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Mr. Dalyell: Having stayed with his national service regiment in Bosnia for three days last year, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the idea of leaving that country without full military capacity is unthinkable? It is one thing to commit troops, but a completely different matter to pull them out. I did not support the commitment of troops to Bosnia in the first place, but for the life of me I do not see how, morally, we can pull out in the foreseeable future--by which I mean in my lifetime.

Mr. Hancock: Sadly, I think the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: I cannot conceive of a situation in which it would be either easy or desirable to pull troops out of Bosnia. That outcome could be considered only if some firm democratic framework were established that would give that country's democratic processes some depth. There is no evidence that that is happening: the three communities in Bosnia are as divided today as they were when the fighting stopped. We have the ability to hold the peace in Bosnia and, unfortunately, we will have to repeat that exercise in Kosovo.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman's comments. How does he explain

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the fact that the Muslim and Christian communities in Bosnia lived together fairly peacefully for some 300 years until Mr. Milosevic turned up? Does the hon. Gentleman think Mr. Milosevic has had no impact on the situation in the past decade? Did he not start the trouble--and learn the error of his ways only recently?

Mr. Hancock: No one dissents from that point of view, but realistically, nobody else is in a position to finish what Milosevic has started. It will take more than a generation to rebuild and bring the communities together. We are mistaken to believe that the mischief perpetrated is the work of a one-man band. There is no evidence to suggest that Milosevic's removal will not be followed by the arrival of Milosevic mark 2. I would like to see the abundant evidence--some hon. Members seem to think it exists--that points to the conclusion that the removal of Milosevic will bring enlightenment to Serbia and peace to the entire region. I doubt it.

Real pain and suffering will continue to be experienced by the next generation to be born and raised in that region. Sadly, Milosevic's legacy will extend well into the next millennium. The 300 years of peace and harmony to which the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred have been torn apart by less than a decade of mischief and evil. We have paid a high price for the tolerance that we--among others--showed to the Milosevic regime over the past 10 years. As a community, we should have taken a firmer hand with Milosevic over Croatia and Slovenia.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those in the region who have stood by us. We must help to rebuild and stabilise the shaky fabric of democracy in Macedonia. If we fail to do so, we may have a real problem on our hands. I do not believe the KLA will be an easy force to reckon with. I share the view expressed by others in this House and elsewhere in Europe that, if there is a real attempt to disarm the KLA, that force will fight United Nations soldiers. That is a real possibility. I do not believe that it will be easy to disarm, with Tornados and Harriers, KLA troops holding Kalashnikovs. The troops on the ground will have to remove those weapons physically.

The KLA soldiers will not go home quietly--I have said that in the House before. I met three different KLA groups on three separate occasions and I am far from convinced that the KLA's ambitions are aimed at a free and autonomous Kosovo. Many of the KLA soldiers to whom I spoke came not from Kosovo but from Albania and are fighting for a greater Albania--which includes the whole of Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and part of Montenegro. They will not settle for second best: they are armed and they are on a roll. It will be enormously difficult to contain the aspirations of the KLA.

It will also be difficult to handle the payback issue in Kosovo. We cannot ignore that fact. I do not envy those men and women in the British and United Nations forces whose task it will be to police Kosovo. That is a thankless job that will continue for 10 years or more. Just look at our experiences in Cyprus: 25 years later, United Nations garrisons are still keeping the communities apart.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): Does my hon. Friend agree that the short-term solution in Bosnia has already become a long-term solution? The overstretch of British

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troops is such that the European Community needs to devote more resources to supporting operations in Bosnia and in Kosovo.

Mr. Hancock: I agree. This morning, I attended a meeting in Paris of the political committee of the Western European Union at which members from Italy and France suggested that it would take 2 per cent. of the gross domestic product of all the NATO countries to rebuild Kosovo and Serbia and to restore what we have knocked down in Montenegro. Does anyone believe that such expense would be an easy proposition to make to this House, let alone other Parliaments in Europe? It is reckoned that such a commitment will be necessary not only to keep the peace but to rebuild those areas so that people can go back to them. We shall realise the extent of the damage only when our troops have gone in.

We must consider past experience. Sadly, there are refugees who have spent over 40 years in camps in Palestine. Cyprus has been divided for 25 years, and there is still a huge UN commitment to the island. We need to learn lessons from that, and we must try to build communities and bring them together.

That brings me to the role of the WEU and the Council of Europe. If ever there were a missed opportunity for two organisations to take action, it was the situation in Kosovo over the past 12 months. If the Council of Europe and the WEU had been able to work together, perhaps with NATO's support, and had got to grips with some of the issues, we might not have the result that we have today. Certainly, there must be a role for those organisations in the future, and they need to find that role.

We must consider the small-scale experience of the Multinational Advisory Police Element, made up of the police forces of 21 countries, which is currently operating in Albania and is about to be expanded. That police force is making a determined effort, against all the odds, to bring some semblance of order to the Albanian police force. The task is difficult and, some might say, bizarre, considering the sad state of some of the Albanian police force and its practices in the past.

I have a constituent who has a distinguished war record and was highly decorated for his services in Yugoslavia. I refer to Sir Alfred Blake, former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth and a marine commander, who, for a sizeable chunk of the second world war, fought with Tito and his partisans. He explained to me the difficult and complex nature of the region's people--not only the Serbs, but others--the difficult terrain, the problems of trying to get people to work together and the fragile nature of the operation. Why did not, or could not, our military intelligence--I refer not only to the UK, but to NATO--give us better information about targets and the personalities that we had to deal with?

When we consider what is happening to our defence expenditure, we notice that significant changes and slippages are already occurring. Coming from Portsmouth as I do, I have asked a number of questions about the Royal Navy. It is interesting that there has already been a slow but determined effort to retard or cancel scheme after scheme. That is obviously a disappointment. When one considers those schemes individually, one might think that there are good reasons for cancelling them, but when one

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considers them collectively, one begins to wonder whether a trend is emerging. Developments that were made two years ago are beginning to slip away and some schemes have been dropped altogether. Some schemes for updating ships will be put on hold for such a long time that they will no longer be practical. I hope that the Select Committee on Defence will consider those issues in the near future.

We have an opportunity today to discuss wider defence issues, and there is a significant trend in defence expenditure that leads me to believe that all three arms of our armed forces are experiencing a drop-back in procurement. Despite the best efforts of Ministers and the assurances made in the House by the Secretary of State, the Minister for the Armed Forces and the Under-Secretary, we are not yet doing enough to retain and recruit the service men and women that we desperately

We have a number of continuing commitments. The Secretary of State rightly referred in his speech to some of the on-going roles fulfilled by our service men and women. We should not forget that we still have a significant garrison in the Falklands which requires a considerable sum from our defence budget. I am glad, however, that we now have a more realistic approach to the islands' south American neighbours. I hope that we are learning that greater friendliness and co-operation will, in the long term, lead to a better future for the people in the Falkland Islands and, possibly, faster progress in reducing our defence commitment to the islands.

Gibraltar has, once again, proved that it is a vital part of our defence interests. It has played a role on two or three occasions in the past couple of years. We need to continue to make a strong stand against our colleagues in Spain to ensure that they do not put undue pressure on Gibraltar. We must continue to assure the people of Gibraltar that we support their view.

It is clear that we shall continue to use the bases in Cyprus for a long time to come. The two sovereign bases have served this nation well. They are home to several thousand service men and women and their families, and I cannot believe that there could be a rundown of those bases.

In Germany, we have a slightly different problem. The rundown of our forces there has caused problems in my area of Hampshire because men and their families have been returned and are experiencing pressures. I should like the Government to demonstrate greater commitment to making sure that those families' needs are better met than at present. The Secretary of State mentioned the Royal Navy's continuing role in combating drugs in south America and the Caribbean. He was right to congratulate the captain and crew of HMS Marlborough on their work.

Such roles give rise to a number of issues but, like Kosovo and Bosnia, they provoke questions about overstretch and the resulting problems for various elements of our armed forces. The "Partnership for Peace" is excellent, and we need to build on it. It brings together people who are currently outside the NATO family. There is a greater need for our people to work with them, but the simple fact of co-operating with countries such as the Ukraine means that service men will spend time there working with the people on exercises and planning. That, too, puts pressure on their units, and overstretch causes many problems.

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The House is somewhat depleted, but I am sure that most hon. Members who are present will want to speak, so I shall try not to delay the House too long. However, I want to address the moral obligations that the Ministry of Defence has on four key issues that have existed for a long time. One has been around for nearly 50 years, and I hope that, when the Under-Secretary replies to the debate, he will at least offer some light at the end of what is a very long tunnel.

The first issue is the way in which we have responded to the problems of our nuclear test veterans. I read with interest recently that the Government will make payments to the Fijian Government so that they can compensate their service men who were involved in those tests. I represent a substantial number of ex-service men who went through those tests. Sadly, their number is being depleted because many have become ill and died. Their claim for justice has still not been answered, and our lack of consideration of that issue is a stain on this country's character.

The second issue, for which many hon. Members have fought long and hard, is the treatment of members of the armed forces and their civilian workers who worked with asbestos. Not a day goes by without an inquest into the death of somebody in Greater Portsmouth being reported in the local newspaper, under headlines such as "Civilian Worker in Her Majesty's Dockyard Dies of Asbestos-Related Illnesses"--illnesses which were contracted mostly when delagging warships in the 1950s and 1960s. Sadly, that issue still has not been addressed. If it was right to give national recognition to miners' claims for illnesses that caused them so much distress, surely it is right to do the same for those in the defence industry.

Thirdly, we must continue pressure on the Government to speed up the resolution of problems concerning the illnesses of Gulf war veterans. Fourthly, the MOD must end, once and for all, the barbaric practice of experimenting on animals, whether by shooting bullets into pigs or putting goats into decompression chambers and increasing the pressure until they die. Most people would think that the MOD could have long done without such practices. I hope that those four points, which are major issues to many people, will be addressed.

I take this opportunity, as I am sure other hon. Members will, to thank the reserve forces for their work. It is still not too late for the MOD to recognise the vital role that they have not only played but will yet have to play in Kosovo for a long time to come. I am sure that there are some--even among the three Ministers--in the MOD who feel a twinge of conscience and are willing to think again on the issue.

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