HC Deb 19 May 1999 vol 331 cc1054-7
Q1. Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 19 May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today.

Mr. King

As Slobodan Milosevic continues his campaign of terror, genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, is not our first priority to care for those refugees who have been forced from their home; and our second to ensure that they can return home in peace and safety to rebuild their lives?

The Prime Minister

That is precisely what the refugees want, and having been to one of the camps yesterday only redoubles my determination to ensure that they are allowed back. Each and every one of the stories that are now being told by the refugees and all the evidence that is being compiled by the United Nations and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are appalling—tales of the most terrible acts committed inside Kosovo, of families divided, young men disappearing, young women being raped and whole villages being razed to the ground. The NATO campaign will go on until our basic demands are met: that Milosevic's troops go out, our troops go in and the refugees go back.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)

On that subject, the whole House agrees that what we have seen in Kosovo is a humanitarian disaster, and that we cannot and must not walk away from that, but must now do everything in our power to redeem the promises that we have made to the refugees. Does the Prime Minister share our concern about newspaper reports in recent days which have alleged that there is division between our Government and that of the United States—reports that are damaging to NATO and can only provide encouragement to Milosevic? Will he take the opportunity to deny those reports, and specifically deny that he and the Government want to use ground troops to fight their way into Kosovo, when the American President has decided that he does not?

The Prime Minister

There is absolutely no difference. As was made clear by the President of the United States yesterday, all options are under review; that is what he has always said. I know the President well and I know that he will always do the right thing by America and by the world. He is as committed to this campaign as anybody else. The NATO demands and NATO's unity behind those demands are absolute and will remain.

Mr. Hague

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. May I also ask him about the comments made earlier today by the German Chancellor, who, after talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels, insisted that any change in current strategy would require unanimous agreement, and that Germany would never back sending in soldiers before a ceasefire? Do those comments place any restriction on the development of NATO policy in future?

The Prime Minister

No. As we have said before, the Secretary-General of NATO is tasked with planning and updating all assessments. The German Chancellor is right to say that the air campaign is working, for there is no doubt that Milosevic is weakening. There were reports yesterday of riots in Yugoslavia and reports today of desertion, and the fact that there has been huge damage done to the Serb military machine shows that the air campaign is working. However, as we have said and as we have tasked the Secretary-General of NATO with doing, we review all options.

Mr. Hague

We very much hope that the Prime Minister is right and that air strikes will succeed. However, if NATO is to achieve its objectives, as it must, the Government may soon face some extremely difficult decisions. The Government will have the support of the Opposition in making difficult decisions, provided they clearly justify them by having clear and militarily achievable objectives. We have made a lot of promises to a lot of people in a dire situation. With the pressure of time growing with every day, does the right hon. Gentleman remain confident that NATO is ready to face up to the very difficult decisions that may soon face it?

The Prime Minister

We have had to make difficult choices and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support in making them. However, the basic NATO demands have remained exactly the same throughout. They do not alter, and neither does our determination to achieve them. We demand that Milosevic withdraw his troops and his paramilitaries, that an international military force go in and that the refugees be allowed to return to their homes in peace and security. That is why we began this campaign, and we were right and justified in doing so. For the sake of the refugees, for the sake of NATO's credibility and for the sake of the safety of the outside world, we must continue until we succeed.

Q2. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

May I change the subject to welfare spending? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposed amendments to the Finance Bill would blow a £19 billion hole in public finances before the next general election, wiping out my right hon. Friend's plans for extra spending on the national health service? Given that those proposed amendments emanate from the Tory Front Bench, does my right hon. Friend agree that it shows that the Tories' claims to support Labour's plans for the NHS simply do not add up?

The Prime Minister

Of course, we have put the extra £40 billion into schools and hospitals precisely in order to ensure that we get that additional investment. However, it must be paid for, and we will not return to the huge borrowing requirements that we saw under the Conservatives. For the Conservatives to claim that they support our spending plans—which they used to call "irresponsible"—while tabling vast amounts of costly amendments to the Finance Bill, shows, I am delighted to say, that they are now behaving like an Opposition.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Is not the true situation in Kosovo simply this: only if NATO is prepared to use ground troops can we be sure of victory? If NATO is not prepared to use ground troops, it may have to be satisfied with compromise.

The Prime Minister

I could not have made it clearer in the past few weeks that there is no question of compromise in our basic demands. We have said—I repeated it a moment ago—that we keep all options under review. There cannot be any compromise in our demands, and I shall explain why. It is for the simple reason that, in the end, the Kosovar Albanians must feel safe and free to return to their homes. They cannot do that unless the international military force is credible and unless Milosevic's troops, who have done them so much damage, are withdrawn.

Mr. Ashdown

I have never wished to be wrong more enthusiastically than over my assessment of the necessity of sending ground troops into Kosovo. Is it not true that, by ruling out the use of ground troops at the beginning—as NATO did—we left ourselves with only one means of prosecuting the war: by bombing? If bombing does not succeed and if we now rule out ground troops, we will leave ourselves with only one means of prosecuting the peace. That is—whether the Prime Minister likes it or not—compromise.

The Prime Minister

I have just made it clear that we have all options under review. That was our position and it remains the position today. I believe the bombing campaign is working and is weakening Milosevic. As I said in my speech the other day, I have no doubt that we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that we succeed and that there is no compromise in our basic demands. That has been our position throughout and it remains our position. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be proved wrong, but I believe that I will be proved right and that NATO's demands will be met.