HC Deb 01 December 1999 vol 340 cc70-92WH

11.1 am

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I introduce the debate by being unashamedly personal: is there any sign of a Marshall plan for the Balkans? In particular, is there a proposal to do anything about sanctions against Serbia? That country is the engine of economic revival in the Balkans, and sanctions would make things far more difficult. I am not alone in that opinion; it is also the opinion of Mrs. Alison Elliot, who speaks on behalf of the church and nation committee of the Church of Scotland, of which she is a convenor.

Half a century ago, I was 17 or 18 years old. I was "22424588 Trooper Dalyell", Gunner-Driver in the Royal Scots Greys, based in the former SS barracks at Luneburg with the Rhine Army. That involved being in a tank and firing guns either at the Hohne ranges in Belsen or at Lulworth. The smell, the din, the cordite are still with me.

The regiment was commanded by Lt. Col. Duggie Stewart, DSO, who was Britain's gold medallist at the Helsinki Olympics. My squadron commander was Major Aidan Sprot, who was Viscount Willie Whitelaw's brother-in-law. The major published a moving account of the Greys' progress from Alamein to Anzio, Monte Casino, Normandy, the Rhine crossing and the Elbe. Those experiences were shared by many in the sergeants' mess, some of whom were proud holders of the Military medal.

I say all that because my formative years gave me not a moral superiority but certainly a more cautious attitude to modern war and bombing than those who took the decision—Prime Minister Blair or President Clinton and their Ministers—to unleash missiles. Frankly—it is a hard thing to say—they seem to see war through celluloid images. That may be generational, but it is against that background that I speak with great anger about what has happened.

Stationed with the British Army of the Rhine I was able to visit the flattened cities of Essen, Nuremburg, Osnabruck and Hamburg. Even then, one saw evidence of reconstruction. Rebuilding and the reinstalling of machinery were tangible results of the vision of General George Marshall and his colleagues, who imaginatively embarked on a programme of aid—Marshall aid. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Minister, the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), whether there is any sign of a Marshall plan for the Balkans? During the conflict, NATO gave the impression that the people of the Balkans were to partake of the prosperity of western Europe. We heard endlessly about the rebuilding of the Balkans. I want to know whether any effort has been made even to start that rebuilding.

During an Adjournment debate three weeks ago and again during the Foreign Affairs debate on the Queen's Speech on Monday, I asked about the 130,000 jobs at the car plant at Zastava that were destroyed. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and I visited Zastava at the end of September, and the destruction that we saw was appalling—acres and acres of twisted machinery. The factory produced 230,000 cars a year and although the Yugo was not the most popular car, it was at least a source of work. What does such a massive number of unemployed bode for Serbia, which I repeat is the economic engine for the Balkans?

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, the Government seem not to want to give substantial help to Serbia while Milosevic is still in power. That may be a desirable aim, but is it fair to the Serbian people?

Mr. Dalyell

It has been repeatedly emphasised that we have no quarrel with the Serbian people. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax will bear me out: to put it mildly, the trade unions of Zastava were not fans of President Milosevic. There is a real difficulty.

The second question that I asked during those debates concerned an assessment of the long-term effects of pollution that was caused by the recklessly irresponsible targeting of the chemical complex at Pancevo and the oil refinery at Novi Sad. I believe that I am entitled to ask about the Government's response to Pekka Haavisto, the Finn environmentalist who reported for the United Nations environment programme Balkans task force. He asked whether the rules of warfare that resulted in the people of Serbia and Kosovo being faced with life-threatening pollution should be reviewed. Do the Government agree with Haavisto? What is their response to his report?

Thirdly, I asked about the blocking of the Danube. Putting it bluntly, when my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax and I went to the Ministry of Reconstruction in Belgrade, it was made abundantly clear that no effort whatever would be made to unblock the Danube at Novi Sad until the dollars and the deutschmarks were put on the table to pay for the rebuilding of the bridges. I know that the city of Dortmund has made an offer, but what is NATO's general response to that and to the worries of Bulgarians, Romanians and others who are greatly disadvantaged?

My hon. Friend and I had the Bulgarian ambassador to lunch last week, and we found that the situation is extremely serious for those countries. As Misha Glenny pointed out: The stability pact is washed up on a distant shore of the European Union bureaucracy … Countries like Romania and Bulgaria bent over backwards to assist the West during the bombing campaign and they expect payback, but they're not getting it. If they don't get payback, their rulers will be out. And what you might get in their place, heaven knows. We're not even … giving Romania and Bulgaria reasonable access to EU markets. The Stability Pact was a good signal, but it is not happening. It really isn't moving. And yet you don't get Robin Cook coming on television every day to say the Stability Pact is in danger of being washed up, which it is. Do we hear people saying out loud: 'We're in new danger?' No.

I ask about the stability pact and the power stations because I never believed that those graphite bombs were simply a matter of technical, temporary knockout. If one drops graphite bombs on power stations, one should expect the delicate machinery to be destroyed.

I refer to the article in The Times by Simon Jenkins entitled "Robin Cook's wasteland" in which he said: Only the lifting of sanctions can save the Balkans from Nato's folly". There may be two sides to that story, and there ought to be a response as to what we are doing to save the people of the Balkans from the winter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax has been to Kosovo, and I know that the former leader of the Liberal Democrats has often been there. I have repeatedly asked what the military has asked me: is it true that only the Irish Guards provide night patrols? If night patrols are not provided, there will be no chance to stop the ethnic cleansing. The British Army and the NATO forces went to war in order to stop ethnic cleansing, and now it is happening in reverse.

On the World Service at 5.30 on Tuesday morning, as I was driving to Edinburgh airport, I heard Bernard Kouchner—I did not take down his exact words because I was on the motorway. He said that he had been promised 6,000 policemen, but that very few had arrived. There were 60 from the Ulster constabulary, and at most he had 1,400 people.

What kind of provision are we making for the protection of the Serbs? I have asked the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with (a) France and (b) Russia on the operations of KFOR designed to protect the remaining Serb populations in Kosovo. He replied: NATO allies and Russia discuss all aspects of KFOR operations on a regular basis and Kosovo was discussed at the Ministerial Anglo/French Summit on 25 November. Protection of the Kosovo Serbs and other minorities is one of KFOR's top priorities, with around half of KFOR manpower currently involved in minority protection duties. Security for all communities remains our central objective."—[Official Report, 30 November 1999; Vol. 340, c. 81–82W.] If that is so, why are there so many press reports about the murders of Serbs? Are they false? I hoped that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West, would be here, because notice was given that I would mention Robert Fisk's report of 20 November about monasteries. It states: Last week, I drove down the same road to Prizren and sought out the same church. I found the field and steel gate. But the church was a ruin. A single wall stood. The rest was pulverised stone. Goodbye, then, to the icons and the saints with the staring eyes. Goodbye to Jesus. Goodbye to the Serb Orthodox church. All across Kosovo I found identical scenes, places of worship—sometimes 600 years old—levelled with explosives and hammers, the very identity of Serb history turned to dust amid fields and hillsides by Nato's Kosovo Albanian allies. The Serb church has issued its own list of destroyed or partly demolished buildings. Between 13 June—when Nato troops entered Kosovo—and 20 October, they say, 74 churches have been turned to dust or burnt or vandalised. The 15th-century monastery of the Holy Trinity above Musutiste, begun in 1465, has been levelled with explosives. The monastery of the Archangel near Vitina, built in the 14th century, has been looted and burnt. The article goes on at some length. My hon. Friend the Minister has first-class honours in theology and a great knowledge of ecclesiastical history. I am sure that he cares as much as I do, but I am entitled to ask how such a thing can happen when there is massive KFOR expenditure and commitment.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Before my hon. Friend brings us to the general situation in Kosovo, is he aware that the president of the Jewish community of Pristina, who has recently been driven out of Kosovo by the Kosovo Liberation Army, said: Jews and others are driven out of Kosovo, some disappear, some are murdered and their murders attributed to forces beyond NATO's control. Some, like the Serbs and Roma of Orahovac, are imprisoned in a new Warsaw Ghetto?

Mr. Dalyell

Jews, the Roma and other minorities have suffered dreadfully. My hon. Friend and I were told in Belgrade that the 52,000 Albanians—that was in September and there may have been a change since—had not been molested. Did we go to war for Greater Albania? I do not want to go on too long, and that is a long subject.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

It would be useful to give an example of the challenge faced by KFOR forces in defending Serbian property, people and churches. I have recently come back from a visit to Kosovo with the Select Committee on Defence. The Queen's Dragoon Guards were permanently guarding a church in which the local Albanian population appeared to have no interest, so the permanent guard was ceased and the church was to be put on a patrol pattern. Within three hours of the guards' being taken away, that church was burnt to the ground.

Mr. Dalyell

I would be selfish if I went on for too long, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to discuss his experience with the Committee.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

The hon. Gentleman told us that he was a soldier, so he will know that there is a limit to what armies can do and guard. I saw 30,000 Roma at Podgorica the day before yesterday, and every one was a tragic case. I do not pretend that KFOR is completely flawless, but, rather than concentrating his criticisms on it, he might say, as I did yesterday in Pristina, that the action will never be stopped until the Albanian community and its leaders are prepared to support NATO. The force that can close the shops in Pristina can find the relevant people and stop them. It is a lack of leadership on the part of the Albanian politicians that is the bane of the matter, rather than inefficiencies on the part of limited forces in KFOR.

Mr. Dalyell

I accept that, but I am conscious of the fact that I am probably the last person on the planet to whom the Albanians would listen.

Would the Minister be prepared—I know that it is not his part of the Foreign Office—to make "The Balkans 1807–1999: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers" by Misha Glenny required reading for those who advised him in the Foreign Office? It should also be read by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), who has direct responsibility for the matter.

The end of Glenny's book states that the interventions of 1878, 1914 and 1940 were so destructive that they guaranteed the Balkans' relative economic backwardness, compared to the rest of Europe. And the violence that these inteventions encouraged, often inflicted by one Balkan people on another, ensured the continuation of profound civil and nationalist strife. In the West, however, these events are rarely regarded as the result of external intervention. On the contrary, the Balkan countries are seen as culprits who force the reluctant outside powers into their unfathomable conflicts. This imagined Balkans—a world where people are motivated not by rational considerations but by a mysterious congenital bloodthirstiness—is always invoked when the great powers seek to deny their responsibility for the economic and political difficulties that the region has suffered as consequence of external interference. 'The Balkans,' Theordore Geshkoff wrote in 1940, 'are usually reported to the outside world only in time of terror and trouble; the rest of the time they are scornfully ignored.' Geshkoff is right. The issue becomes all the rage or seems to be forgotten when the British media move on to something else. The book continues: It is during these long periods of neglect that the Balkan countries have badly needed the engagement of the great powers. Yet the only country to demonstrate a sustained interest in the economic development of the Balkans was Nazi Germany during the 1930s. The NATO assault on Serbia and Kosovo should be judged above all in this light. Should the West fail to address the effects, not merely of a three month air war in 1999, but of 120 years of miscalculation and indifference since the Congress of Berlin, then there will be little to distinguish NATO's actions from any of its great power predecessors. The NATO campaign can hardly claim either a moral or political victory if its sole achievement is the explusion of Milosěvić's Serbia from Kosovo. There is an unassailable case for political and economic restitution in the Balkans. Yet this is a daunting challenge. The lack of preparedness on the part of NATO was obvious during the air campaign. It was evident after victory, when the Alliance proved incapable of stopping the KLA from imposing a regime of intimidation and murder which provoked the departure of almost the entire Serbian minority population from Kosovo within weeks of the Albanians' return. If the greatest military machine in history is unable to impose law and order in a small province, one cannot help wondering what the future holds for the international community's other, larger Balkan protectorate, Bosnia-Hercegovina; and whether the great powers, above all, the USA, have the political and economic resources to deal with Serbia as it hovers between civil war, economic collapse and conflict with its sister republic, Montenegro. Yet if the great powers fail to seize the present opportunity by investing heavily in the region, the suffering of the Balkans will surely continue for several decades into the new millennium. The suffering of the Balkans is what this debate is about.

11.22 am
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I am grateful to be called. I think that this is the first speech that I have made as a Back Bencher. I know that I am confined to 10 minutes—[Hon. Members: "No, you are not."] Am I not? Wonderful. I note—as I have slightly more time—that this Chamber fulfils a dream of mine. I longed for the day when we could speak in a less confrontational, semi-circular Chamber. I thought that that day would never come, but here it is.

I agree with so much of what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, but I am bound to say that I disagree with him on the necessity for NATO to take the action that it did. The hon. Gentleman has been to Serbia, but I wonder whether he has ever gone to the refugee camps of the Albanian Kosovars in Kukes and Macedonia; knowing him, he probably has because he is assiduous in these matters. I do not think that he would have found a single person there—I never found one, even among relatives of those killed by NATO—who did not regard the NATO action as both necessary and right.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

It is not surprising.

Mr. Ashdown

I think that it is surprising. If your uncle or aunt were killed by an array that was bombing your country, you might have some doubts about whether that was the right path to pursue.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook)

Order. I am afraid that I must ask all hon. Members to desist from this casual across-the-Chamber approach. The hemicycle configuration may well encourage it, but I intend to discourage it. All remarks must be made through the Chair and if hon. Members expect to have an opportunity to engage in the debate, they must wait their turn in the proper manner.

Mr. Ashdown

I take your admonition, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in so far as it applies to me, which I am sure it does.

I also disagree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow about lifting sanctions. I can only tell him that in my recent conversations across the Balkans over the past four or five days, I asked that question of every person I met. The answer is best characterised by someone whom I met yesterday in Kosovo. He has a sister in Serbia, married to a Serb, who is suffering under the sanctions. He said, "I am not sure that the sanctions are right and I am not sure that they are not counter-productive in their present form, but I am sure of one thing: any relaxation now would be used as a propoganda victory for Milosevic. That we do not want, and that my sister does not want." That is the reality.

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman on the need for a co-ordinated policy towards the Balkans and the tragedy of the lack of it. I believe that if history is generous to us, it could well say that the Balkan wars of the latter decade of this century came before Europe was ready—it had not yet prepared the institutions for dealing with them. We have no such excuse for not stabilising the peace, for which we have made such great sacrifices. I fear that the cost of both the Bosnian war and the Kosovo war will be great in terms of the sacrifices made at the time and I remain unconvinced that the unco-ordinated policies that we follow—although they are successful in some areas—will deliver a stable peace.

It seems that we in Europe and the international community have decided that the best way to deal with the Balkans is to Balkanise our approach to them, which is utterly crazy. Each of the successive conflicts has ended with a further duplication of institutions, overlapping competencies and a further proliferation of useless institutions—like the hon. Gentleman, I suspect that the stability pact is one of them. There are piecemeal policies which, although they are followed with some success in one country, are not interlinked with others. The institutions have, at best, muddled lines of command. Europe has no co-ordinated, central, regional vision about what the Balkans could be, nor is there a focused political will to drive it forward or a central body to enact it. It is a difficult—even intractable—interlocked and complex problem; to deal with any such problem in that way is folly, but to deal in that way with the Balkans, which has seen 1,000 years of conflict, conspiracy and fissiparousness, is manifest stupidity.

I shall say something that people seem reluctant to say. The problem is that we are now losing the peace there. That is not because of inadequate actions in Kosovo, because it is actually going rather well in some instances, or because of the situation in Bosnia or in Montenegro—after my recent visit there I feel rather more optimistic than I might have—but because our actions are not locked together in a regional approach. This is pre-eminently Europe's problem. If the Balkans go bad, we will suffer. The United Nations has neither the structure nor the political will to provide that regional approach. Although this is Europe's problem, the US is putting greater resources into many of these countries than we in Europe are. It is deeply engaged in Montenegro, for example, and providing money, while Europe's only contribution so far to an area that could blow up the Balkans in the next few weeks is 62 pregnant cows.

In this century, there have been four Balkan wars, two in the first two decades and two in the last decade. That is not counting one world war which started in the Balkans and another in which the Balkans were a major battle field. If at the end of the century we do not understand that we have to tackle the problem on a regional basis, we are stark staring mad. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to hear Conservative Members agreeing with that, because they are not going to agree with what comes next.

There is a reason for that failure. Europe will not face up to the reality of its current position. Let me say something that no one else will say: Europe is developing into a super-power. Can we in Europe continue to be in the ludicrous position of creating a hugely powerful economic entity—perhaps the second most powerful economic entity, if not the most powerful—through the euro, yet have no political responsibility attached to it? That is a free ride which Europe cannot afford any longer. We are creating an economic giant, yet wishing to continue as a political pygmy. We must admit to that. If, as I believe, we are creating a super-power in the world, with that economic strength goes political responsibility and we must behave accordingly. It is in the nature of super-powers that they should be sensitive about their border regions and concerned about their marches. The Balkans are the marches of Europe. That is why they are our problem, yet we seem content to believe that once again Uncle Sam should bail us out in our own backyard. That approach will not work, and the grave danger is that sacrifices made in the war could be lost in the peace.

I hope that Europe will now establish institutions to deal with the region. I am confident that our new European Commissioner, Chris Patten, and Mr. Solana, will bring to the Balkan region the European co-ordination that has so far been lacking.

I shall identify some problems and state the current position. I am more confident than I expected to be about the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The situation is progressing slowly, although we have not reached an irreversible point. On a visit there four or five days ago, I was encouraged by the extent to which we have progressed. A continued application of resources and patience is needed from Europe; the desire and willingness to take responsibility for their actions is needed from the Bosnian politicians. That has so far been lacking.

In many ways, I was listening to the dialogue of the deaf in Bosnia. The Bosnians were saying that we had to come and do things for them and make them act; we were asking why they did not yet have a fully fledged democracy. That question ignores completely the fact that we are asking Bosnians to create in several years the democratic institutions and free market that we took 300 or 400 years to create. In Kosovo, we are asking the same, except that there we are asking for that to be done in months and following a devastating civil war. The Bosnians wanted us to be the Hapsburgs, but we would not do it; we wanted Bosnia to be Switzerland, but it was not ready to be that. We must have patience to see the job through. However, I am generally optimistic.

In Montenegro, Milosevic has tried by economic destabilisation to do what he did by brutality and ferocity elsewhere in the Balkans. We can support Djukanovic with a relatively small sum—perhaps $10 million. If that sum is provided quickly, we can stabilise Montenegro economically and prevent Milosevic from destabilising it. Milosevic is unlikely to use immediately the 12,000 or 15,000 JNA—Yugoslav national army—troops that he has in Montenegro: he will use other means to seek to destabilise that country. However, if we act now and are prepared to provide the resources to stabilise the dual currency that Djukanovic has established, we have an opportunity to wrest Montenegro from the power of Milosevic without war and without everything that accompanies war.

I am much less optimistic about Kosovo. The Serb violence of which the hon. Member for Linlithgow spoke is now diminishing. There have been no murders in Pristina—save for the terrifying one on the night before last—since the most recent arrival of British troops. That could be because all the Serbs have already been kicked out, but 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo. The tragedy concerns the Roma: their houses have been burned while NATO—our army—has been there. I spoke to a Roma woman whose child was born a few days ago on a truck crossing the terrible mountains that separate Kosovo and Montenegro; I crossed those mountains shortly afterwards. It shames me to say that a child had been born in the back of a truck and that that woman was there with 30,000 other refugees. I have seen so many refugees in the Balkans—Serbs driven out by Croats, Croats driven out by Bosnians, Muslims driven out by Serbs. In Kosovo, a further tide of refugees is being driven out under the suzerainty of NATO.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked why NATO cannot protect people in that tiny province—if the most powerful army in the world cannot provide peace, what is its purpose? We have the most efficient army in the world, yet have been unable to protect the Catholics in Northern Ireland for 30 years. The hon. Gentleman must realise the limits of military power. The job cannot be done without the support of Kosovar politicians. I suspect that I made myself unpopular in Pristina yesterday by telling people straight that NATO could not stop the atrocity unless they supported NATO.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Ashdown

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue briefly.

I told those people that their capacity to achieve the independence that they sought for Kosovo depended on whether they honoured their word to the international community to create a multi-ethnic, tolerant and liberal society capable of taking its place in Europe. I said that their current actions would remove the possiblity of their achieving their dream of an independent Kosovo more surely than anything else that they could do. It is up to them to come forward to assist NATO. I said that yesterday to Hashim Thag: the head of the KLA, and to all the political leaders, including Rugova.

Kosovo stands on the brink. I greatly fear that it could slip back into chaos, despite the best efforts of Bernard Kouchner, who is doing a difficult job with great imagination. He needs all the support that he can get; he does not have the support of the Albanian Kosovar population, and I fear that Kosovo will end up almost where it started.

I give way to the hon. Member for Linlithgow with apologies for the fact that I have taken up so much time.

Mr. Dalyell

There are many shortcomings. However, it cannot be said that we did not understand the limits of military power. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and I pleaded with the Prime Minister both publicly and privately and before bombs were dropped not to take such action precisely because we understood those limits.

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Gentleman took a sincere and well-meant position; I disagreed with him. He overestimates the current capacity of military power to keep the peace in Kosovo, and to stop the killings that we both deeply regret, without the support of the local population.

We have made great sacrifices. The opinion on the Balkans of the population and, perhaps even more, of our politicians in Europe is: "Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt, won the war. Now we can turn our back on the area." Much patient careful focusing of will, much understanding and much careful and wise positioning is required to push towards peace and stability in a region that has infected the rest of Europe with war for so long. I, and most of that area's people, dream of such an outcome. However, that cannot be achieved without courageous politicians on the ground taking the decisions necessary to support the forces that are there to help them. The task cannot be done without resources or patience either, but, above all, it cannot be done unless we in Europe accept that the Balkans is a region and that it must be dealt with as a region. That is our region, and we must get our act together to ensure that such action is taken.

11.37 am
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

At the onset of the bombing, many of my hon. Friends and I signed an early-day motion that condemned NATO aggression as unlawful and immoral. I wish to consider the unlawfulness of the action. Both the Foreign Secretary and the former Secretary of State for Defence—now the Secretary-General of NATO—told the House on several occasions that they had legal authority for NATO's war against Yugoslavia on the basis that force could be used in extreme circumstances to avert humanitarian disaster. That the bombing acted as a catalyst to humanitarian disaster is now clear. Eminent lawyers are arguing that the military action was illegal.

In a recent pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies and in an article for The Times on 16 November, Mark Littman QC disputed the lawfulness of the action. Submissions made on behalf of the Yugoslav Government against several NATO countries, including the United Kingdom, were put before the International Court of Justice, alleging that the NATO intervention was unlawful. Mark Littman noted in those publications that the Yugoslav case fell on a technicality. The United Kingdom could have waived the objection and accepted the Yugoslav challenge to have the legality of the bombing tested before the court. The Government chose not to do so. Mark Littman commented: Given the weight of opinion and legal authority against the NATO position, the paucity of evidence in its favour and the reluctance of the UK to test its view before the International Court of Justice, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the NATO action was illegal. I submit that the action undoubtedly was illegal; that bodes ill for the future of international law. However, we do not have time to consider that. My overriding reason for opposing the war was my belief, now justified by what we see happening in Kosovo, that the intervention would make matters far worse.

I wish to consider the lead-up to the war. I was disgracefully smeared during the previous debate on the matter, so I shall repeat this point: wherever a crime against humanity is committed, I fully support measures to bring the perpetrators to justice. There are no exceptions to that. I condemn without reservation the Serb murderers, especially Arkan, who has done so much damage throughout the Balkans. I condemn equally—I ask those who supported the war to join me in this—Brigadier General Agim Ceku, who was the main perpetrator of Operations Storm and Flash in Croatia where thousands of Serbs were massacred or disappeared. I recently visited the mass graves and met some of the 300,000 Serbs who were ethnically cleansed. It is interesting to note that, just before NATO went to war with Yugoslavia, the international court tribunal's report, implicating Ceku and an American general in the war crimes that were committed against the Serbs in the Krajina, was leaked. I shall try to obtain an Adjournment debate on that subject.

We should be even-handed when we talk about war criminals, but such are NATO's double standards in this war against Yugoslavia that, far from comdemning Ceku, it accepts that he is now in charge of the so-called Kosovo Protection Corps, the KLA by another name. That reflects NATO's determination to demonise just one side in the Balkans. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) talks about the Albanian leaders, but they were our brave allies. We acted as their air force during this war when we took the side of terrorists and murderers. We should not be surprised if their behaviour has not changed.

Another factor in the run-up to the war was the Rambouillet ultimatum. I was pleased to see Robert Fisk's excellent article in The Independent recently, which said: In the last days of the Paris peace talks on Yugoslavia last March, something extraordinary happened. The Serb delegation—after agreeing to a political solution in Kosovo—was presented with a military appendix to the treaty which demanded the virtual NATO occupation of all of Yugoslavia. The Serbs turned down that demand, as would every country in NATO, and NATO went to war. Yet 79 bombing days later, NATO, which had refused to contemplate a change in the military document, lost all interest in the appendix and was content to keep its forces in Kosovo. It did not want to go into the rest of Yugoslavia. The House should debate that in detail because history will show that the Rambouillet accords were an ultimatum, deliberately engineered to start a war.

When I was in Kosovo recently with the parliamentary wing of NATO, we met Mr. Thaqi, the ethnic Albanian leader, the good and brave Mr. Veton Sorroi, who is one of the few hopes for Kosovo, and Mr. Trajkovic, the Kosovan-Serb leader who painted a gloomy picture of what was happening in Kosovo and outlined his fears for the other minorities who live there. Since then, he has been shot in the leg, through the door of his flat. I do not want to criticise soldiers, but, if KFOR cannot protect the leader of the Serbs in Pristina, there is little hope for other ethnic minorities.

Mr. Ashdown

I wonder whether the hon. Lady knows the circumstances of the shooting. Mr. Trajkovic was shot with a.22—one would hardly shoot a rabbit with a .22—through a glass door which deflected the bullet. There is a strong opinion on all sides that that may have been carried out by one of his own people, or even by himself.

Mrs. Mahon

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that, but I heard the same argument to support the view that the Serbs blew up their own houses in Pristina. That type of comment is not helpful.

We were told by military and civilian international representatives in Kosovo that they expected the risk and gravity of terrorism for ethnic and criminal motives to increase, and it has. It was clear then, as it is now, that the terrorist organisation—the KLA—was organising, with some success, the murder, kidnapping and ethnic cleansing of all minorities. When a general who briefed us refused to admit the KLA's involvement, I was told to talk to the Irish Guards. As we were staying and sleeping in tents in the camp, I talked to some of the Irish Guards who told me that the KLA was organising those activities. They were clear on that. Since the KFOR occupation, the Roma, Montenegrans, Turks, Bosniaks and Jews have been ethnically cleansed by the KLA.

According to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report on minorities on 3 November, 348 murders have been committed, 116 kidnappings have taken place and more than 1,000 houses have been burnt down. How many times were we told that we were going into the area to stop ethnic cleansing and murder? How many times did we hear Jamie Shea, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson, who is now Secretary-General of NATO, say that we wanted the Serbs out, NATO in and the refugees back? What about the refugees now? Are we not worried if they belong to one ethnic group instead of another? The Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence should make statements to the House on the situation in Kosovo. The deafening silence is scandalous.

I mentioned Orahovac, which is a Serb and Roma—and once a Jewish—enclave in Kosovo. It is supposedly under the protection of the Dutch KFOR peacekeepers. I have referred to what the Jewish community leader said about the situation there, but information that I received today from Orahovac is appalling. A Serb woman, Mirjana Jokic, pleaded with a group of reporters only yesterday: Get us out now, please. Living in Orahovac is worse than being in a concentration camp. Describing the situation as catastrophic, members of other ethnic minorities said that there is no electricity, food or heating in the Serb and Roma parts of town. Almost the only way for people to get food is to wait, sometimes for days, for aid that is delivered by international, Serbian and humanitarian organisations. Babies are being born in basements with no electricity or water. A 70-year-old Serb woman, Javana Cusic, said that she has not seen fruit or vegetables for more than a month. Threats by ethnic Albanians have been increasing hour by hour. It must be awful living under those conditions.

Mr. Blunt

It may help the hon. Lady to illustrate the failure of NATO's policy if I point out that, of the 300,000 children who are in education in Kosovo, it is thought that only 1,000—one third of 1 per cent.—are of Serbian extraction, which shows that those people with families have left the area. Only the old people, who are not welcome in Serbia, remain. The future is horribly clear.

Mrs. Mahon

It is only a matter of time before we have an ethnically pure Albania. Albanians such as Veton Sorroi receive death threats if they speak against the terror that is taking place in Kosovo. I agree with the right hon. Member for Yeovil; the Roma are in a worse position than other ethnic groups.

A joint report issued by the OSCE on Wednesday confirmed that there is now a climate of violence and impunity. If attacks by Albanians against the dwindling population and the gypsies continue unabated, more misery will follow. Muslim Slavs in the Prizren area of Kosovo are suffering intimidation and violence because that is how the KLA organises things. We were told when we were there that the organising groups pick on certain groups of people at certain times. The people who guard them have a very difficult task. The tragedy is that we should not have been there in the first place. Had we increased the number of OSCE verifiers and sent 10,000 instead of 2,000—as some of us pleaded with the Government to do—the present misery could have been avoided.

Yesterday, I read in The Guardian that a mob of Kosovo Albanians attacked a family of elderly Serbs and killed one of them. On Sunday, the leader of the KLA, the self-proclaimed leader Hashim Thaqi, and the war criminal General Agim Ceku, presided over a rally at which KLA members, wearing uniforms of the now so-called unarmed Kosovo Protection Corps, fired hundreds of rounds from rifles and guns to celebrate their flag day—KFOR simply looked on. It is time that the Government made a statement giving their response to the lawlessness that is in Kosovo.

My final point was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. Will the Minister explain to hon. Members the current legal basis for sanctions against Yugoslavia? The House of Commons Library told me on 29 October that the reason was that extreme criminality was being carried out by a Government against their people. That was the message, although I may not have quoted the exact words.

The current extreme criminality is perpetrated by the KLA against its own people. What shall we do about that? We need a clear understanding of why sanctions still apply because the original reason for imposing them no longer exists. I have mentioned the article by Mark Littman and I advise hon. Members to read it because it spells out clearly the illegality of NATO's decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and I are members of a campaign to build bridges with the people of Yugoslavia. At the end of September, a delegation from the campaign visited Yugoslavia. We found that the lives of the vast majority of ordinary citizens there have been shattered by the bombing of their country. The consequences continue to take an enormous toll on people from all ethnic groups who have little, if any, influence over the terrible circumstances in which they find themselves.

It has been said that we are not enemies of the Serbian people. Serbia is a multicultural country and I wish that more people would go there. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow under estimated the number of Albanians who live in Belgrade: there are almost 100,000 of them, working in very good positions. There are also 50,000 Montenegrins there—Belgrade is a very mixed community. I visited the camps to which Albanians were driven by the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and I went into Macedonia. My hon. Friend and I also visited the camps outside Belgrade. We visited a Roma camp where people were housed in makeshift conditions in an old school. A visit to refugees is heartbreaking. Some of them have been in the camp for four years, but no one is calling for these Romas or Serbs to return to their homes. NATO has operated a set of double standards.

The civilian infrastructure of the whole of Yugoslavia is devastated. The environment is poisoned. Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and roads and bridges have been ruined. We took masses of photographs, so we have all the evidence. The destruction of the electricity supply and the water purification systems presents an on-going threat to public health. All in all, NATO's action has been an absolute disaster. I have spoken honestly and earnestly. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) is the Minister having to take the flak. This is not his brief and I am sad that he has to be here to listen to what I have said. I know him to be a very good and compassionate man. The sooner the Foreign Secretary comes to the House to make a statement on the chaos that is now Kosovo, the better.

11.54 am
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

I shall be extremely brief. I commend this new non-confrontational arrangement of the furniture. I, too, have long wanted it. I hope that it will signal a new kind of politics, with less of the fake aggression and synthetic skirmishing which mark too much of the party battlefield.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for initiating and introducing the debate, although his perspective and mine are somewhat different. From what I have seen of these wars which began in April 1992, I know that one of their distinguishing features was that civilians not only suffered; they were targeted with particular and peculiar ferocity.

With the NATO bombardment of Kosovo and Serbia, we find ourselves in some sense complicit in the targeting of civilians. I believe that because of the manner in which that air campaign was conducted. The attack on the television station in Belgrade was an attack on an unambiguously civilian target. The attacks on bridges were attacks on civilian targets. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have suffered, and are suffering, not only in Yugoslavia but in countries upstream and downstream of the Danube. What did we do in Kosovo itself? We bombed from 15,000 ft so that our casualties should be zero. I do not wish there to be allied casualties, but if the result is that thousands of civilians are killed on the ground who would not have been killed if the operation had been conducted differently, we must ask ourselves what kind of people we are, and whether we have learnt so very much since the tragedies in Bosnia.

What happened in Bosnia when Srebrenica fell in July 1995 was that obviously we assumed that Dutch lives, especially, but also British, German and French lives, mattered on one scale of values, and Bosnian lives mattered on another. It seems to me that the lesson has not been learnt, because we have done the same thing again.

An example with which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be familiar is the incidence of cluster bombs on the soil of Kosovo. Most of the injuries inflicted on casualties in Kosovo every day come not from Serbian and mines or Albanian-laid land mines, but from these engines of death which were dropped by NATO. Many more failed to explode because of the high altitude from which they were dropped—the failure rate might be as high as 20 per cent. There are, on the ground, more than 14,000 cluster bombs with the characteristics of aerially sown land mines. Technically, they are not land mines, but they have the same effect. If we do not consider this matter on a moral level, the Ministry of Defence must seriously question a strategy in which one of its major weapons is just not working and is jeopardising allied soldiers, as the tragic case of the two Gurkhas who were blown up showed.

Mr. Dalyell

How does that lie with the claims of credit from the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Robertson, in relation to the Montreal convention on land mines? Lord Robertson told us endlessly what an achievement it was to have resolved the problems with that convention.

Mr. Bell

That is an interesting point. We congratulate ourselves on signing a treaty while at the same time we not only fail to clear anti-personnel mines on the ground but, in this case, sow some ourselves by dropping them from the air. We should reproach ourselves for that and our Government should learn from it. There is no point going through these experiences unless we learn from them.

That applies to sanctions. I have spent an enormous amount of the past 10 years in countries affected by sanctions. I cannot remember one—and Kosovo is a classic—in which sanctions have worked; they have also been unproductive or counter-productive. It is a classic case of their benefiting the warlords and racketeers and penalising ordinary people. Arkan was mentioned. I know him: in a singular sense, he counts me as a friend. I can assure hon. Members that he enriched himself as a result of sanctions imposed on Serbia in 1993. We have to be aware of the consequences of our actions.

One other point has not been raised so far. I believe that there is a crisis among the 200 or more nongovernmental organisations and aid agencies in Kosovo. The streets of Pristina are crammed with traffic jams involving those white vehicles. I heard yesterday of an Army sergeant who is using combat rations—probably against Queen's regulations—to take food up to a starving family in a distant village because none of the aid agencies and NGOs has been up there.

We have to learn from that. I hope that the Department for International Development will evaluate what is working and what is not. To some extent, the operation has to be militarised. We have the best Army in the world, and it has done magnificently in Kosovo, bringing aid and helping people, but, as the Army withdraws and civilian agencies take over, we find that they are simply not doing so well.

May I reinforce what was said by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who has a particular knowledge of these circumstances? He said that it is right to do what we have been doing. Our strategy has been right, but our tactics wrong. We have to hang in there. We must commit ourselves. We must not let these people down. As we end the bloodiest century in recorded human history, we have to realise that throughout the world—and especially in the Balkans—we cannot afford a future like our past.

12 noon

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I am grateful to be called to speak briefly in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on initiating the debate and starting it off so bravely. I also admire the courage of the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). Both hon. Members have spoken without fear against their Government on these matters and both have been criticised unjustifiably. In my hearing, they have been accused of being traitors to their country. I deeply regret such remarks in the House, as they are entirely undeserved.

I want to focus my remarks on the humanitarian effort. After all, one of the main reasons for going to war—we are talking, unambiguously, about war—was to prevent a huge humanitarian disaster. That was the reason given by the Prime Minister to the House of Commons. However, we have had a huge humanitarian disaster and it is continuing. There is a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, where more than 820,000 refugees now face the severe Balkan winter, in which temperatures are likely to fall to minus 20 degrees. Many older people are incapable of surviving that and will die of hypothermia, as will young children and people in ill health. Hypothermic deaths are likely in large numbers, not just in Kosovo but in Serbia, where there are more than 800,000 refugees or displaced persons.

I want to draw the attention of the House to the traditional meaning of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid, under which the Red Cross and Red Crescent have operated in war zones, was designed to be totally even-handed. It was not supposed to matter whether someone was a non-combatant or a combatant or for what side he fought: anyone in need was to be provided with food and shelter to survive conditions in war. That is why the Red Cross could operate for both sides during the second world war: it was dangerous, but it was allowed to operate.

We are starting to use humanitarian aid politically, particularly in this part of the world. If we continue to do so, we will exacerbate the hatred and tensions in the Balkans. Far from producing an overall settlement—the war was intended to achieve that—we will sow the seeds, as we are already, for further Balkan wars and atrocities. The 800,000 refugees in Serbia are not being serviced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which should be operating even-handedly in Serbia as well as in Kosovo.

Let us deal with Kosovo first. More than 50 per cent, of houses that are capable of being repaired will remain unrepaired if the necessary materials are not provided for the whole of the coming winter. Those that have been repaired are the result of the provision of those materials, principally by UNHCR operating outside its normal parameters. Of the 50 per cent. that are temporarily repaired for the winter, only one room has been repaired. The rest of the houses will remain unrepaired, which means that the rest of the population—some 400,000 people—will have to be accommodated by friends or relatives in difficult conditions. There will be no food—it will have to be provided by the World Food Programme—and no heating because of the destruction of the power stations. Those people will face a difficult winter, whether in houses that have been temporarily repaired or in those that have not.

What is happening on the other side of the border in Serbia is even worse. Repairs have not been carried out, equipment has not been provided by UNHCR, and Serbia is without heat because of the bombing of power stations. Heat is available only by burning wood. People go out to collect firewood and there is a risk of being blown up by a cluster bomb land mine. There will also be massive environmental destruction as a result of people collecting firewood to keep warm during the winter.

Sanctions against Serbia mean that oil cannot be imported. Heating oil, which is an alternative to electricity for the provision of heat, also cannot be brought in. What are we doing about it? The European Union has organised a large convoy of tankers—I have seen pictures of them—carrying heating oil to be transported across the Serbian borders to the three towns immediately north of Kosovo in Serbia. It is to be supplied to the mayors of those towns for distribution to refugees without heating. It is going only to those three towns because they are headed by mayors who are against Milosevic. If that is not a distortion and a complete undermining of the concept of humanitarian aid, I do not know what is. I do not believe for a minute that that heating oil will be distributed in accordance with the desires of those supplying it. Milosevic is capable of taking it over and distributing it to whomever he likes. That is the nature of sanctions: they give power to the Government to use the supplies entering the country exactly as the Government decide.

Humanitarian aid was never supposed to be about that. It is being used politically and is making a farce of the concept. It will exacerbate the tensions within Serbia between those who have the heating oil and those who do not. That is an entirely unacceptable means of producing a peace settlement, which is what we are supposed to be looking for. The objective of the allies was—however much it is denied—to get rid of Milosevic. They have not done so. They had to negotiate with Milosevic, and they have negotiated the present settlement with him.

We must now move on to the next stage of providing an effective settlement in the Balkans. That will never happen unless humanitarian aid is provided without any prejudice as to its recipients, whether Serb, Roma, Kosovar, Jew or whoever. If people are in need, the humanitarian organisations—to which we are proudly contributing through our Department for International Development budget—must lay the foundations for reconciliation after this terrible war. Bridges must be built and sanctions lifted in order to begin to provide a basis for a settlement in this war-torn area.

12.9 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam)

Order. In this chamber, the correct address is Mr. Deputy Speaker. While I am speaking, I note that several hon. Members still wish to speak. If hon. Members keep their speeches brief, they can all have their say.

Mr. Wareing

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am pleased to work in these surroundings for the first time. We are working in humane and civilised conditions, which certainly cannot be said of circumstances in Yugoslavia.

I listened with great interest to the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). They have witnessed the dreadful conditions in Kosovo and in Yugoslavia more generally. They mentioned the names of people and towns, but I guarantee that there will be no mention in any newspaper, radio broadcast or television programme tomorrow of what they had to say.

Incidentally, how many massacre sites have been discovered and how many bodies recovered? When Serbs were carrying out massacres, not a day passed when we did not see horrible scenes on our television screens and on the front pages of our newspapers. We were told that all that was a result of ethnic cleansing by the Serbs. I am not surprised that we shall not see any of that in tomorrow's newspapers, and I remind hon. Members of a matter that I raised in 1993.

On 2 May 1993, I stood on the edge of a massacre site in Bosanskibrod in north Bosnia, where 38 bodies in different stages of decomposition were already laid out on the ground. I shall never forget the smell, the flies and the general atmosphere in that town. I felt how I imagine British soldiers must have felt when they liberated Belsen concentration camp. Not a word appeared in the press or the media, whom we informed. The present Secretary of State for Scotland was there and was asked by a pressman, "Who are these people?" He replied: "Oh, they are Serbs who have been massacred by Croats." "But we cannot print that," said the pressmen. "Why not?" asked the Secretary of State. "It will only confuse people," was the reply.

Everything had to be seen in black and white. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm that. So I am not surprised at the lack of even-handedness from day one. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) spoke about the war starting in April 1992. My God, massacres were going on in 1991. Serbs were being driven from their homes in Croatia in 1991. In early 1992, I remember meeting a Serbian man and a Muslim woman who had been driven out of their homes in Rijeka, Croatia, because they were ethnically impure in the eyes of Franjo Tudjman who, in my eyes, is a war criminal. Those people were not allowed to remain in their homes in Croatia.

Hardly a word is ever spoken about that. We sometimes saw the Foreign Secretary twice a week during the Kosovo conflict. However, he does not get up to speak to the House about the circumstances in Kosovo and the plight of people in Serbia which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax said, is a multiethnic state. Hungarians form 25 per cent. of the population in Vojvedina and, as far as they are concerned, there is little oppression. I have met them, so I know that that is the position.

There is no doubt that the ultimatum issued at Rambouillet offered the Yugoslavs the choice of submission or destruction. No sovereign state would have submitted in that way. NATO said to Yugoslavia what Hitler said to Czechoslovakia. He told the Czechs, "We are justified in occupying the whole of your country because you are persecuting German minorities."

We must see the bigger picture, not just the Balkans. The Balkans fits into the world strategy of NATO, which is dominated by the United States of America. We must consider our relations with Russia, which played a major part in ending the conflict in Kosovo. Yet Russia was rewarded by the refusal to allow a Russian sector. Had the Russians had a sector, many innocent Serbs who have been murdered by the Kosovo Liberation Army may have been alive today.

We must examine the matter in the context of NATO wanting to enlarge. The real motive for the Rambouillet ultimatum was not to save the population in Kosovo or Serbia, it related to the expansion of NATO. Incidentally, annexe B was not shown to Russia until after the event. Russia ought to be included to a greater extent in the security of Europe. After the second world war, we brought West Germany into the community of western nations, despite its Nazi past. What do we do with Russia at the end of the cold war? We ignore it. I was very pleased when I heard on the radio that Russian troops had arrived in Pristina ahead of everyone else. At least they were making a point and making their mark.

We must examine the Balkans within the broader picture involving our relations with Russia. I want an assurance from the Minister—who, I appreciate, is a compassionate member of my party—that Kosovo is still recognised by the United Kingdom as part of the sovereign republic of Yugoslavia.

12.16 pm
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)


Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are these debates not meant for Back Benchers?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

They certainly are.

Mrs. Gillan

I do not claim to have the experiences of other contributors to this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who has persevered in continual raising this topic. However, I do not need the experiences of other hon. Members to know that there is a serious problem. I reiterate the call from Conservative Members for a full inquiry into Britain's diplomatic and military roles, and the aid that has gone to Kosovo. The Prime Minister displayed arrogance in replying to a question from the hon. Member for Linlithgow in May and another from my right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party concerning the request for an inquiry. The Prime Minister dismissed the latter question with one line: "I see no need." However, today's contributions reveal a serious need for a full inquiry and for lessons to be learned.

Conservative Members never had any doubt that it was right for NATO to take action to deal with the atrocities committed by Milosevic. Indeed, we were successful in removing Serbian forces from Kosovo. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) that the international community seems in danger of losing the peace. Indeed, I would go further and say that we are now in danger of turning a disaster into a catastrophe.

The policy of armed intervention to stop the violation of human rights carries a responsibility to fill the vacuum when the oppressor is forced to leave. That has not happened in Kosovo, and the repercussions can be felt throughout the Balkans and Europe.

Will the Minister respond to Back Benchers' valuable points? Even though the subject is not his direct responsibility, I hope that he will pay attention to matters raised in our debate, especially those concerning the state of the inhabitants of Kosovo, who are living in damaged houses without heat or light and who are without policing in a lawless society. It is important that we know the Government's attitude towards the chaos in Kosovo, not least for the protection of the population and the 260 non-governmental organisations working in the area.

I shall give the Minister time to reply, and I hope that he will say specifically whether he will join the rest of the House in calling for an inquiry, and what will he do about the dreadful conditions. Winter and peace in Kosovo could prove to be more lethal than bombs and bullets.

12.19 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle)

We owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for the persistence and integrity with which he has pursued these matters and presented them to the House. He recently won The Spectator Back Bencher of the year award, and all hon. Members would wish to congratulate him sincerely on that. He brings to our deliberations the highest standards of debate, which have been reflected here today.

The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) said that we come from different perspectives and are using a range of perspectives in the analysis of the origins of the conflict and subsequent actions. However, what is shared in this Room is a deep, genuine and serious humanitarian concern for the people and their futures. I was particularly struck when my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow used the seminal phrase about the danger of seeing war through "celluloid images". That was echoed by others, who said that after the crisis and the media images we should not walk away and go on to the next crisis. We should not forget and neglect what has happened. That has not happened in the House precisely because, with respect, most hon. Members who have contributed have direct personal experience over the years of going to the place of conflict, taking notes, listening, discussing and bringing back information. That is a strength in depth in the House. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has a track record in aid and development and in asking questions to ensure that aid reaches the people who need it—that view was buried in his questions about whether heating aid was getting through.

I have only a few moments in which to reply and cannot possibly answer all the questions, using the full notes that I have and making comments. However, if any questions are outstanding, I hope that hon. Members will write to my Department. We shall try to respond appropriately and to take the debate on board.

I share with hon. Members the fact that I, too, visited Kosovo. I was the first Minister to go there after the Secretary of State for Defence. I did so precisely because I wanted to take in engineers with expertise in technology and in dealing with power stations and water plants so that they could start rebuilding Kosovo. That was two short weeks after the KFOR troops had moved in. We intervened for humanitarian reasons, and we should not lose sight of that.

I want to say something about how I saw Kosovo and about the work that has been done to repair energy plants. I visited the power station Kosovo B, which is up and running and producing 40 per cent. more electricity than it did before the conflict. If I had more time, I could spell out exactly why that is. Surprisingly, the grid system goes through the whole of Yugoslavia, not simply Kosovo. So, there is more detail that I would like to spell out.

We are not constructing a wider, full plan for the whole of Serbia. The reason for that is that we are not reconciled with Milosevic. Sanctions, as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) put it, would give Milosevic a propaganda victory, and we agree.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) raised pertinent points about Rambouillet and the legal basis, and I shall touch on that in the moments that I have. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow received a written answer to his question on 26 November. That reply sets out some details, and I simply refer to it for the record. However, at the same time, the UK has not evaded the case brought by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the International Court of Justice. The case was about only interim measures, not the substance—we were not asked about the substance in the first place. The FRY has not yet brought its full case to court and has been asked to do so by January 2000. Then, the allies and NATO, including the UK, will have the time and opportunity to respond, and we shall if the FRY persists with its case. In a sense, the case is still pending at this stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax referred to Mr. Fisk's article. We disagree with his analysis. The Serbs refused to negotiate seriously on the Rambouillet text. They refused the political agreement, which the Kosovo Albanians accepted. There was no ultimatum to the Serbs at Rambouillet. The Foreign Secretary co-chaired those meetings and he writes in a letter to The Independent today that it is wrong to say that the Serbs were prepared to agree at the Rambouillet peace talks to a political resolution in Kosovo. At the second round of talks, as well as refusing to discuss implementation, the Serbs sought to reopen large parts of the political text to which they had previously indicated assent. All members of the Contact Group, including Russia, refused to accept this. I shall not read the full letter, but simply touch on it for the record. There are debates and arguments to be had on that issue, but the case put by Robert Fisk was not clear cut and absolutely accurate.

Of course, reconstruction must focus on the future. What do we do immediately and in the longer term? We need to be clear about what we face. There have been massive displacements among the 2 million Kosovars present at the time of the conflict and people have been murdered. Some 400,000 people were displaced inside Kosovo before the NATO air strikes, and there were 90,000 outside Kosovo. A quarter of all European Union asylum applications in 1998 came from Kosovo Albanians. There was a real crisis, and we should bear that in mind.

What are we doing to rebuild Kosovo? I visited it in June. The estimates of the damage to housing varied greatly, from 10 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the total stock. However, much of the damage was not the result of bombing, and I was surprised at how little bombing damage there was. The damage was actually the result of fire. The roofs of houses had collapsed because the wooden beams had collapsed. The white wall structures were still standing and the roofs could be repaired. That seemed, in housing terms, to be more of a rehabilitation job than a clear-and-build job. The flats were still standing in Pristina. While I was there, they were empty. Two days later, they were full of people, as 10,000 people a day came back on trucks and tractors. I saw washing hanging out from the flats, as people started to rebuild their lives. The worst areas were the villages, and I saw Pec. However, the roads were intact. I visited the hospital that was mentioned, which was not bombed. The power station to which I referred was not bombed. However, it seemed to have suffered from 30 years of neglect and from a lack of basic care and maintenance on the part of the previous regime. The machinery—there were boilers from Britain—was 60 years old and needed basic repairs. The problem was that there were no staff to run the power station, and the engineers were doing that job.

I want to give just one vignette in the moments that I have left, because it is important. While I was at the power station—most of the work force had gone—an Albanian engineer knocked at the door and asked for his job back. He said, "I worked in this power station 10 years ago, when I was replaced by a Serb from Belgrade."

Mr. Dalyell

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Battle

May I just finish this point? Then, I certainly will give way.

Meanwhile, the Serb who had been doing the job the previous day had gone home and rung in sick because he feared that Albanians would return and that his house would be burnt down as a result. A soldier went and sat in his house while he returned to work. The Serb and the Albanian then worked on getting the power station up and running, and it is up and running now. I offer that as a tiny sign of hope that ethnic conflicts can be diminished and integrated into contexts in which people might work together.

Mr. Dalyell

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's answer, but it is all about Kosovo. My hon. Friend should go to Belgrade and see the destruction that has been caused to the solid old Austro-Hungarian empire buildings. It cost £80 million to put Bishopsgate right, and the damage from an IRA bomb in Manchester amounted to £300 million. For missiles to ruin the centre of a capital city is another matter. What my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and I saw at the Zastava plant and Novi Sad was absolutely horrendous.

Mr. Battle

I take the point. Again, I do not have time to go into what we are doing in Serbia. However, the international community is in place on the ground in Serbia with programmes to meet genuine human need, which will continue through this winter and beyond. However, I should say again that while the regime is still in place, with the corruption and the rest of it, it is not all that easy to get aid through to the places where it is needed. However, non-governmental organisations are already operating in Serbia. The European Community's humanitarian office, to which the UK contributes, has increased its programme in Serbia to 62 million euros this year. The International Committee of the Red Cross has assistance programmes in place. There are soup kitchens to provide hot meals for more than 1,000 people. I checked and found that the winter programme that is being put in place provides clothes, shoes and stoves that will help 300,000 people. Those programmes are happening now.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford referred to the difficulties of getting heating oil through. However, it is being blocked at the borders. That suggests that, in other circumstances, a Marshall plan could be put in place, but that there is not an agreement among all the parties to undertake reconstruction. One of the parties is still sitting out on that issue.

Mr. Ashdown

I am grateful to the Minister because he has been generous in the last few seconds. I want to place a few comments on record, because the question was asked whether there would be a real tragedy in Kosovo this winter. In my most recent visits there, every official, expert and Kosovar whom I met believed that, tough though it would be, this winter would be better than last. Then, they could not bring in the harvests and did not have time to mend their roofs. Although I cannot pretend that nobody will suffer, it will be easier this winter than it was last year under the Serbs.

Mr. Battle

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

I want to say a quick word about the Danube. The Danube commission is in place and has been for some time, but it needs agreement. An offer is on the table to clean up the Danube if Milosevic will ask for help and assistance, including financial aid and assistance, to do so. The terms of the Danube commission are there precisely to achieve this.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Time is up.