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Mr. George Robertson: I always listen to the right hon. Gentleman with great care, because he has a lot of experience, and it is true that we share a close relationship with our allies across the water. We have not fallen out with the United States. The communique from the Washington summit made it clear that NATO and the Americans welcomed the initiative being taken forward.

The whole purpose of the Prime Minister's speech and what followed from it is to build European capabilities so that we can complement, not duplicate or compete with, the efforts being made by the United States and NATO. Only an hour ago, I spoke to Defence Secretary Cohen, and congratulated him on, and thanked him for, the United States' contribution to the air campaign. All four Defence Ministers have said that we are committed to building European capability so that we can act with the United States when that makes sense; but alternatively, so that we can take military action sensibly and effectively when the United States does not want to be involved.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith: I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says; his intentions are pure, and would not undermine anything that I have said. That is his view--but there are other views, and they exist among his European allies. That is the point.

People talk about a federation. I am not a Europhobe; I am happy about co-operation with the European Union, but I want to draw a line here. It is difficult to assume that a Europe-wide institution can make decisions for us on matters of life and death. It cannot. Such decisions must be made by consensus, in which case I want a consensus within a wider organisation--one that involves the Americans.

I know what I hear from some senators and congressmen, decent internationalist blokes though they are, who suspect that there are people in Europe who resent what they call American dominance of the alliance, and feel that Europe would be freer, more independent and more responsive to European needs if it had its own defence identity--not within NATO, as is stated in the text of the summit. A European identity is what they hanker for. We cannot deny that when we know that Mr. Prodi is talking about a European defence system and a European army. However, if we adopt that approach we will seriously weaken our position.

I am darned if I can believe that an international organisation that merges into a federation involving a wide range of issues, such as economics and politics, can put defence into the same basket. It is not the function of an international organisation, on a vote, to send people to war, where they may possibly lose their lives. If there is consensus, certainly, but if it is to be done, it should be on the basis of the NATO Alliance, with all its strength and might.

It is difficult for me to assume that we are on the right lines when we do not talk sufficiently, and do something, about the lack of capability in Europe. Only two countries in western Europe--the United Kingdom and France--can act internationally. That is one of the issues that we

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should be discussing with our continental friends, so that we can get some action out of them rather than talk about institutions. That would be a way of making progress.

We have a duty to bring stability to Europe. The first and difficult problem on the agenda is to ensure that stability and prosperity are brought to the people of south-east Europe as a consequence of peace. It will be difficult, and I am indebted to an article in a publication entitled "The World Today", which drew my attention to the seriousness of the problem that we face. It reads:


The writer of the article adds:


    "Those were the words of Benjamin Disraeli in 1878. They are all too apt today."

5.47 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I am delighted to be able to take up the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), not least because I know of similar words from the 19th century. No one could ever accuse my right hon. Friend of being anti-European because he has made a career of not being so. The fact that he should draw attention to the concerns that many of us have about a drive towards a common European defence policy is extremely important. I trust that right hon. and hon. Members on the Treasury Bench will take heed of that.

On a day when British troops are going into what may turn out to be hostile territory in the former Republic of Yugoslavia, it is depressing that so little interest is shown in defence in the House. I know that the European elections are taking place. However, my presence and the presence of every other Member will make no difference to the turnout in my constituency and in all others, and in the regions. It is depressing beyond belief that there are only three Labour Members present, one a Back Bencher, only two Liberal Members and only eight Conservative Members. There are far too few of my hon. Friends in their places and it is a great pity that there is only one Labour Back Bencher present on an historic and worrying day.

I shall concentrate my remarks on Kosovo, not least because I will not be here next week. Many of the points that I wanted to make have already been made and I will not repeat them at too great length. I had many concerns about the campaign, which I made public. I was deeply sceptical that bombing alone would bring the Serbs to the negotiating table. However, it appears that it has done so, and we have an agreement. The Minister will know that not everything is over, but I congratulate NATO and the Government on what has been achieved so far. I hope that the process will continue and I hope also that all the refugees will go home as soon as possible. It is to be hoped that, eventually, we shall see democratic rule established in Serbia, quite apart from anything else.

It will not surprise anyone when I say that I have a few qualifications. I do not think that there is anybody present to gainsay me--no Member, anyway--when I say that, when I was in the Army, I was taught the principles of war. As I recall, the first principle was the selection and maintenance of the aim. The aim on day 1 was to prevent

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humanitarian disaster and ethnic cleansing, and we know that that did not happen. There is no doubt that the principles will have to be rewritten. We know that surprise went out of the window long beforehand. As I am sure that the Minister recognises, the staff colleges will need to re-examine those principles before they try to teach them to any young officer, as I was at the time.

The situation in Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania is not better than it was before the bombing campaign started. That does not mean that the bombing campaign was wrong, but we have to admit that the situation is no better than it was then.

We have a long-term commitment, as we have heard, and a huge financial commitment, which Britain, together with others, should be generous in meeting. We also have a huge commitment in terms of troops.

Is the Minister confident that the settlement will lead to some form of democratic administration being established in Kosovo? It has not been democratic up till now, as is self-evident. Rugova appears to represent the Kosovo Albanians, as far as it is possible to know, but it would be tragic if our actions had produced a worse situation in Kosovo than existed before.

The position of the Serbian minority in Kosovo was raised yesterday by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), among others. It is extraordinarily important that we do not replace one form of ethnic cleansing with another. NATO and the United Nations have turned a remarkably blind eye to the situation of the Serbs in Krajina, who were expelled--ethnically cleansed--by the Croatians, yet we seem to be extremely pally with the Croatian regime of President Tudjman. That is as close to hypocrisy as one can get. One child, one woman or one man is just as good as another child, woman or man, and ethnic cleansing by one group is just as bad as ethnic cleansing by another.

That leads me to the question of who our enemy in Kosovo will be. Troops need to know who their enemy is. When they come across two bands of people shooting at each other, whom are they to defend? It will be extremely difficult. None of us wants to see British troops or others killed in any crossfire, just as we do not want to see people killing each other in Kosovo.

What is the future of the Balkans to be? I say to hon. Members in all parts of the House that the future of the Balkans must be in the hands of the peoples of the Balkans. It is not for us to determine exactly what should happen. Britain, NATO and the United Nations should beware of trying to be the policemen of the Balkans. Down that road may lie chaos.

I have many friends currently in the Balkans who are likely to go into Kosovo in the near future. I will not name them, as that would probably blight their careers for ever. I wish them and everyone else well as our armed forces go in. They will have a great deal to contend with, as we know. In particular, NATO is likely to take casualties from land mines. It is the worst of all things when someone is killed not in action but just walking down a street or through a wood.

On a more flippant note, the old adage warns that we should not go to war in the Balkans or march on Moscow. We have gone to war in the Balkans. I am going to Moscow next week, and I hope that the Minister can assure us that we will not be marching on Moscow next week.

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One overriding lesson emerges from the Kosovo campaign. NATO has shown determination and unity, and NATO has achieved success. I shall not repeat what was said extremely well by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden. However, the Government speak of a common European security identity, which undermines the organisation that has achieved so much and is likely to sideline America in the North Atlantic Alliance. I find that extremely worrying.

I have served in Northern Ireland. I think that I am the only hon. Member present who has done so, although one or two officers and officials in the House have. I speak with feeling because I have seen the intimidation, fear and daily barbarity that can go on in some of the ghettos in Northern Ireland. I have been to funerals of friends and I have spoken at funerals of soldiers, and I have friends still serving there in the armed forces. The Government cannot bend over backwards any further to accommodate the terrorists in Northern Ireland. The Minister will know that we must keep troops there to combat the terrorism.

I particularly speak on this occasion of members of the special forces who have done such sterling work in Northern Ireland in the past. If soldiers fear that they will be identified for any action that they take, if they believe that their lives or those of their families may subsequently be threatened, they will not take the action that we require of them. That is blindingly obvious, but it needs to be stated.

Some in public life, including me and many hon. Members, receive advice and assistance on our personal security. But we understood that that might be a possibility when we went into public life. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) are tailed by heavies in Range Rovers. Lord Mason still has an escort, and I am sure that other former Ministers do too. We expect that, but public servants do not. They expect to be protected by the Government. We must protect public servants or we betray their trust. I am sure that the Minister and the Secretary of State will agree.

I caution the Minister to read the headline of the City edition of the Evening Standard today which says, "Paras go in". If we want the paras to go into Serbia, Kosovo or elsewhere, we must protect them, wherever they may be, and we must protect past paras from the prying eyes of murderous terrorists.

I served for 15 years in the armed forces and I was single throughout that time. Single men enjoy being active, on operations and abroad. I was away in various different countries for 12 months in one 15-month period. It was lucky that I was single because a wife would not have tolerated it. However, I had no chance of getting married because I could not meet anyone. Those whom I did meet probably did not fancy me. However, it is a single man's life--or a single woman's life--and young single people enjoy being on operations. But in peacetime, families, and single people who want a social life, become tired of being on operations, and they will vote with their feet and leave.

Retention policies are marvellous but, as the Minister knows, there will be no retention policy if people are fed up with being on operations. For each person on operations, another should be preparing for operations and another recovering from operations. If 40 or 50 per cent.

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of the armed forces are on operations, that will not be possible. That would be a great tragedy for Britain and its armed forces.

The armed forces--I used to say this to the previous Government, so the Minister need not parrot it back to me--are too small for the country's and the Government's ambitions. If we are not careful, the common European defence policy will mean that we will not have the Americans to help us either. We have insufficient troops, and, if we are to maintain those ambitions, we may need to pay more for defence.

In the past few weeks, several generals have told me and, I am sure, others, that, based on their experience in Bosnia, the only people who could be trusted when they signed an agreement were the Serbs. They saw that as a bit of a paradox because they did not necessarily have a great deal of time for the Serbs, who had murdered, pillaged and raped. However, they did say that, when the Serb generals put their name to a document, they stuck by it, whereas the Croatians and the Bosnians did not. I very much hope that that turns out to be the case in Kosovo.


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