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Lord Burnham: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I believe that the House would very much welcome it if, before the end of the debate in which we are involved, he had any further information with regard to the return of British and NATO aircraft, he could pass a message to his noble friend so that he could give that information to the House.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am happy to accede to the noble Lord's request.

9.34 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating what must be a difficult Statement. Yesterday I had the opportunity when we had a Statement on Kosovo to express both my unhappiness at our being forced to resort to the military option but also my understanding and support for the Government in the action that they have taken. Since then, 24 hours later, two events have occurred and it is on them that I wish to ask my noble friend questions. One favourable event is, of course, that we have got the 19 NATO countries to agree to the policy that is being pursued. I would like to think that that is also the resolve of all the members of the European Union meeting in Berlin at the present time.

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Secondly, and negatively, I had thought when we heard the Statement yesterday that Primakov was en route for Washington, if he had not already arrived. Not only did he not arrive, as we know, but he was recalled. Since then we have had President Yeltsin's very urgent public plea on Russian television. I ask and urge my noble friend not to abandon the efforts, which I am sure he thinks are well worth while, of trying to explain this action to the Russians and engage them in and associate them with it. Historically they are the protectors of Serbia and they have a very strong connection there and much influence. It would be tragic if we did not explore every possible way of getting at least Russian acceptance, if not approval, of what we have done.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend, particularly for his earlier remarks of support. As far as concerns the members of the EU who are not members of NATO, all I can say is that I have not heard of any dissenting voices from Berlin. Frankly, knowing the countries which fall into that category, I would be very surprised indeed were we to hear any such remarks. I certainly associate myself with my noble friend's views on the need for us to continue to try to engage the Russians in this matter.

The tragedy is that the Serbs are a very great people. What is unfortunate is that they are under the sway of such a brutal individual. Those of us who are old enough to remember the Second World War know perfectly well how bravely the Serbs fought on our side during that conflict. We fully understand the emotional commitment that the Russian people have to the Serbian people. These are very difficult times for the Russian leadership and the Russian people. I assure my noble friend that Her Majesty's Government are fully seized of the importance of that and of his remarks.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will agree that when British troops go into combat they deserve and should expect the support of both Houses of Parliament. However, I wonder whether the Minister can give me any instance in recent years in which bombardment, however heavy, has led to the subjugation of a proud people. We have just finished discussing the pride of the Serbian people. If the noble Lord agrees with me that there is all kinds of evidence to suggest that very often bombing has the opposite effect, would he therefore agree also that it is quite likely now that we will be forced to follow bombardment with an invasion, at least of Kosovo? If that is so, does he further agree that, assuming its success, such an invasion would have to prepare for an almost permanent presence of troops occupying Kosovo, just as we have experienced in Cyprus and I suspect we shall continue to experience in Bosnia? Does the noble Lord think that we have enough troops to envisage that commitment, particularly if we are to see an unfortunate increase in tension in Northern Ireland?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount for his remarks about the valour of our forces engaged in these operations. He asked whether I could give an example of when--and I noted his words with

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care--bombardment had ever led to the subjugation of a foe. Subjugation is not what this operation is about. I wish to make that absolutely clear. I repeat, this operation is about frustrating what the Serbian army and special police forces are currently engaged in and curbing President Milosevic's capacity for continuing that kind of operation in the future. It is in no way about the subjugation of the Serbian people.

The noble Viscount is right: bombing often has an opposite effect from that which was intended. I believe, however, that he may have in mind the bombing of towns and cities and of civilian populations. We are choosing only military targets. The increase in the accuracy of our precision weapons, and I speak for the alliance as a whole, has been remarkable, even since the Gulf War of 1991.

We have no intention of invading Kosovo. We have no intention of fighting our way in there. Had that been our intention we should have needed many more forces on the ground. I refer not only to the United Kingdom but to the alliance as a whole. The noble Viscount is quite right. That is no part of our policy.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I, too, wish to associate myself with those who have congratulated the Government on their resolve, and I congratulate them on the statesmanlike and measured language in which they have expressed that resolve. It is difficult to think of a period in recent history when our government, together with others, have striven more consistently and hard to try to find a peaceful solution to a dreadful problem. I, like others, recognise that there was now no alternative.

It seems to me that we have to be positive in our reaction and say that it is not just that there was no other option, but that we have now demonstrated that NATO is serious about the principles and values on which that alliance is based and is not going to let those principles and values become eroded and lost in the morass of endless wordgames.

I am sure we all agree that tonight our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are responsible for the action, all those who are engaged in the action, and all those inevitable victims, on whatever side, who are victims as a result of the intransigence and ruthlessness of Milosevic.

I wish to ask my noble friend two questions. First, does he agree that all recent experience demonstrates that wherever military action is taken there must be absolute clarity about the political objectives within which that military action is being pursued? Can we be assured, therefore, that the Government, together with their allies, will take every opportunity to spell out how they see the way forward in terms of the developing situation towards what I presume and hope is still the objective; namely, a peaceful and sustainable solution, not only for Serbia but also for Kosovo?

My second question is this. We are one of five Permanent Members of the Security Council. We therefore have a special responsibility for the credibility and integrity of the United Nations in its responsibilities for collective security. My noble friend assured us that

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we are at pains to explain that the action flows from the resolutions already endorsed by the Security Council. Can my noble friend assure us that we will continue to emphasise the legitimacy of the action within the context of the United Nations Security Council and not from some other source? The danger is that if we do not do that, some other member of the United Nations at some future date will take a subjective interpretation of what is necessary and what is not necessary on humanitarian grounds and take action of which we might not approve.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments, particularly his endorsement of the fact that Her Majesty's Government have tried hard over many months to find a peaceful solution to this terrible situation.

I am glad also of his recognition that the actions we take today and may have to continue to take for some time yet demonstrate the seriousness with which NATO takes its principles. As he rightly said, our thoughts are with the victims and also with our pilots and other air crew and the men in Her Majesty's submarine. It is lonely being in the cockpit of a military jet aircraft in the dark, with missiles and other anti-aircraft ordnance coming at them. These young men must be frightened and brave at the same time and we owe them a great deal.

My noble friend said that Her Majesty's Government had to be absolutely clear about their objectives. I totally agree. I hope that I have spoken with as much clarity as I can. Our military objectives--and I repeat them so that there is no possibility of a misunderstanding--are to obstruct and disrupt the activities that the Serbian military forces and special police forces are currently engaged in in Kosovo and to curb President Milosevic's capability of continuing to prosecute such a campaign of atrocities in the future.

My noble friend asked about legitimacy. We are perfectly confident that we have a good legal basis for our action. I quoted the relevant Security Council resolutions. This is the view not only of Her Majesty's Government but one that is shared by all the other 18 members of NATO. The justification rests upon the accepted principle that force may be used in extreme circumstances to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. I am afraid that we have already seen a humanitarian catastrophe and wish to ensure that it does not continue.

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