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8.53 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): As this debate is taking place so close to Armistice day, I trust that the House will permit me if I do what I sometimes do in such debates, which is to relate a personal story. It is not from a history book; it is from a newspaper, as recently as Saturday 28 October.

The story told is that of Mr. Geoffrey Delaroy-Hall, the son of a Jamaican father and an English mother, who left school in the second world war, became one of the only coloured pilots in Bomber Command, flew 47 missions over Nazi-occupied territory and was awarded the distinguished flying cross for his skill, courage and daring. He is now 79 and the reason that his story was in the paper so recently was that his next-door neighbour, a 30-year-old white, drug-abusing racist, had been given community service and two years' probation for persistently vandalising his property, waging a campaign of abuse against him and threatening to burn him alive as he slept.

Mr. Delaroy-Hall said:

He explained that he would not leave his home, despite the continuing threat. He said that his neighbour

How fitting it is that that gentleman--to whom we should all pay tribute at this time of the year for what he did for our freedom in the second world war--is still correctly applying the lessons that were learned at great cost in the run-up to the second world war. He is even doing so in the personal battle that, disgracefully, he faces today. I am not surprised, but I am sickened, by the fact that the racist thug next door, who had previously been in court and sentenced to various light punishments, has still not received a custodial sentence.

I come to the more general substance of the debate. It is only fair, at the start of my speech, to inform the House of the subjects that I intend to touch on: Kosovo, dictators, Russia, nuclear deterrence and the European security and defence policy. I confidently predict that this is one of the few occasions on which hon. Members will be positively glad to hear me discuss the European security and defence policy, because that will signify that the end is in sight.

Earlier this year, I achieved the summit of my realistic parliamentary ambition by being appointed to the Select Committee on Defence. I was pleased by the fact that we embarked on an investigation into the lessons of Kosovo, and I was even more pleased by the results. Several hon. Members had argued persistently that this was the first example in history of a war being won by air power alone--though many in the House had doubted that--and

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we had a great opportunity to put those points to a succession of highly qualified witnesses, whom we examined. A definite conclusion emerged--it was felt that although it was impossible to quantify exactly how much was due to which particular factor, air power was only one of four factors that operated to achieve the result in Kosovo, and that it was incorrect to claim that air power alone had secured that result. The four factors were air power, the threat of the use of ground forces, the continuing cohesion of the alliance throughout the crisis, and the fact that the Russians had decided not to back Milosevic during the crisis.

The Committee came up with hard-hitting conclusions, some of which were reasonably predictable. After all, in relation to air power, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, one of the most recent former chiefs of air staff, said right at the outset that it was a mistake specifically to rule out the possible use of ground forces in the crisis because, even if we were not planning to use those forces, the threat that we might do so would be strategically highly significant. The fact that we bent over backwards to rule out the use of ground forces sent to Milosevic the signal that he did not need to configure his forces on the ground to meet the threat of a ground attack.

Mr. Keetch: Will the hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown)--whose book launch I have just attended--for making it clear during the campaign that we should not have ruled out the threat of the use of ground forces? The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), however, wanted to rule out their use.

Dr. Lewis: If the hon. Gentleman had attended more of this debate rather than the book launch, he would know that that point had already been made on behalf of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown). I was arguing it throughout that period, as hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember. It is enough for me to bear responsibility for my own predictions without having to take on those of other members of my party or of any other party with whom I may happen to disagree in any instance.

The removal of the threat meant that Milosevic could hide so much of his armour that our Royal Air Force pilots did not have the targets at which to aim that they otherwise would have had. In a sense, they lost all the way down the line, because they ended up being criticised for not achieving a greater hit rate in the bombing attacks. In fact, it had been a mistake to enable the aggressor--in this case, Milosevic--to hide so many potential targets that otherwise would undoubtedly have been destroyed.

We all know why the threat was removed. It relates to the third factor: cohesion and the idea that democratic Governments in the alliance would not wear the prospect of deploying ground forces. There is a difference between not specifically making an overt threat and--in that case, quite wrongly--specifically ruling it out. If ever there was a role for deception policy, it was in that area. Even if we did not intend so to act, we ought to have done everything possible to convey to Milosevic that perhaps we would have done so. Eventually, of course, we did convey that message to Milosevic, but by then we were really intent on such action.

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I shall leave the subject of Kosovo by mentioning the Russians. The point relates to something that was referred to earlier: the prospect of distinguishing between crisis management and all-out war. We know that the justification for the European security and defence identity--or policy as we must now call it--is crisis- management rather than all-out war. However, had, for example, the Russians taken a much more aggressive stance, a crisis could have become all-out war--entirely uncontrollably. I hope to return to that at the end of my remarks.

There was one point from "Lessons of Kosovo" that we ought not to have had to learn all over again, because we learned it in spades in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the leaders of democratic countries seldom fully appreciate the mentality of dictators. I should like to refer to just a couple of items in the report to point that up.

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), put the matter to the Chief of Defence Staff and the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence in the following terms:

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, replied:

One can say that again.

The permanent secretary, Kevin Tebbit, gave a slightly more revealing answer:

I can only endorse the Defence Committee's conclusion:

Have we not heard that in the past, when dictators have run rings around democrats by holding out that little hope of peace, while all the time remaining intent on conflict?

I welcome the cautionary comments in respect of Russia uttered by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery). Back in 1938, the only Secret Intelligence Service agent to be knighted for services in the field, Sir Paul Dukes, concluded his memoirs:

We have had false dawns before and I, for one, hope that we are not witnessing another now. Russia is massively enfeebled by her recent experiences and that is why we can take a far more relaxed view of any imminent military threat in the near future or even the medium term. However, I am not encouraged when I hear reports that responsible quarters in Russia are denouncing the Halo Trust--the mine clearance charity with which the late Princess Diana was closely associated--for allegedly training terrorists in military techniques.

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Similarly, the tragedy of the Kursk is an account of heartlessness, deception and downright lies. At first, even the date on which it happened was not admitted--it was said to have occurred a day later than it had. It was claimed at various times that another submarine had been involved; that there had been survivors; and then that there had been no survivors of the initial explosion. Now, we learn that there had been survivors, after all. As recently as 25 October, the press agency AFP quoted Sergei Zhekov, a member of a Russian parliamentary probe into the catastrophe, telling the Interfax press agency that

that the Kursk sank after colliding with a British submarine. According to the account, the rescue buoys found after the accident bore the colours of Royal Navy buoys, and that immediately after the tragedy

Finally, an event that this House knows a little about was cited--it was noted that certain submarines

That is not merely a new version of events. As early as 19 August, the Russian press had published a story in which a source at northern fleet headquarters was quoted claiming that a British submarine had been involved. Once again, it was claimed that British buoys had been detected. It was also alleged that

According to the information quoted:

That sort of attitude, in the face of categorical and, I am sure, truthful statements by the Ministry of Defence at the outset that no British submarine was involved in the disaster, can be described only as provocative in the extreme.

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