HC Deb 30 October 2000 vol 355 cc496-512
3. Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

What plans he has to meet the Russian Defence Minister to discuss KFOR. [132986]

The Secretary of State for Defence(Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

I have invited the Russian Defence Minister to visit the United Kingdom in early December. I would expect discussions to address a range of issues, certainly including events in the Balkans.

Mr. Brazier

Will the Secretary of State join me in praising the role of the Russians in securing the ceasing of hostilities in Kosovo? There is now a democratically elected Government in Yugoslavia, who are calling on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to accept their terms, which were that Kosovo should remain part of Serbia and that some of their troops should be allowed to return to the region. In that delicate, difficult and dangerous situation, the role and the good will of the Russians will be crucial in the attempt to find a peaceful way forward.

Mr. Hoon

I agree—unusually, if I may say so—with the hon. Gentleman, who rightly praised the Russians for their contribution and emphasised the role that they can play in determining the necessary constitutional arrangements in Serbia.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend share with the House information on some of the events that followed the sinking of the submarine Kursk? Many of us followed those tragic events during the summer with increasing horror. What part has the Royal Navy played, and what part will it play in the effort to recover bodies from the submarine?

Mr. Hoon

I make it clear that we are not playing a part in the recovery of bodies. As soon as we became aware of the problem, we offered to help. Early preparations were undertaken in advance of a specific request from the Russian authorities for assistance so that we should be able to respond as quickly as possible. Having made those contingency arrangements, we were able to move as quickly as possible to the scene of the tragedy.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Kosovo is only one place in which our defence forces are committed. Does the Secretary of State agree that they are being asked to do ever more but that they are being given fewer facilities and people with which to operate?

Mr. Hoon

I recognise that the world is an increasingly dangerous place and that recently British forces have played a significant part around the world addressing those dangers. This time last year, at about the time that I assumed my present ministerial position, overstretch was a problem in the British armed forces. We immediately examined ways in which to reduce that and to significantly reduce the numbers on operation in the Balkans. That significantly reduced the level of activity. However, the hon. Gentleman is right—we continue to look carefully at the engagements in which we should become involved and ensure that overstretch is at the top of the list of considerations that we take into account.

  1. Deployment 891 words
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  3. Chinook Crash 732 words
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  5. Iraq 295 words
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  7. Sierra Leone 1,064 words
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  11. Rogue Governments 665 words
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  13. Bosnia 437 words
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  17. European Security and Defence Initiative 1,040 words
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  19. Cotswold Families Centre 366 words
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  21. Nuclear Defence Industry (Scotland) 321 words
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