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Dr. Julian Lewis: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's long and consistent commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament by this country, but let me give an example that shows that matters are not as simple as he thinks. Imagine two nuclear powers, one of which has the capability only to retaliate using large strategic nuclear weapons against cities, and the other the capability to initiate a much more precise and accurate attack against troop and military formations. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, unless the systems are balanced, there is a danger that one of those nuclear powers might think, wrongly, that it could attack troop concentrations with impunity, because the other side would not retaliate in the only way that it could, against cities, and thus risk losing cities in return? The situation is not as simple as he suggests.

Mr. Cohen: The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The lesson of Kosovo is that a response is more likely if troops suffer, so nuclear exchange is more, not less, likely if we start to nuke troops. The hon. Gentleman's argument seems to be in favour of bombing a non-city area. Where is his constituency? It is not in London, is it?

Dr. Lewis: New Forest, East.

Mr. Cohen: Exactly. If the Russians bombed the New Forest as a sub-strategic warning, what does the hon. Gentleman think the Government's response should be? That shows the nonsense of his argument.

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I refer the House to a parliamentary briefing from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which makes a series of points about disarmament negotiations: basically, such negotiations are all stuck. The briefing refers to the conference on disarmament in Geneva, the CD. It states:

The Government say they are in favour of a fissile material treaty, but negotiations are being blocked in Geneva.

The briefing goes on to talk about five proposals:

None of those proposals meets with the favour of the Governments of the UK, the United States and France, who have suggested merely that:

    "the President of the CD consults 'on ways and means of establishing an exchange of information and views . . . by holding informal, open-ended consultations . . . by consulting with delegations'"

and other such means. Presumably, all that can be done at any time. There is no practical programme of action, nor even a programme for a programme of action. That follows two years in which nothing was achieved except agreement that negotiations could begin in 1999 on a fissile material treaty.

CND states:

The CND report concludes:

    "without a fully implemented Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, without an FMT, with the CD in deadlock and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty lacking any future direction, no hope of START II ever being ratified and no prospect of START III being agreed and NATO re-emphasising the importance of NATO retaining nuclear weapons as an essential part of their military structure, one has to conclude that there is no hope whatsoever currently of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.

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    Whatever window of opportunity existed upon the end of the Cold War has now firmly been slammed shut and the deadlocks and bars been put in place."

The UK Government in their strategic defence review report, and NATO in its Washington press release on the deliberations on its strategic concept, shirk the issues of nuclear weapons reduction and seriously attempting to stop nuclear proliferation. That do-nothing approach does not mean that the status quo will last for ever. Instead, proliferation drives us down the road of shirking action--for example, when India, Pakistan and other countries develop nuclear weapons--and of increasing military intervention, albeit only when it suits us. That makes for a far more dangerous world. Defence in the world is not helped by the current nuclear weapons policy. The Government must return to the subject seriously and with a will.

3.17 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): I am sorry to be unable to apologise to the Secretary of State in person for not having been here for the beginning of his speech. I was detained representing Parliament on the political committee of the Western European Union in Paris, in which we discussed many of the matters that have been raised this afternoon. I would have apologised to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) if I had missed his speech as well, but I was fortunate enough--if that is the right expression--to be present to hear it.

It is disappointing that today--European election day--has been chosen for the debate. To hold those elections today was not a sudden impulse--we have known for some years when they were coming--yet the debate was scheduled on 24 March, despite there being time and flexibility enough in our timetable to have it on another day. For it to be held on a day when so many Members are distracted with other matters is a great disappointment to the House and to Members unfortunate enough to be unable to attend. I am sure that there will be no repetition in future and that lessons have been learned.

The debate gives us an opportunity to discuss many matters, but hon. Members who have already referred to Kosovo will not blame me for expressing my thoughts on that subject as well. The Secretary of State brought us the good news which will be universally welcomed, that the Secretary-General of NATO has ordered that bombing should stop. I hope that it is the first of many steps to establish a lasting peace, but achieving that end will probably involve a campaign far more difficult than the 10-week air war carried out over the former Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, we should give a big vote of thanks to the men and women of our armed forces who have done so much, both in the air and on the ground, to bring about what has so far been achieved. We should not forget the enormous commitment of our service men and women to alleviating the plight of refugees in Macedonia, Albania and elsewhere in the region.

I also offer my compliments--I am sorry that Conservative Members do not feel able to do likewise--to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence. [Interruption.] I understand that Opposition Members congratulated them last night, but I think it is nice to thank them again today. They have played an important role in showing the determination and leadership that was sorely lacking in some aspects of the run-up to the campaign against Serbia.

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We can learn many lessons from this action, not least regarding the lack of military intelligence before and during the campaign.

It appears that few people had any informed knowledge about the reaction of, first, the Serbians and, secondly, Milosevic. No one seemed to grasp his difficult personality and the likely outcome of a bombing campaign against him. We slipped up badly in that area. I am sure that committees throughout NATO and the Parliaments of countries involved in the campaign will be quick to seize the opportunity to learn those lessons and take steps to clarify those matters for the future.

I believe the Prime Minister had to play a leadership role because, on this occasion, the White House showed, at best, slow leadership and, at worst, no leadership. Someone had to give the people of Kosovo and the surrounding area some confidence that there would be an effective response. It was clear to many of us that we had delayed intervention to the point where people would suffer needlessly. I am sure that the failure to provide proper leadership was instrumental in prolonging the air war--and many people suffered as a consequence. I hope that we have learned that strong, firm and determined leadership is necessary. We must give confidence to those men and women whose lives are put on the line by the actions of politicians.

As hon. Members have said, we have won the air war in Kosovo. However, I hope that we are prepared for the real job of winning the peace. We were not prepared for an air war of 10 weeks' duration; I do not believe that anyone in the Ministry of Defence or NATO genuinely believed that it would take that long. I hope that winning the peace will not involve short-term solutions. People should not believe that peace will be won quickly. We must learn some real lessons from the situation in Bosnia. Those who have visited Bosnia recently will be aware of the fragility of that nation. The fabric of Bosnian society would collapse quickly if the troops were withdrawn. The only thing holding that country together is the international community's commitment to keeping troops on the ground.

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