructuring. Objective 1 status will help it enormously. It provides the basis for a secure and good future for Cornwall, which did not exist before.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The Prime Minister should realise that, until the common agricultural policy is fundamentally reformed, enlarging the Community will create severe financial difficulties both for those countries wanting to join the Union and for those that are already members. I acknowledge the Prime Minister's disappointment that more progress was not made on reform of the CAP, but when does he expect that process to get back on track?

The Prime Minister

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman—we would have preferred reform to go further, but we agreed greater reform of agricultural policy than has been agreed by anyone else in the past two decades. It is worth pointing out that there will be a real decrease in the later years of the next financing period, and that will be the first-ever real reduction in CAP spending. We believe that that is a sufficient basis for enlargement. I should like to have gone further, not least because the European Union must face up to the fact that, when the WTO negotiations get under way, we shall be obliged to make greater reforms in common agricultural policy, so it is a good idea to prepare for that now. None the less, let us not ignore the real progress that has been made.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Prime Minister say a little more about his contacts with the Russian Government and the Russian Prime Minister to bring about a peace process and a ceasefire in Kosovo to stop the tide of refugees and the pogroms against the people there, and to stop the bombing? What contact does he propose to have with the United Nations? What has been Kofi Annan's involvement? Does he think that this is a matter for the United Nations, which should be brought on board, rather than for NATO, which is undertaking actions without UN approval?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend will know, the Russian resolution at the Security Council was defeated by 12 to three. Kofi Annan has said that there are times when diplomacy no longer works. Our contacts with Russia have been perfectly amicable and close. The Russians disagree with the action that has been taken, but let us not forget that they participated in the Rambouillet peace talks and agreed with the outcome. They disagreed with Milosevic's refusal to sign up to the deal. It is true that the Russians do not agree with the NATO bombing campaign, but, as we constantly say, we have tried every diplomatic and political avenue and Milosevic will not agree. That is why, respectfully, we have to disagree with the Russians on the validity of our campaign.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

Does the Prime Minister realise how tragically apt it was for him to go to Berlin to explain the reasons why he is the leading European advocate of an historically ignorant, politically inept, internationally illegal and half-botched policy that is already threatening to increase and extend the carnage in the Balkans? Is he determined to prove himself as stupid as the Kaiser?

The Prime Minister

Without replying to the insults, let me pick out one point on which the hon. Gentleman and I may agree. He referred to the carnage in Kosovo. The people who are responsible for that carnage are Milosevic and his henchmen. The hon. Gentleman's response is to do precisely nothing, to sit back and say, "Get on with it." That is not the responsible thing to do.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

On the carnage in Kosovo, given the fact that not a single word issued by the Yugoslav media can be believed, while we have a freedom of the press in this country of which we are rightly proud, has my right hon. Friend heard from any of the armchair strategists, deploying their high-powered word processors from well behind the front line, whether they believe that the Kosovo people should be helped; whether, if they do, they have a better way of helping them than that being employed by the Government; whether they support our armed forces as they risk their lives in action; and whether they want us to win or to lose?

The Prime Minister

As ever, my right hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. Those who say that we should not be involved should listen to what ordinary Kosovar Albanian people and their representatives say. They are the ones who are living through this appalling situation, and they know that the alternative to NATO action is simply that it continues without the rest of the world lifting a finger.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

As one who was in Kosovo the week before last, may I ask the Prime Minister to explain how the objectives that he rightly wants to achieve can be achieved by air power alone; and how, by the dispatch of more Harriers, we can stop Kosovar Albanians being murdered in barns and teachers being lined up on school playing fields and shot in front of their pupils? Surely we will have to commit ground troops at some time, or, if the political will is not there, let us admit that, and hang our heads and walk away in shame.

The Prime Minister

On ground troops, I refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said in response to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). The targets that we are selecting are ones that affect Milosevic's military capability and, specifically, ones related to the Kosovo repression. The NATO action will continue to intensify. Anyone who believed that, after years and years of build-up, the action could end in a few days, was always suffering from a delusion and was always headed for disappointment, but I have no doubt at all that we will succeed in our objective. We should have total resolve to see it through, all the way.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is Mrs. Ljubica Erickson, the wife of a distinguished Edinburgh university military historian and adviser to the Ministry of Defence, right when she says that there has been terrible collateral damage in the villages around Belgrade and that the trauma among old people, women and children has become appalling? If the Prime Minister were in the position of a Serbian soldier in Kosovo, knowing what was happening back at home and hearing that NATO intended to intensify the bombing, would there not be a danger that he might behave like an animal? What is the end object of all this? Until the bombing stops, is there any chance of involving the one people who can resolve the problem—the Russians?

The Prime Minister

In the end, people must face the consequences of the difficult choices that are being made, as we must in choosing to start the campaign. Our targets are military, and I caution against believing anything or anyone who is basing information on what is being said by the Serbian Government-run media.

Serbian soldiers had been carrying out brutality and atrocity for a long time before the bombing, and their attitude cannot be the determinant of how we run this. If they want to stop the NATO bombs, they can do so in one very simple way and that is by starting to treat people in Kosovo like civilised human beings, instead of subjecting them to ethnic cleansing, which is what the Serbians have been doing.

People say that we have to find a political solution and ask why we cannot involve Russia more, but we have been trying for months—more than months—to find a political solution and Russia has been intimately involved in all those attempts. The truth is that no political solution is possible at the moment because Milosevic is determined to rid Kosovo of Kosovar Albanians, and he will do so by killing them if necessary. That is the truth. The choice, therefore, is let him do it, or try to stop him, and the latter is what we are doing.

Sir Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)

When the Prime Minister supported Mr. Prodi for the presidency of the European Commission, did he take into account the accusations of fraud and other criminal activity levelled at Mr. Prodi when he ran the Italian state holding company, IRI?

The Prime Minister

Anyone who knows Romano Prodi knows him to be someone of the highest integrity. It does not surprise me in the least that the Conservative party should wish to begin with the new President of the European Commission by attacking and vilifying him.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Has the Prime Minister seen reports that the Serbs are rounding up Albanian civilians and holding them in military installations in Kosovo? Will he bear that in mind when selecting which targets to attack?

The Prime Minister

Yes, we do bear that in mind. We are getting the best information that we can about that. The use of human shields is a barbarous practice in itself, but we will take account of any information we have to try to minimise any damage.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Does the Prime Minister agree that the policy of President Milosevic appears to be to expel the Albanian population of north Kosovo, settle in Serbs—probably from the Krajina area—and then declare a ceasefire and assert victory? Were those foreseeable developments taken into account by NATO before the present policy was embarked on? If they were, will the Prime Minister tell us how he proposes to stop them and, if President Milosevic achieves those policy objectives, how he proposes to reverse them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks make the case for the campaign that we have. The idea of getting rid of as many ethnic Albanians as possible from northern Kosovo is not new but has been talked about in Serb circles for some time, and that is precisely what has been going on for months and months. That is why we were right to take the action, and the only chance that we have of stopping that policy is to make Milosevic pay such a high price that he is deterred from following it. That is the only alternative.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I happened to be in an aid truck on Mount Igman when air strikes were launched against the chetnik besieging forces around Sarajevo back in 1996. The only thing that was wrong with those air strikes was that they were at least a year too late. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those air strikes made it possible to achieve peace in Bosnia, and will he remind the House of that recent lesson from history? Action may be painful, but failure to act in the face of such atrocities would be appalling.

The Prime Minister

I agree with that entirely. It was as a result of the action by air strikes that we were able to get a settlement in that situation. I do not think that anyone who has witnessed the events of the past few days can be in any doubt about the nature of the regime that we are dealing with and the fact that we have no alternative, unless we are to let the brutality continue, to taking the action that we are taking.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

Does the Prime Minister reflect on how extraordinary it is for the Heads of Government to dilute an agreement reached by Agriculture Ministers which he had already described as "inadequate"? Will he be fair enough to admit that the decision is bound to make enlargement more difficult; that it makes the European Union unprepared for the next round of world trade talks; and that Britain's fundamental interests are less served by the rebate than by a fundamental reform of the CAP, which caused the problem in the first place?

The Prime Minister

It would be unwise, and possibly unfair, to enter into the last part of that question.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the WTO talks. That remains a force coming down the track at the European Union that will give us the chance of another look at the whole area. The statement of European Council conclusions made it clear that, whatever happens with the CAP, we must still have the right proposals for the WTO negotiations in the interests of the whole of Europe. It would have been better to go further on CAP reform, although—thanks in many ways to what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food negotiated—we gained more reform than most people would have contemplated a short time ago.

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North)

There is something truly horrendous in the fact that a 20th century stained by Nazi genocide should end with genocide, first in Bosnia, and now in Kosovo where young men are being marched away to be shot, children are being terrorised and elderly people being made homeless. May I say that, while there are, again, some voices in the House calling for appeasement of a fascist regime, the great majority of Members of the House of Commons and the great mass of decent British public opinion supports the Prime Minister's endeavour to stop the atrocities and to end the genocide? We wish my right hon. Friend good luck.

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for his words. I am sure that he is right.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Is the Prime Minister aware that many Opposition Members fully support what he and the Government are trying to do, but worry that some of the methods involved may not be efficacious?

Is the Prime Minister aware of, and will he comment on, what seem to be well-founded intelligence reports, first, of increasing collaboration between the Iraqis and the Serbians, and, secondly, that Prime Minister Primakov was paid $800,000 by the Iraqis, which hardly recommends him as a good, honest middle man to resolve the present terrible crisis?

The Prime Minister

On the latter point, I have no comment to make, except to say that we know of nothing to substantiate it. In respect of Iraq and Serbia, there is no doubt that they have been in contact, but we know no more than that.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the support that he gave in making his first point. It is interesting that the issue has, in a sense, moved from a matter of justification to one of efficacy and whether we will succeed in our aims. I believe that we will succeed. We have set clear objectives. We have in place the mechanisms to achieve them. Our only choice is to go through with them. Having seen over the past few days that there can be no doubt about the nature of Milosevic and of what he is trying to do—it has been graphically illustrated—there is no alternative but to see our action through with total and complete resolve. That is why I support, at the moment, intensification of the NATO effort.

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green)

On the middle east, the Prime Minister said that the 4 May deadline has been extended. The extension has happened for good reasons, and I welcome it, but will he say whether any new date has been set?

The Prime Minister

Our proposal on the middle east takes account of the 4 May deadline. We have not stated a date on which we believe the final status talks should be concluded, and it would not be wise of us to do so at present. It is right to show that we do not want the peace process in the middle east to be held up at all for any reason. We want it to be driven forward.

Sir Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury)

In view of the reaction of the Serbs to the bombardment that has taken place, does the Prime Minister agree that early rather than gradual intensification of the bombardment, to the maximum capacity of the alliance, is likely to achieve the best results?

The Prime Minister

I agree with that entirely. As I said a moment ago, in the light of what has happened during the past few days, intensification, not backing down, is the answer.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Recognising that talks failed to end ethnic cleansing and extreme racism in Yugoslavia, must we not always remember the simple fact that Milosevic was killing his own people and that the way to end the bombing lies in his hands? If he gets his people to stop the killing in Kosovo, the bombing will stop immediately.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. Milosevic has been a disaster for people in Serbia for many years. Anyone who has looked at his record over this long period knows that it was he, 10 years ago, who withdrew autonomy from Kosovo and began the process of using Serbian nationalism to drive people out of Kosovo. He has time and time again proved an instigator of violence and instability in this region.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Through the fog of war over Kosovo, the full details of what actually happened at the Berlin summit are hard to discern, other than that it seems to have been business as usual, with the candidate for President of the Commission chosen within an hour. There was no sign that the Government will accede to the wishes of 70 Members of this House, set out in early-day motion 437, that our Commissioners be confirmed by Parliament. Will the British net contribution of £2.85 billion, as certified by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury in a letter to the Financial Times on 25 March, which is the second highest, go down the scale to fourth, fifth, or sixth? Is there any hope that our contribution will be reduced?

The Prime Minister

First, in relation to the process of selecting the Commission, we are using the same process that was used by previous Governments. [HON. MEMBERS: "That's all right then.] It is not, "That's all right then," but it is a little bit much for Conservative Members to start attacking us on this when, for 18 years, they could have changed it and chose not to, although it might be unfair to designate the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) as a supporter of the previous Government's policy. In respect of contributions, yes, as a result of our settlement, for the first time, although we will remain second-largest net contributors, we will be closer to France and Italy than we have been at any time in the history of the European Community. As a result of the rest of the settlement that we succeeded in achieving, not merely do we retain the abatement, we got a better deal on structural funds than any negotiated by the Government that he used to support—sort of.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Serbian military must, at some stage, recognise that, if Milosevic keeps up his nationalist stance, he himself will destroy the whole of the Yugoslavian military infrastructure? It is his responsibility. Is there any evidence that the military are getting that message? On a related matter, may I express the hope that we will not support any solution that leads to the partition of Kosovo?

The Prime Minister

On that latter point, no is the answer to that. On the former point, my hon. Friend is right. The responsibility rests entirely with Milosevic. This is a message that we will bring home to him and to the people in his military infrastructure.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the Prime Minister comment on recent news reports that countries adjacent to Kosovo may be closing their borders to refugees? Is there in place a genuine strategy to ensure that the European Union as a whole and our NATO allies share the problem of dealing with this sad situation?

The Prime Minister

On the humanitarian situation, we have announced the measures that we wish to take, and that will obviously be done in co-ordination with other countries and with the UN's refugee programme. I hope very much that we can count on the support of the hon. Lady's party, and, indeed, all parties, in the action that we are taking.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

There has been a tremendous welcome in Scotland for the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated for the highlands and islands. Is it not a fact that it could never have been negotiated by the discredited previous Government or by the separatists, who would throw away the strength of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend must be correct because the isolationism of the previous Government would never have retained the rebate, let alone secured a deal on structural funds and the objective 1 and objective 2 safety net. As for the Scottish National party, nobody at the summit was in any doubt that we could never have secured this deal if Britain and Scotland had not stood together and negotiated as one.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Is the Prime Minister being frank with the House about the rebate? He said that there has been no reduction in the rebate, yet the Library—which has examined the detailed figures—calculates that, by 2006, the annual loss on the rebate to this country will be no less than 220 million euros.

The Prime Minister

The 220 million figure is the windfall gain that we would have made if issues that are presently unabated were subject to abatement. In reaching agreement, we did precisely what was acceded to in 1988 and 1992. However, the difference with this Government is that we have not only kept the rebate intact so that there will be no reduction but managed to agree that there should be no increase in the own resources ceiling. That was something that the previous Conservative Government signally failed to do.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We shall now move on.