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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I shall not intervene again. What reassurance can the Minister give the House about the element she mentioned with regard to a NATO core of support. That does not appear in the communique that we have received.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it does not. That is why I stressed the "we" in the way

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that I did. It is not in the statement; it is a point that I wanted to make on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I am glad that the noble Baroness asked for clarification. I would not like to think that there is any doubt on that point.

We believe that the statement is entirely consistent with what we in NATO have put forward, otherwise we would not have agreed it. We believe also that this is something which clearly sets out to Mr. Milosevic how he can end this crisis.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend a very quick question. She said that there will be a NATO military core. Does that mean that the force will be NATO-led?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I did not say that there will be unequivocally. I made very clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, what had been said in the communique from Bonn, which was that there would be a force of the kind I have described. I then made it clear to your Lordships--it was a point that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, had specifically asked me to address--that, as far as concerns Her Majesty's Government, we would expect there to be a NATO core. I have also made it clear to your Lordships that political planners will now carry forward this work and that Foreign Ministers have agreed to reconvene. We have made substantial progress. I do not for one moment think that the work is completed, otherwise we would not be asking our political planners to come back and put more flesh on those points.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, in relation to the NATO military core, the noble Baroness says that this is what the British Government hope will happen. Do the Government have any view on the extent of support they would be likely to receive from the other governments of the G8 nations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have asked the political planners right across the G8 to go on working on the programme I have outlined. As noble Lords will appreciate, I have been sitting on the Front Bench all afternoon listening to the very interesting contributions from your Lordships. Noble Lords may have seen me darting backwards and forwards to the Box, but the fact is that I do not have full background briefing. I have been able to give your Lordships a full account of what I know so far. I very much hope that on a future occasion, probably very soon, I shall be able to put more flesh on the bones that I have been able to outline to the House. For moment, I think it would be unwise for me to go any further than I have been able to go.

Of course--

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. But can she be clear? When she talks about a NATO "core", is she talking about a "c-o-r-e" or a "c-o-r-p-s".

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: "C-o-r-e", my Lords. I wish all questions were as easy to answer.

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Of course the United Nations is involved as well. The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and we have kept the UN fully informed on developments over recent months. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, stated, last year's resolutions warned very clearly of a threat to the regional peace and security and of a humanitarian catastrophe if Milosevic did not stop the repression in Kosovo. The noble Baroness made those points very clearly.

I know how passionately my noble friend Lord Judd made his point. But perhaps I may remind him, too, that this year, in late March, UN debates showed strong support for NATO action. A draft resolution proposed by the Russians on 26th March condemning that action was heavily rejected by 12 votes to three. The UN remains involved. I stress that very forcefully. The UN Secretary-General rightly continues his involvement. We welcome his initiatives and in particular his strong statements in support of NATO action. His appointment of Special Envoys to Yugoslavia will further bring home to Milosevic the UN's deep concern at the situation in Kosovo and the need for him to accept NATO's entirely justified demands.

But some noble Lords have questioned the legality of what NATO is doing--in particular the noble Lords, Lord Kennet, Lord Belhaven and Stenton and Lord Jenkins of Putney, and the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, and of course the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, in his amendment. Let me be clear on this point. Every means short of force was taken to avert military action. When it became clear that every other possibility was exhausted, then, and only then, was action taken. In these circumstances, and as an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, military intervention was and is entirely justifiable, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede emphasised.

Let me reiterate the reply I gave in a Written Answer on 16th November:

    "Cases have ... arisen ... when, in the light of all the circumstances, a limited use of force was justifiable in support of purposes laid down by the Security Council but without the council's express authorisation when that was the only means to avert an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe".--[Official Report, 16/11/98; col. WA 139.] I stand by that Written Answer.

This action is supported by the 19 countries of NATO, 19 democracies with independent judiciaries who believe in human rights and the rule of law, and many like-minded countries besides.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, raised questions about the United States. Of course there are disagreements in the UN Congress about the way forward in Kosovo. But what is clear is that the United States Government are as fully committed as we are to pursuing NATO's action until our objectives are met. The Russian Special Envoy, Victor Chernomyrdin, was received at the highest level in Washington last week, and President Clinton is again demonstrating that commitment during his visit to Europe this week.

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Many noble Lords have understandably concentrated on the difficult questions surrounding refugees. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was in Macedonia on Monday. He had the opportunity to visit one of the main refugee camps there and was strongly impressed by the determination of refugees to return home to Kosovo, a point about which many noble Lords expressed some doubt. Those refugees urged the Prime Minister to continue his support for the NATO action until a comprehensive and fail-safe political settlement had been reached allowing them to return safely to their homes. The Prime Minister made clear to the refugees that we would not let them down. I repeat that assurance to your Lordships. We shall not let them down.

At the same time, my right honourable friend asked the Macedonians to maximise the care and protection that they could provide in the region by keeping the borders open and allowing the building of new camps. Some 675,000 refugees have now left Kosovo. We should not forget the vast number of people inside Kosovo who are displaced from their homes.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that we do not expect the countries neighbouring the FRY to support the refugees without considerable international support. That is why the Prime Minister announced that our bilateral aid since 24th March would be doubled from £20 million to £40 million. The noble Baroness may also wish to know that the donor conference yesterday pledged 250 million US dollars of immediate budgetary and balance of payments help to Macedonia. It agreed to meet again in the early autumn to review future needs. We made a new pledge of £5 million to strengthen the capacity of the Macedonian Government to take forward reform and mobilise promises of aid from the international donor community. I hope that that news from yesterday reassures the noble Baroness, who raised important points.

We are working alongside UNHCR to ensure that refugees from Kosovo receive care and protection. Our preference is for this to be in the region. This is also the preference of most of the refugees. But where care and protection are not available we have promised to respond to the requests of UNHCR to relocate refugees in the United Kingdom.

I remind noble Lords that over the past three to four years 8,000 Kosovar asylum-seekers have been in the UK. The Government have long said that they stand ready to receive thousands of refugees from Kosovo, and we have begun the process. There will be further flights next week and they will build up in the following weeks to five to seven flights per week, leading to a weekly total of about 1,000 in-comers.

No Kosovar Albanian who is in the UK, or who arrives here independently, will be sent back to the region while the conflict lasts.

The Home Office is working with the Refugee Council, its partner agencies and the local government associations to identify suitable accommodation for the

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evacuees. Naturally we are anxious to keep family units together, as noble Lords would expect, and we shall ensure that the choice of reception centres reflects this.

Our objectives in offering assistance to the region are to save lives, protect the rights of refugees, encourage tolerance in host countries towards refugees, plan for new contingencies, including access to Kosovo when the security situation allows, and to plan for refugee return. The Department for International Development has already committed over half of the total £40 million.

In answer to the particular point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, the United Kingdom is funding radio stations and recording special programmes for refugees to keep them in touch with events and family members. In co-operation with UNHCR, we have supplied 5,000 wind-up radios to enable people to receive programmes in Albania and Macedonia.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked about the extent to which we were able to penetrate the region. The BBC World Service has extended its coverage in Serbian, Albanian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Hungarian and English in that area. I can give details, but the clock is somewhat against me. I shall write to him with those details. In addition to the 13 million leaflets mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Gilbert, the FCO and MoD website has had 95,000 hits a day since the beginning of April and over 1,000 a day from Yugoslavia. That website is also being used very extensively.

We have provided direct support to Save the Children Fund, Oxfam and UNICEF. To reflect the priority we attach to keeping families together, we have also committed £2.5 million to the British Red Cross for issues to do with family reunification. Our aid has not just been in money and goods but has encompassed expert technical support on the ground. The Department for International Development has sent personnel to logistic cells on the ground to help distribute supplies. The 4,200 UK troops in Macedonia as part of the NATO force there are doing everything they can to assist the refugees. They took the lead in establishing Brazde refugee camp, which serves as an important transit area for people leaving Pristina for Skopje. NATO's ability to deploy personnel and resources at great speed has been an essential source of support to UNHCR.

As reflected in questions in your Lordships' House today, I should also say something about the countries neighbouring Kosovo. Some most directly affected have had to cope with enormous numbers of refugees crossing their borders. Others have been affected by economic and political fall-out of various kinds. We have given our full support to those countries which have taken the refugees, and shall continue to do so.

In answer to points raised by my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, it must be self-evident that a major reconstruction programme will be needed as soon as the conflict in Kosovo is over, not just to rebuild the physical infrastructure damaged in the conflict--the destroyed homes, schools and public buildings--but also to make good the damage done to the economies of the region. The process is some time into the future.

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Yesterday's donors' conference was a useful step along that road. But we are working hard with our partners in all the relevant organisations--the EU, the OSCE, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund--to take the planning forward. In particular, we are working on the stability plan for south-east Europe. I look forward to giving your Lordships more details of those important issues as the work proceeds.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, felt that we had been over-optimistic about how quickly the campaign might be resolved. The point was echoed by the noble Lords, Lord Blaker and Lord Burnham. I ask noble Lords to reflect on the wise words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who spoke about the differences between the individual campaigns at different times, in different parts of the world, in different territories and with different objectives. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for his words of understanding about how we have not bombed at times when we thought that civilian casualties were very likely indeed. His speech showed a good deal of insight.

We never expected to achieve our military objectives overnight. It will take time. But the Washington summit showed that the allies are united in their resolve to proceed with the air campaign and to intensify the pressure that is being put on Milosevic.

The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, and others, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, asked how targets are chosen. I cannot go into details about a target policy any more than my noble friend Lord Gilbert was able to do; but I can say that all targets are selected and approved at the highest levels in NATO and that rigorous criteria are used to assess the suitability of any target, including its military utility and the risk of environmental damage or civilian casualties.

In response to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, NATO has no intention of bombing Vinca. But I was concerned--and I must raise this with the noble Lord--about his accusation of NATO having committed what he termed "murder". I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord--I hope that he will not mind if I say that I have a good deal of affection for him--but I must say that accusations of that kind really are way over the top and I hope that he will reflect on them in due course.

I believe that our military action is consistent with achieving our objectives. We are not attacking wholly civilian targets to kill, maim and demoralise the people of FRY. We are attacking oil supplies, communication links--including media links, as many noble Lords said--and other targets. But they are targets which help Milosevic to prosecute his war against the Kosovar people. The Government never believed that this could be a bloodless conflict. We cannot guarantee--we never tried to guarantee--that civilians will not be hurt or even killed. Such casualties are a source of genuine regret. The military conflict has yet to be fought that does not involve the risk of hurting the innocent. That is why the prosecution of war is such an awesome responsibility for any government.

Several noble Lords referred to what they termed "collateral damage". Like the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, I loathe that term. "Collateral damage" is a nice

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way of talking about unintended casualties, about killing people you are very, very sorry to kill. NATO action is in strict accordance with the rules of international law applicable in armed conflicts; and it is strictly limited to what is necessary to achieve our humanitarian objectives. I give the noble Baroness that assurance.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, in a contribution which I hope was largely rhetorical, said that he would like to know when the bombing would end. NATO will suspend its action when Milosevic meets our conditions, not when we meet his. The Balkans are littered with his broken promises.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the noble Lords, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, and Lord Shore of Stepney, raised questions about whether we had made things worse. I ask them to recall that in the summer of 1998 Serb security forces drove at least a quarter of a million Kosovar Albanians from their homes. They destroyed villages and crops; 2,000 civilians died between March 1998 and before the air strikes began. During the winter, we had information that the Serbs planned to destroy the KLA. Raca was an early example. Noble Lords will remember that on 15th January more than 40 people were killed. Before NATO started bombing on 24th March, the Serbs had destroyed many villages as well as their inhabitants.

With or without our air campaign, Belgrade would have moved fast to carry out its ethnic cleansing before we mobilised. But with our campaign, Milosevic is under pressure to stop his door-to-door brutality. Not taking action would have been worse and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for her forthright points.

Many Americans are involved in the NATO operation, but I must tell my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees that more than one-third of NATO aircraft are from European and NATO countries--from 11 European countries in addition to the UK. The UK and France are providing about 20 per cent of alliance air assets. The European allies are also providing naval assets; 95 per cent of the troops on the ground in Macedonian are European.

Let us turn to ground troops. We said before the Rambouillet talks that an international military ground force would be necessary to secure long-term peace in Kosovo, to guarantee a cease-fire and to ensure a secure environment in which refugees can return to their homes. We are concentrating on what can be achieved through an effective air campaign, but I remind your Lordships that the NATO Secretary General, Mr. Solana, has been tasked by the NATO military authorities to update the planning for the ground forces in a variety of environments. Therefore, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as he asked me to do, that no option has been ruled out. We have made it clear that Mr. Milosevic does not have a veto over our decisions. I have said that to your Lordships before, and I say it again with all the emphasis I can muster.

The gang of four was referred to: the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall, Lord Inge, Lord Craig and Lord Carver. I would add a fifth: the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. She spoke as forcefully about the forces as any of the noble and gallant Lords. A

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change in our force structure as a result of the SDR is designed to deal with crises of exactly this kind. The deployment to Kosovo will affect the state of implementation of some parts of the SDR, but it will not invalidate the SDR. If anything, events in the Balkans demonstrate that the results of the SDR are fundamentally correct, but I am sure that my noble friend Lord Gilbert and his colleagues in another place will study carefully all the points made tonight in your Lordships' House.

Important points were made, too, about the oil embargo. I propose to write to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, about the points that he raised as regards the EU and a NATO maritime operation.

We have dealt today with the objectives of the action; with diplomacy; with legality; with the statistics of refugees and of aid; with the perpetrators of the action; with the military impact; with the politics of decision-taking; with the impact upon the economies of those countries most closely affected; and with our own military personnel.

What we cannot and what we must not forget is the point made by my noble friend Lord Hacking and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. I refer to the people who are involved. Mrs. Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees briefed the Security Council again yesterday. As she said, the root cause of the crisis was the systematic and intolerable violence being waged against an entire population; nor was the refugee outflow new, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, told us. Last year more than a quarter of all asylum requests in Europe came from Kosovars. Until its withdrawal from Kosovo on 23rd March 1999, the UNHCR had been providing assistance to 400,000 displaced people or people otherwise affected by the fighting in the province and up to 90,000 refugees and displaced persons outside Kosovo. As of 4th May, she reported that there were 404,000 Kosovo refugees in Albania, 211,000 in Macedonia and 62,000 displaced persons in Montenegro. They show up as statistics but they are people. They are individuals. They are people with families.

I do not need any persuading, but I think that the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, was an enormously powerful one. There is nothing justifiable in taking unarmed people from their homes at gunpoint, separating husbands from wives, fathers from children, sons from mothers. There can be no reason for killing those husbands, those fathers, those sons in front of their anguished and terrified families or taking young girls to be repeatedly abused and raped by so-called soldiers and militiamen. Two thousand were killed before the bombing ever began. We simply do not know how many have been killed since.

These are not the terrible events of 50 or 60 years ago. They are happening now, they are happening this week, they may have happened today. We cannot and must not give any solace, sanction or excuse to those undertaking such terrible, inhumane and deliberately methodical acts.

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I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, for indicating that he will withdraw his amendment. I know from his contributions in the past how obviously sincerely he holds his views, but I honestly believe that he has made the right decision.

The conflict in Kosovo is not of NATO's making. We spent months trying to secure a political settlement, but Milosevic refused every opportunity for a peaceful solution. While he negotiated at Rambouillet, he built up his military forces. The humanitarian catastrophe that we had hoped to avert by prompt action has indeed happened. I pay tribute to all those who have worked to relieve the worst consequences of humanitarian disaster. I also pay tribute to our brave service men and women and give thanks to them, although I cannot emulate the eloquent way in which the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, did it. They have worked hard, risking their lives, to relieve the worst consequences in terms of human misery.

It is clear that with or without an air campaign Milosevic would have moved fast to carry out his ethnic cleansing plans before we could mobilise to stop those atrocities. Without the air campaign, he would have been under little pressure to stop the brutality.

Taking no action was not and is not an option for us. Military action was truly the last resort for NATO. If Milosevic continues to reject the path of peace and pursues his scorched earth campaign in Kosovo, NATO must see the job through until our objectives are fully achieved. Her Majesty's Government believe that this action is just. We are committed to it, but in no less measure are we committed to a just peace for Kosovo and for her neighbours.

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