some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hayman moved Amendments Nos. 85 to 93:

Page 83, line 22, column 3, at end insert--
("Section 12(1).")

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1474

Page 83, line 27, column 3, at end insert--
("In section 49A, subsection (5) and, in subsection (6)(a), "prepared under this Part of this Act".Section 49B(4).")

Page 83, line 35, column 3, after ("section 97,") insert ("subsection (2),").
Page 83, line 40, column 3, at end insert--
("In section 122(2), "as a simple contract debt".")

Page 84, line 5, column 3, leave out ("(2)(j)") and insert ("(2)(d) and (j)").
Page 84, line 8, column 3, at end insert--
("In section 32A, subsection (5) and, in subsection (6)(a), "prepared under this Part of this Act".
In section 32B, subsection (4).").
Page 85, line 11, column 3, after ("paragraphs") insert ("3(a),").
Page 85, line 15, at end insert--
("1997 c. 24.The Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997.The whole Act.")

Page 85, line 19, at end insert--
("The repeal of section 97(2) of the 1977 Act has effect for the financial year 1999-2000 and subsequent financial years.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

In the Title

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 94:

Line 4, after ("functions;") insert ("make provision in relation to monitoring and improving the quality of health care in independent hospitals;").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential upon the one agreed by your Lordships on Report which gives the Secretary of State a power to extend by order the duty of quality in Clause 13 and part or all of the remit of the commission for health improvement on to independent hospitals. It is technical amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I rise briefly to express my support for the amendment which clearly is consequential. However, on consideration of it, I hope that the Government will not attempt to reverse the amendment made in another place. This is a very important aspect of the Bill for many of us. We believe that the standard of quality should apply right across healthcare in this country and not just in the NHS.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Earl rightly said that this was a technical amendment which is consequential upon the amendment that we made on Report. We debated the issue of substance at that point and I do not intend to reopen that debate now. Erskine May makes it absolutely clear that debate on an amendment of the Title should be limited to the question of whether the alteration is necessary to bring the Title into conformity with the Bill. I am happy to accept the amendment on that basis.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1475

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Earl Howe: My Lords, despite the general admonition from your Lordships' Procedure Committee, I hope that I may be permitted a very brief moment in which to draw together a few concluding thoughts. This has been a fascinating and rewarding Bill to debate. That has been due in part to the contributions of noble Lords from all sides of the House which have enabled us to achieve what I hoped on Second Reading we would achieve; namely, to correct the Bill's more glaring shortcomings. However, there was one indispensable ingredient in that process without which those corrective measures would have been well nigh unobtainable; that is, the contribution of the Minister.

In one of our recent exchanges the noble Baroness remarked that it "takes two to tango". It is her consistently receptive and constructive approach to our debates which I believe merits recognition and for which from these Benches I should like to thank her. If one disregards for a moment the amendments which have been agreed to against the Government's recommendation, I trust that the noble Baroness will agree that what we now have, especially in relation to pharmaceutical pricing and professional self-regulation, is a distinctly better Bill than the one initially set before us.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, in the spirit of the admonitions of the Procedure Committee, I should just like to associate myself with the noble Earl's comments.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it would be churlish of me not to respond with a few words of thanks to both the noble Lord and the noble Earl, although I shall maintain the basis of having our debates as list-free zones and shall not, therefore, mention everyone who ought to be thanked in terms of our proceedings. However, I should say that the officials who have supported me so well have also been most helpful as regards the assistance that they have offered to all sides of the House. I believe that that has enabled some of the improvements that we have managed to make to the Bill, and I agree with the noble Earl in that respect. I believe that we have managed to achieve that because of the spirit in which these debates have been conducted, although, after some of our late nights, I am not sure whether I have had my dancing shoes on.

We have had very constructive debates. Even on those issues where amendments have been passed against the advice of the Government, it really has been an issue of the manner of implementation of shared objectives rather than any deep divide as to what those objectives were. I believe that the Bill will help us to improve the NHS and the service that it gives to patients in this country. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to our debates and who have helped to make the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House very productive.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1476


6.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert) rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in Kosovo.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thought that the best way in which I could be helpful to noble Lords this afternoon was to give as detailed as possible a review of the military position as is available to us in the Ministry of Defence at this time. I am well aware of the many discussions that have taken place about how we got to the position in which we regrettably all find ourselves. I do not think it profitable for me as a defence Minister to tread that ground again, although I shall be happy to try to respond to any points made by your Lordships in that respect.

As noble Lords may have observed, I normally find it less than congenial to read from a text, but on this occasion I shall crave your Lordships' indulgence in that a good deal of what I am going to say will be written out in a brief which is in front of me. However, I assure the House that it comes with very considerable authority because the overwhelming proportion of it relates to remarks that were made earlier today by the Chief of the Defence Staff at a press conference which he and my boss the Secretary of State for Defence held this morning. I have only edited the text very slightly to make it sound sensible in your Lordships' House.

As your Lordships will be well aware, in NATO we have a formidable array of military capability at our disposal to achieve the objectives that we have set ourselves. I mentioned these more than once yesterday when answering questions on the Statement that had been delivered in another place. Noble Lords will probably be aware that 13 NATO allies are directly involved in the provision of military assets and that other allies are making contributions in other ways. With all the force at my command I should like to emphasise that this is not an Anglo/American affair; indeed, the whole of NATO is engaged.

The action that we have found ourselves forced to take has the solid political backing of all the Allies. We have more than 300 NATO aircraft ready for operations, of which more than 200 are attack aircraft, and among this number are eight Royal Air Force GR-7 Harriers. NATO can also count on British and American Naval assets equipped with cruise missiles, including our submarine "HMS Splendid", the first of Her Majesty's submarines to be equipped with cruise missiles, and the first one, incidentally, to have fired them.

Last night these forces began military operations against a number of targets in Yugoslavia, as your Lordships will be aware. The offensive action, which involved sea and air-launched cruise missiles, as well as manned aircraft from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Spain, was supported by a number of other Allied air forces flying essential fighter cover, air refuelling and defence suppression missions. No fewer than 13 NATO air forces were involved. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1477

that whatever rumours you may have heard, all NATO aircraft returned safely after their missions had been completed.

The first targets, which were mainly facilities associated with the Yugoslav air defence system, were hit just after seven p.m. Zulu. Assets used included air-launched cruise missiles, fired by United States B-52 aircraft, which had taken off from Royal Air Force Fairford in Gloucestershire earlier in the day, and Tomahawk land attack missiles fired by US Navy ships and, for the first time, by "HMS Splendid". Follow-on attacks were conducted by manned tactical aircraft, including Royal Air Force Harrier GR-7s, based in southern Italy using Paveway 2 laser guided bombs. Other targets included facilities associated with military units which were directly involved in the violence within Kosovo.

"HMS Splendid" fired its Tomahawk missiles against a key military radar facility located near Pristina airfield in Kosovo. This facility, comprising two highly capable air defence radars and an associated control building, was capable of providing extensive data to Yugoslav air defence forces, to their fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missile units and their anti-aircraft artillery. The control centre was also capable of correlating data from a number of subordinate radars and distributing this throughout the national air defence network for use by other units and to help build up the national air picture. Clearly, such a capability posed a serious threat to NATO manned aircraft and it was vital, therefore, that it was put out of action.

Just over an hour after the first cruise missiles impacted on their targets, six Royal Air Force Harriers were tasked to attack an ammunition storage facility just a few miles to the east of the Tomahawk target. Four of the aircraft were armed with two Paveway 2, 1000lb laser guided bombs--the type used extensively and with considerable success during Operation Desert Fox--while the other two Harriers acted as escort. The bombers were tasked against explosive and ammunition storage buildings within a Yugoslav military ammunition storage facility which was known to support the Ministry of the Interior Police, who have been at the forefront of repressive actions against the Kosovar Albanian population. As I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, this type of facility contributes significantly to the repressive capability of the Serbian security forces.

It is still too soon to speak with any confidence of the results of the attacks by the British aircraft. I can tell the House, however, that "HMS Splendid" successfully launched its Tomahawk land attack missiles. We do not yet have any detailed imagery of the targets, and it will probably take some time for NATO to conduct a full battle damage assessment exercise. The Harriers formed the third wave of a very concentrated attack on that target. Because of explosions, fire and smoke caused by the first two waves, our Harriers had difficulty seeing and maintaining lock on their targets. Bombs from our first aircraft lost lock once they were in flight and fell short of the target on open ground. As a result, the following three Harriers aborted their attack and returned to base with their weapons. This restraint and

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1478

discipline underlines our determination to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this speaks well of the training and espirit de corps of our air crews.

I understand that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is satisfied overall with the results achieved so far although he recognises there is still much to be done. We are, of course, very relieved that all NATO aircraft have returned safely. In addition to the ground attack operations that I have just described there were some air encounters between NATO and Yugoslav aircraft last night. Some reports that are still unconfirmed suggest that up to four Yugoslav military aircraft were shot down. As I say, the reports are still not confirmed, but they indicate that three were modern MiG 29s and one was a MiG 21. Last night's action was, of course, only the opening salvo, the first step towards NATO achieving its military objectives. Our forces are likely to be in action again, alongside our allies, and we are ready to continue these efforts for some time to come.

I wish to say a few words about force protection. We have, as your Lordships know, some 4,500 British troops in Macedonia. Some were sent there originally to be ready to extract our peace monitors in an emergency. The majority, however, were sent there to be ready to take part in a NATO led implementation force should the Rambouillet peace accords be signed by both sides. All of these forces, and those of other allies, are now under the operational control of General Sir Mike Jackson, the British commander of NATO's Rapid Reaction Corps. Under SACEUR, General Jackson has put in place contingency plans to respond to any attack upon NATO forces in Macedonia. He has confirmed this morning that his planning is complete. Similar contingency arrangements have been made for NATO forces elsewhere in the region. Any attack on our forces would meet with a swift and severe response. There should be no misunderstanding about that in Belgrade nor in the minds of any junior Serb commanders.

Before I came to your Lordships' House this afternoon I asked for a detailed update on activities by Serb forces on the ground today. I regret to have to tell your Lordships that so far I have no definitive information available to give to your Lordships. There are various unconfirmed reports that Serb activity has slackened. However, there are other reports that their attacks are still continuing on certain villages. I shall no doubt report again to your Lordships' House as to the progress of military activities in Kosovo and over Serbia in the next few days, but I hope that I shall not have to come to your Lordships' House too often. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that we must all hope that it will not be necessary for defence Ministers to stand at this Dispatch Box, or that in another place, too frequently, and that peace is rapidly restored to this unhappy part of the world. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in Kosovo.--(Lord Gilbert.)

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1479

6.20 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive speech, a view which I am sure is shared throughout your Lordships' House. I hope that the Minister will accept that, while my noble friend Lord Burnham will respond to matters relating to defence policy, my objective this evening is to focus on the critical political, foreign policy and diplomatic issues under consideration.

Yesterday, on one of the gravest and most sombre days faced by NATO in its history, the hour came for the alliance to carry out its much-threatened air strikes against Serbia. Provided they are part of a coherent strategy with clearly defined and achievable goals from these Benches we have always offered our full support for NATO air strikes against Serbia should all channels of diplomacy be exhausted, should talks prove fruitless and should force prove to be the only language of negotiation that President Milosevic is prepared to understand. It has long been our position that once diplomacy has been backed by the threat of the use of force, that threat must be a credible one. We fully appreciate the onerous and difficult decision which the Government made in authorising military action last night. In the light of the repeated threats and ultimata of the past months, we firmly believe that, having put NATO's credibility on the line, there was no alternative.

However, today is not the time for criticism of past dithering, disunity and indecision. I wish to place on record once again our support for the Government on the action they have taken. We may have had disagreements on the road which the Government have taken up until now; we may have questions about the Government's future strategy; but no government takes lightly the decision to risk the lives of our young servicemen and servicewomen. The Opposition associate themselves with the words of the Minister, as does the whole House, in paying tribute to the courage and professionalism of the British and allied forces which took part in the co-ordinated NATO air strike yesterday; namely, the crews of HMS "Splendid", the four RAF Harrier jets and the two aircraft which flew supporting missions. There is no doubt in your Lordships' House that they will continue to serve Britain with equal distinction during this operation. Our thoughts are also with the families of those servicemen and servicewomen and the combination of pride and anxiety that they will surely feel throughout this operation.

The action carried out by NATO last night was unprecedented. Never before in NATO's history have attacks such as these been carried out against a sovereign country. This was the biggest aerial bombardment in Europe since the Second World War. As a result, there are doubts and concerns in this House and in another place which, given the magnitude of the occasion, deserve to be listened to with respect. From these Benches I have often said in your Lordships' House that I believe that the alternative to this action--namely, to ignore the human cost of the crisis in Kosovo; a crisis which has worsened month by month, week by week, and now day by day--would not be

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1480

justified. We have a moral imperative to respond to suffering, repression, massacre and misery on the very back doorstep of Europe.

Since fighting broke out in Kosovo last year more than 2,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have left their homes, fleeing the forces of ethnic violence, aggression and atrocity. Our television screens have shown the desperation of those trying to leave Kosovo--by bus and on foot--families fleeing for their lives while their homes, their villages and their lives are in flames. Relief agencies, which have carried out their work tirelessly under impossible conditions, estimate that at least 25,000 ethnic Albanians have fled since Saturday alone. The United Nations Food Agency says that it needs emergency supplies for more than 10,000 refugees in Macedonia. That is why NATO acted, and, consistent with the requirements of a just war, that action must ensure that the suffering which is an inevitable consequence of the use of force is less than the suffering which such military action prevents.

I do not doubt that the Government have clear, unequivocal answers to the questions I intend to raise. I should be grateful if this evening the Minister could clarify some of the issues which have been raised in recent days, both in this House and in the media--although I wish to emphasise to the Minister at this stage that I am not expecting, nor would it be appropriate, for me or this House to receive detailed answers to all the questions I pose.

Given that the Secretary of State for Defence has said that air strikes will continue until President Milosevic ceases his savage repression in Kosovo, can the Minister give an assurance that NATO has clear criteria by which it would judge the success of its action, without identifying those criteria? Will the Minister also give an assurance that when this action is over the House will receive a report on those criteria and the extent to which they have been met?

The Deputy Prime Minister has said that NATO will,

    "continue to hit hard until its military objectives are achieved".--[Official Report, Commons, 24/3/99; col. 484.]
Can the Minister state clearly for the record what are the objectives--both political and military--of the NATO action? Are they to degrade President Milosevic's military capability so that he is no longer able to continue his brutal policy of waging war against his own people in Kosovo? Are they to compel compliance with the will of the international community and to secure a peace settlement, given that President Milosevic was threatened with such air strikes in the event of his refusal to sign the Rambouillet peace agreement? It has been clear to observers that in recent days the principal objective has moved from the latter--that is, compelling compliance with the will of the international community--to the former; namely, degrading President Milosevic's military capability.

In the event that NATO action is forced to continue until Serbia is no longer able to repress the Kosovo Albanians, what strategy do NATO and the Government have to persuade President Milosevic to return to the negotiating table?

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1481

To what extent do the Government believe that air strikes alone will be able to achieve sufficient damage to Serbia's military capability? To take the most recent parallel to this crisis, does the Minister accept that, while damaging Iraq's military capability, air strikes in Iraq have failed to degrade it in its entirety? Does the Minister further accept that, given the formidable Yugoslav air defence system, this objective in Serbia presents considerably more of a challenge than in the case of Iraq?

The whole House has listened carefully to General Sir Michael Rose, who commanded the UN protection force in Bosnia, who cautioned that it may also take the deployment of ground troops to stop President Milosevic's assault. Do the Government accept that if President Milosevic is confident that no ground troops will be deployed that will significantly affect his position and could, at worst, strengthen the view that he may attempt to sit out the horrors of the air strikes? On that critical point, can the Minister clarify the role of the troops currently stationed in Macedonia? Does he agree that it would be a very different proposition from that which was originally intended for those forces to fight their way into Kosovo to impose a peace that has not been made and to enforce a ceasefire which has not been agreed? There is a world of difference between keeping the peace in a permissive environment and making the peace in a non-permissive environment. In the light of Sir Michael Rose's assessment, can the Minister confirm that ground troops will not enter Kosovo until there is a political settlement?

Given that the Secretary of State for Defence has said that any attack on the NATO peacekeeping forces would result in an "immediate and considerable response", is the Minister satisfied that there is sufficient protection in place to deter Serbian reprisals against the NATO peacekeeping force in Macedonia.

The mood in Pristina last night was reported as one of panic, fear, tension and menace. I believe the House will benefit from reports of today's events on the ground in Kosovo and the actions of the Serb forces there. Today the Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, stated that Belgrade has declared a "state of war" against NATO. In the light of this defiant act, can the Minister confirm that NATO has a coherent strategy for action in the event of continued non-compliance by Serbia following NATO air strikes? There is a suggestion that the Serbs may use the military tactic of "hugging" the enemy by positioning tanks in Albanian villages. Without giving any details, will the Minister confirm that NATO has a strategy to address this eventuality?

It is right for Parliament to make an assessment of the widely reported fears of the Kosovars that, far from securing both an end to the Serbs' brutal repression and an agreement to a peaceful settlement, a vindictive Serbia will seek to exact revenge from the Albanian population and worsen the plight of those still in Kosovo.

In the light of President Milosevic's address to the Serbian people yesterday, in which he said the freedom of Serbia was at stake and pledged to defend the country in the event of attack, what assessment have the

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1482

Government made of fears that, by appealing to ultra-nationalist tendencies long prevalent in Serbia, the present NATO campaign may serve to strengthen President Milosevic rather than to weaken him; and that, far from defusing the powder keg in Kosovo, it will serve not only to inflame it but also to ignite a conflagration across the Balkans, in Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia? I am sure that the Government have strong views capable of contradicting that theory. I look forward to hearing them.

It cannot be denied that there is dispute within the international community and the UN in particular over the legal authority for NATO's action. I am sure the Minister will agree that it would be of great assistance to the House if the Government could explain with the utmost clarity why they believe that NATO's action is lawful. Will the Minister therefore assist the House by setting out the legal basis for NATO's action?

Is it the Government's view that the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, Resolutions 1198, 1199 and 1205, provide sufficient legal basis for the NATO action? Or is it the case that there exists in international law the general right to intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, in line with Article VII of the UN Charter? Or does the Minister believe that this action creates an entirely new precedent in international law?

While there is rightly an obligation incumbent on us to intervene to prevent humanitarian disasters, that is something which to date has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.

In the Security Council, China has joined Russia in condemning what both call "an illegal military action", and both countries have expressed concern that as a result of the air strikes the region will be plunged into greater turmoil. I assume that an assessment has been made both of short-term and the longer-term consequences of these deep divisions on our relations with China and Russia.

Given the evidence of Russia's anger at the bombing--for example, the cancellation of Prime Minister Primakov's visit to the United States, the recall of Russia's chief military representative at NATO and the ending of all co-operation with the alliance--can the Minister say on what basis the Leader of the House told this House just two days ago that,

    "we should not be too alarmed by the Russian reaction ... At this stage, we should be optimistic about their collaboration, if not their welcome, in relation to what may need to happen next".--[Official Report, 23/3/99; col. 1177.]

According to this morning's reports, Russia's most recent welcome of what has in fact happened next is a "series of extreme measures" prepared in response to NATO's military action, but which have yet to be implemented. Does the Minister now accept the importance of Russia's role in the peace process? Indeed, many noble Lords would like to have seen its greater involvement in the peacekeeping force on the ground. I look forward to learning the effects that such action could have, both in terms of positive Russian assistance to the Serbs, and in terms of damaging NATO-Russian relations.

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1483

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House also referred to the important role played by the Russians in the Rambouillet negotiations. Will the Minister say whether there were any indications during those negotiations that the Serbs would look more favourably on an OSCE-led, rather than a NATO-led, implementation force to alleviate the appalling humanitarian disaster?

In conclusion, the provisions of the Rambouillet agreement were an important step on the road to securing a just and lasting settlement in Kosovo. We applaud the Kosovo Albanians for their willingness to compromise and to accept the agreement on the table in the interests of securing peace for their people.

The hope is shared throughout this House that President Milosevic will see sense, will end the suffering and the slaughter of his people by his people, and will return to the negotiating table. In the circumstances prevailing after Rambouillet, the Government had no choice but to agree to the use of force in an attempt to achieve that outcome. From these Benches, Her Majesty's Opposition support the Government in that decision and we fervently hope that it succeeds.

6.34 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, there has probably been no graver moment in the past 20 years in terms of the possible repercussions of the actions now taken. I very much appreciate the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that no government would put at risk its own servicemen and women unless they believed the cause to be a substantial and important one. But what is presently happening in Serbia may have repercussions that we cannot imagine--on NATO, on Europe, on our relations with Russia and China, on the United Nations, and far beyond. It is therefore necessary for us to hear the counsel of the wisest among us. In that context, I know that many noble Lords will feel as I do that we shall gravely miss the wisdom of Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield and the controversial but often exciting and imaginative contributions of Lord Beloff. We all look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The noble Lord has had more to do with many aspects of the frightening development associated with the break-up of the former republic of Yugoslavia than any of the rest of us.

For me, and I am sure for many other noble Lords, the moral issues involved in this particular set of decisions are acutely painful and difficult. We on these Benches have made clear that we support the Government in what they have done. But we do so with considerable concern about what may be the wider repercussions, and we have expressed our concern about the lack of a clear political goal.

We could not have stood aside. The systematic massacre of civilians--telephone taps indicate that some orders for massacres, including that at Racak, can be directly traced back to the administration in Belgrade--the systematic destruction of villages, the fleeing of thousands upon thousands of refugees, and the gradual

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1484

destruction of the whole of the countryside of Kosovo are events that we saw previously in Bosnia. Many of us were profoundly ashamed that we did not intervene until so late in the day in that part of the former Yugoslavia. I do not believe that we could have stood aside again and watched this situation unfold before our eyes.

That, of course, is the case for what the Government have done. All of us recognise, too, that there is a paradox in the Government's action in that delays--I acquit Her Majesty's Government of responsibility for those delays--have already allowed the government of Belgrade to destroy a substantial part of the morale and strength of the Kosovar Albanians. Very great humanitarian tragedies are taking place in that province. They are happening even before the bombing has been concluded.

There is of course an argument--this question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan--about the legal basis for what is happening. We can point to United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1199 and 1203. We can point to the Geneva Convention, which is clearly being broken by the government in Belgrade. But many of us feel troubled by the fact that the action does not have United Nations support and agreement behind it. It is very important, indeed incumbent on the Government, as soon as possible to try to achieve the support of the United Nations for the actions we take. Most of us strongly believe that the United Nations continues to be indispensable to the gradual creation of a world of international and moral law.

That said, I nonetheless believe that what we are seeing unfold before our eyes is a gradual attempt to establish a minimal level of human rights, of moral behaviour and of recognition that civilians need to be protected, which is gradually extending beyond the areas of the United States, the European Union and various other states that are members of the Council of Europe. The tragedy of the former republic of Yugoslavia is that it has always been outside the civilised circle. It is vital to bring that country back into the mainstream of European life as soon as we possibly can.

However, I believe that one of the dangers of our present debates--and I do not need to point to the arguments being conducted in the media--is that Kosovo is being treated as an isolated situation. I take noble Lords' minds back to 1991, to the occasion when the same kind of events unfolded in Croatia, when the city of Dubrovnik was shelled by the Yugoslav navy, with no intervention until it was virtually destroyed. A month later the city of Vukovar was burnt to the ground and no one intervened. Then the Belgrade government argued that the cease-fire had been breached and had its allies walk out of the negotiations.

That was Croatia. Not so long afterwards the same pattern was seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina: arousing nationalist sentiment, arguing that there had to be some military action and then the presentation of President Milosevic as the mediator, the outside force that would create a peaceful settlement. Kosovo looks like a re-run of exactly the same story. Again and

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1485

again, Mr Milosevic is at the centre of the scene, the person offering himself for international solutions to the problems which he himself has created.

Today, we hear the extraordinarily courageous commitment of the prime minister of Montenegro, a part of the former republic of Yugoslavia, denouncing Milosevic's provocation of the intervention. It is an act of extraordinary courage which tells us that we must not talk about Yugoslavia and Serbia as if we were talking about a united country bent upon the destruction of Kosovo. Indeed, we are talking about a country deeply divided, a brave and courageous country, many of whose fellow citizens are putting their own lives at risk by arguing against and opposing the actions of Mr Milosevic. I believe that were we not to stand up in Kosovo, we would see the same story unfold in Montenegro, where the prime minister has already been denounced as a separatist by Mr Seselj, the leader of the smaller party in the Yugoslav coalition, in Vojvodina, where the leader Mr Nenad Canak, has been similarly denounced, and even in Sandzak, where we hear pleas by the Moslem population that they are constantly being hounded and harassed by the forces of the government of Belgrade.

It is crucial to put that on the line because I believe we are dealing with a far more complex situation than our media suggest when they present simply the goodies and the baddies and do not give us the depth that we need to understand the situation in all its subtleties.

I therefore wish to ask the Minister three questions. The first is: what steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to bring home to those parts of the former republic of Yugoslavia that are themselves deeply uneasy with Mr Milosevic's rule that we in the United Kingdom and the whole contact group recognise and appreciate the position in which they find themselves? We wish them nothing but good. I believe that we have neglected the propaganda side of the whole exercise and should be trying to reach at least some of the people and politicians of the former republic of Yugoslavia.

Secondly, I ask what steps Her Majesty's Government and the contact group intend to take with regard to the terrifying vulnerability of what are now estimated, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned and more recently the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed, to be some 250,000 refugees. Sixty thousand in the past week alone, according to the most recent figure, are now desperately vulnerable because they are not being permitted to enter Macedonia and they would take their lives in their hands if they tried to enter Albania. They are sitting there, simply waiting for the possibility of the Serb army revenging itself upon them.

What steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to ensure that those refugees are protected, so far as we are able to protect them, possibly by opening the borders and providing some support for them until such time as they may return? Otherwise, they will have to flee out of their country and dissipate themselves across the whole continent of Europe.

I apologise to the noble Lord for my last question, because I have reiterated it on many occasions in this House. We cannot hope to bring about a peaceful

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1486

settlement in Kosovo unless we are prepared to be at least even-handed. That means we must take, or be willing to take, some action--should there be a peaceful settlement--to deal with the situation at the Albanian border which has become the source of a huge trade in drugs, arms and people. That, I believe, is an offer we need to make in order to persuade the Yugoslav Government of our own good intentions.

Finally, I have not a question but a point. There is one last chance of bringing about a reasonably rapid resolution of this difficult situation. That immediate chance, in my view, rests with Mr Primakov, the prime minister of Russia. Russia has been extremely cautious in what it has said, despite the perhaps more emotional outbursts of President Yeltsin. Mr Primakov has shown an extraordinary degree of sense and moderation. He is a historic ally of Yugoslavia. It is time to recognise his request that the contact group meet again. In that event it should seriously consider inviting Mr Primakov to carry a mission to Belgrade to see whether he at least can bring Mr Milosevic round to common sense and to realise the extreme damage he will do to his own country if he pursues his present course.

6.46 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed statement about last night's military action. Like other noble Lords, I am conscious of the awesome responsibility of the Government at this time in initiating the most serious military action in Europe since the Second World War.

I do not think it is the role of a churchman to pronounce, from the safety of this country, about the rightness or wrongness of a particular war, but I hope that your Lordships will not think it out of place if I draw on the long tradition of Christian thinking on the subject, in order to ask the Minister some questions. Those of us who had to watch the suffering of the Kosovar people over the past year have asked time and time again what can be done about it. We can have no doubt at all that we have a just cause here; namely, the protection of innocent people from further terror. Furthermore, it seems quite clear that everything that could have been done in the way of resolving this dispute by peaceful means was tried and tried again and eventually was found to have no further mileage.

In addition to those two questions, the long tradition of Christian thinking on the subject asks questions about legitimate authority. It is one of the hopeful developments since the Second World War that we now take it for granted, we assume, that any military action in the world today which is justified in some sense needs United Nations authorisation. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, have already said, it is important to hear from the Minister under what resolution of the United Nations he believes this military action is legitimated.

There are, of course, further questions when we come to the next criterion of this long tradition of just war thinking. It is the difficult question of weighing evils and trying to make a judgment that more evil will not be unleashed by military action than would ensue if the

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1487

situation remained as it is. The corollary of that, integrally bound up with it, is the criterion that there must be a reasonable chance of success.

What counts as success at the moment? I have no doubt at all that due to the courage, skill and training of our forces the military objectives will be achieved. But what is the relationship between those military objectives and that political goal which we all know is so desirable? There are very, very great worries which have already been so eloquently expressed that the risks of this military action are high. If noble Lords do not mind my being personal, as one who supported recent military action in the Gulf and the bombing of Iraq and argued for three years that military intervention in Bosnia was required before we intervened, I believe that the risks of the present military endeavour are higher than any of those other actions that we have undertaken. It is important to have a greater understanding of the relationship between that military objective which I am sure will be achieved and the political goal that is absolutely essential. We know that there has been a series of very sombre military analyses in the newspapers in recent days.

I return to the point with which I began: the awesome responsibility of the Government at this time and their courageous decision to protect the innocent people in Kosovo. It is the Government alone who know all the facts. They have had to weigh the risks very carefully, and it is their responsibility. The prayers of all people of good will are with our forces and with our political leaders that there will be a just and speedy outcome of this conflict.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing this debate and for his review of the current position. We can be thankful that last night's operations have gone as well as they have. It is a great credit to all those involved--the commanders, planners, logisticians, groundcrew and, above all, aircrew--who have collectively demonstrated once again what a major air operation is about and how professionally it can be executed. It has been executed not only by the tight co-ordination of several hundred aircraft sorties, with 100 or more cruise missiles, but in a way that ensures that there is a low level of risk from enemy forces.

We should not underestimate this achievement. The Serb air defences are not to be dismissed lightly. They have a strong potential to inflict severe damage on NATO's attacking forces. That they did not do so last night is probably due to the enormously effective technologies now available to modern air forces to suppress enemy air defences. It has coined its own mnemonic: SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences). No offensive air operation against well-found air defences can expect to succeed without strong SEAD support. I am sure that in last night's operation we can thank the US-co-ordinated SEAD capability mightily for the survival of all the NATO aircraft that took part. What we do not yet know is whether the Serbs were trying their damnedest and signally failed to achieve any

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1488

success or whether they were husbanding their forces for subsequent nights when the weight of attack, especially from cruise missiles, might not be as great.

It is fashionable, and in some ways dismissive of the value of airpower, to hear repeated so often the mantra that one cannot impose one's will on the enemy without the use of forces on the ground. Certainly, if the military objective is to occupy and defeat the enemy's forces and to take hold of his territory there can be no argument about the requirement for in-place effective ground force. However, as I have indicated, there is more to it than that. The military objective must be considered.

In Serbia and Kosovo the military objective is not (or so far has not been stated to be) to occupy territory or to defeat the enemy forces in the large; it is to degrade their capability to continue to inflict major suffering on civilians in Kosovo. Whether that will be achieved, or how long it will take to achieve it from the air alone, is the 64,000-dollar question. But I do not believe that it is right to imply that the use of air power will somehow be ineffective almost as a sideshow; far from it. More and more it is proving to be an essential tool in the Government's hands and one which so far has allowed them to proceed with little or no loss of life. Let us thank Lady Luck for that.

But the use of air power must be related to the military and strategic objective. That was why I asked the noble Baroness the Leader of the House when noble Lords were questioning the Statement on Kosovo on Tuesday whether Her Majesty's Government could give the House some assurance of their confidence that the operation on which we are now embarked would achieve the stated objective. Although the noble Baroness was not able to say more than that it was the intention of HMG that the,

    "objectives should be attempted to be achieved in the way we have described in the Statement as being theoretically possible",--[Official Report, 23/3/99; col. 1181]
I am sure that the House will accept that it would be immoral to commit our forces and those of our NATO allies to an operation in which lives are in grave danger unless there is a strong expectation of success. We can only wait to see whether that careful judgment is borne out by events. I for one feel that it is incumbent on all of us now to express confidence in that judgment so that those we ask to undertake operations and to put their lives at risk know that we are behind the judgment that has been made.

When the shooting dies down, then will be the time to reconsider the whole sequence of events that has led to this very serious and worrying event. I take comfort from the fact that there is such a strong unanimity of view throughout NATO countries. That is a strong bolster to our forces' morale and feelings--and those of their families--about the rightness and justice of what is taking place. I say that without in any way detracting from a feeling of sadness that the bulwark of NATO, which has been such a strong and dominant player in the defence of our freedoms as a defensive alliance, has on its 50th anniversary had to resort to what I fear legally may be termed aggression against a sovereign state, no matter how morally overriding is the suffering in Kosovo or, in the words of the right reverend Prelate,

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1489

however just the cause. I hope that the Government can reassure us that there is no possibility of any of our servicemen being at risk from being brought before an international court on a charge of having been involved in a crime under international law.

While on the subject of legality, perhaps the Minister can clarify the following points. Has war been declared? Are we at war with Serbia? Are our servicemen and women, especially those who have been taking part in the operations over Serbia, deemed to be on active service? What is the position if, regrettably, one or more of our aircrew is shot down and taken prisoner? Will he be treated as a prisoner of war? Does the Geneva Convention apply? Is the Red Cross standing by to carry out its responsibilities in the event of any of our service personnel being captured? Anything that the Minister can tell us now, or later if that is necessary, about these matters would be helpful. Whatever be the position, can he reassure us that those who are taking part have been made aware of the situation as it might affect them?

Finally, I think that this latest operation and, indeed, a number of previous operations embarked on by Her Majesty's Government in recent months and years, have demonstrated the immense value and importance of having an effective and modern air arm in our mix of forces. The requirement to upgrade our air superiority capability with the Eurofighter, and to enhance the performance of existing aircraft will not diminish in the years ahead.

The Government's fullhearted commitment to those programmes is self-evidently important. But there is another key point. There must be sufficient well trained, motivated and committed personnel to service, support and operate this equipment. Without them there is no air power to use in our modern diplomacy and foreign policy. We are still losing too many well trained and valuable people. It is beholden on the Government to recognise that.

The treatment of our personnel, their pay, their conditions of service and their accommodation are, if possible, even more important today to the success of our national policies and our position in the world and in the Security Council than ever in the past 50 years. Let the Government reflect on that in the moments of quietness between these crises, and not neglect anything that needs to be done. We need to retain as well as to recruit the best to support our Government's policies.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Carrington: My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for the statement, and in saying that we knew well that British forces would behave as they did last night, and will continue to do so.

After numerous threats, all unheeded, all ignored, over a period of time it would have been difficult for NATO to do nothing after the break up of the Rambouillet talks. It would have been a derided organisation. I accept that. But I have to say that I do not know where or how it will end, or what the Government will do if bombing does not achieve their aim. I have the gravest misgivings about the course on which we are set.

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1490

I believe that the policy which has led to us being where we are now is both mistaken and ill-conceived. I say at once that President Milosevic is in the first instance to blame for what has happened. He decided to revoke the autonomy that the Kosovars had enjoyed under Tito. He also refused, even more foolishly, to negotiate with Mr. Rugova, who was then the leader of the Kosovar Albanians--a very moderate man, and a man who would have been quite prepared at that time to settle for a return to autonomy. Now of course he has been pushed into an infinitely more extreme position.

What worries me is that I do not think that we have learned the lessons of the two wars: the Serbo-Croat war, and the Bosnian war. Those two wars showed what a mistake it is to intervene, in particular militarily, to keep a peace which does not exist and in a situation where we do not wholeheartedly support one side or the other; that is, supporting with all the means at our disposal which means not just aircraft but troops on the ground, with a full attack on their positions. If we do as we did in Bosnia, the likelihood is that we shall increase the timescale of the immense suffering of the civilian population. Intervention can even make things worse.

The final solution which will happen in Bosnia will not be dissimilar from that which would have occurred anyway if we had not been concerned with it. In the meantime, tens of thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been ethnically cleansed. Unless we are prepared to settle things once and for all with all the force at our disposal, and to take sides about who is right or wrong, then we shall fail. Here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, although I do not think that the position is quite as clear cut as she makes out in the Balkan Wars. I do not think President Milosevic was the only person to blame. President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic have a great deal to do with what happened.

If we intervene, we must decide on whose side we are. But in this particular case both sides had a case. The Serbs believe, and rightly, that Kosovo is part of Serbia, and has been for generations. Moreover, it is the birthplace of Serb nationalism. It would be very foolish to underestimate the resolution which the Serbs will show to maintain their possession of Kosovo. Equally, the Kosovar Albanians have a case. Not only have they seen their autonomy removed, but they have lost a great many of their civic and human rights. Due to the intransigence of the Serbs, they have been pushed into an armed revolt.

In addition, we all know that an independent Kosovo is not acceptable to the international community. Consequently we are faced with the problem: who do we support? Quite rightly, we sought to broker an agreement between the two sides. All credit is due to those who tried to achieve an agreement. Quite rightly, we sent as much humanitarian aid as we could.

So far so good, my Lords. But where I believe it went wrong was to threaten Serbia with bombs and cruise missiles if they did not agree. The Serbs were threatened with that long before the Kosovar Albanians agreed to the proposals. No one ever suggested bombing the Kosovar Albanians. The objective, I suppose, is to bring

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1491

Milosevic back to the negotiating table and to impose the kind of settlement that was agreed at Rambouillet. But the Serbs have wholeheartedly already rejected that, and it clearly does not satisfy the Albanians who want their independence.

We also know that if bombing does not succeed, no NATO country, least of all the Americans, will be prepared to put ground forces in to fight against the Serbs in an all-out war. President Milosevic knows that perfectly well. Do we then go on bombing and bombing? If not, what do we do after that? No one has told us; certainly the Government have not told us.

As other noble Lords have asked, are we really on good legal grounds for what we are doing? Are we not setting a rather dangerous precedent? It is also true to say that if we argue that we are doing it for humanitarian reasons, the removal of the monitor force has caused more immediate suffering to the Kosovar Albanians than anything else in the past few months.

I believe too that international opposition--not just from the Russians and the Chinese--will grow against what NATO has done and I fear that opinion in the NATO countries, if civilian casualties grow, will be increasingly hostile to what we have done. I am sorry to be so pessimistic but I think it right to say these things.

The die is cast. We are now on this course. I do not know where it will end, and I have a horrible feeling that the Government do not know either.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Eames: My Lords, it is indeed a daunting experience to find one's name on a list of speakers following someone of the stature of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on a subject such as this. None of us in the House this evening can possibly underestimate the gravity of the situation as has been vividly illustrated by previous speakers, a situation which not only confronts NATO and the people of the Balkans but--dare I suggest?--contains the ingredients for the most grave consequences for the whole of Europe. If we listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Baroness Williams and others, we would have no doubt about that point.

What has been said already this evening in this House clearly indicates the gravity of this moment. The arguments for and against the military action undertaken by NATO will continue for a long time and, as the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Oxford, has reminded us, there is a sense in this country, and I think among most of our allies that what we have attempted to do, rightly or wrongly, has been motivated by that sense of the just war. Tragically, the real judgment on what has happened will be made by history and that judgment, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has just reminded us, will have the benefit of hindsight to which you and I are not privy at this moment.

Justification for what NATO has done in the last 48 hours or so is couched in the name of international humanitarian intervention. That is a very interesting phrase. My chief concern this evening in your Lordships' House is to suggest that there is another

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1492

factor in this situation which requires international humanitarian intervention. It is factor which we can all so easily forget, given the tensions of this grave moment for our country.

Above all else, above all the military considerations and behind the smoke-screen of the bombs and missiles that we have been seeing on our television screens, this is a human tragedy. A recent estimate, as we have been reminded, speaks of one quarter of a million civilians who have been displaced, and 65,000 within the last month. Even as we debate at this moment in this House that figure is rising: people burned from their homes, people shot, TV pictures of little children crying on tractors and trailers, and elderly people dying in the attempt to escape.

What we are seeing is the greatest mass movement of refugees in the Balkans since the last war. Do I need to remind your Lordships' House of the historical significance of conflicts which, over the years and generations, have in fact begun in the Balkans? Anyone who knows that region and knows it intimately will agree with me that the picture of the misery of ordinary people caught up is nothing less than a cauldron of fear.

We all pray for an end to this tragedy and I have to say that I share some of the misgivings expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he spoke so movingly just now and attempted to answer the question: where is it leading? I believe that we would be failing not only the people of this nation but our colleagues in NATO if we did not recognise first of all the desperate need for a solution to this tragedy. Whether it comes from the results of the last 48 hours or not remains to be seen. At this moment--and I choose my words carefully--far away from the conference table and far away from the corridors of NATO, the United Nations in New York, European power bases, and even far away from your Lordships' House, there is a mass movement of human misery taking place. That misery will remain long after any solution emerges. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater will be the need to solve that problem. The longer a solution is delayed, the greater those figures will magnify.

We cannot and we must not forget the human side of this issue. I have seen at first hand in my life what refugees and displaced persons have to contend with. I will not bore your Lordships' House with a description of it save to say that it has to be experienced to be understood. It is for that reason that I speak in this debate from a deep personal conviction that we must not lose sight of the human element.

I appeal to the House and in particular to Her Majesty's Government, while paying tribute to the Minister for his very clear statement which has benefited us all this evening, that allied now to any decisions over the military aspect, instead of waiting for an end to what we can only refer to as "the war", every effort is made now to address the massive refugee problem. I recognise the difficulties involved and those who deal with problems of this nature will immediately say that it is bland to raise it at this moment. It is not bland. It is a moral, clear duty.

25 Mar 1999 : Column 1493

I urge Her Majesty's Government to take the lead among the European nations and among the partners of NATO in supporting, indeed (dare I suggest) initiating, humanitarian relief on a massive scale. I do not believe it is overstating the situation at this moment to say that whatever the moral questions raised by the current bombing, unless we address and are seen to address the moral issues of the human misery of the refugees and of the war, we will stand condemned not just by the world but by history. I humbly submit this evening that it is not just on military action that we will be judged by future generations.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page