HL Deb 13 April 1999 vol 599 cc633-47

3.34 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"Madam Speaker, I would like, with your permission, to bring the House fully up to date with events in Kosovo.

"NATO's action continues. Our targets include the Serbian air defence system, the command and control centres of the Yugoslav Army and special police forces, the lines of communication which Milosevic uses to resupply his forces in Kosovo, his fuel supplies and, increasingly, the Serb forces on the ground engaged in ethnic cleansing. The armed forces of 13 allies are taking a direct part in the NATO action. I am proud of the full role being played by the men and women of the British Armed Forces. They have the thanks of the whole House.

"Our aims are clear. They were set out again at the meeting yesterday of NATO Foreign Ministers: a verifiable end to all Serb military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression; the withdrawal from Kosovo of Milosevic's military, police and paramilitary forces; agreement to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military force; the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organisations; credible assurance of willingness to work on the basis of the Rambouillet accords in the establishment of a political framework agreement for Kosovo in conformity with international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

"Once we have succeeded militarily we need to negotiate a political settlement based on the Rambouillet agreement. It must be a settlement that brings lasting peace to the entire region.

"Our action will continue until these aims are met.

"There is no longer any serious doubt that the warnings we gave about Milosevic and his intentions were fully justified. Half a million Kosovar Albanians have fled or been driven out of Kosovo into the neighbouring territories of Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. In no small measure due to British efforts, those who sought refuge in neighbouring countries are now being looked after and have at least found shelter, food and safety.

"I would like to pay tribute to the British troops in Macedonia who built a camp for some 30,000 people inside 48 hours; to the sterling work of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development in persuading the Macedonian Government fully to open the border; to British NGOs for their rapid response in getting relief through to these refugees; and to the tremendous generosity of the British people who have already given some £10 million to the Kosovo Appeal and added substantially to the £23 million committed so far by the Government. I should like also to commend the Albanian Government which have been unstinting in providing a welcome to those fleeing from Kosovo.

"Our concern is now for those still inside Kosovo. Milosevic's forces continue their ethnic cleansing, but at a reduced level. As a result of NATO action to date, the pace has significantly diminished. His tanks have to conceal themselves from NATO aircraft. His fuel supplies are running low. Some estimate that taking into account all those displaced over several months half a million or so Kosovar Albanians have been driven from their homes but remain within the province. Many have sought refuge in the hills and forests of Kosovo. We are looking urgently at all the options to assist them. Let me say this clearly: Milosevic is responsible for the welfare of those people. When we go into Kosovo finally, he will be held responsible for what we find.

"Let me deal with some of the wider strategic issues. Some say NATO should never have acted at all. Some say too soon. Some say not enough. However inconsistent these points they all deserve answering.

"Milosevic's action in Kosovo—the murder, rape and terror he has visited on innocents—is ample justification for military action.

"To those who wanted more negotiation, I say: we struggled for a year to find a solution for Kosovo by peaceful means, despite Milosevic's brutality on the ground. We intervened when the diplomatic avenue was exhausted, and when the hideous policy of ethnic cleansing was under way. For make no mistake: this brutality was planned well in advance.

"Even as the Rambouillet talks were continuing, Serb troops were massing in Kosovo and a new offensive was getting under way—40,000 troops and 300 tanks assembled. We now know that Belgrade was making detailed plans for ethnic cleansing as early as February.

"Five days before NATO, dropped a single bomb, Serb forces began a massive new offensive aimed at clearing Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian majority, wiping out their political class and even destroying evidence that Albanians had ever lived there.

"To those who say put in ground forces now, as part of a land force invasion of Kosovo, I repeat that the difficulties of such an undertaking, in the face of organised Serb resistance, are formidable. In the present circumstances, the potential loss of life among our service men and women, to say nothing of civilians, would be considerable. In any event, assembling such a force would take many weeks.

"Every day, by air power, we are causing further damage to Milosevic's military machine. His air defence system is seriously degraded. Half his frontline air force is now unusable. The roads and railways supplying his forces in Kosovo are largely cut. Fuel is now in short supply, hampering the movements of his tanks and trucks. Artillery and troops on the ground are now being hit.

"We make every effort to avoid civilian casualties, though some casualties will be inevitable in such action, and our attitude stands in sharp contrast to the utter lack of scruple of Milosevic towards the civilian population in Kosovo.

"Britain and our forces can be proud of the role we have played—both in the military campaign, and in the humanitarian effort too. Day and night, our pilots are risking their lives to inflict defeat on Milosevic.

"Day and night, our forces are working to help alleviate the misery of the refugees driven from their homes and their homeland by Milosevic's hideous policy of ethnic cleansing. And day and night, we are too preparing for the job we have to do when our military objectives are met.

"Today, I can announce that we are sending substantial reinforcements for this purpose, with a second armoured battle group. At the moment, the British Army contingent in Greece and Macedonia consists of just over 4,500 military personnel. Today's announcement will see the remainder of HQ 4 Armoured Brigade and supporting elements sent to the region. All are currently based at their home locations in the UK and Germany.

"This will take the total number of UK military personnel in Greece and Macedonia to over 6,300. Let me make clear, for the avoidance of doubt, they are being sent so that the UK can be in a position to play our proper role in the international effort to ensure the refugees are able to return to Kosovo in safety.

"As I said in my first Statement to the House of Commons, this action will take time. Dictators like Milosevic do not bow down at the first setback to their plans. But as the weather improves, his forces will have fewer hiding places. When new weapons systems are available such as the attack helicopters, no Serb unit in Kosovo will be able to destroy a village with confidence that they will not be challenged by more powerful forces.

"We continue with diplomacy to back up our military action. Tomorrow in Brussels, I shall be meeting with my colleagues on the European Council and this meeting is being brought forward to include a session with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The NATO Alliance has a long-planned summit meeting in Washington at the end of next week. I and my colleagues will remain in close touch with our Russian counterparts who will have an important role to play when Milosevic is brought to meet NATO's requirements.

"NATO must remain united and resolute. There can be no compromise on the terms we have set out. They must be met in full. We shall continue until they are. Ethnic cleansing must be defeated, and seen to be defeated. Milosevic's policies in Kosovo must be defeated, and seen to be defeated. I believe we have a clear and strategic interest in peace in the Balkans. But this is now military action for a moral purpose as much as a strategic interest. This barbarity perpetrated against innocent civilians in Kosovo, simply on the grounds of their ethnic identity, cannot be allowed.

"The conflict we now face in Kosovo is a test of our commitment and our resolve to ensure that the 21st century does not begin with a continuing reminder in Europe of the worst aspects of the century now drawing to a close. I urge the House to continue to give its unfailing support to the men and women of our Armed Forces and to the values they are striving to uphold on behalf of us all."

My Lords, the concludes the Statement.

3.44 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement today. Perhaps I may express my concern that, according to press reports this morning, yesterday, while this House was sitting and a Statement could have been made to Parliament, the Prime Minister's official spokesman gave a briefing to the media about what would be in today's Statement. Will the noble Baroness accept that there is deep distaste throughout this House that Parliament is denied information which Mr. Campbell is authorised to give to the media? Therefore, will she on behalf of the House, as its Leader, take a message to the Prime Minister's Office that we are reaching the limits of tolerance with such contempt for Parliament? I feel it particularly strongly because yesterday I put down a Private Notice Question for a Statement to be made to this House, but the request was turned down by the noble Baroness.

I turn to the Statement. We should never forget that in order to achieve peace and security in Kosovo British service men and women are putting their lives on the line on a daily basis. I join the noble Baroness in saying that the whole House owes them a huge debt.

There have now been three weeks of air strikes. Does the noble Baroness agree that it is appropriate to consider the assurances given by the Government about the military situation and to consider what can now be achieved? We continue to offer support to the Government on the basis that for the campaign to be successful the strategy must be clear and consistent. Will she therefore assure the House of three things? First, do the objectives of the campaign remain those which were set out at the start? In particular, while the Statement makes clear that the Rambouillet accords are still regarded as the basis of a political settlement, the aims announced today go far further. Does the noble Baroness now believe that the Kosovar Albanians will require something more than that degree of autonomy if they are to return to their homes?

The noble Baroness will recall that one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Rambouillet talks was that President Milosevic refused to accept a NATO-led peacekeeping force? It is clear today that consideration is now being given to the deployment of an international force. Could she confirm that such an international force rather than a NATO-led peacekeeping force would be acceptable to the Government? Could she also state in more detail what role the Government envisage the Russian Government playing in a settlement?

The Prime Minister has rightly spoken of the need for war crimes investigations. In the light of the events of the past few weeks, how do the Government view the prospect of negotiating or sustaining a settlement with Mr. Milosevic in place as President of Yugoslavia? Will the Government support negotiations directly with President Milosevic?

I turn to the second aspect of the Statement. Can the noble Baroness comment on the reported delays in channelling humanitarian aid to the region? Is she now satisfied that everything possible is being done to co-ordinate such aid as effectively as possible? Can the Leader of the House confirm that it is government policy to support refugees wherever possible in the region itself? Does she believe that any more could have been done to support Macedonia in particular, bearing in mind the large number of refugees remaining there and the serious implications this may have for that country's stability?

Thirdly, as regards ground troops, the Prime Minister has repeatedly stressed the immense difficulties involved in committing troops to an invasion of Kosovo in advance of a political settlement. I believe that he is right to do so. Yet on separate occasions the Prime Minister has said both that there is no question of using troops in such a way and that, we keep all our options under review at all times". Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House tell us whether the use of ground troops prior to a political settlement is out of the question or is now under review?

Finally, will the Leader of the House accept that clarity of objectives is of paramount importance in ensuring the success and the perceived success of NATO's military action? In short, at the end of the day people need to know when we have won and what we have won. As the Prime Minister said, having now begun this action it is vital that it is successful. It is vital for the people of Kosovo; and it is vital to ensure that the future stability of this region, but also of the international community as a whole, is maintained.

3.49 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, from these Benches I join in thanking the noble Baroness for repeating here the Statement by the Prime Minister in another place. It is essentially a holding Statement; there is nothing very new in it, but it is welcome nevertheless. I also join, as all of us no doubt do, in the tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces, whether they are in action or helping in humanitarian roles in Macedonia and elsewhere. They certainly have our unfailing support.

The Prime Minister said in his initial Statement, this action will take time". But it must be said and recognized—and this is a matter to be assessed later in the day—that when the decision was made to intervene militarily through airstrikes a number of things were clearly not anticipated. I refer not only, or mainly, to Her Majesty's Government, but to NATO as a whole. I do not believe, whatever may be said, that it was anticipated that bombing would have to continue for so long and without decisive results. It is an interesting reflection on this that there is a reference in the Statement to attack helicopters becoming available for the first time.

It was not expected—and it should have been—that there would be an acceleration of ethnic cleansing. I do not attribute that in any way to the bombing; as the noble Baroness said in repeating the Statement, it was under way. But it could have been anticipated, and arrangements could have been prepared for what has since happened.

Then again—and this was not referred to in the Statement; I do not complain about that—it was not sufficiently seen that the bombing would certainly unite most Serbian dissidents with their government. Too little was done to consider the problem of hearts and minds and an appropriate campaign in a situation of this kind.

Finally—and these points need to be made—the abdication of the possible use of ground forces diminished the threat that NATO constituted in the eyes of President Milosevic. Having said that there was too little planning, too little forethought, I think that Washington was mainly to blame, but the European members of NATO also have their responsibilities. That does not mean that the initial decision was wrong. On the contrary, we would all be very deeply ashamed had there been no intervention and had NATO continued to equivocate. If the intervention was ill prepared and at the beginning half-hearted, that does not alter the awfulness of what President Milosevic has done and in no way diminishes the support that the Government and NATO must have in catching up with any previous failures there may have been.

There are only two more points I would like to make. First, I am glad that we are now preparing—for clearly this is what is happening—for the use of ground troops, if necessary, in a fighting role. The noble Baroness shakes her head, and she will have to deny it, but I hope that it is true. If it is not true, there is a failure of responsibility on the part of the Government and NATO. But, secondly, and this is not as contrary as it may seem, I hope that NATO is also thinking of what I would call a Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Yugoslavia when NATO's objectives have been achieved. I say that because all those of us who support what is being done, and who nevertheless have been distressed by the inevitable and widespread damage, want to do all we can afterwards to help restore the country for all those who live in it and who we hope will take a different view in the years ahead.

I hope that such a Marshall Plan, if I may call it that, will be part of a longer-term policy towards the Balkans. Do we really want them to look more to the East than to the West? That is the first decision. That decision having been made, a number of important considerations follow from it. I do not believe there has been a collective view in NATO hitherto on that.

I ask the noble Baroness one question which bears on the objectives. I take it that there is no possibility—I think this was hinted at by the United States Secretary of State in error—that we would agree to the partition of Kosovo either within the federation or half in and half out. Perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm that that is the case.

Are we still committed to an unpartitioned Kosovo within the federation or are we now prepared to consider, as indeed we should, the possibility of an independent Kosovo outside the federation, if that is the only way? Are we prepared to see NATO offering what is in effect a protectorate for an indefinite period to ensure that the objective, once achieved, is fulfilled?

Finally, will the noble Baroness say a word about the view of our NATO partners? I am not suggesting that there was a division of opinion yesterday; that would neither be my wish nor, certainly, my intention. But France and Germany have had thoughts of their own about where the future lies. Have they put forward any alternative proposals, and are any such proposals being considered by Her Majesty's Government and NATO as a whole?

3.55 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their response to the Statement. I am sure the whole House will once again join me in thanking them for their support and expressions of total commitment to the activities of our troops who are involved, together with the NATO allies.

Both noble Lords asked me questions about the objectives of this exercise and of the views of the United States and NATO on those objectives.

It might be useful to the House if I simply repeated the points made at the outcome of the very successful meeting yesterday of the NATO Foreign Ministers at the North Atlantic Council. The following points were agreed as joint intentions and joint positions, and were intended as the basis for any further negotiations with President Milosevic.

They are: first, to ensure a verifiable stop to all military action and, in his case, the immediate ending of violence and repression; secondly, to ensure that he does withdraw all his troops from Kosovo, including the police and paramilitary forces as well as the army; and, thirdly, to ensure that he agrees to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence. I would underline again to both noble Lords that of course there may well be British and NATO ground troops involved, but that would be a peacekeeping force rather than a force intent on fighting its way into a difficult situation, which, as the Statement says, against Serbian refusal to accept any intervention on a legal basis would be very difficult.

The fourth point was the unconditional safe return of all refugees and displaced persons and, as I said in the Statement, access to them by humanitarian aid organisations. Fifthly, and perhaps most important, because both noble Lords referred to the political future, there is the question of willingness to work on the basis of the Rambouillet accords and the establishment of the political framework. The Rambouillet accords must remain our touchstone for further discussion about the future of Kosovo. As both noble Lords will be aware, there was discussion at the time when the Kosovo Albanians signed the Rambouillet accords about the extent to which the autonomy that they agreed to under those accords was legitimate and how far it was possible to maintain a position in which autonomy was agreed without a search for immediate independence. I am sure the whole House will remember that it was agreed that that position of extended autonomy would be reconsidered after a period of three years. That remains the position of the Government and the NATO allies. The idea of any further developments, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, suggested, may have been inadvertently referred to by the United States spokesman, is not being considered at the moment.

Both noble Lords referred to the position of the Russians, which has of course been giving considerable concern. I am sure the House will be aware that Secretary Albright and the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Ivanov, have been meeting today. The latest reports from that meeting are that some progress has been made on finding a settlement, and Mrs. Albright has said in a statement that they have reached agreement on many of the basic principles for an end to the crisis in Kosovo. We can all take some comfort from the progress of that discussion.

Both noble Lords referred to the question of aid and whether it was now in a satisfactory state. Given the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in the region, it would be complacent to say that anybody's life there is satisfactory. But there has certainly been an improvement on the ground. Again, I draw attention to the extraordinary work carried out by some of our troops in diverting their resources to building tented camps and so on and providing food for refugees.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked whether this could be a prelude to some wider rebuilding of the region on an economic basis—something equivalent to the Marshall Plan. I am sure that the whole of the western alliance and others will need to consider that in a peaceful situation. In my view, and I think in the Government's view, it would probably be more appropriate to consider that in the context of developing the region as a whole rather than simply looking at the situation in Kosovo, although there will clearly be art enormous call for very rapid rebuilding and economic support for that region.

The whole issue about whether or not there was sufficient preparation is complicated. Some intelligence reports indicated that there were troop movements in Kosovo and that ethnic cleansing was already beginning as early as February, as the Statement said. At that stage, if we had encouraged international NGOs or others, for example, to build tented camps across the border, that would have been almost conniving at the idea that there was likely to be ethnic cleansing. As noble Lords will be only too aware, there is always a major difficulty in relation to judging a response. No one really could have, foreseen the extreme position which the Milosevic forces, the paramilitaries and the police took in driving literally three-quarters of a million people across the borders. It would have been extremely difficult to plan for that in any sensible way although we can say now that, within very limited objectives, the situation has been brought under control.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, expressed the matter well when he said that we should all have been deeply ashamed had we not done anything to confront the military situation with which we were faced and had we failed to deal with the exceptional circumstances of humanitarian catastrophe which is the United Nations position on taking such military action.

I conclude by repeating that we must support everything that our troops are doing both in terms of the military objectives which are clear from that joint NATO statement which I read out, but also in terms of the extraordinary work which is being done to deal with some of the more terrible aspects of the humanitarian crisis.

4.2 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, when the noble Baroness replies, will she address the question of the press being informed before Parliament about the content of today's Statement, as raised by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde? Also, will the noble Baroness accept that now that we have got ourselves into this mess, it is absolutely essential that NATO should not be seen to fail and that therefore all resources should be devoted to succeeding in achieving our objectives? As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde mentioned, it would be helpful to know with greater clarity precisely what are those objectives.

I wonder, too, whether the noble Baroness will tell the House why the Government felt that it would be better to do nothing to anticipate the reception of refugees and therefore to accept that for a number of days at least, they would be in a very poor way and in great need. I found it difficult to follow the noble Baroness's logic in relation to that.

The noble Baroness referred also to the discussions between Secretary Albright and Mr. Ivanov. Is any thought being addressed to the potential effect of the events in the Balkans on future elections in Russia and to whether anything can be done to make sure that at least some of the more lunatic fringe of Russian parties will not gain advantage from that?

Finally, will the noble Baroness comment on the effect on the tour intervals between duties of British troops as a result of the additional commitments being made? We know that there is substantial overstretch at the moment. Can she give some sort of estimate, perhaps after consultation with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, about the average tour interval which is now expected as a result of the additional commitment and whether, as a result of that extra strain, it would not be better to reverse the proposals for the decimation of the infantry of the Territorial Army which was announced earlier this year?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the noble Viscount has asked several questions to which I shall try to respond as briefly as I can, being aware of the time limits on this part of the debate.

As to the press situation, I am sure that the noble Viscount will be aware—as I repeated in the Statement—that there were several items of news which were included in the Statement, particularly in relation to the deployment of additional British troops, which were certainly not available to anybody to report at an earlier stage. I am surprised that the noble Viscount thinks that he derived any of the basic factual information which I gave in the Statement from any background briefing which had been given at, for example, any of the Ministry of Defence briefings which occur on a daily basis. The Statement was very clear in its outline and in the items of news, if one can express the matter in that way, that it delivered.

On the question of the relationship with the Russians, in referring to the Statement which Secretary Albright issued in the last couple of hours, I said that I thought that there was a clear picture that at least some progress had been made and that at least talks are continuing. As to the impact on the internal position of the Russian elections, that will probably be more dependent on the somewhat catastrophic economic situation within Russia rather than on external relations with NATO. However, we should be aware that anything which increases the instability of the domestic situation there would not be helpful to any international objective.

I am sorry if I was not sufficiently clear to the noble Viscount about the objectives of the campaign. If he will forgive me, I shall not repeat those objectives which I read out in some detail because I am aware that I have now taken several of the allotted minutes, but if he would like me to, I shall repeat them in writing to him.

The noble Viscount mentioned the Territorial Army and the overstretch of the British Army. My noble friend Lord Gilbert has not conveyed any particular information to me on that point. However, I reiterate a fact which I mentioned to the House when we last discussed Kosovo. Since the defence review took place last year, Army recruitment has increased by a large percentage—about 16 per cent. That must reduce the overstretch, which is something of which the military planners will be aware in making their dispositions.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for her informative Statement. In the event that Milosevic agrees to a ceasefire, are Her Majesty's Government taking into account that if that is some way into the distant future, he may not be in a position to deliver that ceasefire given the fact that the paramilitaries and some of his own forces in Kosovo will not necessarily respond, having now got up a head of steam there? If that happens, is it envisaged by the Government that it may be necessary for NATO forces to go in to make sure that the ceasefire does in fact take place?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for making that important political point. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, reports coming out, at least through the media—although they are censored—from Yugoslavia is that Mr. Milosevic's political power is not being restrained. But my noble friend makes a legitimate point about the length of time that this campaign may take and its possible impact on the political stability within the Yugoslav area. In a sense, that underlines the importance of being in a position to have an international military presence there to ensure that a ceasefire is maintained and that it is maintained on the terms which I discussed when I repeated the objectives for a ceasefire that came yesterday from the Foreign Ministers of NATO.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, first, is it not the case that most of the Kosovars who have not yet been ethnically cleansed have remained immune from Serbian attacks because they live in mountainous or inaccessible regions which are not easy to get at by road? If that is so, will the noble Baroness suggest to colleagues in NATO that we should air-drop humanitarian supplies to those regions and that at the same time we should air-drop to the KLA, who are guarding them, shoulder-launched anti-tank missiles so that at least they can protect themselves if the Serbs do go in to try to ethnically cleanse the remainder of the territory?

Secondly, what is being done to counteract the propaganda shown nightly on Belgrade television and repeated from Pale? Are we not going to make some effort to see that the Serbs understand what is being done in their name; that is, the horrific crimes being committed by their armed forces? In connection with such crimes, will the Minister ensure that where evidence is available from the refugees and migrants it is taken down in a form which may subsequently be used in prosecutions before the ICTY; in other words, that it conforms with the rules of evidence laid down by that tribunal?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising those important points. He is correct in saying that the number of internal refugees, displaced persons internally, now fleeing from the Serbian forces are mainly in the mountain regions which are extremely inaccessible. Whether they are residents of those regions or whether they have gone there simply to hide from potential reprisals or the kind of eviction that their other, less fortunate neighbours have seen, is not entirely clear. There is a considerable lack of clarity concerning the numbers involved, but I think that no one disagrees that they are substantial.

As regards humanitarian aid for those people, the question of air drops is a complicated one. It would include low flying in mountainous regions with, no doubt, a great deal of Serbian response. It is difficult to imagine how that could be done and whether it could be done in a valuable way, given the substantial amount of aid which would have to be conveyed to make a real impact rather than simply being a gesture. However, such matters are under consideration.

As regards dropping arms to the KLA, I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that there is a UN resolution which would preclude that. It would obviously be difficult for NATO to undertake such action.

As regards counter-propaganda, I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that some of our websites on the Internet are receiving large numbers of visits from people within the Yugoslav Republic, who are, in a sense, picking up information of a different kind. There have been leaflet drops by the Americans but, as was stated yesterday by the BBC, this is a propaganda war in a situation of censorship and it is almost as difficult to get into the system in that way as it is to get into the military system in a more conventional way.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister two questions. First, what is the legal basis in international law for our invasion of a sovereign country, no matter what our morals may be or what morality may be intended? Secondly, can the Minister say whether NATO's moral indignation is confined to Europe or should we not have extended it to West Africa where Hutus and Tutsis have been murdering each other? Finally, is it not the case that the net result has been to rally the Serbs right behind Milosevic, which is the last thing NATO wanted to bring about?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I believe that the point regarding the legal basis for our action has been made clear in this House on several occasions. My noble friend Lady Symons has repeated it in Written Answers and at Question Time and I have repeated it in several Statements. I refer to the United Nations resolution which allows that in exceptional circumstances military force can be used to deal with humanitarian catastrophe. I am sure that the noble Earl would not disagree that there is definitely a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo. That is the legal basis upon which we are undertaking this military action.

The noble Earl raises a sensible point about the disparity, as he sees it, between the different aims of our attention to humanitarian catastrophe in one part of the world and another. I simply repeat the words of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, with which I entirely agree, that had we not taken action on this particular occasion, we would have felt deeply ashamed.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords—

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords—

Noble Lords


Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I was about to ask whether your Lordships would permit me to ask two brief questions from a position which is more exalted than that from which I am entitled to speak because the Bench I was told to occupy was already occupied.

My two questions are as follows, and I speak on behalf of those, from all sides of the House, who think that this bloody war should never have been started. First, will the Government pursue with the utmost energy the discussions which I understand are taking place and which have the view in mind, which I believe all of us share, that this business should be brought to an end as soon as possible?

Secondly, will my noble friend recognize—I hope that she will forgive me for using the word "friend": I do so because I feel it to be proper—and will the Government recognise that this type of operation is known intrinsically to be much harsher on the attacked than the attacker? One of the consequences of that is that women and children are almost invariably killed in this type of operation. Having regard to that and recognising that our forces are doing their best in that respect, they are not succeeding very well. Will they take what extra care is possible at this stage to ensure that non-combatants do not suffer to the degree that they are at present?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that it is those who are not directly involved in conflict who are very often affected. I respectfully draw his attention to the enormous suffering caused to those driven from their homes by President Milosevic and to the fact that responsibility for the refugee crisis can be laid entirely at his door. It is there that we see the women and children suffering, separated from their menfolk, many of whom may have disappeared in the most alarming circumstances. The responsibility for that is entirely clear.

As regards bringing the military action to a close, the Government are working as hard as they can. I repeated in the Statement the diplomatic efforts that are taking place. I refer to the bilateral meeting today between the Americans and the Russians and a meeting of the European Council tomorrow involving my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. We seek to open every possible avenue to achieve such ends, but we intend to achieve the objectives I repeated in the Statement. The responsibility for coming to the table to discuss those matters is that of President Milosevic.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, can the Minister explain why it appears that NATO is very reluctant to detach Montenegro from Serbia given that its president in very recent days has distanced himself from Belgrade?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as the noble Lord points out, the position with Montenegro is a delicate, diplomatic one. In agreement with our NATO allies, we are hoping to support the present situation. It is difficult to know precisely what was said—and on what authority—about the potential neutrality of Montenegro. However, we are supporting Montenegro in practical terms. In terms of the humanitarian crisis, we are adding to Montenegro's ability and resources to deal with the thousands of people who have crossed the borders into that country.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, may I ask the Minister about the practical arrangements for refugees? We all know that many families have been split up because of the appalling actions of the Serb forces. Press reports suggest that such families have no access to telephones to try to trace lost children, for example. Press reports also state that aid workers and troops are passing around their own mobile phones for use. Is there a practical prospect of getting telephonic equipment to refugees so that they may contact their relatives? Will the Minister ask her noble friend whether the Ministry of Defence will consider paying the private mobile phone bills of our troops whom we all say we support strongly and who will have horrendous bills to pay when they arrive home?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes some sensible and practical points. I agree that one of the saddest things that has happened is the disintegration of family units, particularly children being left entirely on their own. I am sure that the international development community and the international development department here see it as an important priority. However, at the moment there are even more important basic priorities such as providing the refugees with food, water and shelter.

I am sure that the noble Baroness will have seen, as I have, the basic communications networks which have been set up. They seem to be producing some results; for instance, the posting around of notices makes it possible for families to maintain contact. I understand the point that the noble Baroness makes. It is one that I shall address to DfID in the first instance. It may be that the NGOs are more suited to set up such networks. I know that DfID has already funded one specific NGO to try to bring families together. I am not clear about the details of the methods it is using, but it is a sensible suggestion.

As to the MoD refunding the Army for its mobile phone bills, that is a new problem for the defence department but I am sure that my noble friend Lord Gilbert heard the suggestion. I thought the noble Baroness might have mentioned the point raised in some newspaper reports regarding American soldiers being given tax breaks. That has not yet been suggested here.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I applaud the clarity with which my noble friend the Leader of the House explained the role of British troops in Kosovo and Yugoslavia in general. However, will she remind those commentators who talk glibly about armed intervention in Yugoslavia of what happened between 1942 and 1945—it will be known to many in your Lordships' House—when Tito's partisans held down 13 German divisions? A partisan war is not a normal war. To walk into one would be a grave mistake, as the Americans learnt in Vietnam.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for bringing that extremely important historical perspective to the situation as it exists at the moment. I would just marginally correct him; I am sure he did not mean this. There are no troops in Kosovo at the moment, as he will be aware. It is the situation that the British Army has been involved on several historical occasions when we have been engaged with very determined, extreme, well-organised but small numbers of people virulently determined to further their own aims.

As my noble friend will recall, in my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's original Statement he said that it was calculated that approximately 100,000 troops would be needed to make any impact on the ground in Kosovo. That is certainly not something which would ever be undertaken lightly or for the purposes of invasion or fighting our way in. As he rightly suggests, that would be an extraordinarily difficult enterprise.