HL Deb 10 May 1999 vol 600 cc987-1001

4.36 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on Kosovo which has been riade in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"Before I begin the Statement, the House would expect me to say a few words on the tragic death of Derek Fatchett. I and all who worked with him at the Foreign Office are shocked at his sudden loss and our thoughts today are with his wife and family. I spoke earlier this morning to Anita who told me how proud she had been of what Derek had done. She and their sons had every right to be proud of him. Over the past two years he had proved himself an effective and creative Minister, from the early days when he helped broker a ceasefire to provide relief for the famine in Sudan to last month when he paid a brave visit to East Timor. His early death cruelly deprives the House of a Member who had so much more to give and robs many of us of a friend whom we will remember as always cheerful, whatever the difficulties.

"Last Thursday I attended the meeting of the G8 Foreign Ministers in Bonn. That meeting reached agreement with Russia on the principles on which any settlement of the Kosovo conflict must be based. They parallel the objectives which NATO requires to be met as the condition of ending the military campaign: withdrawal of Serb military, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo; an international interim administration for Kosovo; a political process on the basis of the Rambouillet peace accords; and the free return of all refugees under the protection of an international security presence capable of achieving our common objectives. From the start of the conflict we have maintained regular dialogue with Russia and made sure that the door was kept open to Russia. This agreement on our common ground exposes as a lie the repeated promises of Milosevic to his people that one day Russia would come to their rescue. Work will now be proceeding this week between officials of our countries to turn these principles into the draft text of a Security Council resolution.

"On Friday night the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was destroyed during a NATO attack on sites in the city. It appears that the missiles hit the building on which they had been targeted. However, the building had been wrongly identified in the targeting plans as the Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement for the Yugoslav Army. The review continues into how this error could have occurred, and the procedures that gave rise to it.

"My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has written to Zhu Rhongji, the Chinese Premier, expressing our deep regret at the error and assuring him that there was no deliberate intent on the part of the allies to attack the Chinese Embassy.

"Yesterday I spoke to our ambassador in Beijing who confirms that the embassy has been blockaded by demonstrators who have hurled stones though the front windows of the embassy building. I am pleased to report that no member of the embassy staff has been injured, and we are not aware of any other British citizen in China having been attacked. We have amended our travel advice in respect of China to recommend against all non-essential visits to China at the present time.

"My noble friend Lady Symons saw the chargé d'affaires of the Chinese Embassy this afternoon and recorded our concern about the safety of our officials and other nationals in China. We welcome the appeal by the Vice-President of China, Hu Jin Tao, for the demonstrators to behave peacefully, and the apparent increase in the efforts by the Chinese police to protect the embassy.

"On Saturday after the news broke, I spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, who confirmed that Russia was firmly committed to the principles that we had agreed in the G8 and that there would be no let-up in the search for a settlement.

"We continue vigorously to pursue any opportunity for progress on the diplomatic track. After this Statement I will meet with Carl Bildt, who has been appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN as his special envoy. This afternoon Victor Chernomyrdin, the special representative of President Yeltsin, is meeting with Mr. Talbott, the US Deputy Secretary of State.

"Our best hope of success on the diplomatic track is by keeping up the military pressure. If Milosevic felt any reduction in our air campaign, or sensed any weakening of our resolve, there would be no prospect of his agreeing to meet our demands.

"On the ground in Kosovo over recent days we have destroyed tanks, heavy artillery, military convoys and command posts. In total we have eliminated within Kosovo the equivalent of the weapons and equipment of an entire brigade. But we cannot ignore the fact that the Serb forces in Kosovo are controlled and co-ordinated from Belgrade. Striking at their command headquarters in Belgrade is vital to breaking their military capability in Kosovo. On Friday night we destroyed in central Belgrade the Hotel Yugoslavia, which had been taken over as the war room for Arkan's paramilitaries who have killed, burned and raped their way across Kosovo. By any test, that war room was a legitimate military target and could not be ignored if we are serious about reversing the ethnic cleansing which was planned from there.

"We want a settlement, and we would welcome a diplomatic solution. But we will not accept a settlement at any price. It must meet our objectives—in particular, it must provide for the Kosovar refugees to go home under our protection. Anything less would condemn the refugees to a life in exile in refugee camps. And it would reward President Milosevic for the butchery and brutality with which he has evicted them from Kosovo. Fresh evidence continues to pour in of that brutality. In one single day last week we received reports from refugees of three further atrocities. At Djakovica, 19 people, mainly women and children, were found by the Serb forces hiding in a basement. They were all shot in the basement, and the house burned over them. At Kotlina, Serb police threw 20 villagers down a well, and then threw hand grenades down after them. At Suva Reka, around a hundred residents were herded into the shopping centre and shot. None of these people was killed as a result of tragic error. Every single one of them was murdered at close range, deliberately and callously.

"I understand and share the concern of honourable Members on both sides at the loss of civilian life when there is an error in our bombing campaign. But I cannot understand those who focus on the tens who have been casualties of NATO's military campaign to the exclusion of the tens of thousands who have been butchered by Milosevic in Kosovo.

"I invite honourable Members to visit the exhibition space at the Foreign Office where they can see on display drawings by the children in the refugee camps. I defy any Member not to be moved to discover that the children have often drawn the guns bigger than the people, and the tanks bigger than the many burning houses. It is not just the dead who are the victims of the ethnic cleansing, but the living also who are traumatised by what they have had to see. The least we can do is to enable them to return and to rebuild their homes in safety. And we will continue and intensify both military and diplomatic campaigns until we succeed in doing so."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, first, I endorse the words concerning the tragic and untimely death of the Minister of State. He is a great loss to the Government and Parliament alike. I ask the Minister to convey our deepest sympathies to his wife and family.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place and for attempting to provide an explanation for the tragic error which led NATO to target the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on Friday. From these Benches we offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of China and in particular to the families of the victims.

The Official Opposition support the objectives which underline the NATO action in Serbia. We have continued to support the Government in their twin track approach of maintaining military pressure on President Milosevic while pursuing a vigorous diplomatic initiative. But we reserve our right as Opposition to scrutinise, question and, where appropriate, criticise the actions of the Government.

The attack on the wrong building was a tragic mistake for which NATO governments may yet pay dearly. It has caused grave disquiet for a number of reasons. First, there are the wider implications it may have for our diplomatic relations with China and Russia. Secondly, there is the damage which may have been done to the prospects for agreeing a UN-endorsed peace plan for Kosovo in line with NATO's objectives. Thirdly, there is the air of incompetence with which this incident has caused the whole NATO operation to be suffused. What response does the Minister have to General Naumann, the retiring chairman of NATO's Military Committee, who says that the campaign has undoubtedly been prolonged by NATO's failure to find a way to reconcile the conditions of a coalition war with the principle of military operations such as surprise and the use of overwhelming force?

The attack on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade indicates a serious failure of intelligence. Can the Minister confirm that a street map of Belgrade clearly indicates the location of the Chinese Embassy? Can the Minister also confirm whether NATO has drawn up a list of targets to be avoided at all costs, and whether the Chinese Embassy was included on that list? If such a list has not been drawn up, can the Minister explain why not?

The US Defense Department has said that an anomaly led to the wrongful targeting of the Chinese Embassy. Is the Minister confident that such an anomaly is unlikely to occur again. Can she give an assurance that NATO procedures on intelligence will be improved as a matter of urgency so that in future all possible safeguards are in place to prevent such a wrongful targeting?

Can the Minister say why it took until the fifth week of the campaign to task the military planners of NATO to look at the options for a maritime operation to implement an oil embargo and why, in the sixth week of the campaign, NATO's proposals were still in the planning stage, given the importance of the destruction of Serbia's fuel resources in this campaign where, in the words of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House,

Day and night, our pilots are risking their lives to inflict defeat on Milosevic"?—[Official Report, 13/4/99; col.635.] Will the Minister say whether it is indeed the case that the oil embargo would be legal under international law only if it were introduced on an essentially voluntary basis? In that case, can the Minister clarify what would happen if the ships declined to be boarded?

As the scenes of public protest surrounding both the British and US embassy compounds in Peking continue, what implications does the Minister believe that this tragic error will have for our long-term relations with China and our ability to influence the Chinese Government on key issues such as human rights? In the light of the Government's up-dated advice advising against non-essential travel to China, will the Minister say what action has been taken to protect the lives of British citizens and property in China?

From these Benches, we believe that Russia is necessary in securing a solution to the crisis in Kosovo. The Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Ivanov, postponed his visit to the United Kingdom, due to take place over the weekend. When does the Minister expect that visit to be rescheduled?

The description of the incident as "NATO's own goal" is not unjust. It comes at the very time when, following last Thursday's G8 meeting, a glimmer of light and hope lad been breathed back into the diplomatic proces What concern does the Minister have that the diplomatic efforts may now stall and that progress towards resolving the Kosovo crisis may be derailed, particularly in the light of President Jiang Zemin's insistence that the UN Security Council cannot discuss a settlement to the crisis in Kosovo unless NATO stops its bombing campaign?

The Minister described the original objectives of NATO set out at the meeting on 12th April by NATO Foreign Ministers as "basic and unalterable" demands which would not be compromised. Will she reconcile those objectives with the principles for the settlement of the Kosovo crisis set out in the G8 Foreign Ministers communiqué last Thursday which failed to clarify the role of NATO in an international military presence?

It was a tragic error on Friday but, as Kenneth Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman, said, there is no such thing as clean combat. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us so rightly on Thursday, President Milosevic's revolting behaviour goes back to events in Croatia in 1990, Bosnia two years later and then Srebrenica. NATO is fighting a war with no more front-line censorship, daily news conference with a right-to-know from the big boys and films of what the people making them want to show versus a dictator who censors everything, who manipulates the news and who shows what he wants to show on television.

Seven weeks into the military action, we appear to be no nearer to achieving the Government's original primary objective; namely, the avoidance of another humanitarian crisis. The humanitarian catastrophe, the responsibility for which rests firmly on the shoulders of President Milosevic, worsens with every day that passes. From these Benches, we shall continue to support the Government in taking the action necessary to bring so much suffering to an end. But we seek an assurance from the Minister that clarity and consistency in objectives do indeed guide the Government's policy.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, on these Benches we wish to associate ourselves with the references to the sad death of Derek Fatchett. My colleagues have just been reminding me of how good he was on a number of Middle East issues. I have heard from many friends within the Foreign Office how well-respected he was for all the work he did there. He will be missed as a very good Minister.

I welcome the Statement about the G8 agreement with Russia. It was important to keep the Russians on board. I hope that we now have the Russians again on board in this conflict which is about restoring stability and security to south-eastern Europe. Will the Minister assure us, if possible, that the language of the G8 statement represents no weakening of the language of the Washington statement on Kosovo? There were some interesting minor differences—references to settlements in the G8 statement which had not been present in the Washington communiqué.

We express our concern about relations with China. European governments have had looser, weaker relations with China than the United States in recent years. The US-China relationship was already fraught and has now become more fraught. It seems to us that, as European governments, we need a stronger and more active relationship with China regardless of the current immediate crisis.

The Statement refers to maintaining military pressure and goes straight on to talk about the continuation of the air war. On the last occasion we discussed Kosovo, we said from these Benches that there was an unfortunate logic in any bombing campaign, particularly one that talks about restricting bombing to legitimate military targets, which is the phrase used in the Statement. When one is talking about legitimate military targets, after a while they become in rather short supply. As bombing is increased and continues, so it becomes more likely that one bombs targets either by mistake or that one bombs marginal targets which turn out to be not as military as one had thought.

Many references have been made in prime ministerial statements to this being a just war as well as a limited war. Proportional force requires us to be very careful in our selection of targets. We suggest—and have argued from these Benches throughout—that that requires the question of the commitment of troops to the region, and eventually to Kosovo, to be moved further up the agenda. As the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said, there is no such thing as clean combat. NATO looks to be fighting this war on the basis that it should at least be clean from our side with no casualties whatever. That is not proportionate use of force. From these Benches, we should like to see more land forces moved into the region ready to move on to the ground in Kosovo.

We were interested to see the article by the Defence Secretary, George Robertson, in the Daily Telegraph this morning in which he refers to the KLA as a "new KLA". It has changed. He states: It is increasingly made up of young men armed with the most powerful weapon of all: the sense that they have nothing to lose". He refers also to the KLA beginning to reoccupy the ground. I ask the Minister whether that represents a shift in our attitude to the KLA as, perhaps, part of the solution as well as, originally, part of the problem.

Finally, from these Benches we query the references at the end of the Statement to the pursuit of a settlement, a diplomatic solution. We must be concerned to find a settlement which does not entirely let down those who have been betrayed; those against whom atrocities have been committed, to which the Statement refers so powerfully in its final paragraphs. There have been some indications from Washington in the past few days that we are now looking for a compromise, even for a fudge. We remind your Lordships that this is a conflict about the stability, security and future prosperity of south eastern Europe. A fudge in Kosovo would put the Bosnian settlement at risk and would put Montenegro at risk, and possibly, even, Vojvodina at risk. Therefore, I ask the Minister to re-emphasise that the settlement must be absolutely in line with the five principles and not a fudge with Mr. Milosevic.

4.58 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank both the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for their kind words about my colleague, Derek Fatchett. Derek was a wonderfully wise, able and supportive colleague. He had a tremendous sense of humour and that other quality so very much needed in the Foreign Office given the sort of issues with which we are faced—an unfailing sense of proportion. Speaking personally, I shall miss him very much, as I know too will my other colleagues in the Foreign Office. I thank the noble Baroness and shall of course convey the sympathies of her party to Derek's widow, Anita, and their sons. I thank both for their very kind words.

I am sure there will be a measure of comfort to his family in knowing how well Derek was respected.

I turn to the subject of Kosovo. This was, indeed, a tragic error. I hope that all noble Lords, in contacts they may have, will stress that fact to those who take an interest in such matters. This afternoon I have been able to express the shock and regret we feel over the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. We recognise the shock and very great distress this has occasioned to the Chinese people and to the families of those who died and those who were injured. The fact is that Her Majesty's Government believe that the military pressure must be maintained on Mr. Milosevic if we are to see an outcome through the diplomatic channels that we wish to see.

This was a tragic mistake. That is what is important, that it was a mistake. One or two people have used the word "attack" as though this was some part of a deliberate strategy. I stress that nothing could be further from the truth.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about the position of our colleagues in Russia. The Statement that I was able to repeat to your Lordships made clear that after the news had broken on Saturday, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, who confirmed that Russia was firmly committed to the principles agreed at the G8.

Noble Lords will also recall that during our debate on Kosovo last week, I briefed the House about the outcome of the G8 meeting in Bonn. I was able to tell your Lordships that the G8 presidency would be taking forward that outcome with the Chinese. That is still on track. We hope that further progress will be made on that front this week.

The noble Baroness mentioned the quote from General Naumann. I think it is also fair to say that to complete the quote one would have to say that he also said that he could not think of any change that he would make in the present NATO strategy. I urge the noble Baroness in making that quote—I know that several of her colleagues in another place have been tempted so to do this afternoon—to ensure that the complete quote is used. General Naumann did not leave any real doubt about being on board over the NATO strategy: he did not want to see any changes in it.

The noble Baroness referred to the failure of intelligence which led to the tragic bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. As the Statement made by my right honourable friend in another place made clear, that matter is being considered. The review continues as to how this error occurred and of the procedures which gave rise to such an error. It would be premature, at this stage, for us to enter into discussion on the various bits of information we have about what may or may not have occurred over this incident. We need to have a full picture before we can give that to your Lordships, and, indeed, to others. Of course, the Chinese will be interested to know as much as they can. I refer not only to exactly what happened but to why it happened.

The noble Baroness also raised the question of the maritime operation and the oil embargo. Perhaps I may remind her that the proposals for the maritime operation are still in the planning stages. It is important to remember that there are two operations overall: the EU embargo, which was agreed, and the maritime operation which arose as a result of the Washington Summit. It is the latter which we are considering here. We will, of course, take into account the legal implications of any operation before agreeing to it. I assure the noble Baroness, as I have had occasion to assure the House before, that any such operation would be in strict accordance with the law.

As regards travel advice, we have stated that we are advising against unnecessary travel to China at present. We believe that the situation as regards our own nationals is difficult. I remind the noble Baroness and your Lordships that the travel advice we give is not based on diplomatic pressure, commercial pressure, or anything else. When the Foreign Office issues our travel advice we are concerned with the safety of British nationals abroad. That is our primary responsibility in issuing such advice. Tragic as these events are, that makes no difference to the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that they are as accurate as can be when advising British citizens on where they should travel.

As your Lordships know, the visit of Mr Ivanov is postponed but, as I was able to repeat a moment or two ago, that does not mean to say that the Foreign Secretary has not been speaking to Mr. Ivanov. He did so over the weekend. This afternoon he is meeting Carl Bildt, special envoy to the UN Secretary-General. Also this afternoon, Mr. Chernomyrdin, special representative to President Yeltsin, will be meeting the Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Talbot. So, there are a number of diplomatic initiatives taking place this afternoon.

I also stress that, as a result of the Bonn meeting last week, the German initiative is still going ahead with the Chinese. As the Statement made by my right honourable friend made clear, discussions are going forward at the UN. I hope and believe that the positive outcome to

diplomatic initiatives built up and launched as a result of the G8 meeting last week—they were the culmination of many other diplomatic initiatives and did not all start last week—will be built on this week.

The noble Baroness was concerned that the five demands expressed to your Lordships on a number of occasions were somehow inconsistent with what came out of the G8 last Thursday. I believe the two sets of proposals are entirely consistent. As I said to your Lordships last Thursday, we simply would not have agreed to them had we not thought that they were consistent. Planners are taking work forward this week on how we can build on what came out of the G8 at Bonn, and Foreign Ministers have agreed to meet again.

I take issue with the comments of the noble Baroness about being no nearer resolving this issue. The situation in Kosovo is terrible, but we do know that we are undermining the military capability there. My noble friend Lord Gilbert tells me there has been some reduction in the Serb military action. Let us hope that such reduction will he sustained. However, we do not believe that the noble Baroness is correct in saying that we are simply not making any impression at all. Perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness that in opening our debate last Thursday, my noble friend Lord Gilbert gave your Lordships a detailed description of exactly what has been achieved. I believe we have been entirely clear and consistent in the objectives we have stated in this military action.

I turn to one or two specific points made by the noble Lord. Lord Wallace. which were not made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. NATO action is in accordance with the rules of international law applicable in armed conflicts. It is strictly limited to what is necessary to achieve our humanitarian objective. I say in all humility to your Lordships that when one considers the number of military sorties there have been, very few bombs have gone astray. That is not in any way to underestimate the tragedy when they do, but is an important point we need to keep within our sights.

I very much hope that, tragic as these events are, they will not deflect us from our course of action and, in particular, from the more hopeful signs that emerged last week with the possibility of further diplomatic progress being made.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I have supported the government action up to now and continue to do so. I was pleased to hear about the effect of the G8 agreement last week. It is an extraordinarily significant and important development. However, if ever there was a mistake that was going to make the diplomatic task more difficult, it was the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy. We are entitled to ask the Government—and if we are entitled to ask, the Chinese are certainly entitled to ask—for as explicit an assurance as they can give that this sort of mistargeting will not occur again and that steps are being taken to put right whatever is revealed in the various inquiries.

We are now moving into a new phase in relation to Kosovo. The question we must ask ourselves is where we go from here. Increasingly there is talk of using the United Nations. Those of us with some knowledge of that organisation over the past quarter of a century or so regard those statements with a certain wry, if not amused, scepticism. Unfortunately, the UN tends to be used in circumstances when countries cannot solve problems themselves. They then decide to involve the United Nations to solve it and complain bitterly when the UN finds, perhaps not surprisingly, that it cannot solve the problem either.

I shall be extremely unhappy if the UN is used in this dispute as some kind of fig leaf to cover up what may or may not have gone wrong. If we need a peacekeeping force in Kosovo it will have to be done through the United Nations. If we need some kind of administrative body in parts of Kosovo, that will have to he done through the United Nations. I hope my noble friend can assure me and the House that in seeking UN action we have the full support of the Russians. In a sense they are now the crucial players in producing a settlement in the Kosovan crises. If we do not have the Russians with us, we will have a difficult time when the matter goes to New York, made more difficult by the tragic bombing of the Chinese Embassy.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Richard for his broad support. Of course this was a terrible mistake: it was entirely an accident. I was able this afternoon to assure the Chinese chargé d'affaires quite explicitly on that point, emphasising also the importance that Her Majesty's Government attach to the improving bilateral relationship we have with China. Last year there was the exchange of visits of Prime Ministers and we look forward to the visit of the President of China in October of this year.

My noble friend asked for an explicit undertaking that such mistargeting would not occur again. I can only assure the House that NATO will do its best to ensure that that is the case. I cannot give an explicit assurance. As we have seen, tragic mistakes occur. The Statement makes clear that the event is being investigated, not only in relation to what happened, but also in relation to the procedures leading up to what happened. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, I am sure he feels that such assurances would not be particularly realistic. War is a nasty and terrible business. We can only express our deepest regret when tragedies occur. Everything will be done to ensure that such mistakes do not occur, but we cannot give explicit assurances.

There is no question of the United Nations being a fig leaf. Work is going ahead at the moment to try to secure the Security Council resolution. Our friends in Russia are working with us on this. They were an important part of the agreement reached in Bonn last week. We hope that we will be able to impress upon our friends in China the importance that they should attach to getting a UNSCR through this week.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, I want to ask about the results of the military action in the context of broad general support for the Government and for NATO action, as I expressed last Thursday in our debate, subject only to concern about the blunders that have been made and the consistently-held view on these Benches about the need to deploy ground troops.

I am puzzled about the apparently modest success of our attack on the Serb forces in Kosovo. Can the Minister enlarge on what she said? She said we had destroyed the equivalent of a brigade. Can she say what proportion that is of the total forces we estimate to be in Kosovo? The figures do not have to be exact. Also, will she explain why more destruction of tanks and artillery in Kosovo cannot be achieved, even if it is for the time being through air power rather than with ground troops?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean ;

My Lords, we cannot have it both ways in this argument. If we were to have unrestrained bombing in Kosovo, much more damage would have been done and your Lordships would rightly be expressing concern about the unintended civilian damage incurred as a result. Last week my noble friend Lord Gilbert explained to your Lordships how the military action got off to something of a slow start because of the weather and because we were inhibited about a bombing campaign which might not have hit the entirely military targets we were looking at to undermine the Milosevic regime.

It is difficult on the one hand to say that we have been able to hit a whole range of targets, and on the other to say that there cannot be any unintended casualties. The Statement is clear in saying that the equivalent of an entire brigade has been destroyed over recent days. That includes tanks, heavy artillery, military convoys and command posts. I am unable to tell the noble Baroness what proportion that represents of the entire military force that the Serbs are deploying in Kosovo. I doubt that that is a figure our military experts would be happy to have broadcast at the moment. If there is anything further we are able to say on that front when I have consulted my noble friend Lord Gilbert and colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, I shall write to the noble Baroness. However, I do not promise a letter because I doubt that we will be able to give much more information at the moment.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that not only is the mistake to which she referred a tragedy, but the whole affair of this bombing is a tragic mistake?

Is my noble friend aware that it was to try to reduce, as far as possible, such mistakes that the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Act 1995 was drawn up in British law? It specifically prohibits the type of operation which brings about these tragic mistakes. We are not allowed to bomb targets such as television centres, for example. We have to select targets which are exclusively military and which are not near any civilian targets in order not to break the law. NATO has consistently broken the law as laid down in the Geneva Convention, a law which is designed to prevent such tragic mistakes. It is being totally ignored in this operation. You are not allowed to destroy bridges because they are not regarded as being exclusively military targets; you are not allowed to attack anything unless it is exclusively military. If there is any doubt the law states that it shall be regarded as civilian and shall be sacrosanct. The law is being completely broken. The Government have not got a leg to stand on, and they should stop immediately.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I know that my noble friend holds these views passionately and emphatically. I say to him with equal passion and emphasis that the Government do not agree with him, and neither do 19 nations of NATO—19 democracies with independent judiciaries.

Every means, short of force, was tried to avert this situation. The noble Lord knows that force is being used as an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. The military intervention is fully justified. Not only do the 19 countries of NATO think that we are doing the right thing; so do the Kosovar refugees and those poor people who have been treated in an outrageous and brutal way by the Serbian authorities.

What else would the noble Lord have us do? We are obeying the law. We have to look at the tragedy that is being played out on the ground. I remind my noble friend of the three incidents that I described. I shall not repeat them because they are too gruesome and too terrible. But those three incidents took place in only one day last week. We owe it to those people to continue our action.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, last Thursday I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to assure noble Lords that there was no substance in the suggestion which I read in an article in The Daily Telegraph, and subsequent similar suggestions, that nuclear weapons would be used in Serbia. I would be most grateful if the noble Baroness would answer me today. I have written to her about the subject, but if she answers me now she need not answer my letter.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am tempted to say that you cannot believe everything you read in the Daily Telegraph. I apologise if I did not give the noble Lord the assurance that he sought last week. I give it to him now.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, one of the articles in today's Daily Telegraph, which perhaps we might be allowed to believe, was written by Mr. George Robertson. In the final paragraph he states: Milosevic is trying to find a way out but the only exit strategy NATO will accept is one that gets him and his forces out of Kosovo. I have asked the noble Baroness previously what the future status of Kosovo is likely to be. Will it be autonomous under a Belgrade government and under Milosevic? Or will it have some other status?

In the article Mr. Robertson talks about the KLA rising like a phoenix and coming back all over Kosovo. Are the Government confident that when the Kosovars return to their homes, with the KLA rising like a phoenix, those Kosovars will not seek their own bloody revenge on Serbs and other nationals who may still be living in Kosovo? I am sure that this thought will have occurred to Her Majesty's Government, but it would be helpful to have an assurance that the peacekeeping force will ensure that ell those in Kosovo are subject to regulation and rules.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord can believe what my right honourable friend has written in the Daily Telegraph. When he wrote about Milosevic and his forces being turned out of Kosovo, I believe that he was referring to a settlement which will be made on the basis of the Rambouillet accord. Such a settlement will have to be a matter of negotiation. Since the Rambouillet accord was reached, a great deal has happened. Although it is Her Majesty's Government's view that any further settlement should be on that basis, the details will have to be worked out in due course.

We all very much hope that people who have been turned out of their homes, whether they are internally displaced within Kosovo or whether they are refugees beyond the borders of Kosovo, will return in peace to their homes. An international security force will be there to keep the peace in Kosovo generally, having ensured the safe return of those people. They will be there to ensure the safety of all the citizens in Kosovo thereafter.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, can I assure my noble friend that no one in their senses for a moment thinks that there was anything deliberate in the attack on the Chinese Embassy? It was a great mistake and I am sure that the Government genuinely regret it. I do not think for a moment that the Chinese themselves seriously believe that it was a deliberate attack. That is not how the world works, whatever the relations with different states. The Chinese are obviously going to make the most of it, but I am sure that that is not the heart of the matter at all.

In regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, I am sure that the country we have got to watch in all of this is Russia, not China. China does not have the long-term interest in this part of the world that Russia has. Involving Russia in finding a solution is essential if we are to have permanent peace in the Balkans.

I agree with a two-track policy and go along with both, but on the second, diplomatic, tack, is it just simply a matter of Chernomyrdin and Talbott meeting, or is there an initiative? The noble Baroness spoke of diplomatic initiatives. If it is an initiative, not just a formal meeting, can she give any indication as to what such an initiative might involve and what reception it has been given?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his assurance that he believes that it is widely accepted that this was a terrible mistake and involved no deliberate action.

We all agree that Russia's involvement in any eventual solution is absolutely vital. I was able to detail to noble Lords last Thursday evening the consistent involvement of Russia from the contact group last summer and subsequent developments—the problems that President Yeltsin had and the assurances he received from Mr. Milosevic; the later meetings of the contact group; and the importance of continuing to keep the Russians involved in the negotiation. That is very much in the forefront of my right honourable friend's mind. He was able to speak to his opposite number on Saturday afternoon.

The noble Lord mentioned the meeting taking place today between Mr. Chernomyrdin and Mr. Talbott. I believe that a number of different issues are involved, not least the outcome of the G8 meeting last week in Bonn and the way in which that can be taken forward. All the Foreign Ministers there, including the Russian and United States Foreign Ministers, charged planners to take forward the outline plan by putting flesh on the plan and engaging the presidency of the G8, which is Germany, in talks with the Chinese with a view to getting an agreed position on the United Nations Security Council resolution. Any of the diplomatic discussions taking place at the moment is bound to touch upon these growing and important issues.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords—

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords-

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I think it is the turn of the noble Lord, Lord Eden, as he has attempted to intervene on a number of occasions.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, perhaps I may, first, be allowed to pay a brief personal tribute to the memory of Derek Fatchett, whose death at such a young age is greatly to be regretted. Indeed, he was of considerable assistance to me when, as chairman of the Royal Armouries, I sought to establish the new museum at Leeds. Subsequently, as is well known, he served as a Minister of State in the Foreign Office with great distinction and was most impressive in that role.

I turn now to the situation in Kosovo. As we have embarked upon this course and as some of the horrors to which the Statement refers are still clearly being perpetrated under the direction and authority of Mr. Milosevic, can we have the assurance of the Government that the bombing of his centres of command will be maintained with the utmost vigour? Moreover, looking to the future, can the Minister confirm that it is still the Government's intention that the guarantee force, which may come into existence to ensure the safety of the people of Kosovo in the future, will comprise a major NATO military element? Indeed, only by that means, and under direct NATO command, will there be any certainty of security for those people.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words about my late colleague, Derek Fatchett. He was indeed an extraordinarily talented and able man. It is a tragedy that he will no longer have the opportunity to deploy those talents, either for the Government or for the people of this country.

I assure the noble Lord that the military campaign will be maintained until the conditions which NATO has specified for the cessation of such a campaign are met. That was the position when we discussed the matter in your Lordships' House last Thursday and nothing has occurred over the course of the past few days to change it.

The noble Lord also asked about a NATO component in any eventual security force. It is the position of Her Majesty's Government that any such security force should contain a considerable NATO component, expressed in this House last week as a NATO core.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I believe that the 20-minute limit for Back-Bench questions following a Statement is mandatory.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I feel—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am so sorry. I mistook what the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was trying to do. I realise now that he was attempting to make his speech on the Second Reading of the Employment Relations Bill. I apologise to the noble Lord personally, as well as to the House.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, no apology is necessary. I realise that the House has to settle itself down for a moment and resume wondering not so much where the Government's bombs are going but where their industrial relations policy is going. I must say that I am somewhat relieved to have heard that at least the Government and NATO understand the distinction between Belgrade and Belgravia. One simply hopes that they will have the right A-Z in future.