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Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and on the Government's response. As she says, the problem is logistics. Will she keep her mind open to the necessity of using resources beyond those of the NGOs? There may be situations in which service engineers and other personnel have to be used to deploy resources that are not usually used in humanitarian disasters. I ask her to co-operate with the Ministry of Defence. I am sure that she will, because I feel confident that some building will have to be done and resources will have to be shifted. Only the military can do that.

Clare Short: My hon. Friend is right; the problem is logistics. We are not relying on NGOs, as senior UN officials have expertise, engineers and so on. I agree that the services--who are flying out some materials--could help more, particularly in Macedonia. I know that the Ministry of Defence is in agreement, but it is a question of NATO agreeing. The services will then be able to provide the help that is needed in Macedonia. The mission will be a joint mission, involving the Ministry of Defence and my Department. We are working seamlessly together, as we are in Bosnia. We have offered a humanitarian adviser to our troops in Macedonia if we can get approval for such assistance.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): It may cheer the Secretary of State to learn that the first words that I have

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written on my notes are to congratulate her and her Department on their speedy response to the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. As a country, we should be proud to see such a response to such a difficult situation; a situation where women and children seem, once again, to be suffering disproportionately in modern warfare.

I do not agree with the rather sour remarks by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter). However, we would like confirmation that an assessment was made in the Department before the NATO offensive, in consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. Will this country--bilaterally, or with the EU--support education, health and other public services in Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia to prevent civil unrest in those countries, which could be so dangerous for the stability of the region?

What plans do the Government have for keeping a register of refugees whose identity papers have been removed by the Serbs, so that they can reclaim their homes in the event of peace? Are there plans for the repatriation of Kosovar refugees once a stable peace has been secured?

Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I am proud of the people in my Department, who are the best and the fastest in the world. They work enormously hard and, at times like this, they are working all night. It is nice for the House to recognise the quality of people whom we have working in the area. We are all entitled to be proud of them.

The hon. Lady said that women and children are suffering dreadfully. That is correct, but they are desperately worried about their menfolk, following the stories of what is happening. She asked whether an assessment was made before NATO started the action. She must understand that we work with the international system and, since the election, we have put a lot of energy into trying to get the system to work better.

The UNHCR was already in Kosovo, where there were many displaced people already. We were trying to get a more efficient system, and the UNHCR is expanding its operation. However, no one can get inside the head of Slobodan Milosevic. No one could have said exactly where or when the ethnic cleansing would start, or what direction he would drive in. There are tents, blankets and food in the region, but the problem is getting those things to the people who need them. I am confident that we will do that, but we want to speed the process up. There was no lack of preparation, but no one could have predicted what that bestial behaviour would produce.

The hon. Lady suggested that we should make provision for education, health care and other public services in surrounding countries. I agree, but those countries must not take the strain. The people of Albania have been fantastically generous, and are still taking people into their homes. They have been taking the strain for a long time. We must make sure that there is provision by the international community, not by those poor countries.

The situation in Macedonia is a worry. If we can get our troops to help with the humanitarian effort, it will help the situation there. However, we need NATO agreement

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for that. The hon. Lady asked whether registers were being kept. That is a job for the UNHCR, not for us. It is doing that job, and statements are being taken in preparation for the International War Crimes Tribunal.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about financial aid for the humanitarian crisis, but she will recognise that it is only a tiny fraction of what is spent on the war every day. Given the scale of the human tragedy that is unfolding--we see it day by day on our screens--which exceeds anything that anyone in this House can ever have experienced, is it not clear that the only organisation with the logistical and air movement capacity to deal with this matter is NATO itself?

Would it not be sensible immediately to divert the aircraft currently operated by NATO for the supply of weapons, and to take the opportunity provided by yesterday's visit to Belgrade by Mr. Primakov to cease hostilities, at least over Easter--which is very precious to the Orthodox Church--in order to save lives?

If the situation is not tackled with the organisational efficiency with which the war is being undertaken, people will die of disease and starvation, and it will not comfort anyone if Ministers are able to say, "Do not blame us; blame Milosevic". It does not matter who is to blame; lives need to be saved now, and the only way of doing that is to bring about a cessation of hostilities so that NATO can be diverted for this purpose.

Clare Short: Let me say to my right hon. Friend--who is an old friend--that I wish he would stop and listen to the voice of the refugees. They are saying that they support the NATO action, that they want it to be carried through, that they want help in the meantime and that they then want to return home. In all humility, let me ask whether we should not listen to them.

Some military planes are being made available to us, but they tend to be too small. They are not the best planes to move the necessary resources. It is better for us to use civilian planes of the right size. We are quite good at this; we do it a lot; and we are using military planes simply because we need to use everything that we can lay hands on. Nevertheless, it is not right.

If there were a ceasefire now, the net result would be not that fewer people were hungry, but that more people were killed in Kosovo by Slobodan Milosevic. It would help Slobodan Milosevic. Surely my right hon. Friend does not want to do that.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): I wholeheartedly welcome the right hon. Lady's statement, not only on behalf of all hon. Members but, in particular, on behalf of those who, having been driven from their homes in Kosovo, are now desperate refugees in neighbouring countries. Will the right hon. Lady ensure that the voice of women will be heard in the organisation of the camps, and that they and their children will be protected, given their present vulnerability and the vulnerability that they will experience in the camps? Will she also assure us that the extra money spent by the Department will not ultimately be taken from its budget, but will be replaced by the Treasury?

Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman--I nearly called him my hon. Friend.

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The hon. Gentleman is right. We have learned again about the situation of refugees. For the moment, we must get the camps organised, but for people living in camps for a long time, life can become very difficult. Children need to be educated, and women need to be respected. We have learned a lot, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will make the proper arrangements.

The £10 million that we have made available is in my budget. We must see how the spending goes after that--the Government may have to consider other arrangements--but we have money available to deal with humanitarian disasters, and money has been allocated to Kosovo. We can afford the £10 million now, but if the crisis continues, the Government will have to consider providing further resources.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that the views of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) are more representative of the Opposition's stance than those of his hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), whose typically snide contribution merely reminded me that it was the Conservative party that cut the international aid budget year on year, making it more difficult to do what the Department is now doing?

The flow of refugees across at least one border has slowed to a tiny trickle, presumably because supplies are not yet in place. Does my right hon. Friend know whether that is the only reason, or whether there are other difficulties that need to be resolved so that people can reach safety more quickly?

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