HL Deb 12 October 1998 vol 593 cc753-76

7 p.m.

Baroness Ludford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action by the European Union and its international partners they are seeking in order to secure peace and justice in Kosovo.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for this long-arranged debate which turns out to be extremely timely. I shall ask the Minister today to tell us how Security Council Resolution 1199 is to be enforced in the short term to secure peace and safety for the people of Kosovo and in the longer term to secure justice and democracy. I shall also ask what conclusions the Government draw about the role of the European Union in promoting security on the European continent.

In the past seven months we have learnt that President Milosevic is engaged not only in brutal repression of his own citizens but also in indiscriminate violence amounting to ethnic cleansing. A thousand people have died and UNHCR estimates that 300,000 have been displaced. War crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Kosovo, principally by the Yugoslav army and Serbian police but also by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

We have the press to thank for shaking the West out of its inaction and complacent appeasement of President Milosevic. We have for too long seen him as part of the solution when in fact he is the problem. The sad fact is that all this comes against a background of a decade of human rights violations against the ethnic Albanian population who make up 90 per cent. of Kosovo's population. They have had to endure discrimination amounting to apartheid-style rule by Serbia since 1989 when Kosovo was forcibly stripped of autonomy and the Albanian language was banned in schools and universities while we in Europe and the West generally turned a blind eye.

It is relevant to a long-term political solution to recall the history of Kosovo's status within Yugoslavia from 1946 until 1989. It was an autonomous region and frequent alterations to the constitution gave Kosovo more and more administrative autonomy. That culminated in the 1974 constitution's upgrading of Kosovo to an autonomous province. It not only had its own assembly, banking system, courts and education system but also its own seat in the federal parliament, the constitutional court and the federal presidency. Indeed, it exercised virtually all the powers that a full republic had.

In 1992 western governments judged that only the six previous full republics were the constituent entities of the old federal Yugoslavia which had the right to independence. But that was a political decision rather than a legal analysis. We need to remember when talking about the degree of self-government Kosovars can hope to get in future that the reality of Kosovo's status in the past was far more than that normally conveyed by the term "autonomy".

Last Friday the contact group unanimously decided that President Milosevic had not complied with Security Council Resolution 1199, and US envoy Richard Holbrooke was despatched to tell him that he must comply with its terms—for a verifiable pull out of forces, humanitarian relief and political talks—or face military action. But can the Minister confirm that what is going on, and will continue further, in Belgrade will secure full and lasting compliance, and not let Milosevic get away literally with more murder?

Can the Minister cast any light on the terms of the prospective deal based on the Holbrooke plan? If, as reported, that may require withdrawal of forces only to their March 1998 level, how does that satisfy the demand in Resolution 1199 for withdrawal of "security units used for civilian repression", which presumably means all such units? It is important to gain guarantees for effective international monitoring and full, unimpeded access for humanitarian organisations.

Is it not the case that diplomatic or human rights monitors alone would not have enough enforcement power to ensure a durable ceasefire and civilian safety and the respect of any interim agreement? Will there not still need to be some international forces on the ground for peace implementation? And would it not be desirable in principle for the Russians to be involved?

Can the Minister give an assurance that any interim agreement returns Kosovo to its pre-1989 autonomous status, which is surely the minimum that Kosovars can be expected to accept now? In short, how can we assure the ethnic Albanians that this is not a sell-out allowing President Milosevic once again to get off the hook, with our threats of enforcement turning out to be no more than bluff and bluster?

Should military intervention in the absence of agreement still be required, I assume that legal justification is sufficiently conferred by the terms of Security Council Resolution 1199 based on Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, on the need to avert a threat to regional peace and security, and on the overriding humanitarian needs of the 50,000 people stranded without adequate food or shelter with winter setting in.

Will the Minister confirm that if air strikes take place they will not be a gesture of punishment or revenge, but part of a credible and thought-through military and political strategy? They would have to be followed through by action on the ground to secure relief for refugees, prevent further killings, ensure political talks take place, and help build civil society in Kosovo.

Will the Minister enlarge as far as possible on contingency plans for deployment of a NATO force of ground troops and confirm whether British forces would participate? Do the Government agree that it would be irresponsible to use air power if there were to be no follow-through since that would leave the Albanian population and Serb critics of Milosevic in an even more perilous position?

Turning to the framework for political negotiations on a long term settlement, I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that the talks will be unconditional. Surely it is unjustifiable and unrealistic for the West to impose a permanent ceiling of autonomy within Serbia on Kosovan ambitions by saying that independence even in the long term must be ruled out. I clearly do not suggest that there would be any question of using the West's military power to impose independence; of course there would not. But I question whether it is up to any outside party to prescribe the outcome of negotiations between the Serb authorities and ethnic Albanians, except perhaps to seek guarantees for the Serb minority.

It is sometimes said that allowing independence for Kosovo even to be on the agenda would potentially destabilise Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia and open up claims to redrawing borders for Greater Serbia, Greater Albania, Greater Greece or Greater Bulgaria. However, is it not possible that ruling out Kosovan independence for ever not only allows Milosevic disproportionate leverage and opportunity for blackmail but creates a greater source of instability than allowing independence, however inconceivable in the next few years, to remain a long-term possibility?

How are we going to hasten what we hope will be the political demise of President Milosevic? Can the Minister report on the latest developments towards indictment for crimes in Kosovo before the International War Crimes Tribunal? Is it not the case that unlike in Bosnia where President Milosevic claimed he had no direct responsibility for war crimes, in Kosovo he is, as president, commander of the armed forces and bears ultimate and personal responsibility for those crimes? Therefore, irrespective of the guilt of more junior perpetrators, he surely deserves to be indicted personally.

Cannot more be done to cut off President Milosevic's funds which prop up him and his party and their despotic and corrupt grip on power in Serbia? Why cannot we use international police and banking co-operation to track down and freeze his assets? It is said that much of his personal wealth is in bank accounts in Cyprus. Would it not be inappropriate for Cyprus to join the European Union while its banking system allows such shady activities?

In their conclusions a week ago, EU Foreign Ministers declared their determination, to further increase the effectiveness of the EU sanctions regime". Can the Minister explain what is envisaged? Will all flights, not just those by JAL, be banned if there is not sufficient compliance? It is to be hoped that it would take less than 12 months for such a ban to come into effect.

Finally, perhaps I may ask the Minister what conclusions the Government draw about the need to strengthen European Union capacity for effective action on security, including civil security through policing and democracy building. Does it not seem that the weight of our responsibilities is greater than our power of decision making? The spectacle of Europe playing second fiddle to the United States in an area which is on our doorstep is deeply concerning. After all, if troops are deployed in Kosovo, they will be mainly, if not exclusively, European not American troops.

Have the Government reconsidered their attachment to what the Minister a few months ago in the Amsterdam Treaty debate called "the safeguard" of unanimity for EU policy decisions? Are press reports accurate when they state that Government are preparing a new blueprint on Europe, envisaging a defence capability for the European Union to underpin their foreign policy role?

In conclusion, surely if we meant anything 50 years ago when we said "never again", we must not only act with resolve now to stop human rights abuses and killings in Kosovo, but also be much bolder in our willingness for European capabilities to live up to Europe's security challenges.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Baroness has spoken mainly about the political future of Serbia. I shall speak mainly about the immediate military confrontation. Is this NATO operation intended to be under UN authority? If so, which Security Council resolution confers it? One reads through Resolution 1199, which is the most recent one about Kosovo, and it tells both Milosevic and the Kosovar Albanians what they must do. We turn to the last paragraph to see what the sanction is and find that the Security Council will, consider further action and additional measures to maintain or restore peace and stability in the region and remain seized of the matter". There is no authority in that resolution to bomb.

But I read in the press today that "senior officials" have found a "legal basis" for the attack and wonder whether it would help the debate if the Minister were to intervene now in order to state briefly what that basis may be?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, if it will help the debate I am willing to do so. In the view of Her Majesty's Government, there is convincing evidence of impending humanitarian catastrophe. That was dealt with in UNSCR 1199 and with the UNSG's and UNHCR's reports. In the view of Her Majesty's Government and others, this catastrophe cannot be averted unless Mr. Milosevic reverses his policy towards Kosovo and is dissuaded from further repressive acts.

It is the United Kingdom Government's view that if action through the Security Council is not possible military intervention by NATO is lawful on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. I hope that that makes the position clear to the noble Lord and to others.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, bombing as a remedy for humanitarian necessity will be an interesting historical precedent. It is clear that there is no UN authority for the bombing.

We face a NATO attack launched on another state without the authority of the United Nations and that means against the mainframe of international relations and world peace. In order to enforce our reading of the Security Council resolution, we go bombing without a Security Council resolution. And it is bombing because of internal misdeeds. NATO no longer exists solely for the defence of its members, but also to enforce good domestic behaviour among its neighbours.

Since at least last Spring, the Kosovar Albanians have enjoyed military and financial support from the US, Italy, Turkey and Greece and were welcomed at the North Atlantic Assembly as a sovereign state. Or does all the help come from bin Ladon?

Last week, the Secretary General of NATO said: NATO has no need to defer to the… Security Council. NATO allies take decisions on their own". That is the doctrine asserted by Senator Jess Helms, which I drew to the attention of the House earlier this year, warning of its probable effects. And here they are. So is it now the settled policy of a British Government to place NATO above the law and above the United Nations? I trust not, and hope for clarification.

Another argument is that we cannot allow the Russians to veto NATO's out-of-area activities. That is more Jesse Helms' language. The argument is wildly misplaced. What we cannot propose is to remove Russia's veto in the Security Council.

Now, I turn more broadly to the possible effects of an American strike with B52s, Cruise missiles and so forth with British support. The BBC Monitoring Service records unanimous opposition from Milosevic's domestic opponents to NATO raids which would tighten his power. Note the parallel with Iraq. America's Cruise missile attacks strengthen Saddam Hussein and damage the United States' international standing in the Gulf and at the UN.

We now disclaim responsibility for the consequences of our actions there. If tens of thousands of children die and a generation grows up stunted in mind and body it is nothing to do with us. Saddam has the remedy in his own hands, does he not? Yes; but it is we who are helping to keep him in power.

My main point is this: if the United States justifies attacks on other countries without Security Council resolutions, others will, too. Turkey is already doing so. It cites Article 51 of the UN Charter as justification for attacking Syria, which will not hand over certain Kurd autonomists. Last week, the Turkish Prime Minister was claiming that this amounts to declaration of war by Syria.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I must point out that the debate is time-limited. The noble Lord invited the Minister to answer, which she did, but that does not affect the fact that all speakers are limited to four minutes.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I will come to a conclusion immediately. Turkey is our ally in NATO to which we sell weapons. Next week, or next month, the attack will be from Israel, or India, or about islands in the South China Sea. Why not? The United States does it. NATO does it.

7.16 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, one of the difficulties in discussing so live an issue is that we cannot expect in the very midst of negotiations to be told what is really happening. Negotiations carried out in public and through the media are doomed to failure. But Russia has made it clear in countless statements, ever since June and probably well before, that it will not support the use of force against Yugoslavia. It seems probable that neither France, which has close links with Serbia, nor Germany in its present state of transition, nor Italy while it is without a government will give serious support to a military solution to the situation. Whether or not any or all of them would or could join in the air strikes, as opposed to earmarking aircraft, seems doubtful. It seems much more likely that we and the Americans, if we do so, will be acting alone.

If the people of Kosovo, homeless, hungry, under brutal attack and facing the winter, can he helped we must turn the Russian position to our advantage and lean on them rather than on Milosevic. Russia needs much from us. We should never have promised military action, which can be effective only if it is followed by ground troops and must result in uniting the Serbs behind their infamous leader and lead to continuous guerrilla attack not only on whatever troops we put into Kosovo but also on those still in Bosnia. I have seen twice in my lifetime the result of irresponsible encouragement to a beleaguered population which has led them to believe that they will be defended against an oppressor; in Hungary in 1956 and in Iraq much more recently.

In the present situation, where are the ground troops to come from—the UK and perhaps for a time the US, and they will be there as an open-ended commitment as an army of occupation. The Strategic Defence Review allows us in theory to provide the troops and resources for: one relatively short warfighting deployment and one enduring non-warfighting operation". Bosnia and Kosovo look like two very long-lasting hybrid operations. What happens if Cyprus blows up as well, as it may do if the Turks react as they have threatened to the delivery of the Soviet missile system? Or what happens if there is another round in the Gulf?

We should not be indulging in open-ended defence diplomacy when there is a serious problem of over-stretch in the Armed Forces. By crying wolf for six long months and making threats—which if we carry them out will unite the Serbs against our troops on the ground and behind Milosevic and impose a terrible strain on our limited defence capacity, and which have raised false hopes from day to day in the hearts of the persecuted people—we have behaved with extreme irresponsibility.

Yet we must help the victims of Milosevic's monstrous acts. Therefore, I can only hope that we are using all our leverage on the Russians, and we have plenty, despite their dire threats of abandoning the Founding Act and the strong probability that they have allowed the Serbs to acquire weapons which could pose a serious threat to our aircraft. We should be pushing, even at this late date, for a new Berlin airlift-style operation in which we could use our aircraft to fly in massive quantities of food, medicine and shelter, together with the NGOs to administer the resources, with the Russians fully involved and standing guarantor for their safety. That could bring the French, Germans and others back on board. I believe that is the only way in which we could properly use our military power and do our duty by the persecuted, as indeed we must do. I can see no other way which is acceptable, right and feasible.

My only stipulation, in view of the appalling record of corruption of the EU's humanitarian operations, would be that Brussels should have no hand in the administration of the aid.

7.20 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, last week there was an excellent debate in this Chamber about bullying in schools; on its evil and destructive effect and on the need to resist it in a firm and effective way. If the bullied child can pluck up the courage to punch the bully on the nose, that will probably settle the matter. But if not the school authorities must act and, in any event, they must be committed to creating a culture in which bullying does not happen.

The story of Kosovo is a story of nearly 10 years of sustained and systematic bullying of the 90 per cent. Albanian population by the 10 per cent. Serb population, with that policy orchestrated from Belgrade. The autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo, even under the Tito regime, as we have heard already, has been replaced by a programme of aggression and discrimination against the Albanians, of real ethnic apartheid.

In the West, we have stood by, unwilling to help, unable to help, we have said, because it is a matter of the internal politics of a sovereign state. Despite the repeated warnings of many experts, among them Noel Malcolm and Misha Glenny, we have hoped against hope that that problem would go away. But it has not gone away and not surprisingly, the KLA decided to punch the bully on the nose. For a moment it seemed to have worked but the bully is strong and not short of heavy weapons.

We have seen not simply a response to the KLA but brutal aggression against civilians, wicked atrocities, a thousand people killed and 300,000 driven from their towns and villages which have been deliberately destroyed. Of course, things are never quite what they seem in the Balkans. Perhaps the KLA is not representative of most of the Albanian population. Perhaps it is at loggerheads with the more patient leadership of Ibrahim Rugova. But whatever the subtle political complications, we face a moral and political dilemma: can we stand by and see the bully triumph?

I believe we cannot. If we believe in the rightness of maintaining armed forces to keep the peace, we must use those forces in the first instance to concentrate minds on a diplomatic solution. At long last we have done that. We are all impressed by and deeply grateful for the heroic efforts of Mr. Richard Holbrooke. But if those efforts fail, it will be right to match brutal force with carefully proportionate use of NATO forces against military targets; to weaken as far as possible the Serb military which has been used with such cynical cruelty against innocent people.

Of course there are risks, but I believe that that policy is the right one. I visited Serbia and Croatia during the war. I went practically to the front line. I saw the destroyed villages and burnt houses. I visited the refugees, but they were then in huts and old buildings, not facing the winter in the open air. I heard the stories of torture, rape and mutilation. It is intolerable that such violence should have happened again within Europe. Despite the sad lack of United Nations agreement, I believe that it is right, as a last resort, that NATO should act. Humanity and justice demand no less.

But immensely difficult political questions remain to be answered. There has been worryingly little clear discussion on the medium and long-term objectives. In the short term we must enable refugees to return safely, to receive humanitarian aid and to be protected against further violence. Beyond that, we must resist any repetition of the sustained culture of bullying of the Kosovar Albanians and work for a sustainable settlement which gives to all the people of Kosovo real autonomy and self-government. That will mean a long-term commitment to policing the territory and to generous help in repairing the devastation of war. It will require immensely careful and skilful diplomacy to handle possible demands for autonomy from other parts of Yugoslavia and to maintain the fragile peace of the Balkan area. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will be fully committed in all those ways.

7.25 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, first I congratulate my noble friend Lady Ludford on introducing this debate. Perhaps I may say how much I respected what she said and what has just been said by the right reverend Prelate. I do not find myself in the same degree of agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, despite my great respect for both of them. That is because, in my view, they failed to recognise that this crisis is the beginning of a gradual movement forward to recognising that there is a moral law that supersedes even, in some events, national sovereignty. That is what the heart of this crisis is all about.

Tonight we are on the edge of an abyss. We do not know whether tomorrow we shall see air strikes on Serbia or whether we shall see the beginnings of some kind of peaceful settlement. But where I sympathise and agree completely with the right reverend Prelate is in relation to what he said about the fact that air strikes are at best only the first move and that what is crucial is what happens thereafter.

In pointing to the absolute requirement for there to be ground troops to follow immediately after any military operation, my noble friend Lady Ludford was speaking a harsh but great truth. If we do not have the ground troops or if there is to be a deal short of military action, then the monitors which constitute the same kind of guarantee of what can be done by the Serb government will once again have sold the people of Kosovo down the road.

It is absolutely critical that whatever agreement is reached, it is reached in the full light of international inspection and monitoring of everything that happens. Surely we have learned by now that we cannot any longer trust the word of Slobodan Milosevic. We have trusted that word for far too long. Any military action should have taken place not a week or a month ago but at least nine months ago when the first information about the massacres came before the western nations.

I fully and absolutely agree that as well as ground troops we must think of a civil venture supported by the NGOs and the Churches in order to begin to restore civic society in Kosovo. Secondly, we must make sure that there is a beginning of negotiations about autonomy for that province, at least at the level of the 1989 situation when Kosovo's autonomy was recognised by the Serbian state. Thirdly—and in this respect I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Park—we must include Russia in that civil action for it is vital that we retain support from Russia, even if it is limited to action short of military action in order to retain the strongest possible circle of international support for a peaceful outcome in that troubled region.

Finally, I hope that if there is any military action, full recognition will be given to the way in which Montenegro has accepted humanitarian aid in that part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia and that we shall respect its position and that of the brave, liberal voices in Belgrade and elsewhere which have consistently opposed the extreme actions and atrocities of their president.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, this important debate got off to a very poor start. The language used by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, would have been appropriate for a British Prime Minister at the height of Britain's power in the middle of the last century. The idea that we in Britain or indeed in Western Europe can plan and even dictate a political settlement of inter-ethnic feuds which have lasted in one form or another ever since the collapse of, first, the Turkish and then of the Hapsburg Empires is wildly out of tune with what we know to be the tragic realities of the situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, continues to play around with that obsolete document, the United Nations Charter, which has very little to contribute to peace and security in the world. We have to take the world as we find it, and it is a pretty miserable place.

It is, I think, inevitable that only force on the ground can influence the fate of those refugees, to whose plight the right reverend Prelate rightly called our attention. The only contribution so far as to how that might be done was made by my noble friend Lady Park. I wish I could share her optimism. I agree that unless, for some reason, the Russians are willing to come on board and do not regard themselves in the last resort as allies of Milosevic, there is very little that can be done. I cannot see a long-term commitment of either American or British forces to that task if they are left alone to do it.

My doubt is both as to whether we are in a position to bring pressure on the Russian Government to behave in this way, perhaps in the light of its current tragic needs for food and supplies, and also as to whether the Russian Government are in a position to act independently. It is not even clear that Russia has a government in the ordinary sense of the word. Indeed, one of the tragedies which Her Majesty's Government face is that, whether we like them or not, they are almost the only government in Europe at the moment. The Germans do not have a government; the Italians do not have a government. You may say that PR was bound to bring about that situation, but, leaving that aside, it is a very serious and difficult situation.

I am sure that Her Majesty's Government are fully aware that we cannot separate Kosovo from the other aspects of the crisis in former Yugoslavia. We have, after all, troops on the ground in Bosnia. One must hope that thought has been given to the safety of those troops if Milosevic takes an air strike as a declaration of war, just as we learned today that, rightly, the entire staff of the British embassy in Belgrade, apart from the ambassador, has now been evacuated.

The situation is extremely dangerous. The only point on which I agree with the two noble Baronesses is that we have allowed it to linger for six months and that it might not have been quite so bad if we had faced this appalling situation a few months ago.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, the images on the television screens have justifiably aroused indignation at what is happening in Kosovo. But much is at stake here and it is important that we should try to consider this matter rationally and engage our brains as well as our hearts. I hope that this brief but important debate can help. I will make a series of brief points only.

This is clearly an international problem, but it is important to remember that Kosovo is legally part of Yugoslavia, and we cannot ignore that. This relates to the international legal problem, about which something has already been said.

It is probably right to say that under the existing system we have no right to intervene unilaterally but have to act under the authority of a Security Council resolution. That authority is not conveyed by Resolution 1199. We cannot rely on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which conveys the right to respond to external aggression, because in this case there has technically been no external aggression. The European treaties encourage co-operation among the member states on issues of this kind involving security and co-operation in military matters, but they confer no rights outside the frontiers of the European Union. There is a problem with the legal base and, while I share and understand the impatience of other Members of the House at the constraints imposed by the law, we have to recognise that until now our external policies have been based, as a general rule, on international law. If we act, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, suggested, by relying on a natural, moral law arising from overwhelming humanitarian need, we shall be entering entirely new territory. If we are to do that, we shall have to act with the greatest care in the way in which we present our case; and it will not be easy.

Would the need to help the position of the refugees in Kosovo be helped by military activity? I remind noble Lords that recent experience in other military theatres illustrates the extreme difficulty of hitting a precise military target from the air and the serious danger of killing innocent civilians whom our actions are intended to help.

As I see it, the best outcome of this crisis would be one which left Milosevic with a clear understanding that we have a common interest with him in restoring tranquillity to Kosovo. The noble Baroness who introduced the debate said that Milosevic was the problem and not the solution. He is indeed the problem, but I cannot see a solution that does not engage him as well. We might perhaps think of some arrangement which would enable us to pacify Kosovo under international supervision. We could tell him that, if we did that, it might be possible for Kosovo to remain part of Yugoslavia. It would be essential for Kosovo to regain the status that it previously enjoyed as the autonomous region of Kosmet. I do not know whether Mr. Holbrooke has discussed anything on these lines, and maybe it is now too late. But let us be clear that we still have a common interest in finding a peaceful solution with the Yugoslavs. If we can secure the necessary guarantees for the Kosovars, with international supervision on the ground, we could make a powerful contribution to pacification in the longer term.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, unfortunately, nothing we say in this House this evening will have the slightest effect on the outcome of this crisis. Mr. Holbrooke, whose gargantuan efforts to secure an agreement with Mr. Milosevic one has to admire—his stamina is prodigious—will be returning to Brussels this evening, either with or without an agreement. We do not yet know which. When he reports to the Council of Ministers of NATO, that council will decide whether to press on with the activation order. If they do so, bombs will start falling within 48 hours.

Mr. Holbrooke has presented Milosevic with a series of six demands which are not fully in conformity with Resolution 1199. Presumably he did that on the authority of the Contact Group, a body which has no standing in international law. As my noble friend pointed out in her brilliant speech, instead of calling for the withdrawal of security units used for civilian repression, as Resolution 1199 demands, Mr. Holbrooke has asked only for the forces to be reduced to those which were present in the territory last March. Those forces that were already there have almost certainly been used for civilian repression. But the monitors have reported the presence of new units in the territory, including several air defence units and an anti-aircraft site, and the Serbs have left weapons dumps in a number of places so that they can rapidly reactivate their operations against civilians, contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of Resolution 1199. Yesterday heavy artillery firing was reported in the Voksh region and houses were torched in the village of Makërmal in the Drenica region. Given that such operations have been continuing throughout the marathon discussions in Belgrade—although Milosevic has repeatedly said that all attacks on civilians have been stopped—how can he be trusted to honour any agreement that may have been reached?

My noble friend referred to the fact that the resolution also stated that there should be a dialogue without preconditions on a political solution to the issue of Kosovo. Mr. Holbrooke has apparently weakened that provision by introducing a plan for mere autonomy which was drafted by Christopher Hill and not even shown to the people of Kosovo. It leaked out and has been vehemently denied by their leaders. The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Bukoshi, said yesterday that Mr. Hill's formula gives the people even fewer rights than they had in 1989.

I believe that the only way to achieve a fair political settlement in Kosovo would be, as my noble friend advocated, to station ground troops there to exclude all the Serb forces and to set up a democratic administration elected by the people of Kosovo. If we recognise the right of the Kosovan people to self-determination—this is the answer to the noble Lords, Lord Bridges and Lord Kennet—states would have not only a right but a duty to intervene in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 2625, which made the preservation of territorial integrity conditional upon a state being, possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory, without distinction as to race, creed or colour". As that is manifestly not the case in Kosovo, a situation of colonial and alien domination exists, and General Assembly Resolution 2787 provides that in those circumstances, it is the duty of every state to contribute through joint and independent action to the implementation of the principle of self-determination", that would be the legal justification if the Government chose to act on it. However, our collective refusal to accept those premises and to continue working on the assumption that, after all that has happened, the Kosovars would agree to any solution which subordinated them to Belgrade is perhaps the most heinous of the failures of the international community in the former Yugoslavia.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for tabling this Unstarred Question. She showed extreme prescience in tabling it before the Summer Recess. That was quite incredible.

Last July I travelled to the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia. I also went to Albania with the political committee of the Western European Union. Unfortunately, we were not allowed into Pristina because we were unable to obtain visas. However, on the trip we met representatives of President Rugova. We also met the presidents of Macedonia and of Albania.

At that stage, Rugova was losing influence fast and the KLA was winning battles in its guerrilla war but there was no clear leadership of the KLA with which to talk. A number of factors became clearer to me during my trip and I should like to outline them, in no particular order.

First, the problems in Kosovo are very much a consequence of the Dayton agreement because it did not address any of the issues of the southern Balkans. Kosovo joined a Yugoslavian federation, not a Serbian state, but that was not addressed by the Dayton agreement.

My second point relates to a phrase which was used several times during my trip, "lighting the dry grass of Macedonia". Your Lordships will know that a quarter of the Macedonian population is ethnically Kosovan and the very independence of Macedonia has become a bargaining chip in trying to reach a political solution in Kosovo.

Thirdly, the issue of sovereignty should at least be on the bargaining table. Clearly, it is not for the international community to promote Kosovan sovereignty in any way, but why underwrite the present Yugoslavian Federation's borders? After all, there are very recent examples of highly artificial states being created to meet the political realities of the region. I cite Montenegro and the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia as examples.

My fourth point picks up that made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. Many of the countries in the region are looking for international leadership in resolving this crisis. They feel inhibited from speaking out fully and certainly from acting. I know from discussions that I have had through the Council of Europe with a number of MPs from the region that they are looking for international leadership.

My next point relates to the humanitarian agencies which are operating under the UNHCR. I met many of them in early September, when they were all saying that, given the political will and the resources, they were perfectly able to avert the worst problems of the coming winter and that they could do the job, given the resources and the protection. Clearly, the situation has deteriorated since then, but the humanitarian effort can be remobilised quite quickly if the political situation allows.

My final point is really my central point. For too long the Belgrade authorities have rejected international involvement in what they regard as their internal affair. That position is untenable. A point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is that human rights are a common concern and are not the domain of any one state. Common values lie at the very core of the new security system that we are trying to build in Europe. Yugoslavia needs to find a way out of its poverty and isolation. The international community is offering a route if Yugoslavia complies with the UN Security Council resolution.

It is worth remembering that Yugoslavia wants to join the Council of Europe and that the Council of Europe stands for the very standards that I have just outlined. If Yugoslavia is serious about joining, it knows what to do. President Milosevic treats the international community with contempt and it is to our shame that we permit it. It is damaging to international order to threaten force without being prepared to use it. It is also invariably true that to deploy force without a strategy to achieve a political solution is disastrous. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.

In conclusion, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Symons will deploy the Government's case with her usual vigour. I hope that President Milosevic will get the message that the international community is serious about upholding human rights.

7.48 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, sadly, it is months since Kosovo should have been on our agenda. However, I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for initiating this timely, dare I say zero-hour, debate on the tragic situation in Kosovo.

The Balkans, like some other areas, are constantly the subject of sterile disputes. We have seen and heard it all before. In 1914 the report of the international commission of inquiry set up by the Carnegie Endowment concluded: houses and all villages reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred … such were the means which were employed and are still being employed by the Serb-Montenegrin soldiery, with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians". More than 80 years later, those words describe fairly accurately what has happened since last January.

The Albanians represent 90 per cent. of the population of Kosovo. They are a Moslem minority within the former Yugoslavia who have been persistently persecuted. Even though the Kosovo Liberation Army has been reckless, the vast majority of the atrocities have been committed by the Serbs.

The recent troubles started in March 1989 when the Serb Government abolished the autonomy that the constitution of 1974 granted to the province of Kosovo. The Serb Government progressively stripped their citizens of their rights and marginalised them, all with the ultimate aim of making a Greater Serbia, as was spelt out so clearly several years ago by Milosevic. This warning is reminiscent of the one made by Hitler in Mein Kampf so fatefully neglected by the politicians of the time.

What do we do now? The Kosovo problem cannot be reduced to an internal matter, nor can we stand idly by, watching a humanitarian catastrophe unfold to its bitter end. Potentially to allow Kosovo to fester will have wide repercussions. It could well destabilise the whole region further and lead to the partition of Kosovo.

Albania, the poorest of the poor European countries, is being flooded by thousands of refugees. Macedonia is a week away from its elections. The growing tensions between the Macedonians and the Albanians, as well as the long drawn-out conflict in Kosovo, will no doubt affect negatively its result. Neither can we let the Russians threaten us once again.

Kosovo is part of Europe. It is on our doorstep. It is as marginal to the European continent as are the British Isles or Gibraltar. There is an impending risk of an eruption in an area where we are committed to reconstruct and develop. Eastern Europe had been the forgotten Europe for years during the Cold War, but now it is recognised once again as part of Europe.

Only when acts of further unspeakable brutality were revealed after Belgrade said that its offensive in Kosovo was over was the international community jolted into action. Therefore, it is essential to keep Milosevic under maximum pressure. Hours away from possible air strikes, will they alone force Milosevic to implement the UN resolution in an irreversible and verifiable way? It is doubtful. It is logical that the threats of air strikes need to be combined with the deployment of ground troops. If the objective is to be humanitarian, surely the Minister will agree that success will only be achieved with troops on the ground. It is not surprising that the deployment of an international force has become the major sticking point in the negotiations between Ambassador Holbrooke and Milosevic. Will different zones be allocated to different national forces if deployed? A return to the status quo ante of the 1974 Communist constitution or less is unlikely to be acceptable to either side.

I repeat that it is surely time for determined action. Therefore, I urge the Minister to take this message to the Secretary of State to strengthen his hand before the whole Balkans bursts into flames.

7.53 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. Not only do I entirely agree with her analysis but also her recommendations.

I was interested in one point that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, spoke about. I always listen to the noble Lord with the greatest of interest. He stated that my noble friend Lady Ludford was talking about a prime minister in the middle of the last century. I assume he must mean Lord Palmerston. Lord Palmerston, if he were alive today, would give his last pair of socks for an RAF Tornado squadron or the communications which we have today and the international organisations which enable us to take the kind of action that he could not have taken in the 1850s.

I thank my noble friend Lady Ludford for introducing this debate on actions being taken to secure peace and justice in Kosovo. I have visited Kosovo, but that was 26 years ago on a military adventurer's training expedition. We started in Westphalia and ended up on Mount Damavans in Iran. I recall two points; first, the friendliness of the people of Kosovo, be they Albanian or Serb who were then a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia controlled, in a curious way—if I may use the word "controlled"—by Marshall Tito. They were friendly to us, recognising us as British soldiers. That bodes well for the future if we take any action to supply ground forces.

Secondly, a curious point, in every city, town, village and hamlet there was a memorial, as we find in our villages, towns and cities, to those who died in the Second World War. But in Kosovo villages there was not just a monument in each village but one on practically every wall, door and building.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, rehearsed for us the tragedies that have been suffered by the people of Yugoslavia over the past centuries. I shall not go over them again. I remember today the point from the Prophet Jeremiah: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge". President Milosevic is a national and an international menace. His hands and those of his henchmen are dripping with blood. If we do not act, his hands and those of his henchmen will be dripping indirectly with more blood as a result of winter coming on. He has to be deterred from the use of force. I would welcome the use of air strikes, followed by the use of ground forces, to protect the people of Kosovo, whatever their ethnic origin, from any further suffering, particularly this winter.

Secondly, we must be careful not to take sides or to seem to take sides. Anyone who, like me, has had the privilege of taking part in counter-insurgency and UN operations, whether in Northern Ireland or Cyprus—and I agree that they are not exact parallels—will know the importance of this.

Thirdly, if we threaten force we must use it. We return, as always, to the deterrence theory. That holds good whether it is a mother trying to deter her child from any anti-social activity or international groups trying to deter a rogue like Milosevic. I repeat what I learnt at the staff college: "Capability plus a political will and an ability to communicate this equals deterrence". Over the past few months we have failed to achieve that in relation to Kosovo and many civilians have died. I believe that the time has come to achieve our goal to secure peace and justice in Kosovo. I wish Her Majesty's Government, which will direct the force, and our highly skilled and prized servicemen, who have to execute it with our allies, including Russia, if they are directed to do so, all my best wishes. I believe that the vast majority of the people of the region affected will be grateful for our contribution.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, I rise to support, in its entirety, the speech delivered by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. Those of your Lordships who are great experts in these matters will find the few views that I express tonight somewhat naïve.

It seems to me that the greatest tragedy of the 20th century has been the paralysis of western democracies in the face of genocidal dictators. We seem to have been gripped by an implacable conviction that tyrants can be squared by concessions, even if there is not a shred of evidence to justify them.

The territorial ambitions of Mr. Milosevic are and remain vast. In scale they are matched only by the ruthlessness of the means which he has used to pursue them. Anybody who is a student of 1930s history can recognise the techniques that he has used: the identification of the so-called oppressed minority in the target state, the incitement of civil unrest, usually by agents provocateurs, and finally invasion to justify the removal of the oppression.

I fear that western democracy's record in the former territories of Yugoslavia is a poor one. The Dayton settlement, far from being a great success, was a consolidation of our failure. It was the official recognition in international affairs that crime often pays; indeed, the bigger the crime, the more likely you are to get off.

The journey from Vukovar to Dayton was one of the most hideous and shameful in modern European history. During that journey we chose to believe Mr. Milosevic, not because we trusted him but because we were not prepared to accept the consequences of recognising his lies—and what it would have required of us.

I have always believed that if we had bombed strategic military targets in Serbia in the autumn of 1991 not only would the genocide of Vukovar not have happened but perhaps the whole cataclysmic disaster in the former territories would not have followed; just as if Britain had supported France over the Rhineland in 1936, all the horror of what ensued on our continent would not have occurred.

Therefore, if Mr. Milosevic does not resile in the next few hours, I sincerely hope that the United States and the British Government will, in NATO, use all their authority to ensure that strategic military targets in Serbia are bombed and real military damage done to Mr. Milosevic's regime.

The Serbs are a fine people; in many respects they have a great history. Twice in this century they have supported us in what we have sought to achieve for democracy. I believe that the soldiers who fought for Serbia in the First and Second World Wars would be shocked and ashamed by what their grandchildren and great grandchildren, undertaking military service, have had to do for Serbia in the past three or four years.

I hope that Serbia will soon come to her senses and restore a civilised government. In those circumstances, but only those, she will again deserve a civilised response from the Western world.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I agree very strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has just said. We were informed well before the break-up of Yugoslavia as to what the potential consequences would be. Indeed, I am told that there was within the mechanisms of the European political co-operation a planning paper agreed by the planning staffs of West European foreign offices on what the implications of a breakdown of federal Yugoslavia would be, but they were unable to get Ministers to spend time discussing it. We have now spent seven years dealing with the problems of Milosevic and of Serbian aggression. We have spent far too long being ambivalent towards whether or not Mr. Milosevic is, as Dick Holbrooke has on occasions been willing to say, also a force for stability in the region. It is very clear that he was fundamentally a force for instability and we have to grapple with that fact.

A short debate like this can do a very few things. One of them is to give the Government some sense of what opinion in this Chamber and in the other would be if they were to take action. On behalf of my party, I wish to assure the Government—as indeed they should know well by now—that we support decisive action. Paddy Ashdown has been one of those who, throughout the crisis, has insisted that we take a moral stand and be prepared, if necessary, to use force to support that moral stand in the terms and conditions necessary.

We all understand that bombing in itself is insufficient. To my taste, and to the taste of many of us, the American preference for bombing rather than putting in troops on the ground is one of the misperceptions of the Pentagon. It will be necessary to send in forces, in certain numbers, after whatever action is taken to take out Serbian air defences. The Government will have full support from this party in ensuring that Britain contributes to those necessary ground forces.

We do not support a fudged compromise. It seems to us that the minimum acceptable package is a return to the autonomous status of 1989 and the restoration of the pre-Milosevic constitution of Federal Yugoslavia and of the autonomous province of Kosovo. Therefore, it seems to us that the Government, with their partners, should be encouraging alternatives to Milosevic. His control of broadcasting within Serbia is one of the reasons why he has the strong support of the population. We should be thinking about providing alternative sources of broadcasting for that region. There are many Serbian exiles to whom we ought to be giving additional support. Indeed, I have taught some of them over the past five years and I know how distressed they are about what is happening inside their country. We could be giving them a great deal more support.

Then there is the broader issue of security and stability in south-eastern Europe as a whole. One of the reasons why our governments have hesitated to take the Kosovo situation as seriously as they should have done has been the potential spill-over to Albania, Macedonia and elsewhere. But, of course, it has spilled over in Albania; indeed, the Albanian crisis was one of the things which precipitated the problems in Kosovo. I should remind those who say, "Well, no one else apart from the British would take any action"—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park—that, when it came to a problem in Albania, the previous British government declined to contribute troops. It was the Italians who went ahead with what was a rather successful limited operation to restore a degree of order in Albania.

We have to recognise that decisions which are taken over Kosovo will of course affect Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and some countries beyond. The impact of refugees across Europe destabilises the recipient countries. Those refugees will go primarily to Italy, Austria and to Germany, but some of them are already coming to London. We all know about the local problems which arise when large numbers of refugees come to an area.

Finally, we need west-European coherence; we do not just need to wait for a lead from the United States. Here is an area where, if they are serious about providing a lead in Europe, the British Government should do so and ensure, at the same time, that we carry our partners with us.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, there are a number of critical points which I should be most grateful if the Minister could address in her response this evening. Does the Minister agree that if NATO is to preserve its credibility as the lynchpin of European security, it must follow its latest series of warnings with action? Will a deadline for compliance by President Milosevic therefore be set? I hope that there will be no relaxation in the conditions for compliance. Can the Minister also confirm that any deal with President Milosevic which does not contain provisions for full verification of Belgrade's compliance, which includes a strong international monitoring presence, is unacceptable? Further, can the Minister confirm whether, under the current negotiations, Serbia would be allowed to retain the pre-March levels of troops and security forces in Kosovo, a prospect which has alarmed the ethnic Albanians in the province? How does the noble Baroness believe that the pre-March levels will be determined?

I turn now to the legal basis for any military action against the former republic of Yugoslavia. Pursuant to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and given the fact that the Minister has told your Lordships' House that, if actions through the Security Council were not possible, it was the understanding of the Government that military intervention by NATO would be lawful on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, can the Minister today provide the House with further details for the legal basis under which NATO would take military action? Can she confirm that the Government's understanding that a further UN Security Council resolution will not necessarily be required is now the position of all NATO member states, given that NATO action will require the agreement of all 16 member states?

I am also concerned about the position of Russia. What assessment have the Government made of the threat by the Speaker of Russia's Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, that the Duma would try to rescind the Russia-NATO Founding Act if NATO military action is taken? Further, what weight do the Government give to the statement by Russia's Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, to the UN Assembly last month that NATO military action could provoke a big war in Europe and last Wednesday's warning that NATO air strikes would be "ruinous" for international peace, as well as repeated threats of a return to the Cold War?

The position of NATO members is also important and, indeed, has been raised by other speakers this evening. Can the Minister clarify the position on both Germany and Italy as she understands it, given that in both countries domestic political considerations have raised problems with the policy of supporting air strikes against Serb targets? Will the Minister confirm that, despite his government's coalition with the strongly pacifist Greens, the German Chancellor elect, Mr. Schroder, has now agreed to continue the previous government's policy of supporting NATO air strikes against Serbia? It is my understanding that the meeting of NATO ambassadors will adjourn to hear the decision of today's meeting of the German cabinet, which had previously agreed to the deployment of 14 German Tornadoes. Can the Minister confirm that, before these aircraft can go into action, a parliamentary vote would be needed in Germany and the new parliament is not due to assemble before 26th October?

Like noble Lords on all sides of the House, I recognise the vital and critical importance of clear and coherent political and military objectives. Can the Minister say what assessment has been made of the need to follow up any air strikes, necessarily by the deployment of ground forces, to bring forceful pressures to bear on Belgrade for a solution to bring humanitarian support as well as stability, democracy and meaningful autonomy to Kosovo? What assessment has been made of the consideration that air strikes alone may indeed strengthen Mr. Milosevic domestically as they could strengthen the predilection towards a Slavic martyr complex which, as noble Lords know, has on occasion shaped Serbian history without succeeding in the objective of prising Kosovo free of his grasp? What objectives will be set for any NATO intervention in Kosovo, especially concerning sending ground forces, and will a time limit be set for any peace-keeping operations?

Likewise, clear political objectives are essential. In your Lordships' House we also are united in our desire to see the Balkans, including the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, take their rightful place in the family of modern European nations, but until Serbia abides by the democratic standards of modern Europe this cannot be. Until an end is put to this human tragedy which is a barrier to the achievement of a stable and secure Europe, the door to Europe cannot be unlocked. From these Benches the Government have our full support to ensure this time we respond before it is too late.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for the opportunity to discuss Kosovo this evening. As she said, it is a fast moving situation. But I also agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said; namely, it is also a dangerous situation. As noble Lords will be aware, the United Kingdom has played and is playing a leading role in the efforts of the international community to resolve the Kosovo crisis both as an active member of the contact group and now as President of the Security Council. In particular we are determined to take whatever steps are necessary to avert what many of your Lordships have described as a humanitarian crisis and which could be described as a potential humanitarian catastrophe.

We took the lead in drafting United Nations Security Council Resolution 1199 which was adopted on 23rd September. It makes clear the steps the Yugoslav authorities must take to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo. The UN Secretary General's report on compliance issued on 5th October clearly shows that they have so far failed to comply fully with the requirements of the resolution.

The international community is united in its resolve to ensure that President Milosevic does comply fully. No one wants to use military force, but President Milosevic should be in no doubt that if that is what is required to make him comply with UNSCR 1199 then we shall do so.

In answer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the EU has played a prominent role in response to the crisis. It introduced a series of economic measures which have tightened the financial screw on the Milosevic regime. It has also been a major contributor to humanitarian relief efforts. But the main driver of the international community's efforts to resolve the Kosovo crisis has been the contact group, which brings in two key players, the United States and Russia. Bosnia showed us the importance of both these countries being closely involved. The European Presidency attends contact group meetings, and the EU's common foreign and security policy has been helpful in maintaining unity of purpose and a message behind the contact group.

I agree wholeheartedly with the right reverend Prelate and with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby that the situation is too serious to ignore. The Yugoslav security forces have pursued a major military campaign since late June designed to eliminate the Kosovo Liberation Army. The excessive actions of the security forces in Kosovo and their acts of wanton destruction of people's homes and livelihood have forced 300,000 people—more than 15 per cent. of the population—to flee their homes.

Around 50,000 people are still living in the open and winter is fast approaching. According to reports today snow is already falling. Many people have no homes to return to, and those who do are afraid of returning unless President Milosevic calls a complete halt to the repression and withdraws his forces to barracks. Only a real and lasting change in Belgrade's policy will avert a humanitarian disaster. The pressure from the international community on Mr. Milosevic to do this has never been higher. It must be maintained.

The right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, raised the issue of aid. The Department for International Development will provide £2 million for humanitarian assistance to Kosovo and neighbouring countries in response to a recent United Nations inter-agency appeal. This is in addition to the £1 million provided earlier this year and a further £1.5 million allocated for longer term peace-building activities in the region and £200,000 to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to support the setting up of a field operation in Kosovo.

We condemn the use of violence by any party for political ends. The complex problems of Kosovo will be resolved only when both sides demonstrate genuine commitment to a meaningful political process. We continue to support fully the diplomatic efforts spearheaded by Mr. Holbrooke.

I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we are appalled at the recent massacres at Gornje Obrinje and near Vucitern. As I am sure we are all aware, most of those killed were women and children. This was not an act of war; it was plain, cold-blooded murder. We know what happened; we have seen the appalling evidence with our own eyes. UNSCR 1199 affirms the role of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in Kosovo. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that Robin Cook has been in contact with the prosecutor of the ICTY to urge her to investigate this appalling outrage.

Contact group Foreign Ministers met in London on 8th October. The meeting confirmed the degree of unity and resolve among the contact group members. This meeting was arranged at American request for Richard Holbrooke to brief contact group members on the result of his 5th to 7th October mission to Belgrade.

The contact group was very disappointed to hear from Mr. Holbrooke that there remain many areas where Belgrade still falls well short of full compliance with UNSCR 1199, and that he has been unable to obtain satisfactory assurances so far from President Milosevic that he intends to comply fully. The contact group agreed that Mr. Holbrooke should return straight to Belgrade with its full backing. The meeting stipulated that compliance with UNSCR 1199 must involve six clear measures: an end to offensive operations and hostilities by both sides; the withdrawal of Belgrade's security forces to their pre-March positions and the withdrawal of heavy weapons; freedom of access for the humanitarian agencies to get on with important relief work; full co-operation with the International War Crimes Tribunal to make sure those who have committed atrocities are brought to justice; the facilitation of the return of refugees to their homes without fear; and finally, but critically, a start to negotiations on proposals put forward by Ambassador Hill which have been endorsed by the contact group.

Any settlement that offers compliance with UNSCR 1199 must be irreversible as well as being full. We and Dick Holbrooke are fully aware of President Milosevic's tricks. As many noble Lords have said, there must be a verification mechanism to judge Milosevic's compliance with UNSCR 1199 both now and in the future. Mr. Holbrooke is working up ideas for such a mechanism today. It would be wrong to go into details of what he is negotiating. But this mechanism should be robust and enshrined in a further Security Council resolution.

If President Milosevic does not comply, he will be responsible for the consequences. NATO planning is now complete and a decision on using military force could be taken very quickly. NATO is considering this decision this evening. In recognition of possible early military action by NATO, Her Majesty's Government have closed our embassy in Belgrade. The ambassador, Mr. Donnelly, will remain in Belgrade as a representative of the current contact group chairman, and he will be working alongside Mr. Holbrooke.

Points have been raised again on the legal position. I say again what I said to your Lordships before. Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that any military action would be lawful because of the overwhelming humanitarian necessity. We cannot—NATO cannot—allow any politically motivated veto to prevent us from saving lives in Kosovo. We and our allies in NATO have a legal base to use military force. We are satisfied about this legal base. I point out to your Lordships that there is a precedent used in 1991 in relation to military action in northern Iraq.

As I have said, NATO planning is now complete. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked me specifically about the position of Germany and Italy. We expect them to be able to support any decision that NATO will reach tonight.

A number of other important questions were raised and I have a couple of minutes in which to try to address them. I believe that all your Lordships have acknowledged the importance of international monitoring. There are currently some 40 to 45 monitors in Kosovo and among those is a number of British monitors. As I have said, that is something which is still being discussed among our colleagues in the contact group.

I must say a few words about the position of Russia as many of your Lordships have concentrated on it. We have been working closely with Russia throughout this crisis. President Yeltsin secured important commitments from President Milosevic in mid-June, particularly that there would be no attacks on the civilian population. But Mr. Milosevic did not live up to his commitment to President Yeltsin. It is therefore right that Russia joined us in supporting UNSCR 1199 and we welcome that.

We have been in close touch with Mr. Holbrooke throughout today. The British ambassador in Belgrade has been working alongside Mr. Holbrooke in his efforts to secure full compliance with UNSCR 1199. Once he has briefed colleagues in Brussels, Mr. Holbrooke will be returning to Belgrade to continue with negotiations tomorrow. But I understand that there is considerable speculation about what Mr. Holbrooke may be negotiating in Belgrade. There is as yet no deal and I really cannot comment on the various leaks which I understand are appearing at the moment because no deal has yet been completed. The talks must continue. I can say nothing which indicates a negotiating position over and above what has been openly stated already. I am sure that your Lordships will understand that for me to do so would simply not be responsible while negotiations are still going forward. It would not be helpful to our negotiation position and it would certainly not be helpful to Mr. Holbrooke or the NATO position.

One point that has been raised is the position of ground troops. Again, while I appreciate that that is a reasonable question, I must ask your Lordships to consider whether it is reasonable to expect me to answer that particular question this evening. It is unhelpful to speculate in this way. Anything that discloses the possible military plans of NATO may expose our position. Of course we hope that there will be no military action, that common sense will prevail and that Mr. Milosevic will comply with our demands, but if he does not, British forces could be in military action shortly. I am not prepared to say anything which might, however indirectly, undermine their safety.

We do not use the threat of force lightly. It would obviously be preferable to reach a solution through diplomacy. I am sure that all noble Lords agree with me that a satisfactory—and I stress that word to the noble Baroness—solution can be found diplomatically. Even at this late hour discussions continue. Mr. Holbrooke will brief the NAC tonight on his latest talks in Belgrade. President Milosevic knows what he must do. He must comply and he must comply now.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock.