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3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to maka statement about Bosnia. In response to the continued Bosnian Serb shelling of Gorazde and the horrifying civilian casualties, the United Nations Secretary- General wrote on 18 April to the Secretary-General of NATO, asking Dr. Wo"rner to obtain as soon as possible a decision of the North Atlantic Council to authorise the use of air strikes at UN request to protect the safe areas, as provided for in Security Council resolution 836.

The shelling of Gorazde continued unabated. The North Atlantic Council met on 20 April and decided that military advice should be sought urgently on the UN Secretary-General's request and that it should meet again on 22 April to take the necessary decisions. Senior Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence officials went to Washington to discuss additional proposals put forward by the United States. The Russian Government were kept informed of developments.

The United Nations Security Council met early on 22 April and passed its resolution 913, which called on the Bosnian Serbs and the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina to conclude an immediate ceasefire agreement under the auspices of UNPROFOR, condemned the Bosnian Serb shelling of Gorazde and demanded the withdrawal of Bosnian Serb forces to a distance to be agreed by UNPROFOR. The resolution also demanded the immediate release of all UN personnel and unimpeded freedom of movement for UNPROFOR.

When the North Atlantic Council met on 22 April, it authorised Commander-in -Chief, Southern Command, Admiral Smith, to conduct air strikes against Bosnian Serb heavy artillery and other military targets within a radius of 20 km from the centre of Gorazde unless the following occurred : Bosnian Serb attacks on Gorazde ceased immediately ; Bosnian Serb forces pulled back 3 km from the centre of Gorazde by one minute past midnight on 24 April ; UN forces were free to enter Gorazde ; and medical evacuations were permitted. The NATO Council took a further set of decisions on the same day. It established a military exclusion zone of 20 km around Gorazde, from which all heavy weapons must be withdrawn by one minute past midnight on 27 April--Wednesday morning--or be subject to NATO air strikes. The NATO Council also decided that, if there were an attack by heavy weapons against the other safe area zones of Bihac, Srebrenica, Tuzla or Zepa, from any range, or if, in the judgment of NATO and UN military commanders, there were any threatening movement or concentration of heavy weaponry within 2O km of those areas, they would immediately be designated, individually or collectively, as exclusion zones along the lines of that in Gorazde. If any Bosnian Serb heavy weapons were found in designated military exclusion zones around those safe areas after one minute past midnight on 27 April, they and Bosnian Serb military support facilities would be subject to air strikes. It was agreed--this is a crucial point--that any such attacks would be carried out under the agreed co-ordination procedures with UNPROFOR. So it is a dual-key arrangement between the UN and NATO. Either can propose air strikes ; both have to agree.

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On Saturday 23 April, the Secretary-General's special representative in the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Akashi, reached an agreement with the Bosnian Serb military and civilian authorities, in which a ceasefire was declared around Gorazde with effect from midday on 23 April. It was also agreed that UNPROFOR would deploy a battalion to Gorazde to monitor that ceasefire ; that Bosnian Serb heavy weapons would be withdrawn outside a 20 km radius from the centre of Gorazde by midnight on 26 April at the latest ; that evacuations would be allowed to proceed ; that all UN and humanitarian personnel should have complete freedom of movement ; and that negotiations on disengagement should start immediately. I understand that the Bosnian Serbs are now complying with the terms of that agreement. UNPROFOR deployed a company of Ukrainians, together with a Nordic medical team and 15 military observers, to Gorazde shortly before midnight on 23 April. A further UNPROFOR convoy, comprising a British company from the 1st Duke of Wellington's Regiment and Russian, Egyptian and further Ukrainian elements, arrived in Gorazde yesterday morning.

The evacuation of the wounded is proceeding, supported by British and French helicopters. We have agreed to a request from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to take 50 of the wounded here and we are working closely with UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration on arrangements.

NATO and UNPROFOR remain in close contact. Sarajevo and most of the rest of Bosnia remain relatively calm.

Air strikes are not an end in themselves. We hope that they will not be necessary. But if, in the judgment of NATO and the UN, they are necessary, no one should doubt that they will be undertaken. The first and urgent objective is a lasting ceasefire, first at Gorazde and then more widely in Bosnia. This should in turn lead to a resumption of the peace process, because a negotiated settlement remains the only way to a lasting peace. It has to include a substantial Bosnian Serb withdrawal from territory that they now occupy.

European Foreign Ministers on 18 April and the North Atlantic Council on 22 April reaffirmed their support for that process, welcoming close co- ordination between the European Union, Russia and the United States, with the aim of bringing our diplomatic initiatives more closely together. I have just discussed this with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Churkin, and, after my statement, I am meeting Secretary of State Christopher and the French Foreign Minister Mr. Juppe here in London. This will be an important theme of the Anglo-German summit on Wednesday.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be a broad welcome for the measures that he has set out in his important statement ? I welcome the fact that--at last, as many will say--there seems to be a clear political strategy agreed between the United Nations and NATO, set out in specific terms, which is apparently a determination to give real safety and support to the designated safe areas in United Nations resolutions, which were carried a very long time ago. I believe that that, in particular, will be generally welcomed.

Is the Foreign Secretary confident that the confusion that was apparent this weekend between Mr. Manfred

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Wo"rner at NATO headquarters, Admiral Smith in Italy and Mr. Akashi in Bosnia will not be repeated ? Sadly, there was clearly considerable confusion.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm, as I think his statement makes clear, that, although we recognise that air strikes in some circumstances will be regrettably necessary, those strikes will take place only with the agreement of the commanders on the ground in Bosnia and that NATO will not be taking decisions to use air power against the wishes or, literally, over the heads of those responsible for UNPROFOR troops on the ground ?

Is the right hon. Gentleman now assured that the discussions that have taken place over the past 72 hours mean that, without any chance of mishap or error, Russia is fully locked into the new United Nations-NATO strategy ? Can he assure us that if the Bosnian Serbs do not comply with the deadline of midnight tomorrow, there will be no further hesitation by the United Nations and NATO in taking appropriate action to enforce the decisions that have been made ? In the sad tragedy and calamity of Gorazde, is not the one lesson that we need to learn--one in a long line of lessons to be learned--that if there is indecision, prevarication and confusion by the United Nations and NATO, the people who gain are the Bosnian Serb aggressors while those who lose are not just the Bosnian Muslims, who tragically pay with their lives and many casualties, but the United Nations and NATO because their credibility is further and further undermined ?

May I tell the Foreign Secretary--and the Prime Minister--that we wish him well in the discussions later today because we have repeatedly called for that kind of close debate and discussion with our allies to ensure that we can have coherent political objectives in an attempt to resolve this ongoing tragedy in Bosnia ?

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his general support. I confirm what I said earlier, which the right hon. Gentleman repeated, about the need to bring together the NATO effort and the UN effort. There is an air effort being conducted through NATO. It happens to include RAF aircraft. There is also a ground effort conducted through UNPROFOR which includes a substantial force of British soldiers. It is essential that those two should work together. Normally in a military operation, they are all part of the same force. Consultation between them is carried out privately, they reach a common view and agree on a common form of action. That is the history of modern warfare. In this case, the two are under the auspices of different organisations. However, they must work together. That is what the dual key means and that is what happened over the weekend. Obviously, we cannot have a system in which one form of operation is commanded and implemented without regard for what is happening elsewhere.

I confirm the right hon. Gentleman's point about Russia. We are seeking to unify the diplomatic efforts of all those concerned. The Russian effort in this area is positive and we want to ensure that it is fully harnessed and in tune with our own. The House need have no doubt that there might be hesitations : if, following the expiry of the next deadline at midnight tomorrow, the Bosnian Serbs have not withdrawn from the 20 km zone in accordance with the resolution, there will be no hesitation, using the dual key

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again in accordance with the situation on the ground, with regard to ordering air strikes if they are necessary for the purpose. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about clarity of purpose. He would not wish to obscure the fact that the working together of NATO and the UN has already produced peace, or something approaching peace, around Sarajevo and peace, or something approaching peace, in large areas of central Bosnia where, even a few weeks ago, there was very fierce fighting. The first effort to achieve that in Gorazde did not succeed and the fighting continued. At the end of the day, fighting continues until those who are fighting are persuaded or forced to do otherwise. In the right hon. Gentleman's natural concern, which we all share in respect of Gorazde, let him not obscure what has been achieved hitherto.

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking) : The House will welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and draw some encouragement from it. However, is the UN aware of the identity of the Bosnian Serb commanders who were responsible for attacks on innocent civilians in that designated safe area, particularly on targets such as the hospital in Gorazde ? Is there any chance that those men will ultimately be brought to trial for the murders that they have committed ?

Mr. Hurd : I share my right hon. Friend's feelings about that. Of course, part of the effort must be to identify individual commanders and others who are responsible and who should be brought to trial for those atrocities within the terms of the resolutions that the UN Security Council has already passed.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : Has not the unsatisfactory nature of the dual key system been demonstrated over the past 48 hours when General Rose apparently asked for air strikes, but was denied them ? Once the decision in principle is taken, should not the decision in practice rest exclusively with the commander on the ground ? When the right hon. Gentleman sees the United States Secretary of State this afternoon, will he convey to him the anxiety that many people feel about the apparently contradictory statements coming out of the US Administration over Bosnia, and remind him that the success of Sarajevo and the Croat-Muslim peace, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, is attributable to the military and diplomatic leadership of the United States ?

Mr. Hurd : I would advise the hon. and learned Gentleman not to take seriously every anecdote that he reads about who asked for what and when. He will agree that the dual key is essential. We cannot have a situation in which those who are responsible on the ground find that those who are responsible in the air are doing something without regard to their own information or their own interests, or vice-versa. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Gentleman has got it wrong. As I said, I would not pay too much credence to such anecdotes.

The fact is that the dual key is essential. It means that there must be constant consultation between Commander-in-Chief South, Admiral Smith, and the UN, which is Mr. Akashi, General de la Presle and General Rose. That is happening.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly right about the crucial role of the United States. Like him, I give it credit for the big advance that was achieved between the

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Muslims and the Croats. I am sure that the conversations that I shall have, and the Prime Minister will have, with Warren Christopher this afternoon will carry that forward.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that if the international community had continued to speak with a single voice after Sarajevo, the tragedy of Gorazde would probably have been avoided ? Will he now promise the House that there will be no more talk of even handedness between the victim and the aggressor and that, the aggressor having been clearly identified and an ultimatum given, threats will be carried out ? Will he further confirm that we are dealing not with warring factions but with a recognised sovereign state and a Government who are multi-ethnic and whom we should support against the aggression from Serbia and the Serbs within Bosnia ?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend's definition of the role of the UN is not that on which our soldiers are engaged, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has frequently made clear. The aim of the Security Council resolutions and the North Atlantic Council decision, which I have reported to the House, is very specific. The Bosnian Serbs should be in no doubt about our willingness to use both sets of decisions for the purposes named. We will not be involved in fighting on one side of the conflict or the other, and that has been made clear time and again. We have specific objectives which we believe are necessary and justified for the international community.

The conflict will not be brought to an end by military intervention from outside. Military intervention on the ground can help the humanitarian effort and it can help to protect safe areas, as can air intervention. That has been proved and agreed. However, all those concerned, whether they are Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, or adherents to the Bosnian Government, need to understand--I am sure that they do understand--that, at the end of the day, this horror can be brought to an end only by a negotiated settlement, which is why the new set of diplomatic initiatives is under way.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : While any reduction in the killing and suffering must be welcomed, is the Foreign Secretary aware that, in Washington, as I discovered last week, there is much support for the view expressed by Lord Healey that the United Nations is in breach of its charter when it interferes in the internal affairs of any member state ? Is it not understandable, then, that there should be some confusion about the role of NATO, and should not these matters be examined in detail ?

Mr. Hurd : I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the success of his visit to the United States. I am not sure that this subject was at the top of his agenda, but I gather that his visit went well and I am glad of that. The Security Council and, indeed, the whole of the United Nations have wrestled for years with the problem of what to do when an unacceptable situation arises essentially within a member state.

In this case, there is fighting between three communities in a member state, which undoubtedly originated there and has been egged on, in particular from Belgrade. The Security Council has resolved that dilemma in a way that takes the shape of many of its resolutions, and that is right.

I do not think that we can leave the matter alone and say

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that it is essentially within a member state and we should not have anything to do with it, because there has been outside interference. Nor, however, can we suppose that the UN by itself will be able to impose peace with justice, as opposed to helping those concerned towards a negotiated peace.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey) : Will my right hon. Friend accept that the twin policies of the provision of humanitarian aid and the protection of safe areas are incompatible, and that that has lain at the root of the problems in recent days ? Will he explain how the new dual key arrangements which he has announced will overcome that incompatibility ?

Mr. Hurd : I do not think that they are incompatible. If my hon. Friend went to Vitez, Maglaj, Mostar or Sarajevo, he would see how they are working together. The airlift to Sarajevo has been resumed and supplies are getting in, and that is as a result of Sarajevo being effectively a safe area. That, in turn, is a result of the efforts of NATO and the UN.

The two objectives that my hon. Friend mentions are working together throughout large parts of Bosnia. They have not worked together in Gorazde, and it is important that they should work together where they can. That is why the decisions that I have reported to the House were taken.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the frustrations that exists in the west, this House and Britain generally about concluding the war is that people tend to believe that the quick effort in the Gulf can be repeated almost everywhere ? Does he also agree that the situation in Yugoslavia should be compared with Vietnam, rather than the Gulf, in terms of trying to get a clean, quick finish ?

Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that if we sent a proportionate amount of British troops to the other 27 civil wars throughout the world as have gone to Bosnia and elsewhere, everybody up to the age of 40--probably including Portillo and all the rest of them--would have to be wearing uniforms ? Would not the royal family--who are commanders-in-chief of this, that and the other regiment--have to do a bit of fighting as well ? Is not this problem ten times more difficult than that experienced in the Gulf ?

Mr. Hurd : I thought that the hon. Gentleman started excellently, but he spoiled it totally by the end. His first point is right. Comparisons made between situations are almost always wrong. The worst tragedy in the world in terms of the quantity of suffering is the one on which I answered a question about a quarter of an hour ago--Rwanda.

We do not have a new world order. We have a traditional set of world disorders and we are trying, case by case and institution by institution, to equip ourselves to deal more adequately with those disorders. Each one is different, and the effort that the outside world can make to help solve each one will differ also.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : My right hon. Friend's statement clarified certain issues that had not appeared to interlink properly in the past few days. Is he satisfied that the Serbs in Bosnia understand the meaning of deterrence, which is that we will strike if we say we will ? We should not fall into a difference of opinion between two separate

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organisations. Is not that absolutely critical if NATO is to carry out the UN instructions and prevent Serbian aggression against the safe areas ?

Mr. Hurd : I agree with my hon. Friend. The Bosnian Serbs do understand that. If they did not, they would not have acted around Sarajevo as they did some weeks ago, or as they have acted around Gorazde in the past few hours. I do not say that their understanding is complete, and we must ram it home on all occasions. That is what I am trying to do today. Certainly, their actions begin to show that they have some understanding of that reality.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : As one who has been critical in the past of the Government's stance, may I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement today. Does he accept that in the 1930s, when the Jews in Germany and Poland and surrounding territories were being exterminated, most people in Europe could claim that they knew nothing of what was going on, but that no one has that defence today ? Therefore, is not his statement about dual key control and how it will work of crucial importance ? In the past 24 hours, has General Rose asked for air power ?

Mr. Hurd : I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should not listen to all the anecdotes in the newspapers. In the past 24 hours, according to my understanding, General Rose has not on any occasion asked for air strikes and been denied them. The position is that there has been discussion on several occasions between the Commander-in-Chief South, Admiral Smith, and General de la Presle, Mr. Akashi and General Rose through the various channels. There is no doubt about two things. First, up to now it has been the view through the dual key procedure that air strikes would not have helped the process on the ground, which was developing in a helpful way, as I have described to the House.

The hon. Gentleman said that people were dying. Indeed, that is true, but does he think that the medevac--the evacuation from the hospital that he saw on television last night--would have occurred if there had been air strikes ? Those are the balances that one has to strike in real life. That is the responsibility that we have put on the NATO and UN commanders. My point has been that they have to exercise those responsibilities together. That is what they are doing.

Secondly, it is clear from what Mr. Akashi says and

Secretary-General Wo"rner says that there should be no doubt in the minds of the Serbs that if they do not comply with the second part of the NATO decision, as they are complying with the first part, they will be at risk of the air strikes which are authorised by that decision.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington) : My right hon. Friend said earlier that a durable peace in war-torn Bosnia would come about only as a result of a negotiated settlement, presumably directly between the parties. Is he optimistic or pessimistic about the pressure that could be exerted by effective economic sanctions ? I seem to remember that sanctions are in force. I wonder whether they are proving effective in bringing, particularly, the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table.

Mr. Hurd : I believe, and the information that we have suggests, that sanctions have achieved a considerable change in the attitude of President Milosevic and the

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Government in Belgrade. What is in doubt is the chain of influence from Belgrade, through Pale and Mr. Karadzic, to General Mladic and the Bosnian Serb commanders. From time to time, that influence is exerted. From time to time, it does not seem to exist. There is no doubt that sanctions are an effective pressure on Serbia-Montenegro and we and our allies intend fully to maintain them until we see clearly that the resolutions of the Security Council are being applied.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) : Will the Foreign Secretary state clearly what views the British Government have expressed to the United States in the past few days ? Is not it about time that we told President Clinton that we would take his advice more seriously if he were prepared actively to argue for American troops on the ground who could be subject to the bombing by American aircraft that his military commanders advocate ? Is not it about time that we told those carping and whining voices in the American Congress that some of us in Europe are getting fed up with getting advice and condemnation when they are not prepared to put their people's lives at risk ?

Mr. Hurd : I have certainly heard sound bites, which may not have been typical, from American Senators and Congressmen, that seemed to leave out of account entirely the fact that some of their European allies, including Britain and France, have substantial commitments on the ground and troops who are doing a good job. President Clinton and Secretary of State Christopher understand the position well and have expressed it well. In the past few days, we worked out with the United States professionally, through the work of the officials whom I have mentioned, details that helped to lead to the NATO Council resolution. Others were at work, too. On the diplomatic side, we now have to work with them, the Russians and fellow Europeans to unify the peace process and the diplomatic efforts that we are now making.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : Will my right hon. Friend remain extremely cautious about getting UNPROFOR and its large British contingent further embroiled in this treacherous and perilous Bosnian bog ? Does he recognise the military reality that safe areas can be protected from a determined assault only by dug-in infantrymen supported by tanks and artillery, which is well beyond the capacity of UNPROFOR ? Finally, will he have another look at what happened to the multinational force that was dispatched to Beirut in the 1980s because it was felt that there was a need to do something ? Does he remember that it was finally withdrawn after 200 US marines needlessly lost their lives ?

Mr. Hurd : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I are, and have been throughout, very cautious on the subject of British military involvement in Bosnia. We know well the risks of being drawn step by step into a war to which, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), we are not a party and in which the usefulness of military action from outside is limited. We have defined at each stage what we think can usefully be done and have helped to organise a United Nations force and a British contribution to it accordingly. The last step, which I just reported to the House, was worked out in substantial detail

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by the military authorities in NATO, drawing on the experiences and views of UNPROFOR and of member states. That much I can say. Parallels--whether with Vietnam, Beirut or other areas--can shed some light, but the differences are greater than the similarities. We are well aware of the risks. I do not believe in all or nothing or that if one cannot do everything, one should do nothing. What we have done diplomatically and militarily in Bosnia fits the needs of the situation and what, in practice, forces from outside countries and institutions can do to help.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that between 700 and 2,000 people have lost their lives within 700 miles of London since he came to the Dispatch Box to answer questions on the matter only a few days ago ? Many lives have been lost. Will he also confirm that several thousand people have been injured since he last answered questions at the Dispatch Box ? Is he really convinced that, in the past seven days, the Government have done everything possible to avoid the terror in that city in Yugoslavia ?

Mr. Hurd : Yes, I believe that--within the time that the hon. Gentleman mentioned--we have. If he seriously supposes that summoning massive air strikes on the Serbs around Gorazde would have averted the killing, he is mistaken.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : You have done nothing. Clinton pushed you.

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is mistaken, as he has been in many interventions. We have worked together on something that has never happened before in history--the United Nations and NATO working together to extend international activity in Bosnia. The hon. Gentleman is leaving out of the account what has been achieved in Bosnia and the lives that would have been lost if we had not taken those earlier decisions on Sarajevo, in central Bosnia. For heaven's sake, let us recognise what has been achieved and act energetically to improve and build on it. The hon. Gentleman's line of questioning does no one any good.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : May I welcome the Foreign Secretary's announcement that all six secure zones in Bosnia will be defended by air ? Can he estimate what additional troops will be required in each secure zone to ensure that they are safe and that they are not used as a base for military activity against those attacking the towns ?

Mr. Hurd : I cannot give figures for each safe area. That is not my responsibility, but my hon. Friend knows of the efforts that we have made-- greater efforts, I think, than those of any other country--to increase the resources available to UNPROFOR. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave some figures last week. I can update them.

As a result of our efforts, the UN has received firm offers from member states of about 7,700 additional troops. It has asked those states to proceed with the deployment of about 5,700 of those troops. The deployment of further troops, on top of the ceiling of 5,800 authorised by the UN, will depend on a further resolution

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and that, in turn, depends on financial resources--on everyone making available what is needed to finance those troops.

I see a continuing need for increased UNPROFOR forces in the safe areas and in implementing ceasefires, such as the one now obtaining in central Bosnia. That means not just more men--we have been very active not just in providing more men but in getting others to do so--but the finances to keep them going.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : Can the Foreign Secretary enlighten me a bit more about the working of the dual key system ? Can he confirm to the House that in the run-up to the recent threats and ultimatums, at no stage did General Rose ask for air strikes and be refused them ?

Mr. Hurd : I answered an earlier question and I am not going into the details--I do not know all of them--of transactions between the UN commanders and NATO. Those transactions occur every day ; suggestions are made, discussed and resolved. What I do know is the procedure, which is essential.

Mr. Frank Field: What is the answer ?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Lady asked for elucidation about the dual key and I am giving it to her. It means that where one has an air effort and a ground effort, they should be in harmony. Where it is suggested by the UN that there might be an air strike, it is for NATO to agree that it should take place and agree on the targeting. Where NATO believes that an air strike might be justified, for example, because it has seen some results of aerial reconnaissance, it is essential that the UN, which has the information on the ground, should also agree. That seems to be entire common sense. It is the system which has operated in Sarajevo and it is the system which is now operating in Gorazde, because it was confirmed by the NATO Council last week.

Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme) : I welcome the UN's new-found resolve in respect of Bosnia and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the personal part that he has played in recent days to help to bring that about. Given the ragged track record of the UN thus far in terms of threats made and threats actually delivered, and the number of times that the UN's bluff has been so blatantly called, can my right hon. Friend give the House the assurance that he and the Government will do all in their power, given the new-found international resolve, to ensure that the UN's bluff is no longer called ?

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his general remarks, but no bluff was called in Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serbs realised that and acted accordingly. In Gorazde, there was no bluff, because close air support was provided last week, but it did not produce the result expected. That is why NATO has taken the decisions that my hon. Friend supports. I am glad to assure him and, indeed, the Bosnian Serbs and anyone else who may be listening that there is no question of unwillingness by the members of NATO to carry out air strikes on the lines of, and under, the procedures that the NATO Council established last week.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Can the Foreign Secretary tell us why the British Government seem so terrified of holding a debate in Government time on Bosnia ? Could it be that statements are a convenient way of throwing crumbs of information to the House, and

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enable the Foreign Secretary to refuse to answer whether General Rose has been refused requests for bombing over the past 48 hours, as opposed to the past 24 hours ? Their use also denies critics of Government policy a proper opportunity to explain their case.

Mr. Hurd : I should be delighted to have a debate, because that would be a much less difficult exercise for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and myself than the repeated statements with which we seek to keep the House informed. It is a matter for the usual channels, not for me, but the idea that either my right hon. and learned Friend or I are shrinking from a debate is very far from the truth.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : In spite of the potential frustrations involved and in spite of the inherent difficulty in evolving appropriate rules of engagement, can my right hon. Friend confirm that there is no alternative to a dual key authority for the effective use of air power in the theatre ? Can he say what measures are available to the UN and NATO as the instrument of deterrence for the UN in what was Yugoslavia, to prevent the Serbs from extending their influence by offensive operations outside the six safe areas ?

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful that my hon. Friend, with his experience of those operational matters, supports the dual key as essential. He is entirely right about that.

We are not saying--the international community would be very unwise to say- -that we are able to deter all Serb or, indeed, Croat or Muslim offensive activity outside the safe areas. We are not purporting to do that and that is one reason why a return to the negotiating table and, ultimately, a successful negotiation is the only way of ending all those dangers.

Dr. John Cunningham : The right hon. Gentleman's statement refers to United Nations Security Council resolution 913, which re-affirms the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Bosnia- Herzegovina. What will be the response of the United Nations and NATO if the Serbs attempt not to bombard another safe area, but to annex further territory along the River Sava, for example ? It is not a safe area, but it is part of an independent state. What will NATO and the UN do ?

Mr. Hurd : Of course it is part of an independent state and the Bosnian Serbs are a community in that state. That is the nature of the conflict. That is why, as the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, comparisons with the Gulf and other such dramas are inexact. This is a civil war, to a large extent inspired and egged on from outside.

The Muslims have been gaining ground in some parts of Bosnia, the Serbs in other parts and there is a fragile truce between the Croats and the Muslims. All those facts might change. The UN Security Council set out certain areas and has tried to protect them ever since. That is a limited objective. It would be unwise to pretend, as I have just said, that that protection extends everywhere. It does not.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Speaker : Order. We must now move on.

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Education and Upbringing

4.12 pm

Sir Michael Neubert (Romford) : I beg to move,

That this House, recognising one generation's responsibility for the next and the critical importance of young people's development to a stable, healthy and well-ordered society, calls on the Government to continue to encourage a wide diversity of choice in schooling, greater priority for the needs of children within the family and resistance to harmful influences to which they are exposed in the media and elsewhere.

When it comes to private Members' motions and the chance to initiate a Commons debate, fortune has smiled on me, not once, not twice, but no fewer than five times during my time in the House, and has half-smiled on me on two further occasions, when I came third. In all that time, however, not once has my name come out in the top 20 in the ballot for private Members' Bills, so lady luck has so far denied me the opportunity of making a permanent mark on Parliament by seeing some minor measure on to the statute book and generations of lawyers to come will be spared the need to remember my name. Although, in that sense, second best, private Members' debates are a valuable means of mentioning issues of importance that are too often crowded out by the legislative programme.

My motion sets out to provide a fretwork for discussion to which others can contribute and fill in the gaps.

My contribution will take several themes. Some are hobby horses, but I hope that I shall not appear to gallop off in all directions. The disparate issues have a common thread--a concern for the moral and social integrity of our people and the welfare of our children. That concern is touched by three aspects of education, two of which arise in my constituency of Romford : a deeper, long-standing apprehension about the future of the family and the subversion of our traditional way of life ; and the menace of violent videos and other vicious influences in the media and elsewhere.

First, on education, the Government deserve credit for the courage of their reforms of the state education system--and not before time. Too many children have left the system with not a university degree but a degree of illiteracy and innumeracy that has handicapped them for life. The vested interests have fought like tigers for their cubs but, by responding to genuine grievance while pursuing the principle, the Government are achieving continuing progress and improvement. Especially welcome is the widening variety of provision. Education needs to conform not to some universal nostrum but to the abilities and aptitudes of individual children.

Choice has rightly become the watchword for parents. All the evidence shows growing interest in the exercise of choice. The increasing amount of published information is a necessary corollary to parental choice at all stages. One option for parents which I strongly support is single-sex education. There are two single-sex schools in the London borough of Havering : the Royal Liberty school for boys and the Frances Bardsley school for Girls. Both are in my constituency and regularly oversubscribed. Some of their popularity is undoubtedly due to their reputation for plain and simple schooling, but single-sex education is an important--if not

all-important--consideration in some parents' choice. In recent years, a number have been disappointed and, because the schools are both in Romford, those who are my constituents have felt particularly aggrieved.

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Moreover, in some cases parents who have given a single-sex school as their first preference have seen, through the system of selection, their children denied places and the places taken by children whose parents' first choice was a mixed school. The council has agreed to extend the allocation for single-sex preference by a small degree, but that element remains under-provided.

That represents a powerful argument in favour of the outstanding application for Frances Bardsley to retain its sixth form. When post-16 education in the borough was reorganised some years ago and plans were agreed for a sixth-form college, Frances Bardsley, along with other schools under full local authority control, was required to relinquish its sixth- form, but managed to negotiate a temporary reprieve. Now that the sixth- form college is full to overflowing, as a result--again, credit is due to the Government--of the surge of children staying on after 16, which is long overdue in our part of London, Frances Bardsley is, very reasonably, asking for its sixth form to be made permanent. That will be to the great benefit of the girls in the school. The juniors will have more mature girls at the head of the school and the sixth-formers will be free and undistracted by male adolescents to work towards the outstanding and exceptional results obtained by many single-sex schools last summer. The Establishment is opposed to that, clinging to its grand plan, despite the change of circumstances, and fully prepared to spend more public money by providing extra accommodation when the existing facilities are already available and in use at Frances Bardsley. The parents, however, fully support the governors and staff in their bid, and backed them by voting for grant- maintained status, which they achieved a year ago. It would be a serious rebuff to them if they were denied their sixth form now, and a blow to the principle of single-sex education at sixth form level--an experience from which I benefited but not, I hasten to add, at a girls' school. At an earlier age in the course of my chequered education, however, I attended two girls' schools-- [Interruption.] --as a pupil.

Given the Secretary of State's acknowledgement of the merits of traditional school sixth forms earlier this year, I have high hopes of a favourable decision in that case.

One of the three subjects that I took at A-level was English literature, which is indisputably one of the greatest literatures in the world and a priceless heritage for us all. No wonder parents complained about a text used for English studies at GCSE level at another school in my constituency, St. Edward's--a so-called poem entitled "Stobhill". Not only was the sole resemblance to poetry in the varying lengths of the printed lines ; the subject matter was gang rape and the incineration of an aborted foetus. This, apparently, is our young teenagers' inheritance today.

When taxed with the matter, the headmaster was unrepentant in his defence. The chairman of governors, deputy headmaster in a neighbouring London borough, supported him to the hilt. The parents who complained proved to be a small minority. The Archbishop of Canterbury--and this, believe it or not, is a Church of England school--having referred to a mother's "very understandable worries", did not wish to interfere, believing that how something is taught makes a crucial difference over and above its objective content. Only the Minister of State, my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Blatch, was prepared to describe the choice of text as "most regrettable". Amen to that.

That experience brought me up with a jolt : it made me

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