HL Deb 20 July 1995 vol 566 cc374-8

3.21 p.m.

Lord Dubsasked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action, if any, they propose to take, through the United Nations or NATO, regarding the situation in Bosnia and other parts of former Yugoslavia.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the situation in Bosnia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia is under constant review by Her Majesty's Government, each troop contributor and by the UN and NATO. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution (SCR 1004) on 12th July condemning the Bosnian Serb offensive against Srebrenica. The international meeting in London tomorrow will consider the position of UN forces in Bosnia in the light of increased fighting there.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that British policy in former Yugoslavia should be dictated by what lies in the interests of this country? Will she further agree that British interests are not enhanced by a policy of appeasement; a policy that allows ethnic killing to go on; a policy that has undermined the authority of the United Nations; and a policy that has put into danger in future years small countries which may fear nationalist aggression? Is it not time that our policy of appeasement, and the West's policy of appeasement, stopped and that we played fair by the people of Bosnia and protected their lives and their interests?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I assure the House that British policy will be dictated by British interests. There is no way in which Britain can act alone and in defiance of, or disagreement with, others. I assure the noble Lord that there is, and will be, no appeasement. Britain is the second largest troop contributor; we have contributed some £271 million in assistance over the past three years; we have now agreed to raise the number of British troops from the 4,400 currently in theatre to over 8,000; we have by our efforts helped to reduce the number of lives lost, which was running at some 130,000 in 1992, down to about 2,500 in 1994 and less until very recently; and we will go on working on the political front, playing a key role in the contact group and fully supporting the work of Carl Bilt and Stoltenberg so that we do everything we can to bring the two sides to sense. The only sense is for them both to stop fighting.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that this subject is of such vital and immediate importance that it does not really lend itself to oral question and answer at Question Time?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. He is absolutely right. We are not in Bosnia to fight a war. UNPROFOR is not in Bosnia to fight a war. But we cannot impose a peace. UNPROFOR has already been asked to do too much with too little. What we have to do is make sure that UNPROFOR is better able to meet the mandate that it has been given.

Lord Richard

My Lords, while the Minister is absolutely right, and perhaps this is not a suitable subject for a question and answer session, unless it is a very long one, if the role of British forces in Bosnia were to change, either by intent or in fact—in other words, if the Government ascribe a new role to them or if in fact they become involved in fighting—will the, Minister accept that we should then expect the issue to be dealt with by a recall of Parliament?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am quite certain that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is well aware of this matter. We must see how things go. I shall not speculate. It is dangerous. There are British lives and Bosnian lives at risk. We must do the best that we can. I assure the House that that is exactly what we are engaged in at present.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the attempt to interfere in the complicated civil war in Yugoslavia was doomed from the start? Does she agree that we must now consider the best way to get our troops out safely before any more of them are killed in a hopeless attempt to pacify the area? For any such attempt, at least half a million troops would be required, and when they had left, the sides would begin fighting each other again.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I note the views of the noble Lord. However, there is no single right answer in this difficult situation. I frankly think that the least said the better it is for our troops and for all those in Bosnia who are suffering so terribly at the present time.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that our troops in UNPROFOR have done a remarkable job in preventing the conflict from spreading to Kosovo and Macedonia, let alone Bulgaria, Albania and other parts of the Balkans? Therefore, is it not vital that we continue to keep those borders monitored?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am very much in sympathy with my noble friend's remarks about the role that UNPROFOR has already played. As I said at the beginning, the number of lives saved has improved greatly with UNPROFOR's presence on the ground. There is no doubt that the observers in Macedonia and other bordering nations have helped to prevent the spread of war. However, there may come a time in the future when UNPROFOR cannot carry out its job, or cannot carry it out with less risk than now exists. We shall have to face that situation when it occurs.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one is very conscious that one does not want to say anything that makes things more difficult for the military commanders on the ground and those in the capitals who must take these painful decisions? Does she agree that there will be profound hope in many places that it will prove possible to find an effective means of protecting Gorazde and getting a relief channel through to Sarajevo? Does she further agree that the alternative to UNPROFOR sustaining its credibility is the possibility of much more suffering on the ground inside Bosnia and many more dangers in the region, and indeed more widely than that region altogether?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand very well what the noble Lord has just said. Obviously, we are concerned not only with the safety and security of the British troops both in Gorazde and in other parts of Bosnia but also with doing all that we can to see that there is an end to this horrific war. We are confident that the appropriate planning is in place to safeguard the security of our troops. I cannot go into any further detail. The noble Lord's first comments were so apt, and I thank him.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will not agree with me, but has not the time come to consider whether to arm the Moslem forces in Bosnia? Does she not agree that there is an unfortunate parallel with our government's policy in the 1930s of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War? That too seemed incomprehensible when both Hitler and Mussolini were arming General Franco's forces.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord, as he supposed. There is no way in which we should be seeking to fuel this war further.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is not the Minister aware that there was a three-hour debate in another place only last evening when both the Government and Official Opposition spokesmen were urging the utmost caution against any precipitate military action, as has just been suggested, because of the dangers to which it could lead? Would it not be better if we all waited until the Prime Minister reports on the conference being held this weekend?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord's suggestion is very valuable.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that if there is a major change of circumstance, the point made by my noble friend Lord Richard is one that should commend itself to the House? After all, it is important for the Government to carry the House with them in the policies that they undertake in that area. Does the Minister agree also that talk of withdrawal simply spurs the Karadzic Serbs to further violations? It is extremely important in those circumstances that we must be vigorous in our determination to fulfil the United Nations' mandate by strengthening the position of the forces that are available there. Finally, does the Minister agree that it is a dangerous illusion to imagine that this deteriorating situation can be resolved by air power alone, which seems to be a prevailing view in the United States Congress?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Should there be a major change of circumstance, my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal and the Leader of the Opposition in this House will no doubt consider whether your Lordships should be recalled. There is already a strengthening of the UNPROFOR forces by some 4,000 troops from Britain. They will ensure that we do whatever is necessary to bring this situation to a state of peace and cease-fire such as we enjoyed for nearly a year, or take whatever action then deemed necessary.

I agree with the noble Lord that some of the calls for action from various countries and individuals have been a long way from the reasonable and possible outcome to this tragic situation. There can be no military solution to this conflict. There is urgent need for a cease-fire—for a political settlement—and that is why we continue to work to that end.