I call Mr. King—[Interruption.] Order. I ask hon. Members who are leaving to be kind enough to do so more quietly so that we can hear the next speaker.
I rise to speak for the first time in 17 years from the Back Benches in these rather extraordinary circumstances. It is traditional not to intervene in personal statements, but I should like to add, as a former colleague of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), that it was with the greatest sadness that I heard the news of the past 24 hours. I entirely endorse his comments on the exceptional tributes that have been paid to him by many in the arts world for the work he was seeking to do. These may be icy wastes, but there are some friendly faces here on the Back Benches and I assure him that the journey that he is about to make is not an entirely disastrous one.
The motion on the Adjournment concerns British support for the United Nations in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Somalia. I am surely not the only hon. Member who believes that that list is capable of significant extension in the months and years ahead. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his important review, we have arrived at the end of the cold war, a period in which the super-powers imposed discipline on their client states using both acceptable and unacceptable means. Those client states made up a considerable sector of the world. All that has now gone. The Soviet Union has imploded into separate republics, and the whole system of client states that it supported has disappeared. It is no coincidence that we are debating some of its former client states today. All of them depended to some extent on Soviet support in the past.
As this system of client states has collapsed, the United States has understandably imposed a limit on its willingness to become involved—it has no desire to become the world's policeman. That, in turn, has introduced a role for the United Nations—a role formerly inhibited by veto throughout our life times but now, since Iraq and due to subsequent developments, full of new responsibilities.
What should the UN's role be in future? What should our contribution to it be? The United Nations can authorise and support internal intervention in the affairs of disorderly countries, but when it does so, how should it be done and who will carry it out?
I was involved to some degree in discussions of the possible military intervention in Iraq and subsequently in Yugoslavia. Such military intervention, if contemplated, must always be seen as the last resort. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is always the first to emphasise the essential and demanding role of diplomacy, since such conflicts must if possible be solved without military intervention. One of the less welcome by-products of the superb professionalism displayed by the military in the Gulf war was that the skill, speed and success of the liberation of Kuwait and the ending of Iraqi aggression encouraged in some minds too ready a feeling that we can always call on the military to solve our problems. The Ministry of Defence is just across Whitehall—it can deal with the problem. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was always sympathetic to my warnings against such a view.
Today we again face the difficult decision whether to put young men and women, to use President Bush's phrase from the Gulf war, in harm's way. About 30,000 of our fellow citizens, men and women, are in Northern Ireland helping to protect the community, to keep the peace and to prevent the success of terrorism.
Two years ago we sent 45,000 of our young men and women into Iraq as our contribution to the United Nations effort there. Subsequently I had the opportunity, with my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay), to see at first hand the remarkable humanitarian effort carried out by 1,000 Royal Marines, providing air cover and helicopter support in Operation Haven. I am proud that that effort saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Kurds who would not be alive today had we not been prepared to take the difficult decision to do something against which many arguments could have been advanced. It stands to the eternal credit of our country that we played such a positive part in that operation.
We all take pride in the success of Operation Haven. It is a sombring and interesting thought that our Jaguar aircraft have now flown for more than a year from the Incirlik air base in Turkey. They are continuing to provide that air cover and to impose a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, as undoubtedly they should. Although the situation is far from perfect, we have, in a real sense, created, through the removal of Saddam Hussein's additional asset, a more level playing field in northern Iraq from which the Peshmerga can more readily defend their Kurdish countrymen. I welcome also what is, for obvious reasons, no longer called Operation Southern Comfort but Operation Jural—the sending of the Tornados to the south similar to Operation Provide Comfort in the north. This is helping with the problems of the Shias in the marshes and I welcome the Opposition's support for that.
Those have been welcome interventions. They continue and they have no fixed time limit. I could not advise the House with such knowledge as I have when those efforts may be withdrawn. The great difficulty in such peacekeeping activities is whether one can ever get out; all peacekeeping activities involve such a warning.
By any military standards, the situation in the former Yugoslavia is a textbook example of what Britain should not become involved in. It is difficult to imagine a more appallingly difficult situation. There are no clear objectives. There is every prospect of getting sucked into an open-ended commitment, starting with humanitarian aid and the escorting of convoys and released prisoners from the detention camps—all the most worthy and desirable objectives. Yet there is the greatest risk of a spread of the conflict.
In 1964 we went into Cyprus and we are still there. The history of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in different corners of the world, whether still on the peaceline in Korea, whether the UN interim force in Lebanon or in Sinai and across its other activities, shows the great difficulty of withdrawal. An understandable intervention in this debate has been the warning that after Bosnia, what next? Reference was made to the predictable and the predicted Bosnian conflict and now Kosovo, then the real risk of an implosion in Macedonia involving Serbia, Albania, Greece and Bulgaria. We know that the potential risk is great.
We also run the real risk, as we know sadly all too well, not just from Northern Ireland, of being accused of taking sides, of going in for one purpose and then finding that our purposes are disbelieved—
I would rather not. I understand why the hon. Gentleman seeks to intervene, but I want to be brief and not to abuse my situation.
There is also the clearest possible risk of casualties. To use another analogy with Northern Ireland—the House has been horrified at the suffering and the real tragedy of Northern Ireland—it is a sobering thought that already in what was Yugoslavia within six months three times more people have died that in 25 years of trouble in Northern Ireland. The scale of the viciousness and fanatical hatred has been there on our television sets for all of us to see. The sad news today of four more injuries to the UNPROFOR is a clear warning of the dangers that are run. As the Opposition spokesman said, we see in United Nations activity the risk of potential confusion of command, the difficulty of establishing clear rules of engagement and, as casualties happen, as sadly I fear they will, the difficulty of presenting them to the country to explain what national interest there is in our involvement.
There is also the difficulty in explaining why there are so many abstainers from the initiative. Germany's situation is understood. The problem of its constitution and its past involvement in the territories make this a particularly difficult matter. The United States, we know, does not feel that this is an area in which to make a contribution of the same significance at this time.
Those were my views, which I sought to ensure were represented clear in government. I was clear, on the advice that I received, of the great dangers that we faced. Yet I always said that there could come a time when we could no longer walk by on the other side. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary used precisely that phrase in his speech.
The scale of man's inhumanity to man that we have witnessed in the appalling incidents introduces an element in which it is no longer acceptable for us as a leading member of the European Community, holding the presidency at the present time, as a permanent member of the Security Council and with our role in the United Nations to say that we shall simply stand back and do nothing.
It can be argued, perhaps some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will do so, that all the disadvantages that I have clearly rehearsed, of which I am not unaware—I know that my right hon. Friends are acutely aware of them —should not be overlooked. But government is about taking difficult decisions and taking responsibility, no matter how difficult and awkward that may be.
I believe that there is a national interest. Obviously there is a clear national interest by virtue of the role of the United Nations and the importance of the United Nations making a contribution and our being a willing and strong supporter of the United Nations in its work. But there must come a time when the conflicts spread, when we see the risk of the brush fire that has spread already from the initial problems of Serbia and Croatia, then involving Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, and the problems in the ex-Soviet republics, when we see the risks of this involving Slav and Muslim, Turk and Greek, when our past history shows that we will inevitably at some stage be sucked in, that we still have a national interest in trying to intervene in any way that we can, first, because there is a moral case for humanitarian aid, but, above all, to do everything that we can to try to prevent further conflict.
Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me? I want to make progress.
If we ask our young men and women to stand in harm's way, we must insist on certain conditions. The first is that it must be right that we work under United Nations auspices and authority. We have a duty to see that we have the clearest possible rules of engagement that are fair to our forces. They must have the authority and the opportunity, without qualification, for self-defence, and self-defence interpreted not in the most immediate and narrow way of whether a weapon is being fired at them, but a sensible and flexible approach to the problem. We must ensure that they have the right scope. My right hon. Friend's decision, put to Cabinet, was to send a self-contained unit of some 1,800 men, with the Cheshires, the Warrior armoured personnel carriers and their own logistics. They would be self-contained with the very real intention that if the worst came to the worst they could look after themselves and would not be dependent on other, perhaps less adequate, elements of what may be a United Nations force.
There must be in that force the maximum contribution from the maximum number of nations. I have already referred to the abstainers—the no-shows in this situation. I note that we are proposing to send 1,800 men and I support the reasons for deciding on that figure. I note that the Canadians form the next largest force with 1,200, then the French with 1,100. The Benelux countries are sending smaller contributions. There must be maximum contribu-tions from the maximum number of countries. There must also be some rules about, or some opportunity to set, a time limit on the contributions of individual countries, and certainly of individual units.
I welcome the announcement in today's newspapers of the proposal to use, wherever possible, NATO structures and logistic systems that are already in place and operational. We owe it to our forces to ensure that they have the best possible support that we can give them. Above all, we owe it to them to accept that in no sense can we pretend that this is the solution. In asking them to undertake such a very dangerous task, we owe it to them to ensure that they go there in the knowledge that every possible effort is being made in the political and diplomatic areas to find a solution. I warmly support what the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said about sanctions. We must make those levers that are not military work in support of our forces.
It is as difficult a decision as Ministers could ever be asked to make. It is a sombre position. I do not think that any hon. Member is under any illusion about the dangers and the difficulties. We have all seen television pictures of the terrible horrors. In my judgment that we cannot simply stand by, I am also influenced by the fact that no one could fail to have been impressed by the fortitude of the people of Sarajevo and the many suffering such appalling hardships. This debate is taking place at the end of September and we know that, in the months ahead, those people face the prospect of falling temperatures, no water, probably no power and no heat. The risks to life, the possibility of death, the casualties and the suffering could be enormous.
Against that background, and within Europe, we have a responsibility to play our part. We must do what we can, but we must do it with the world. As we take this decision we pray for our forces as they undertake a challenging and vital task.
Like the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), I find this a timely debate. Like the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his courtesy, although I cannot commend him on his brevity.
The debate is basically about the future role of the United Nations and the extent to which, in the new position, post-cold war, it can enable the international community to set standards of human rights and to move from peacekeeping to peacemaking by direct intervention in regional and national conflicts throughout the world. The Liberal Democrats are quite clear that we want the United Nations to develop such an interventionist role. As I have said a number of times in the House, we are also clear that the old precepts of non-interference in domestic affairs and the inviolability of borders must, in certain cases, be overridden in the interests of justice.
I shall begin with Somalia. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the former Liberal leader, was yesterday at a refugee camp on the northern Kenyan border with Somalia. It held about 45,000 people—about the population of Inverness, to put it in context. He was full of praise for the activities of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, which had gained control over a position which, until June, was horrific and involved countless deaths. Even in June they ran at about 60 a week, but now the figure is down to about 10. A corrugated iron hospital has been constructed to replace the tents.
My right hon. Friend reiterated our view that earlier intervention, post-President Barre, would have prevented a large-scale tragedy. It is impossible enough to handle the drought; it is even more difficult to handle the drought and the civil war. My right hon. Friend stressed the need to organise the purchase of arms from bandit groups in return for food and/or money, an approach which I commend to the Foreign Secretary. He even found a man with a British passport issued in 1957 in British Somaliland, which highlights the historical responsibility for the area that we share with the Italians.
It is tragic, but the appalling position in Somalia is only the beginning. The hon. Member for Copeland mentioned that. Civil war, drought and ecological disaster are resulting in famine not just in Somalia but in the whole of south-eastern Africa. In the Horn of Africa alone, 23 million people face severe food shortages. In addition to famine, drought and an enormous debt crisis, almost the whole of central and southern Africa faces a devastating AIDS epidemic, which will reach such a level that hardly a family will be unaffected by the end of the century.
Again, we agree with the hon. Member for Copeland that it is both wrong and shocking that, in the midst of all those crises, the Government are reportedly threatening to cut overseas aid still further. At a time when the United Kingdom holds the presidency of the European Community, there is a proposal to cut the Community's aid budget by £200 million. That would destroy the possibility of creating a much-needed emergency aid reserve to cope with disasters. Quite frankly, it is a scandal that during the 1980s the United Kingdom's aid disbursements have declined both absolutely and relatively. Our overseas aid should be approaching—or at least should be committed to reaching—0.7 per cent. of gross national product, rather than standing at just 0.27 per cent. More than anything, Somalia needs food and the European Community stores should be opened to it, together with active intervention to ensure distribution.
As the winter approaches in Iraq, the suffering of the Kurds and of the Shia Muslims in the south will become intolerable if there is not United Nations intervention. Again, for any aid programme to be successful a considerable increase in funding will be required. The Foreign Secretary may say that there are limits, and that is true—but it is a problem that we must all face. If we expect the United Nations to do more, the advanced countries must pay it more.
The international community's approach to events in what was Yugoslavia has been in marked contrast with its action in Iraq. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, attitudes are different. The House is aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and I went to the Serbian-controlled area of Bosnia last month at the invitation of the Bosnian Serbian leader, Dr. Radovan Karadzic. He invited us because he felt that we had been unfair in criticising the Serbs as the principal aggressors—although not the only aggressors —in the bloody war in Bosnia. We had said that they had used heavy weapons such as guns, tanks and rockets, which the Yugoslav national army had left them, to kill people indiscriminately in the great city of Sarajevo and also in Gorazde and Bihac. Our visit coincided with the revelations of the existence of appalling prison camps. We also saw a ghastly refugee collection point—it could not be called a camp—where men and women thrown out, or perhaps I should say cleansed out, of their homes gathered in the open without cover, sanitation or effective medical arrangements. I do not think that we have been unfair. We were on the heights above Sarajevo and we saw the guns.
We have been making those points for some time, as the Foreign Secretary knows. I shall quote again from a letter that I wrote to The Times in November 1991:
At different times over the past months I have asked Douglas Hurd to consider urging the countries of the Western European Union. if they were unwilling, which I understand, to commit land forces"—
—the same problem was touched on today by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater—
to consider a naval and aerial blockade. In the time scale, economic sanctions are both useless and as harmful to the attacked as to the attacker. He has refused. I think the time has come to think again…If I were in a decision-making position, I would say to the Serbs, 'We want a cease fire by midday tomorrow and if it doesn't happen aircraft will attack your positions round Osijek.'
I think that action should have been taken then. It was certainly possible; indeed, it is still possible, although I accept that it would now be much more difficult. If action has been taken, Milosevic and the Serbs would have been compelled to comply. They rightly felt that no one had the will to stand up to them. We continually said that we would not use force, and anyone who tells a bully, "I shall never use force" allows him to let rip.
I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Copeland refer to the over-early recognition of Croatia. I do not think that there was any alternative to the recognition of Croatia at the time.
I only have three minutes left. Normally I would give way to the hon. Gentleman.
When my right hon. Friend and I returned from Bosnia and Serbia, we both wrote to Dr. Karadzic. He replied:
We have undersigned the agreement with the UNPROFOR on the supervision of our heavy artillery. We have been taking many other steps to establish and reinforce the cease-fire and end this war.
We all know what has happened since: the war has not ended.
I have not much time left. Let me ask four quick questions. First, how safe is the UNPROFOR mandate? I am told that Tudjman is against extending it beyond the timetable. Secondly, Serb aircraft were flying this week. The Foreign Secretary said that no-fly zones were being considered, although only five or six weeks ago the Prime Minister said that the idea was impractical. What is going to happen?
Thirdly, little has been said about refugees. Will Britain reconsider its rejection of the quota arrangements, which are not fair to the countries nearest to the former Yugoslavia? Fourthly, like the hon. Member for Copeland and others, we are most concerned about the rules governing the involvement of our troops. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will make it clear what the rules of engagement are.
If we are to develop a global emergency system to anticipate and prevent conflicts such as those that we are now witnessing in Somalia, Iraq and Bosnia, we must develop the institutions within the United Nations to organise rapid negotiations and take rapid action. We need a global enforcement arrangement setting out clear rules for sanctions and, if necessary, military enforcement. We need the reinstatement of the United Nations military staff committee, which will require a good deal of money.
Those are large, difficult and costly objectives, but if we are to have a realistic new world order—which I am sure is the aim of hon. Members on both sides of the House—they are the objectives which we must pursue.
I accept immediately what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his peroration. He suggested that a common theme could be found in the tragic circumstances affecting Iraq, Somalia and Yugoslavia: the role of the United Nations in facing the challenges involved.
What are those challenges? I believe that they can be summed up in three areas of the work to which the UN is dedicated—preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping and disaster relief. I feel that, in the countries we are discussing, preventive diplomacy must inevitably be seen as something which has been sadly missed in the past and to which we must now turn in seeking to prevent future tragedies on a similarly appalling scale elsewhere.
My concern is that the UN has been hampered, and is still being hampered, in its work in these countries, especially in peacekeeping and—above all—disaster relief. I believe that, in the past, there has been a failure to recognise the convergence of those two challenges. The evidence is clear. In Somalia we have 3,500 armed troops to protect essential supplies. The no-fly zone in Iraq is there to protect the Kurds, in implementing UN resolutions and in response to the report of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In Yugoslavia, the convoys of food and medical supplies and the work of the UN protection force in Bosnia show again the interrelationship between the military presence and disaster relief.
What can Parliaments do in such circumstances? I use the plural advisedly, and I refer to the work of Parliaments as well as to that of Governments. I know that the House will understand if I draw on consultations undertaken by Parliaments this month on a wide scale. Earlier this month, the IPU conference in Stockholm was dominated by the debate on the role of Parliaments in enhancing the work of the UN. I am also able to draw on the deliberations of the AIPO regional conference of ASEAN Parliaments, which was skilfully hosted by Indonesia and involved fellow-members from Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—as well as many other observer countries. The conference continues this week, and I returned from it yesterday, thanks to advice that I received from the pairing Whip.
At these conferences, important opportunities have been provided for many parliamentarians to take part in appropriate debate. It was interesting in this regard to note that 33 members of the European Parliament were active on this subject during the conference that is still proceeding in Indonesia.
I do not claim that I can speak for more than 100 Parliaments, but I can claim to have heard from their representatives, and I believe that there is widespread agreement on common themes. They can be summarised as follows. The first is the necessity for the United Nations to adapt and change in a new world situation. Those who have met the UN Secretary-General in recent months recognise the remarkable efforts that he has made to make the structure more effective. That has led to some difficult decisions, which have had a painful effect on, in many cases, long-serving members of the United Nations staff. However, it has also provided an opportunity to move away from some of the worst aspects of the bad old days, when, for example, communist trusties were appointed to the UN as part of the "Buggins' turn" principle. The new Secretary-General is clearly in the business of appointing those who are best qualified to carry out the work. In that regard, he deserves—and, I believe, is receiving—the support of the House and the Government.
Let me also say, on a personal level, that I much appreciate the Secretary-General's clear commitment to a strengthened relationship with parliamentarians. He is a former parliamentarian, and he understands the advantage of bringing a wider constituency to the work of the UN. Many of those who have spoken recognise that, in the matter of financial resources, Parliaments around the world have a key role to play.
It follows, therefore, that I strongly support what the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said about direct support for the UN, in the form of both finance and other resources. I want to add my voice to those that urge the debtors to pay their $1.8 billion dues, and I welcome the sharing of the load in regard to resources on the ground as evidenced recently by Japanese military support and by President Bush's commitment in his speech to the UN earlier this week to increase the UN peacekeeping role in consultation with NATO.
I also strongly support the general thrust of the Secretary-General's proposals in the new agenda for the UN—an agenda which covers preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping and disaster relief. It follows the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Security Council summit in January. We should now consider how we can seek to implement the agenda. It is in that area of implementation that I must express some of my final anxieties. I am glad to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in his place, because some of my chief concerns lie in his area of responsibility.
It is no secret that UN resources are stretched almost to breaking point. If I concentrate on disaster relief and mention it in a military context, it will not be news to my right hon. and learned Friend, who knows of the concern felt by many of us about how we can bring resources to bear earlier in the process. The history of recent events shows time and again that, in addition to its peacekeeping role, the military is inevitably drawn into disaster relief. I am anxious to trigger that process much earlier in the piece.
The United Nations has decreed that the 1990s should be the international decade for national disaster reduction. Recent events have shown that there is a convergence in which distinctions between natural and man-made disasters, and between peacekeeping and disaster relief are meaningless in the face of massive cries for help. The United Nations Secretary-General has invoked chapter 8 of the charter in urging geopolitical groups to provide military resources for peacekeeping and, by extension, for disaster relief on a regional basis. It is clear that much remains to be done if there is to be international agreement on the large-scale earmarking required to take full advantage of not only the military command structures, but the key infrastructure that they can provide, involving transport, telecommunications and medical resources—nobody does it better.
Surely, the time has come to set aside the old parrot cries about internal intervention and the presence of foreign troops. The presence of UN forces in blue berets, supported by Parliaments and Governments such as ours, should be universally welcomed in the fight for human survival. There has been a reluctance to do so in the past. Those who have tried to encourage that process have found a structural problem in terms of NATO, national resources and the UN command structures. I recognise some of the work that has been done to break down such problems, but there are still difficulties and a time lag. In addition, many people who already serve in our armed forces have written to me to say that they thirst to be involved in the new peacekeeping oppportunity and disaster relief work which is there for all to share. Outside, in a changing world there are many ex-military personnel, such as those who in their former communist role gave service to their state, who can be deployed to work to the world's mutual advantage.
I hope that we can seek further support for the breaking down of the various demarcations that make it difficult for us to respond, as I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would wish. It is not always easy. When resources are to be committed, budgetary considerations apply. But the scale of the human tragedy that we are discussing today—which is not confined merely to three areas—is huge. There is a potential threat in Angola and Cambodia, where the electoral process and the electoral observation required of United Nations are trembling on the brink of events that require the support and protection of the United Nations, and the support and resources from the House and the country. Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend to throw his weight behind the process in which we can play a vital part.
The hon. Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) identified, as does the Order Paper, one of the common factors in the otherwise disparate societies of Bosnia, Iraq and Somalia —the vital new role expected of the United Nations. There is another common factor to all three completely different societies: guns and weapons. The level of arms has become part and parcel of the problems in each of the three territories. The other factor common to all three is the huge number of arms and weapons available to promote the conflict, alongside the terrible natural droughts and disasters facing societies such as Somalia.
I hope that the House will not mind if I take a trip down memory lane to when I was a Foreign Office Minister directly involved in the re-establishment and restoration of our diplomatic relations with Somalia after a breach of more than a decade in the 1960s and 1970s. Somalia does not fit into the concept of a nation state; it is a society of nomads who cross boundaries and whose views on life and society have not been traditionally confined by territorial lines. I do not know whether this is still true, but the Somali Government laid claim to territory in almost every one of its neighbours as a result of the historic, nomadic movements of its people.
In the 1960s and 1970s, some of the Somali leaders such as Siad Barre were caught up in the east-west rivalries. There was a scramble for Africa in the 19th century, and in the 20th century a new one emerged. It was a scramble for influence played out by the super-powers and east-west rivalries, of which Siad Barre and Somalia were part and parcel.
Somalia had become a client state of the Soviet Union, which built naval bases at Berbera and enthusiastically embraced the internal security system. Unfortunately for Siad Barre, the Soviet Union found another client next door, Mengistu in Ethiopia. The tragic consequence of that was that the most hated rivals of the Somalis became the neighbouring Ethiopians. Any society that neglects the hatreds of history does so at its peril. Such hatreds form the third factor common to all three territories under discussion today.
Siad Barre turned and sought to release himself from the power of the Soviet Union. He turned west and, in a variety of ways, sought to replace his relationship with the Soviet Union by his relationship with the west. He came to Britain and other countries but, sadly, he did not ask us for aid to replace the comprehensive aid programmes of the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s—which were almost Cuban-style in the way that they helped to provide goods and then bought them. Instead, when the Soviet Union was thrown out, the production lines were stopped in their tracks. I visited a factory where the cans were still on the production lines, such was the speed and ruthlessness of the change. Siad Barre did not ask us for aid or support, but for more and more arms. We flirted with the policy as part and parcel of the drama and horrible excitement of re-establishing western influence in a territory formerly dominated by Soviet influence.
We are now wringing our hands in the House about the tragedy of a mixture of drought, war, bitterness and violence in Mozambique, Ethiopia and Somalia. However, those are the harvests reaped by indiscriminate arms sales through the international community. The western world sold arms to the Shah in the 1970s and to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. I understand that the Bosnian conflict is capable of being sustained irrespective of arms embargoes, due to the supply of huge quantities of arms to Yugoslavia before it fell apart.
The sale of arms is the oldest trade in the world, and nations and companies are inevitably part of it. We all know that it creates jobs and money, and provides influence. No one pretends that we can wave a magic wand and solve the problem. However, we should try to learn a couple of lessons from such a horrifying experience. The indiscriminate selling of arms by successive eastern and western Governments in the post-war world, leads to disasters as drastic as those that we are discussing today. We should work out how to apply the lesson that we have learnt.
One exciting factor of the way that the United Nations has been involved in Iraq is that it has sought, through the power and support of the international community, to dismantle the nuclear capacity of Saddam Hussein. It was one of the most vital breakthroughs in the concept of a United Nations role.
Again, we are struggling in Bosnia to try to corral the arms, which is how I think that the Secretary of State described it. Like everyone else, I find it difficult to watch helpless as people bombard the UN headquarters in Sarajevo. Something has to happen, something more has to be done and we could try to make this debate mean something more.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of meeting Bishop Dinis of Mozambique. He is an Anglican bishop who has played a significant part in brokering what might be a ceasefire—as the churches in Mozambique have done—in another country which faces the terrible problems of drought and the most violent and evil of civil wars. I asked him what would happen if a ceasefire occurred and expected him to say that they would want more aid, seeds and so forth. He said, "Help us to get the guns in." He asked why we could not offer incentives for people to bring guns to be destroyed on the spot and to be given money and seeds in return. I told him that I could think of a thousand good ministerial reasons why that was not possible. I can well imagine the Overseas Development Administration funding the purchase of guns in Mozambique and can envisage the minutes flying back and forth. I thought that it was a hopeless concept.
However, if there were a ceasefire perhaps one could give incentives to people to stop carrying guns as a means of getting food—as the Secretary of State said—and to offer them an incentive to grow food in return for their guns and thus restore the natural activities of the countryside and villages. Perhaps a dramatic gesture—turning guns into ploughshares—is a meaningful solution in Somalia or Mozambique. That policy will only work if we can stem the flow of arms. That is the great lesson which we all must learn from the three territories that we are debating. All three have been the subject of some form of arms race during the past 20 years. We must try to establish a new international order, and part of that should surely include some control on the arms race and arms sales, which the world has so flagrantly abused with the result that we are reaping such a terrible harvest.
The House is considering three of the major catastrophe areas of the world, areas to which we shall have to pay great attention if disaster is not to occur. Each merits a speech, each merits a debate, but I am mindful of the 10-minutes rule and therefore propose to focus my few, brief remarks on Bosnia and on what is happening in the ex-Yugoslav republics. They probably present the greatest dangers of the three areas that we are considering and I welcome the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when he said that this is a crisis for Europe and in Europe.
There has been a temptation for us to sit back and wash our hands of what is happening in Yugoslavia. Because it was a communist state for about 40 years and because it was different from the rest of Europe, there was a temptation for us to ignore it and to feel that we were sufficiently apart not to have to take an active role in events there. That would be abject folly. Yugoslavia is close to the heart of Europe, both geographically and historically. There is no question of our being able to ignore it, or being able to allow the appalling suffering being inflicted on its peoples without taking some part in bringing matters to a satisfactory and peaceful conclusion.
We have to do everything in our power to alleviate the suffering in Yugoslavia. We must ensure that United Nations relief aid supplies get through to the people who are besieged in so many parts of Bosnia Hercegovina. I agree with everything said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). We must avoid the temptation to be dragged into a military peacekeeping role, which would lead to our troops becoming a target for the Croats, Serbs and Muslims. There is no question of our being able to take any party role for any one of those groups within Bosnia.
As hon. Members will recall, Bosnia consists of about 43 per cent. Serbs, 34 per cent. Croats and about 17 per cent. Muslims. All those people have an equal right to live in Bosnia, and many have been there for generations. The ethnic rivalry between the groups is hundreds of years old and no attempt at creating a unified country has yet succeeded or could succeed—except under Marshal Tito, who imposed it by force for about 40 years. It would be a grave error if the United Kingdom, the European Community or even the United Nations were to send a military force of such size or intent that we were also attempting to impose a military solution on the problems in Yugoslavia.
However, the crimes being committed against humanity in that country by all groups, not overwhelmingly by any one group—crimes against the hapless civilian population —cannot be allowed to pass without comment and censure by the international community. Nor do I believe that they can go unpunished in the long term. It will be difficult to bring those responsible to justice, but it must be a prime purpose for the Government and for the UN to ensure that at some time those responsible for perpetrating the outrages that we have seen on our televisions and in the video sent to hon. Members are brought to justice.
Many hon. Members may not have watched the video. It is a painful experience. To pick out one of the nastier scenes, a woman and her unborn baby, which has been ripped from her womb, have been left lying in the street and have bled to death. The story that goes with it is that a group of Serbian soldiers had had a bet on the sex of the baby, had ripped the mother open to find out and left the mother and child to die when the bet had been solved satisfactorily. The picture showed a mother and baby recently dead and having bled to death; I have no reason to disbelieve the story that went with it. It is one of countless horror stories coming from that part of the world. No pretence by the European Community to be able to impose and continue a civilised society can stand silent and aside in the face of such horror.
I welcome the military support being given to the aid convoys in Yugoslavia, without which I have no doubt that they would be unable to proceed. How much military aid can be given is a matter of balance. It is a question of how much can be given without running the risk that I mentioned of again turning the Balkans into a catalyst of European conflict and international involvement on a wider scale. My hon. Friends in the Government have got that balance about right. It will be a matter for constant review.
The Select Committee on Defence, which I have the honour to chair, met on Tuesday and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and a team of advisers gave us answers to our questions. I am glad to be able to tell the House that that resolved many of the anxieties that I and my colleagues felt about what is happening in Yugoslavia. There remain problems to be solved, and I know that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench are as conscious of the dangers that those problems present as I am.
The main problem that concerned us was over the terms of engagement and we received a good answer from my right hon. Friend the Minister. He assured the Committee that our troops would be able to defend themselves and that they would not be contained to returning like with like in so doing. If someone snipes at them they can use heavier return fire, if necessary, to secure their safety and that of their convoys. That is essential. It is not usual United Nations procedure and it is of vital importance that that freedom of action is given to the troops that we have sent.
I am keeping an eye on the clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must share with the House several other outstanding problems to which I hope my right hon. Friend will turn his attention. The first is the great difficulties that we shall face because of the area that we have been given to cover —an area which contains two towns, Tuzla and Doboj, which are among the most dangerous parts of Bosnia being covered by United Nations aid. Last week United Nations representatives had still not made contact with the guerrilla leaders in that area. Doboj is Serb-held and Muslim attacked; Tuzla is Muslim-held and Serbian and Croatian attacked. For our troops to get the convoys through they will have to pass through not one but two war zones and will have to deal with a complex network of leaders both of Serbian forces and guerrilla forces at work. That will be a major diplomatic problem for the United Nations observers assisting us and for our military leaders there. I hope that we shall make certain that all necessary advance work is done before we commit any convoys into that area.
Secondly, the roads into that area are used by all the warring forces, and are likely to come under attack and be mined—not as a deliberate attack on United Nations representatives but as part of the internal struggle. Our people are bound to become involved in the differences of opinion between the warring factions. I fear that we shall find ourselves increasingly unpopular with all those involved in the fight.
I am worried, too, that the artillery available to the warring factions could be turned on our troops, and that we may not be adequately armed. We have mortars, Milan, and 30mm. cannon on the Scimitar. The fact remains that under heavy artillery attack we have no back-up or additional means of response. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will keep closely in mind the need for adequate reserve forces to bring our people out if they get trapped under such an attack. I should like him to consider the possibility of sending to somewhere in the region a detachment of RAF or Royal Navy air command fighter planes, so that we could at least put in some kind of air cover if our people were pinned down and unable to get out.
We have been assured in evidence given to the Committee that the training given to the Cheshires and to the 9th/12th Lancers has been adequate—and I have no doubt that it was, but it was short and rushed, and I doubt whether it will bring them up to the level of ability that I should like to see in an ideal world. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will make certain—
It is all too clear that post-cold war talk of a new world order was premature, to say the least. Indeed, this debate, brought about by events in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Somalia, and by the world's continuing difficulties in dealing effectively and promptly with them, is a fair measure of the precarious and complex nature of any such operation.
Yet at the Rio Earth summit and the new world order seminar in Tunisia, which I attended, it was clear that many in the third world see the opportunity for positive change. They look to the developed world for commitments to advance peace and security, development, respect for international law and human rights. The question remains: are we living up to their, and our own, expectations?
Let there be no misunderstanding. If the United Nations is to take an enhanced role in world affairs—an even-handed role sensitive to the needs of both the rich and poor nations and one which commands genuine respect and support, both political and financial—the part that the UN and its member states play in events in Iraq, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia will be a major factor in achieving that.
Throughout the crisis in Serbia, Bosnia, Hercegovina and Croatia, the Government have shown incompetence and prevarication. Holding the presidency of the EC, they could and should have been leading efforts to tackle the problems. Furthermore, the initial efforts of the EC and the UN at sanctions against Serbia were accorded insufficient importance. At no time has there been adequate monitoring of their implementation. Allegation after allegation has come to light regarding sanctions busting. Supplies, including oil, have been regularly transported by the Danube to Serbia; the former Soviet Union has been a source of supply throughout the conflict. According to The Guardian's investigations, over $10 million worth of trade has entered Serbia through Cyprus, including food, lorries and machinery.
Where are the results of the monitoring announced by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon? Perhaps he will tell us how effective the monitoring has been on the Danube. How many times has there been intervention which has stopped supplies getting through to Serbia?
It is widely acknowledged that the UN relief agencies are buckling under the strain of responding to the Balkan tragedy. The costs of this and any UN operation must be met in full by UN member states. The Foreign Secretary claims that British medicines are supplying hospitals in Sarajevo, but nightly television pictures show a gross lack of provision of medical care. That is something else that the Government have to tell us; they must explain the gap between what is claimed to have been provided and what we see on our television screens each night.
If the developed world ever needed a chance to prove to its poor and suffering neighbours that its commitment to the new world order is real and deep-seated, Somalia should be the proving ground. It has become literally impossible to deliver aid to the millions facing starvation and death without the permission of the warlords and the paid protection of their henchmen.
The super-powers' failure with Somalia is shown not only by the masses of dumped weaponry which feeds the clan feuds, but by the manipulation of tyrannical leaders for short-term political aims. Most importantly, it is shown by the failure to realise some time ago that the situation in Somalia was deeply wrong and was destined to bring about civil war and massive famine.
It would be pointless to delve now into the corrupt political mess in Somalia to seek solutions. Independent international action is desperately required. The Somalis cannot solve their problems alone. However, all the aid agencies working there are constrained by the lack of an overall plan for relief action. The United Nations humanitarian operation remains at the level of general statements and pious plans.
The reason is simple enough. In an area of such deprivation, food and medicine have become strategic weapons. Until the UN and non-governmental organisations have sorted out proper attitudes to humanitarian aid they will struggle against impossible odds. It is clear that there is a greater role to be played by the UN. Indeed, if the new world order is to be effective it must be interventionist.
The crisis offers the United Nations an opportunity to develop new ways of bringing decency and security to all parts of the world. The present limited mandate for UN forces is insufficient. If the UN could put large numbers of forces into the former Yugoslavia to aid the suffering population there is no moral argument for refraining from similar action in Somalia. A United Nations military presence, with the same rules of engagement as in the Balkans, will deprive the warring factions of the opportunity to steal relief food and medicines. At the same time, all parties could be encouraged to the negotiating table and pressured into seeking a peaceful solution to their arguments.
The Foreign Secretary spoke recently of an "imperial" role for the United Nations. Indeed, there is a possible problem of UN military intervention seeming like an invasion, but therein lies the true acid test of the new world order. Nations such as Britain, the United States and Russia, which espouse humanitarian ideals and have the financial means to pay for their extension to poor and afflicted nations, should take the lead and ensure that that freedom is extended. Instead of reneging on aid payments and United Nations debts, they should carry their fair share of financial burden.
As was said recently in The Independent, with insight and will it may be possible to develop a new pattern of intervention in the humanitarian nightmares of the world, with the aim of bringing relief to people who are victims of their Government's neglect or oppression.
The debate allows us to speak in favour of such a commitment as we had when it was decided to deal with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was decided that with the end of the cold war there could be a new world order, and that the UN could begin to play the role which those who brought it into being sought, and agreed that it should have. However, that will come only if we accept that the structure of the UN itself has to change. We must re-examine the make-up of the Security Council and those who hold millions of pounds who seek financial short cuts to compensate for deficits owed to them. The United Nations has a chance, particularly in Somalia, to play a major role in ensuring that we are not seen to be attempting to impose some form of colonial intervention on the affairs of other countries. In fact, we are responding to the real needs of real people.
Anyone who has watched the television coverage of Somalia must be concerned that now that the rains have started, the aid effort will naturally be slowed and even more young children are likely to die in the days ahead. The situation demands more than just hot air from this Chamber. We must start to play the role that we have described—of wanting to be part of a new world order. We must start to make that a reality. I hope that what has been said today will be the beginning of genuine concern and a determination to make the United Nations perform the role that it should have played from the very start.
As I was a chairman of the advisory committee of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), perhaps the House will permit me to express good wishes for the future, following his moving address to the House just over one hour ago.
I will concentrate my remarks on the former Yugoslavia. I begin by expressing genuine respect and admiration for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and his ministerial colleagues for all that they have sought to do. At the same time, I make it plain that I have for months been haunted by the words of Edmund Burke, who said that nothing was necessary for the triumph of evil but that good men do nothing.
I am not suggesting that good men have done nothing —far from it—but we are certainly seeing the triumph of evil because good men have not done enough. Anyone who doubts that should view the video to which reference has already been made. Tabloid newspapers are not exactly the flavour of the month at the moment, and I confess that I have never read the Daily Sport. However, I watched the video that the editor sent to every Member of Parliament. Any right hon. or hon. Member who has not watched that video should do so as soon as possible. It makes dreadfully tragic viewing, but it brings home just what is being done to snuff out all humanity and humane values in that part of the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) referred to one appalling incident. In another, one sees someone carrying a tray of young men's genitals that were hacked off by Serbian soldiers. I will not go on, but I urge right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to watch that video and to ponder it.
Day after day, week after week, and month after month for the past year or so we have seen some of the most unspeakable atrocities committed—first in Croatia and then in Bosnia—since the end of the second world war. In fact, they are among the most unspeakable atrocities ever committed in Europe. Let no one doubt that. I do not for a minute believe that all the atrocities have been committed by one group against another, but it is plain —as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) emphasised in his speech—that the aggressor for the most part is the Serbian, and Serbia is responsible for the majority of the carnage.
When Dubrovnik was being shelled and Vukovar was raised to the ground, I was one of those who urged that we should take some action—air strikes into Serbia. We seem to be perfectly willing to wound by sanctions but reluctant to strike. I understand why, but this is not a civil war, because we in the west decreed that the countries involved are nation states. One can argue about the wisdom of whether that status should have been recognised. I believe that it was right to recognise Croatia, although I was not so persuaded about Bosnia. The fact remains that they are now recognised as independent states, yet they have been denied the means of effective self-defence and the benefit of a defensive alliance.
We are all involved because what is being torn apart are the values and decencies on which European civilisation and democracy are based. At risk is the credibility of the United Nations and of the European Community, and if that is not maintained, we will become even more aware of the two spectres that haunt the region. There is the spectre of an all-out Balkan war. Kosovo has been mentioned several times. One has only to reflect on the scenes on television this week, showing children being barred from school and teachers locked out, and on the consistent repression of the Albanian majority within Kosovo.
Macedonia was also mentioned. Whatever the Greeks may say about names and titles, a guarantee should be given. What would happen if Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece and Turkey—two NATO members—were drawn in on opposing sides? The other spectre is that of Muslim fundamentalism. Last month, I addressed a rally in Trafalgar square, and it was a shattering experience. The hon. Members for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clywd) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) also spoke. We were loudly abused by a group of Muslim fundamentalists merely because we made some acknowledgement of what the British Government are seeking to do in trying to recognise some of the difficulties. It is a sobering thought that Muslim fundamentalism might soon be on the march in the heart of Europe.
I do not doubt the good intentions and good will of the Government, the European Community, or the leaders of the United Nations and I do not underestimate the difficulties. I certainly do not want to see British troops drawn into a ground war. That, however, is a real danger. I wish Lord Owen every possible success in taking on the labours of my noble Friend Lord Carrington, to whom I also pay tribute. There is no point in bemoaning lost opportunities.
If action had been taken last November or December we might not be having this debate, but it is still not too late for ultimatums to be issued to Serbia and to give the decent people in Serbia, of whom there are many, an opportunity to get away from their appalling communist dictator. We are prepared to take further action in Iraq, and we are right to do so. Why the double standards? I regret that we did not finish the job in Iraq, but that is another story.
On trial are the point and purpose of the United Nations and the EC's effectiveness in maintaining the first objective of its founders, which was to ensure that war would never again tear Europe apart. Part of Europe is tearing apart and we must contain the conflict. If what is now being done by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance does not lead to a fairly early and proper ceasefire, I urge my right hon. Friends—once again—to consider an air strike into Serbia itself.
I know that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I end on a slightly parochial point. It has been said that the Cheshires are going to the region. I am delighted about that because they are a fine regiment but I hope that my right hon. Friend will note that this is yet another example of the need to have infantry which is well trained, easily deployed and of adequate size.
Because I am deeply worried about the proposed merger of the Cheshires and the Staffords and because I believe that merger could undermine the effectiveness of the British Army, in which we all take such pride, I urge my right hon. Friend to think again about numbers and deployments.
Less than three weeks ago, I was in Yugoslavia and managed to have two hours of talks with Slobodan Milosevic and one hour of talks with the president of the new federal Government of Serbia and Montenegro—the rump Yugoslavia as we might call it. I was able also to meet some of the Hungarian minority leaders in Vojvodina and to see the refugee camp in Palic, which houses 540 inmates, most of whom are Bosnian Muslims.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) described what has happened during the past year. Some of the horrendous things that have happened have made me despair of any solution, but I now believe that I can see a glimmer of hope. I made the same journey last year. At that time, the federal Government seemed impotent, although interesting to talk to. They seemed to be on the fade and President Milosevic of Serbia and Tudjman—whom I also met last year—of Croatia were on the up and up. I now feel that there is buoyancy in the leadership in Belgrade. The Foreign Secretary said that Prime Minister Panic should be encouraged. We should give every possible assistance to Mr. Panic—he is the Prime Minister of the new state of Serbia and Montenegro and seems to have overwhelming popular support.
I travelled to Yugoslavia on my own. I notified the Foreign Office, but I did not receive any assistance and I was not contacted by the embassy in Belgrade although I appeared on television. I was able to wander the streets and talk to ordinary people. I know that Mr. Panic has the support of people in Belgrade and there is no reason to believe that that support does not extend beyond the capital. We need to support him, but how? I challenge the idea that increasing sanctions on Serbia will help him in his combat with the more extreme nationalists in Serbia. One must bear in mind that Mr. Panic recently survived a vote of confidence in the Assembly in Belgrade when he was under attack from the Šešel radicals, the group that is sometimes referred to as the Chetniks, who are the extremists. They may still be a danger because they could come to power in the rump Yugoslavia, if we do not establish and assist Mr. Panic in the next few months. Mr. Panic has done a number of things that we should all admire him for. He has abandoned the policy of all Serbs being in one state, which was undoubtedly Milosvic's policy last year, but even Milosevic seems now to have abandoned it. In the talks that I had with Mr. Panic I noticed one change. Whereas last year he talked about the Serbs in Krajina expressing their self-determination by being able to remain in the old Yugoslavia, he is now talking about the Krajina Serbs being part of Croatia, provided that human rights are extended to them on the same basis as they are extended to every other citizen in Croatia. That is important.
Moreover, at the London conference Mr. Panic recognised the boundaries of Croatia—that they should be inviolable and could be changed only by peaceful negotiation, not by military means. It was Mr. Panic who called for early elections in November. That is why many of the deputies, who stand to lose their seats in the Yugoslav Parliament in November, oppose him. That is the reason for the motion of no confidence in him. In addition, Mr. Panic is the man who dismissed Mihalj Kertes, the hardline deputy security service Minister and deputy interior Minister, from the Government. A close colleague of the Serbian President was dismissed by Panic. We do not help Panic by increasing the sanctions on Serbia.
If, indeed, the arms were coming from Serbia into Bosnia and an army were invading across the border, that might be a different matter. However, in his speech, the Foreign Secretary intimated that the attacks were coming from inside Bosnia—that it was Bosnian Serbs who were involved in these attacks. It would be an odd way of rewarding Mr. Panic for his efforts, particularly for his efforts at the recent London conference, if we attempted to undermine him. That is the warning that I gave this year. I gave a warning last year: that we should not have recognised Croatia. Despite what the hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, those people who looked into what had happened in Croatia last year, on behalf of Lord Carrington, came to the conclusion that Croatia was not ready for recognition. Why? Because human rights were still not being recognised there.
That is right. Serbs, who had lived as Yugoslav citizens for 40 years in parts of Croatia, are now foreigners in their own country. It is as though we were to say that all Scotsmen who live in England should no longer be given the same rights as English people. If that happened, we should say that that was totally wrong. Not enough pressure is being put on Croatia. The Croats are not innocent. People, I acknowledge, have said that it is not all one-sided. I deplore the actions of the Serbs, particularly the irregulars who are involved in Bosnia, and I deplore the atrocities. Likewise, I deplore the atrocities that have been committed by the other side.
Until last January the Government adopted an even-handed approach, but I reproach them for the fact that that approach has ceased, simply because, in my view, they needed German support over Maastricht. Be that as it may, it was wrong; it was an error. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South is wrong in believing that military attacks on bases in Serbia would have anything other than a counterproductive effect—that of undermining the very people in Belgrade whom we want to continue in power and whom, to use a phrase that the previous Prime Minister used about Mr. Gorbachev, we can do business with. We must be careful about the policies that we adopt and ask ourselves a few questions about them.
The Foreign Secretary said he regretted that the old Yugoslavia fell apart. But we played our part in that because when Yugoslavia appealed more than two years ago for membership of the Council of Europe, it was ignored. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) and I tabled an early-day motion and wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking for the know-how fund to be extended to the old Yugoslavia, but we were told that it was not democratic enough.
About 24 years ago British troops were deployed in Northern Ireland. Tragically, they are still there. The Yugoslav conflict is on an even greater scale. The terrain is infinitely more difficult and the viciousness of the conflict far surpasses the one in Northern Ireland. I hope that we are not blundering into a situation that will prove to be a costly can of worms.
British troops respond admirably when they have a clear-cut objective. Examples of that are retaking the Falkland Islands in 1982 and, along with our coalition partners, driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait last year. Bosnia is different, but the mountains there are not unknown to the British Army. While serving as the Member for Preston my late father fought in the Bosnian fastnesses alongside our erstwhile colleague Sir Fitzroy Maclean. The objective in Bosnia now is much less clear cut and our forces will be under instructions to escort convoys of humanitarian aid.
In giving evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, the Minister for the Armed Forces said earlier this week that it was hoped to negotiate safe passage for the British protected convoys. But we have seen with what alacrity both sides have broken previous agreements, and it would be a dereliction of duty not to be prepared for the worst. The Select Committee on Defence was reassured by the positive statement of the Minister for the Armed Forces that British forces would be authorised to return fire "with all they have got." But will what they have got be enough?
We are told that if a British escorted convoy comes under attack from heavy weapons the commander is under instructions somewhat ingloriously to adopt the time-honoured tactics of British Sunday journalists—to make an excuse and leave. It is plain that 1,800 British troops cannot possibly hope to fight their way through an area which 30 Nazi divisions failed to control in the second world war.
The desperate plight of the civilian population has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). The atrocities in the conflict are unspeakable, but apart from those atrocities civilians are in a desperate plight and suffer from a lack of food, water, shelter and fuel, and the problems will intensify in the coming winter.
I do not dispute the Government's decision to try to get food and medicines through, but our overriding concern must be to ensure that British casualties—there will inevitably be British casualties—are kept to an absolute minimum. Only this morning, four further United Nations casualties were recorded when their armoured personnel carrier was blown up by Serbian forces.
I have three concerns about the deployment of the Cheshire regiment, of which I can say as a Member representing part of Cheshire, we are very proud indeed. I should be grateful for the Secretary of State's assurance that it will be considered. First and foremost, is there a chain of command in which Ministers and our soldiers can have confidence? Grave concerns have been expressed about that. Secondly, is it prudent to rely on the good faith of the warring factions rather than providing any airborne reconnaissance capability that would warn our forces of an ambush? I understand the decision not to use helicopters because, as my right hon. Friend the Minister made clear, it would place our pilots at unnecessary risk from shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, but what about unmanned airborne vehicles, which are known as drones? There is a proposal before the Ministry to make such equipment available within a short time on a short lease. I hope that that will at least be considered.
Thirdly, what if our forces come under heavy weapons fire? They will have no means of pinpointing the source of the fire, let alone of retaliation. Would not it at least be sensible to deploy an Invincible class carrier to the Adriatic as a precautionary measure so that if one of our convoys gets into trouble, is ambushed or has its withdrawal blocked it knows that, within 30 minutes, it can summon an air strike? Alternatively, that could be achieved by deploying fixed-wing aircraft in Italy. I favour the air exclusion zone over Bosnia that the United States has proposed.
If this debate were being held next year, the Government would be unable to send the Cheshire regiment. I call on the Secretary of State urgently to review the "Options for Change" cuts proposed for the infantry. Our armed forces are experiencing severe overstretch, with the gap between tours in Northern Ireland being reduced from 24 months to only 15 months. By general consent, that is an unacceptably short respite between tours. Surely it is clear to all but the most blinkered friend of the Treasury that we need at least five more infantry battalions than are envisaged in the present plans. The cost would be a mere £75 million, which, in the sum total of Government expenditure, is but a drop in the bucket. That could, however, give a great deal of flexibility to the Army. It would relieve much of the overstretch and many of the human problems that go with it for our forces and their families. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend would care to make a start by reprieving the Cheshires.
I am the third member of the Defence Select Committee to speak this morning. Defence Ministers will be appearing before us so frequently in the next few months talking about this very subject that they may come to think of themselves as members of that Committee, too.
It was right to recall the House to debate these serious issues, but one wonders whether, if the Mr. Panics of the Conservative party had not messed up the economy, we would have been able to hitch a ride on the back of the economic debate to discuss foreign affairs. Whatever the rationale for this debate, however, it is right to discuss the crucial issues involved in foreign affairs and defence, and I am pleased that the Defence Select Committee has already met to try to elicit more information than has hitherto been made public.
It might seem perverse to view the cold war as anything other than a negative phenomenon, but in many ways it was simple. Not only did soldiers know who the enemy was; they knew which dug-out they would be fighting in, and they probably knew the name of the tank commander who would come against them. In those days policy makers did not need to think much. The world was a simpler and stable place. All those conditions have changed, not always for the better.
The turbulent, volatile and conflict-ridden world in which we now live surely requires much more thinking —fresh ideas are needed. One thing is certain: anyone who believes that we are entering a wonderful new era without war, in which armed forces can be reduced to negligible levels, is deluding himself. Such aspirations will be thwarted.
History offers us little comfort for the idea that war can be banished. There have been major defining treaties in the past. The 1990 charter of Paris was intended to create an orderly Europe, and it failed. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) has spoken of armaments being passed around the world. We read in the press only today that Russia is selling diesel submarines to Iran. Then there is the problem of the haemorrhaging of nuclear capability. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in a recent publication identified 30 conflicts around the world today. So we need forces commensurate with our national interests, alliances, and obligations, such as our obligation to the United Nations.
For Bosnia this has been a period of tragedy beyond words. For us it has been a case study of the sort of a war that we shall see more of. It has consumed Croatians and Bosnians and it threatens to escalate dramatically to engulf the wider Balkan region. We can now assess the effect of the international community's mediation and intervention in the conflict so far. I regret to say that the roles of the UN, the EC, the Western European Union, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, NATO and various national Governments have been far from encouraging; indeed, usually they have been dispiriting. I hope that that experience will serve to quash the idea that Europe is capable of looking after its own security, let alone anyone else's.
Yugoslavia is a test bed for the international community's ability to formulate policy to deal with such conflicts. So far the international community has responded with a paralysing lack of adaptability and co-ordination. The conflict has proceeded almost unchecked. The Secretary of State spoke of "occasional slackening" in the fighting. That leads to the depressing conclusion that unless we react diplomatically, politically and economically, war will spread. There has been a lack of political objectives and the insertion of military forces in the absence of clear political objectives is a recipe for political and military catastrophe. The decision to send British forces, although worthy and limited, seems to have been designed more to placate domestic opinion than to achieve any real solution to the problem.
There is a recognisable lack of enthusiasm on the part of many military analysts on matters such as the nature of the problems facing our forces. To me it appears rather humiliating when forces are inserted and they have to argue their way through warlords' domains. If the warlords say that they cannot go through, they cannot. If the warloads decide that they have had enough of the British presence, all they need do is to kill some British soldiers and, according to information that we have been given, we shall depart.
The force that we have sent is, to use the words of the last Sir Winston Churchill in describing the name of a colleague of his, Bossom, neither one thing nor the other. I suspect that our forces are similarly designed. According to a good friend of mine, Paul Beaver of "Jane's", three main alliance patterns are emerging in the Balkans. The first includes Croatia and Hungary, the second Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Romania and the third Albania, Bulgaria and Turkey. Those regional alliances being postulated could have obvious repercussions for the EC and NATO. Unless we are exceedingly careful and show greater imagination than in the past, the third Balkan war may well erupt.
There is a reasonable possibility of preventing that course of action. There is nothing automatic about a third Balkan war, but much will depend on the outcome of the current war in Bosnia. If Serbia is weakened by war and UN sanctions, and if Serbia concedes the principles of a united Bosnia, underpinned by international guarantees and a UN presence, possibly a trusteeship, as Christopher Cviic of Chatham House has argued, the way could be clear for an eventual non-violent settlement of the Kosovo and Macedonia issues.
A few years ago we were subjected to the Government's rethinking in what was called "Options for Change". As earlier speakers have argued, the concept of "Options for Change" was designed during the euphoric period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, in the two years subsequently, the Gulf war and many other wars should have led to some degree of reappraisal. To reduce our infantry battalions from 55 to 37 is dangerous. We have an enormous commitment in Northern Ireland, to home defence, the ACE rapid reaction corps, the Falklands and the residue of empire. Now we have superimposed on that the problems of committing resources to the former Yugoslavia and the possibility of conflict increasing and escalating in the Persian Gulf again. That will overstretch our resources to such a level that options available to a Secretary of State will diminish.
As was said earlier, the 24-month interval between tours of duty in Northern Ireland has been breached. I understand that the battalion put on standby to replace the Cheshires was in Northern Ireland as recently as May. That makes even the 15-month interval that the Select Committee on Defence was told about seem absurdly long.
We are experiencing overstretch in our Army. We are reaching the stage where the Government should be reconsidering the mergers. I shall not repeat the arguments that I have used a number of times in the past, simply arguing for my local regiment to survive.
Perhaps during the Gulf war it was believed that high-tech warfare was the model of warfare for the future and therefore the poor infantry, the unspectacular guard that does the bread-and-butter job, was less important. Surely subsequent to the Gulf war, the increase in the activity of the United Nations and the likelihood of an increase in low-intensity conflict mean that the case for the retention of the infantry is overwhelming. I hope that the Government will reconsider the decision that they made two years ago.
Following the end of the Gulf war, the Kurds rose up in the north of Iraq and the Shi'ites in the south. On our television screens, we saw the tragedy of the Kurds spilling over the mountains, and the west reacted. We sent in humanitarian aid. We did not see the southern tragedy but we heard the stories.
In April 1991, a month after the uprising, the UN Security Council passed resolution 688, to insist
that Iraq allow immediate access by international humanitarian organizations to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq and to make available all necessary facilities for their operations".
Nothing has happened in the south of Iraq to implement that resolution.
Towards the end of July, this year, spurred by continuing stories of unhappiness and misery, the House formed the all-party parliamentary group for Iraqi Shias of which I am the chairman. Our task is to bring the plight of the suffering Iraqi Shias to the notice of the world. I believe that the Chamber needs no videos and no television stories; it has the imagination, the knowledge and perception to understand what is going on in the south of Iraq without the visual aids that others need.
The Secretary of State reacted at once. We tabled parliamentary questions and an early-day motion. The Secretary of State knows well that resolution 688 has not been implemented. I pay tribute here to the excellence and thoughtfulness of the help provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, particularly the middle east desk and its staff, including David Reddaway, our chargé d'affaires in Tehran, Iran. They have worked wonders, as has the Secretary of State himself. Helped by our knowledge and the efforts of the British Prime Minister, he persuaded our American allies and the French to introduce the no-fly zone.
This week I visited Iraq and Iran for the sixth or seventh time. Let me make a brief report on the situation in southern Iraq since the implementation of the no-fly zone. I have to tell the House that the situation is now critical. The skies above the marshes are clear, which is wonderful: I pay tribute to the bravery of the pilots who are keeping them clear. The leaflets are there and the people can see what is happening. They have been dropped with a short message in Arabic, with a picture on the other side of our aircraft and of Saddam Hussein's airships, both fixed-wing and helicopters. How could the allies have allowed him to keep those helicopters? I believe that it was a mistaken decision by the United States, which believed that they would be used for humanitarian purposes. Did they not know the beast with whom they were dealing?
The skies are clear; but on the ground, in revenge for our actions in trying to monitor the non-implementation of resolution 688, Saddam Hussein has now put half his entire military forces into the marshes. The dangers are considerably heightened. The results can be seen even just inside the Iraqi border. There are great black, smoking areas, stretching into the water where one or more missiles landed perhaps an hour earlier. The black zones are 300 metres long: if the missiles had landed in the town they would have demolished about 20,000 houses. They would have gone up in flames.
Food stocks have been removed and taken north of the 32nd parallel. That is the first thing that Saddam did when he invaded Kuwait: he took out all the food. The farms have been burnt, including the small rice farms in the marshes. The villagers are no longer self-sufficient in food, yet they are blockaded, so that they cannot get out to the towns to try to find food on the black market. The towns are filled with soldiers.
Tank divisions, each containing 45 tanks, are based in different towns in the marshes. I have the names of those towns. missiles and missile launchers make nonsense of the claim that it is impossible to bomb the towns and villages from the ground. Assault boats carrying 30 to 40 armed men—the boats in which I travel carry a maximum of four or five people—assault the towns and villages each day.
The troops are stationed 30 km outside the marshes. They have been beaten off a little, but they come back in every day and carry out their remorseless attacks—burning, shooting and killing defenceless people, and destroying whole villages and towns. I talked to a man in a hostel for the wounded in Ahwaz who came out of Iraq on Monday with his hand blown off. He was a young farmer, only 20 years old. In the towns and villages around his area lived 25,000 people; five days ago, the area was emptied by 20,000 armed men. That is what has happened since the introduction of the no-fly zone.
Sewage dumping has further contaminated the drinking water—containerised and brought in from cities around the marshes, such as Basra. I saw the evidence of the drainage of the marshes of which we have heard in recent weeks. The water level has been reduced; the roots of the papyri show.
I have already described the physical evidence of attacks. Clergy are at risk in the wake of the death of the Grand Ayatollah Al Khoei. There has been no medication in the marshes for many years. Medicine is not available and there are no doctors. There is a grave shortage in the supply of food and the water buffalo have almost disappeared through lack of water. The muddy fish, stinking water and malarial air are all that is left for people to live on. If that is not genocide, the word means nothing.
In my humanitarian work this time I have been able to obtain much new military data on the Saddam Hussein marsh attacks, drawn from the evidence that people have given to me. It is compelling; it is difficult and dangerous to obtain, but it exists. I have brought back tapes, photographs and videos taken at great risk of life and limb by people deep inside the heart of the marshes. I have many written statements from personal interviews within and outside the marshes that desperate people—men, women and children—have given me. I shall give those reports to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary.
Thousands of people have escaped. It becomes ever more difficult to do so as the front line of Saddam Husssein's army gets closer to the border of Iran. People become trapped as their villages are assaulted. They run towards the safe haven of Iran but cannot get through. Eight families died in mined waters near the border two days before I sailed there. There are many thousands of people in the camps in Iran—a country which has reacted with hospitality and support. Iran now has 3.5 million refugees in camps and on the borders. The country gives free right of passage to all refugees and offers a real safe haven.
Has the official aid worked in Iraq and should sanctions now be lifted? The United Nations methods of distributing aid in southern Iraq—the district which I know—has been faulty and misapplied. The food aid that has come in and which the United Nations has been given to distribute in the past 18 months was given to officials in southern Iraq. Who are those officials? They belong to the Saddam Hussein regime. The food was then given to the Saddam Hussein army. I have no faith in the United Nations as a distribution agency in southern Iraq. The United Nations Development Programme officials in Iran have been sitting in the most expensive hotel, day in day out, week in week out, for more than a year. They seem to have achieved little.
Should economic sanctions against Iraq be lifted to help the people? To do so would presuppose a beneficent Government aiming to carry out good actions on behalf of the people. That is not on offer. We are dealing with a despotic regime headed by a tyrant of demonic proportions—a man who lacks the normal human feelings and sensitivities and whose documented cruelty stretches back 20 years or more. His half brother, Barzal al Takriti, a murderer, is the Iraqi United Nations delegate to Geneva. That is what we have allowed to happen.
Public and private funding has come from the Government's Overseas Development Administration, from the European Community and from the British public. It is that money which I have been spending. I pay tribute to the many Iranians and Iraqis who have formed seven committees to help me work for the good of the Iraqi people throughout Iran and on the borders. There is now an aid committee in the marshes to deliver food. The danger is acute. One man was lost delivering food—our EC aid—three weeks ago.
I pay tribute to the Persian Gulf department of the Iranian Foreign Ministry—in particular, the first secretary, Mr. Vahid Farmand and his colleagues, to the Interior Ministry, to the governor of Khozestan and to his staff and to the governor of Shustar and his office, to the Iraqi Opposition, the Supreme Council of the Revolution in Iraq, to Ayatollah al Hakim, to Yousif al Khoei and his grandfather's foundation, and to the many other Iraqi groups and individuals who have done so much to help. Both Iran and Iraq have come together with myself to make that humanitarian aid—dangerous, arduous and sensitive work—effective. We can deliver a little food, but it is not enough.
I call upon the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to do all that he can to secure the new Security Council draft resolution—the revised assets resolution—to incorporate aid to the Shi'ites. It does not incorporate such aid. There is no mention of the Shi'ites. I call upon him to provide food from the air and to think hard whether one could in some way achieve, not full military intervention immediately, but perhaps a massing of troops on the border. For if we cannot push Saddam Hussein's troops north of the 32nd parallel soon there will be no marsh Arabs left and few Shi'ite Iraqis either. The Tigris and Euphrates great marshes of history will have gone, we shall have failed and Saddam Hussein will have won.
I remind the House that we have come to the end of the time governed by a 10-minute limit on speeches, but many hon. Members want to catch my eye. I should be grateful if hon. Members would bear that in mind and, as far as possible, make their speeches short.
I have listened with great care to hon. Members from both sides of the House talk with great passion about the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. There does not seem to be any consistency in the approach to tackling that massive problem. That is one reason why the conflict has escalated into Bosnia. If there had been concerted and clear action by the United Nations and the European Community at an early stage— whatever that action should have been—I think that it would have sent a clear message to the Serbs, who have committed most of the atrocities.
It is almost 12 months since the fall of Vukovar, after a three-month seige by Serbian forces. We all recall the awful bloodshed, the senseless killings and the massive artillery attacks perpetrated by the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav army. That shocked the world. We deplored the loss of life, the destruction of communities, homes and possessions, the destruction of an ancient culture and the dislocation of the peaceful co-existence between the Serbs and Croats.
Yet our response was disjointed in the sense that there was no concerted action. By the time that United Nations peacekeeping forces had been deployed, the map of Croatia had effectively been redrawn, to the benefit of Serbia, and the land held by the Serbs became part of the drive for a greater Serbia. It is not as though Serbia had no right to be concerned about the future of 600,000 of its countrymen remaining within the borders of an independent Croatia. We all recall with horror the atrocities committed during the second world war, which surely would have allowed the Serbians to consider whether it was safe for their fellow countrymen to remain in Croatia without any protection, but that in no way condones the way in which Serbia acted in Croatia. Rather than securing guarantees for the Serbian population, the Serbs were driven by the desire to lay claim to Croatian territory and that was totally unacceptable.
Due to the lack of concerted action in the Croatian crisis we now have a crisis in Bosnia Hercegovina. Ethnic conflict is not new in that part of the world, as we know to our cost from the earlier part of this century. Some people will point to historical precedents to prevent direct military intervention, but, because there has been no other course of action, and after the past 12 months of inaction, when ceasefire after ceasefire was breached with monotonous regularity, it could at least be argued that Serbia thought that a venture into Bosnia would not be challenged.
Bosnia is now a recognised state, in which 44 per cent. of the population is Muslim, yet Serbia controls two thirds of that country and Croatia has also taken a share. By the time of the conference in London in August the map of Bosnia had virtually been redrawn and the prospect of greater Serbian domination was much closer. I echo the sentiments voiced in some parts of the House today that if sanctions are to he effective they must be as watertight as possible. If we allow them to be breached, the Serbs will continue to drive into Bosnia and to control as much of the country as possible. It is clear that any intervention at this stage would appear to be too late to save the awful tragedy that has shattered the region, but limited western military action in a joint United Nations and European Community initiative is now essential to drive a path for humanitarian aid and for food and medical supplies to the beseiged city of Sarajevo and other places.
When we have committed ourselves to that course of action, the rules of engagement for troops deployed in the region must allow them to protect themselves, with the freedom of action that that implies. Neil Ascherson, in a recent article in The Independent on Sunday, described ethnic cleansing as "a foul expression". How apt that description is. That cruel method of driving people away from their homes, shattering communities and destroying people's lives should galvanise others into action. It is oppressive nationalism of the worst kind, fuelled by belief in the pure race. Let us reject it completely, and let us say publicly that we do so. Let us act in a way consistent with our belief that driving people from their homes and casting them away in inhuman conditions deserves international condemnation and action.
The Balkan conflict has led to the displacement of more than 2 million people. It has caused the greatest European refugee crisis since the second world war. Most of the refugees remain within the six republics that made up Yugoslavia, but I am afraid that the response of some western countries to the crisis has been painfully inadequate. Of course, I understand why some people say that refugees should be kept as close as possible to their homes—but many do not have homes to go to. Their homes have been razed to the ground. They have nowhere to go, no shelter and no food. The United Kingdom should play a greater part in the acceptance of refugees from that war-torn country.
Africa, too, faces famine, war and death. Forty million people are facing starvation and there is a real danger of instability in vast parts of the continent. One in six Somalis is a refugee outside the country and, inside the country, especially in the south, there is a massive problem of starvation and malnutrition. Twenty-five per cent. of all children under five are reported to have starved to death. One aid worker reported having seen 40 babies die overnight in one of the feeding centres. As journalists and aid workers penetrate towns and villages, they encounter horror after horror.
We know that the United Nations is now planning massive food aid and that humanitarian aid workers are dedicated to the immediate relief of the suffering. However, that is happening against a backdrop of a real cut in overseas aid, as we have already heard today.
No. I am sorry, but I have only a minute left.
Even when the immediate problems are alleviated, massive problems will remain concerning the restructuring of the country. As we alleviate famine, which we must, we must also remember that the west has an overseas aid obligation. The prospect of a decrease rather than an increase in aid is to be deplored. The United Kingdom currently holds the presidency of the EC Council of Ministers, which has proposed a £200 million cut in the Community's 1993 budget for development and co-operation.
African countries owe massive debts to western Governments, the International Monetary Fund, the World bank and commercial banks. I urge the Government to give an assurance that the United Kingdom will give the lead by increasing, not cutting, its aid budget and by calling for a meeting of G7 Ministers. They must agree to reduce Africa's total debt burden by implementing the original Trinidad terms as the first step to completing debt write-off. They must agree also to reduce the level of commercial debts owed to banks. That will help to rebuild the economy of that shattered continent, so that its peoples can have real hope for their future.
I will never forget marching into Londonderry in 1969, when I was 19, from a troop ship in the River Foyle, together with 600 other British troops. We were sent to prevent civil disorder degenerating into civil war. It will not surprise the House if I say that I have every sympathy with the Cheshire regiment and the support troops sent to the former republic of Yugoslavia. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on his robust statements about the rules of engagement for British troops. A lesson has been learnt, because when we went to Northern Ireland, our feeling was that if we used our rifles, we would be court martialled. There was a feeling of great insecurity among British forces there in 1969. It is essential that any British troops sent to Bosnia have the right to shoot back.
As there is a strong possibility that some British soldiers will be wounded or worse, I am in favour of some sort of air exclusion zone. We have air superiority and we should use it. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) pleaded for an aircraft carrier to be sent as a reserve, and that must be right when one considers the exclusion zone in north Iraq and the efforts that we are making to help the Shias in the marshes in the south in the same way, which have been a huge success.
We should note also what hapened to the Ukranian battalion in Sarajevo that has been supporting the UN's efforts. It was shelled and several of its members killed. Last week, I was privileged to hear Mr. Zlenko, the Foreign Minister of the Ukraine, speak passionately and movingly about his country's commitment and how deeply the Ukrainians feel about the troops that they lost. We must not allow British troops to become en laagered—battened down and sitting ducks. We must have a plan for withdrawing British troops if the circumstances suggest that Bosnia is sliding into a hopeless civil war.
There are three clear and related objectives. The first is the resolution of the conflict in Bosnia. I strongly support the sanctions against Serbia, but I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who served in Yugoslavia during the second world war, and who did so much as chairman of the all-party Yugoslav group, and to his remarks about Prime Minister Panic. There must be a case for throwing that man a lifeline and for easing sanctions. We must be rigid about sanction-busting along the Danube, but we should also build up Mr. Panic if we can.
Our second objective must be to be restrict the conflict to Bosnia and Croatia. Many eyes are watching what is happening there—not least those of the Transylvanian Hungarians in Romania.
I went to Cluj last year. It is a tinderbox. Mr. Zlenko referred to the problems of Moldova on the Romanian-Ukranian border. There are dozens of small enclaves—of Germans, Tartars and Kazaks, for example—throughout the Russian Federation all the way to Vladivostok. We have to contain the fighting. If it goes south to Kosovo and Macedonia, we will have NATO fighting NATO—the Greeks and Turks at loggerheads. And Bulgaria, one of the most stable of the newly liberated countries in eastern Europe, is terrified. I spoke to a senior Bulgarian diplomat the other day who was terrified that Bulgaria will be drawn into the conflict about Macedonia because Bulgaria lost of lot of land to the Macedonian province of the former Yugoslavia.
The third objective must be to save lives in Sarajevo, Gorazde and Tuzla. The winter is coming upon us. This is not just a humanitarian tragedy; we may face a political disaster too. As the people in those cities are mostly Muslims, we have a larger foreign policy issue at stake here. We are trying to do things in the middle east and need support in that region. If we are seen to do nothing to stop Muslims starving, I fear for the future. If we fail, we shall create a huge political problem the like of which we have not seen before. It will affect our middle east policy and it will be devastating. We must not send the wrong signals. We may have to relieve those cities by force. They must not starve.
In summary, an air exclusion zone, which can be demonstrated to be a success, can be imposed. The Chetniks are cowards. Are we really saying that we cannot hit the gun emplacements around Sarajevo with our modern weaponry?
Finally, today's debate is also about Somalia. We may be entering a new era in foreign policy thinking. The United Nations is stretched as more demands are being made of it. We have a unique situation in Somalia, where warlords do not care about the population and use a mass of arms to damage them. There may come a point at which we have to intervene in a nation's affairs to save that nation. There may be a case for seizing the port in Somalia. The prospect is, therefore, of a new world where, in the not-too-distant future, we may have to use force in the best interests of a country's population, regardless of its leaders.
The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) will forgive me if I do not devote much of the time available to me to what he said, although his speech deserves to be taken seriously. He may agree that the Somali experience demonstrates the evil of uncontrolled trade in cut-price ordnance. I fear that disarmament will result in weapons being sold to third world countries that can ill afford what the rest of the world should not allow them to use.
The debate is about the exercise of international authority. I was delighted with what the Foreign Secretary said about the United Nations. I am pleased to see my hon.
Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) as our principal spokesman on foreign affairs. He commenced his speech by emphasising the same important case. We must recognise that, in the guise of the UN, international authority is not in a particularly robust condition. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) provided us with further evidence of that.
I am reminded of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe assembly that some of us attended as representatives of this country. I had the good fortune in July to lead my party's delegation. I have never been to a more ramshackle hotchpotch of disorganised chaos in all my life. If it had not been particularly for members of the staff of this House, it would have degenerated into a confused muddle. Those hon. Members who had the good fortune, or misfortune, to take part in the proceedings of that assembly may share my assessment and also share my gratitude for the fact that the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) helped to bring some order out of chaos.
If the United Nations is in such a condition. it gives cause for anxiety and distress. It might lead some people to say, "A plague on all your houses; they can't run anything; it's a complete farce. We'll stay on our own beaches and ignore the international cause." I am sometimes tempted to take that view.
Just before the killing started in Yugoslavia, the Council of Europe—which has some influence at the margin, at least—decided to bring the leaders of all the Yugoslav republics to Strasbourg. Quite a lot of us attended the meeting. Each of the leaders made a speech. During the speech of the leader of the Serbs, the aide to the Croatian leader, sitting beside him, spent his time making gestures which even this House, at its most childish, would find surprising—gestures of insult and obscenity. The leader of the Serbs on two or three occasions acted rather foolishly by seeking the protection of the chair when a more Anglo-Saxon remedy might have been more appropriate.
Against that background, the parliamentary assembly then rushed to a call for the immediate recognition of Croatia, despite the fact that I had asked that Croatian leader one very important question. I asked him whether he would be prepared to agree that before the international community recognised Croatia it should, with the other Yugoslav republics that had not yet been officially established, accept that, while the world understood that the state of Yugoslavia was finished and had no future, transitional confederative arrangements should be made that would allow mechanisms to protect minority rights to be put in place before international recognition was conferred.
I spoke in the debate—I believe it took place the next day—on behalf of my political group and put that case. I suggested that recognition should not be immediately conferred. Unfortunately, that view was narrowly defeated. Without wishing to be rude to Conservative Members, perhaps I could say that it was a dreadful pity that the chairman of the assembly at that time was the leader of the Conservative group. It left his group rather like headless chickens. Some of them voted with me while some of them voted against, along with the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston). That is one reason why I disagreed with his assessment during his speech.
Those same people spoke to me a few days ago, in meetings connected with the Western European Union and the Council of Europe, and told me, "Of course we can't give Croatia full membership because it does not comply with the rules." They said that because there is no freedom, because there is aggression, because the majority in Croatia have a position of privilege that is denied to the rest. It is a great pity that wisdom was not applied earlier. But I do not believe that there is a great deal of wisdom about. During the Gulf war I spoke in favour of that war. Later I made it clear that as far as I was concerned it finished 48 hours too soon. During the Gulf war, however, Britain properly played a part. At the end of that conflict, I was astonished by the triumphalist report presented to the Western European Union. Members from almost every country flocked to speak and only two British Members were scheduled to speak at the end of the debate. At that assembly in Paris, I made an unpopular speech. Member after Member from other Parliaments spoke in a triumphalist and self-congratulatory way about the victory in the Gulf. I said that some member states had sent more parliamentarians to speak in the debate than they sent personnel to serve in the Gulf.
We are now preparing for military intervention in Bosnia. For two years I have listened to people in Europe calling for military intervention and some of those calls have been very jingoistic. But Britain, which was, prudently, the most cautious of all, is now sending the largest contingent. Some Conservative Members are making a considerable mistake by saying only that our troops must shoot back if someone shoots or prepares to shoot at them. Can soldiers shoot at a sniper who is firing from 1,000 yards or more or at those who are lobbing mortars from wooded terrain at an armoured convoy?
The Government must be careful. I am not suggesting that we should not put our forces behind the United Nations, but if we are not careful, a situation of inextricable complexity and embarrassment will develop and that will place an unfair responsibility on our platoon commanders in the Cheshire and other regiments.
There should be an air exclusion zone, but we must face the fact that sooner or later the air exclusion force may be used to strike at locations from which mortars, bombs and shells are raining down upon the United Nations convoys. We must think the matter through. However, effecting the air exclusion zone does not present a great difficulty.
Along with the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) I have the good fortune presently to be attached to the Royal Air Force and yesterday morning I flew in a GR1 with one of the young men who served so bravely in the Gulf. I also spoke to his colleagues, many of whom shared his experience. They do not know precisely when, but they know that shortly they will be expected to reinforce or replace the pilots who are currently serving with distinction over Iraq. Those pilots, who are highly intelligent young men, have enormous skill and will carry out the function that the Government will lay upon their shoulders. They have demonstrated upside down, sideways and in every other way that they are capable of operating an air exclusion zone over Yugoslavia in the same way as they operate one over Iraq.
But once again, we shall be called upon to provide an unfair share of the burden because some member states which are eager to make calls are not good at making a military contribution. International authority must be made efficient and strong, and we must persuade the British people that the burdens that they will bear and the losses that they may feel are justified. They will not be justified unless there is a rather more positive approach from the Government.
The Government's view was prudent and cautious, but they appear to have dropped prudence and surrendered caution and the House and the country have not yet been given an adequate explanation. If we are to be less prudent and less cautious, we are entitled to say to our European partners and friends that it is time that they stopped making claims, demands and calls that are not matched by adequate contributions.
The House sends off a British contingent to the United Nations protection force with encouragement and pride but not a little anxiety. That force has the clear objective of escorting humanitarian convoys—a worthwhile objective. However, if it is limited to that, we shall be shoring up a crumbling edifice and bogging ourselves down in an unending process. We should then be treating the symptoms but not the causes of the illness.
The causes are the classic hatreds, which have been exacerbated by recent events, between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. The worst examples are in Bosnia Hercegovina —provinces artificially created by the Hapsburgs in the last century. Is it our objective to shore up that artificial edifice, which itself has been pounded to rubble by its own inhabitants? Through the auspices of the United Nations or the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe perhaps we should be taking positive steps to enforce peace in the area by the imposition and enforcement of a no-fly zone and by the isolation of artillery, armour and other weapons; indeed, by the implementation of the agreement reached at the London conference.
If we allow the situation to fester, the violence will spread like a cancer through the Balkans and northwards into central and eastern Europe.
Europe is a tinder-box of national emnities that are now thawing after the 50 years deep frost of communism. Some 77 per cent. of the population of Kosovo are Albanians, who have been subjected to repression, which is now getting worse, from the ruling Serbs, inspired by their 14th century historic battle. Macedonia, likewise, has a major ethnic group that has been long under Serbian control from Yugoslavia, which has a destabilising effect on Greece and Bulgaria. Not only is Yugoslavia, a creation of Versailles, in collapse but so is Czechoslovakia. In the wake of its collapse we shall encounter a rekindling interest in the Sudetenland, now dominated by the Czech authorities. The Sudetens in Bavaria and elsewhere in Germany see an opportunity in this redefining of states in that area. The large Hungarian minority in Slovakia may call for self-determination, as, indeed, might the Slovak minority in Hungary. Any of these may progress from dissent to violence and war.
In Poland, many people in Silesia and Pomerania have rediscovered their German identity. There is a destabilis-ing phenomenon in the Kaliningrad enclave, formerly east Prussia, which is populated by Russians and is now a dumping ground for Volga Germans. Newly liberated Lithuania is ignoring its own experience and is repressing Poles in the south of the state. Moldova Ruthenia, Crimea and many other nationalities throughout the former Soviet Union, such as the Tatars and Cossacks, are all stirring. We must prepare ourselves in the United Nations and in Europe to cope with those problems.
Despite the collapse of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, we must take lessons from the process. Buried deep in the recollection of the House are names that have long been forgotten: Schleswig, Allenstein, Marienwerder, Upper Silesia, Klagenfurt, Vilna and Teschen, which all had large national groupings whose destiny was unclear. The treaties created international commissions, with the participation of interested parties, but with disinterested chairmanship, which carried out plebiscites that determined the destiny of the territories concerned. In almost all cases, the belligerent armed forces withdrew. Allied forces kept the peace for the duration of the plebiscites and allied diplomats ran the plebiscites. British forces and diplomats participated in most of these. The commissions allocated territories according to the result—by zone, as in the Schleswig case, to Denmark and Germany, or by county or district, as in the cases of Allenstein or Vilna. This plebiscitary process should be reconsidered to see whether there are lessons to be learned in the case of Bosnia and Hercegovina. We currently run the risk of letting these problems fester. We should ensure that our technical capacities are in order, and we must find a mechanism to consider these solutions and how to enforce them.
I do not wish to understate the importance of the issues facing us, but, in the interests of the House, I must speak briefly. The Ministry of Defence is well aware of my interest in the Cheshire regiment. I thank the Minister of State for the Armed Forces for his co-operation in what was to have been a visit to the regiment in Germany last week—it had to be called off because of the far more important work of the regiment preparing for its visit to a difficult zone.
It is a curious fact that under "Options for Change" a regiment so suited to the UN's requirement is due to be merged with the Staffordshire regiment. Perhaps the Ministry of Defence will reflect on the logic of that and give the troops the present of a reprieve when they return home.
In my view and that of many of the military personnel to whom I have spoken—they are far more qualified than I to speak about the strategic issues—these small county infantry regiments have a place in modern United Nations peacekeeping operations. I should like to discuss that in the context of other parts of the world, but I have no time today to do so.
My one criticism of the Ministry of Defence so far is that the Government have failed to provide me and other Members representing Cheshire with detailed information with which we can respond to understandable constituency fears. Discussions have taken place today about the precise rules of engagement and the chain of command, not to mention the risks faced by members of the regiment. The length of the commitment into which the regiment is entering is a subject close to the hearts of the families concerned. I hope that the Secretary of State will note that point and ensure that all hon. Members are kept abreast of what is happening so that we can offer support to these families.
I recognise that we cannot gaze into the crystal ball, but I urge the Government to go no further than using the troops to assist convoys of humanitarian aid. Obviously the troops must be adequately equipped to defend themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. Several hon. Members have commented wisely on that. I do not often find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), but he made some pertinent points which I am sure the Defence Secretary will have noted.
On the ground, command may have to be given to people with a degree of control to deal with these difficult circumstances. We cannot possibly recall the House to decide each time a soldier needs to defend himself. He clearly needs the right to defend himself and must be properly equipped so to do, but that does not mean that the House should authorise the regiment to embark on anything beyond protecting its own personnel and helping the people whom it has gone to assist by means of the convoys. It is important that the House sees that in its right perspective.
I have severe doubts about the potential structure of the negotiating table, as it is currently envisaged, around which it is hoped that a more long-term solution will be found. Nevertheless, we must give it the best opportunity possible if we are to develop moves towards a lasting peace in what is an extremely difficult and fraught situation.
I finish by reiterating the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) who said that our hopes and good wishes go not just to the people in war-torn Yugoslavia but to our own troops and their families in helping to resolve the situation.
First, I declare a personal interest. My mother is Serbian. She was born in Belgrade. In common with many Yugoslavs, I also have relations who are Croatian.
This tragic war has torn all the Serbian people apart. Those who have been able to get hold of the correct news, despite the censored television in Serbia, have been appalled at the atrocities and have wholeheartedly supported Panic's efforts to distance himself from Milosevic who is clearly an evil man, an expansionist.
It is important now that we should look forward. It has been interesting to hear hon. Members ask how we can throw a lifeline to the opposition, the Free Democratic Movement, so that it can oust Milosevic who controls the army, which in turn supports the militia.
There is a way that that can be done. There will be federal elections in November. It is important not only that we should wholeheartedly support Panic, as hon. Members have said, but that we should do so much more publicly and explain to the public that Panic has clearly distanced himself and condemned the atrocities.
In addition, we should follow the pattern of Poland. People there supported the Solidarity movement by sending it money and giving moral support. In that way the Polish people were finally able to gain real freedom.
Milosevic is a former communist, a socialist. He wants to control the country at all costs. If, in the forthcoming elections, we can create the oxygen for democracy really to breathe, in the long term that will be the most constructive way to bring the fighting to an end, to snuff it out.
But there are difficulties. The Free Democratic Movement of Serbia, DEPOS, needs help. It needs moral support and financial help. There is a bank account for it in London. I call on the House to give those I call genuine freedom fighters the freedom to bring real democracy and the toppling of Milosevic.
The war in Belgrade, in Yugoslavia, has brought tremendous heartache but also much appreciation for the fact that Britain has decided to contribute troops to the humanitarian force. I agree with some comments that have been made in the House and I confess that if I had had my choice we would have done that sooner. One can hope that the Government's diplomatic initiative will succeed, and I do not underestimate that, but that cannot be done at the expense of fast humanitarian aid. Therefore, I welcome the entry of the troops.
However, I have one or two caveats. We must not only ensure that, as we have already agreed, there must be good liaison with the local warlords but our troops must be accompanied by proper Serbo-Croat speakers. There is also benefit, which has not been mentioned today: the presence of those troops will give heart, encouragement and a degree of stability to the civilians who crave peace. I also believe that they can cramp the style of the militias. Those troops—the Cheshires and Lancers—are brave men, who, I think, enjoy the wholehearted support of the British people. They are professional soldiers who have never ducked a responsibility or a duty, and I know that they have our wholehearted backing.
Of course, there could be a price for that dedication. There will be casualties. It may be worse: there may even be deaths. It is tremendously important for us to tell the families of those soldiers that this is a price worth paying for the sake of humanity. More than that, what I hear from the people of Serbia tells me that they appreciate this proffered generous sacrifice.
Contrary to what an American academic said a few years ago, history is not dead; it is back with a vengeance. What we see in the former Yugoslavia is due to historic animosities and feuds, but I regret to say that it has also been contributed to by the mistakes of a number of countries in Europe and internationally.
I want the Minister to explain why, if 11 European Community countries are against recognition and one is in favour, a state is recognised; while if 11 are in favour and one against, the state is not recognised. A series of tragic mistakes have been made over the past two years, which have encouraged disintegration and prompted fanatics on all sides to sweep away the secular, democratic and pluralistic forces. As a result, it is now very difficult for democratic socialists of any kind in the former Yugoslavia to obtain a hearing anywhere. Religious fundamentalism and ethnic hatred are the dominant forces in all the republics.
We should also condemn the Governments, including our own, who knew what was going on in Kosovo three or four years ago but did nothing about it. It is all very well to talk about Kosovo today, but people were coming to this country two or three years ago—sometimes on visits funded by the Foreign Office—explaining what was happening in Pristina. They described how university departments were being closed and how people were being kicked out of their jobs. And what did we do? We did nothing.
The tragedy of much of Africa, among other issues, is almost being ignored except when—as in Somalia—it becomes so bad that people are forced to talk about it. A war has been raging in Mozambique for a long time. We hope that there will be an agreement and democratic elections there in the near future, but we should be talking far more about that today. No one has mentioned it.
It is very unfortunate that, for whatever reason, today's debate was interrupted. The headlines in tomorrow morning's newspapers—and, no doubt, on television tonight—will not be about the tragic plight of the Shias in the marshes of Iraq, or that of the Somali people who are suffering at the hands of the mafia gangs who are destroying their society, or that of the peoples of the different parts of Yugoslavia. Instead, they will be all about what a particular Chelsea football supporter did or did not do on a particular day.
It is important to draw attention to the way forward and to learn some lessons from these international crises. The United Nations Secretary-General's report, "An Agenda for Peace", presents the important concept of peace enforcement, as opposed to peacemaking or peacekeeping. I believe that our Government should be doing far more to support the Secretary-General and his efforts to strengthen the role of the United Nations. Perhaps we should also consider whether there is a role for United Nation trusteeship as a means to resolve some of the disputes.
If we are able to secure peace in the former Yugoslavia, I am not sure whether we shall be able to replace all the pieces. I hope that we can, but I fear that the animosities and fueds will be so deep that the situation will need outside intervention for many years.
I worry when I see the reported remarks of the Minister to the Select Committee on Defence stating that he has no idea how long British forces will be deployed. I think that it is an honest answer, but I worry—
Yes, I prefer an honest answer to a dishonest answer. But there must be clear monitoring of the situation so that we know the facts and can have a full debate in the House before we go down the slippery slope of 20,000, 30,000, 50,000 or 100,000 British troops being deployed as part of the massive force that might be needed to contain the conflict.
We have today witnessed a good and useful debate which has well justified Parliamen's recall. I only wish that Parliament had been recalled earlier and that we could have spoken longer. The contributions from both sides of the House have been positive. Hon. Members have talked of their experiences —often gained during visits to various parts of the world in the summer months. Such contributions have enhanced the quality of the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members have posed a number of pertinent questions and made a number of useful suggestions. I hope that the Secretary of State will deal with as many as possible, without jeopardising the safety of our troops involved.
Although the motion refers specifically to Somalia, Iraq and Bosnia, in view of the limited time at my disposal I shall concentrate on the position in Bosnia, as that is where our ground troops are to be committed in the near future and where a number of detailed issues are of concern to hon. Members and our constituents. However, I stress that my decision in no way reflects the relative importance Opposition Members attach to Somalia and Iraq which, like many other places in the world, we regard as vital. One message that has come, certainly from the Opposition and, I suggest, from Conservative Members, is a welcome for the new, enhanced role of the United Nations.
Before we discuss the detailed, military aspects of the operation in Bosnia it is well to remind ourselves that, when talking of the use of the military, we are accepting that our own trade, profession and art has failed. Politics and political action have broken down and we are having to resort to force to try to maintain a standard of humanitarian decency.
However, no one should doubt that there must be a political resolution of the problem in Bosnia, Iraq and throughout the world. The use of the military is merely the means to an end—we should never forget that objective. I associate the Opposition with the thanks given to Lord Carrington for his sterling, valiant efforts to resolve the problems in the past, and we wish his successors well in the future. We hope that they will be able, against all the odds, to find some sort of resolution before we deploy troops. We still cling to that hope.
We do not demur from the Government's decision to involve British troops in Bosnia. Indeed, we called for such action early in August. If the United Nations considers it appropriate to deploy troops to support humanitarian convoys in their efforts to get vital food and medicine through to beseiged citizens and to protect the released detainees, the Labour party believes that we should do so. As a permanent member of the Security Council, we have a responsibility to ensure that British troops play that part, although I emphasise that that has to be under the aegis of the United Nations and has to be limited to the protection of convoys.
In no way can we give the Government a blank cheque for further escalation. To extend military participation further would be extremely dangerous, if not foolhardy. The terrain is ideal for hit-and-run attacks. The old Yugoslavian army, many of whose remnants are now fighting in Bosnia, was trained specifically for that task and we simply must not get drawn into a conflict on one of the various sides. British military involvement must not be allowed to escalate into such a quagmire, and we do not believe that escalation is inevitable.
Having said that, we realise that we are placing the lives of our troops at risk; they really are laying their lives on the line. In so doing, we must remember that most military opinion is against such an initiative. There are too many unknowns and too many uncertainties for justification of intervention on military grounds alone. The truth is that the mission can be justified only on humanitarian grounds. In a sense, that is the essence of our involvement and that makes our responsibility as politicians doubly onerous.
We must ensure that our ground troops out there have a clear guide to their role and a clear list of instructions of what they can and cannot do.
I have heard many hon. Members raise issues along those lines today. I should like to press the Secretary of State further. Clearly, the command structure is one of the most important aspects. For example, are we certain that the structure, as envisaged—with a supreme commander commanding a force comprising 16 nations, operating miles apart and performing different functions—is the right structure? As the Secretary of State knows, there have been criticisms of the present operation, and it is vital that we get the lines of communication and of command clear.
That leads us to the next major question asked by several hon. Members from both sides of the House—what is the precise role of the troops? That may seem a silly question. The Minister of State for the Armed Services has led us to believe that the troops will be protecting convoys, travelling with them as they make their way to the besieged areas. However, the French deputy commander of the United Nations protection force, Major General Philippe Morillon, who I understand is in charge of all European forces there, was quoted in The Times on 23 September as saying that the aim of the operation is to break the blockade of various named Bosnian towns, by creating safe corridors to each, along which supplies of humanitarian aid could travel, and which could be policed by United Nations checkpoints. That is very different from what we understood the situation to be, and what I understood to be the British Government's position, as explained by the armed forces Minister. We need to know what the position is. Is it to protect convoys or to create land corridors? The two are distinctly different.
Various right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the rules of engagement. Have the rules been clarified? I read what the Armed Forces Minister said in his evidence to the Defence Select Committee on Tuesday—that United Kingdom troops would have the right of reply.
I very much welcome the Select Committee's work and the fact that it held that important meeting, because it allowed hon. Members from both sides of the House to ascertain the precise position and made it much easier to stage this debate.
However, the ambiguities remain. Various hon. Members have asked whether the troops can reply only with armour or whether they can use heavier fire power if necessary. Different reports are emerging.
There is even further confusion on that narrow but vital question. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, in evidence to the Defence Select Committee, confirmed the status of the rules of engagement when he said:
Yes, we agree our rules of engagement with the UN and we are quite happy that the rules of engagement are no more restrictive than ours.
With that in mind, I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the official pronouncement from the UN Secretary-General's report of 10 September, paragraph 8 of which says:
Operational decisions relating to a protected convoy, including action to be taken in the event that the convoy encountered obstacles, would be the responsibility of the commander of the UNPROFOR escort, who would, where possible, consult the senior UNHCR representative in the convoy before taking such decisions.
I appreciate that the words "where possible" are there, but I suggest nevertheless that that description is a recipe for
confusion and possible disaster. Only one decision can be taken under fire, and it is silly and dangerous to pretend otherwise. That point must be clarified.
I shall explore that subject a little further in the light of General Wheeler's evidence to the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) asked the General:
Is it possible for whoever is in command of the convoy to respond with force without reference to higher authority?
General Wheeler replied:
I stress the word "probably"—
will be the case providing we can talk it through with the UN people on the spot.
That is not good enough. We do not want "possibly" and "probably", and "talking it through later". We need to have everything sorted out now, before our troops go, so that they know where they stand, know the rules of engagement and have the responsibility to follow them. We need specific answers from Ministers to those questions.
I ask the Secretary of State again about appropriate equipment. The Government have been open on the subject, and clearly everything has not gone according to plan. It was not a happy situation when our engineers were sent to Sarajevo airport with only soft-skinned vehicles to transport them round the airport. As soon as the Government heard about it the matter was put right, but we cannot afford to make such mistakes. Fortunately, there were only very slight casualties, but there could have been fatalities. We cannot afford such decisions. We must have the right back-up and equipment.
For example, I understand that there is a chemicals plant in the Tuzla region. Will our troops take equipment to protect them from possible chemical contamination? That could be a vital consideration.
As we have already heard today, our troops in the corridor will have to pass through two separate war zones. I understand all the difficulties involved with air cover, but is the Secretary of State aware that most infantrymen feel uncomfortable about going into such action without air support and air cover? Is it not possible for us to have a helicopter back-up for reconnaissance, or even for alerting base about ambushes, and so on? I know that there have been problems with civilian helicopters attached to the military, but it seems sensible to provide some helicopter back-up. That was certainly the view of the French at the Council of Ministers meeting on 28 August, when they offered a helicopter detatchment. Are we not able to offer similar back-up?
It is important that the Secretary of State does everything in his power to keep Members of Parliament informed about what is happening. During the Gulf conflict regular, often daily, bulletins were deposited in the Library. We appreciate the sensitivities involved and the confidential nature of many actions, but right hon. and hon. Members have responsibilities to their constituents —many of whom will be involved in the struggle or have dear ones who will be. I hope that the Secretary of State will follow the precedent followed during the Gulf war in that respect.
We ask those questions in the hope that the Secretary of State will be able to provide further information. We pose them in a supportive manner. We want to ensure that our troops have the clearest understanding of their role and responsibilities. We are very conscious of the dangerous mission that we are asking them to undertake. They are performing a vital task in saving the lives of civilians in a terrible civil war. We wish them every success. They have our blessing, and I trust that every single one of them will return home unscathed.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on his first speech from Labour's Front Bench as his party's principal defence spokesman. He has been a defence spokesman in the past and therefore comes to the Opposition Dispatch Box with considerable experience.
It is a significant indicator of the times in which we live that in a debate on Yugoslavia and Iraq it is considered necessary and appropriate that not only foreign affairs spokesmen but defence spokesmen should participate. It has been said that ambassadors are people who can be disarming, especially when their countries are not. The facts that confront us at present suggest that a necessary contribution can be made by the defence forces of various countries in helping to achieve United Nations objectives.
Today's debate has been disparate in addressing the problems of countries as far apart as Bosnia and Somalia. One common thread has been influenced by the ending of the cold war. That has not brought a period of international harmony but an extraordinary outburst of some of the most cruel and vicious conflicts—including the first on our own European continent—since the end of the second world war.
Another common thread was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Shields. I refer to the extraordinary increase in the authority of the United Nations and its ability to take action to help resolve difficulties. With the ending of the cold war, the Security Council now finds it possible to reach agreement on a series of initiatives. As a consequence, the pressures on the UN are greater than they have been for many years. The armed forces of many western and other countries—including our own—are increasingly asked to fulfil new roles of a humanitarian or peacekeeping nature.
I will comment first on Iraq. I returned 24 hours ago from a visit to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other parts of the Gulf, where I was able to meet Royal Air Force personnel involved in the enforcement of the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. I pay tribute to the extraordinary and professional work that they are doing in difficult circumstances. It is extremely hot and dusty, and they are presented with a considerable amount of potential danger, yet they approach their task with the cheerfulness that we expect, and which the RAF has always shown.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) made an extraordinarily powerful speech about the situation in the marshlands of southern Iraq. It would have convinced anyone who needed convincing why it was necessary to impose the no-fly zone. Since August in particular, there has been increasing evidence of growing acts of repression by the Iraqi Government against their own people in southern Iraq, and increasing information to suggest that fixed-wing aircraft were being used to assist those acts of repression.
The United States, France and ourselves now have aircraft in that region to impose the no-fly zone, and that initiative has been achieved with tremendous success. No Iraqi aircraft have been operating in southern Iraq, which is helping to reduce the level of repression against the people of that area. Sometimes, I am asked when that exercise will be ended. It can be concluded only when there is convincing and satisfactory evidence that the Iraqi Government and Saddam Hussein in particular are willing to comply with UN resolutions and to cease to oppress people in that region.
Was not the point of the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) made that the no-fly zone is not securing the safety of the marsh dwellers?
I believe that the no-fly zone is making an important contribution in that direction. A number of the military acts of aggression in the past few months have had the support of aircraft, because of the difficulties of communication in the area. There are few roads there. It is difficult to penetrate the marshlands, so the ability to use air cover to support Iraqi forces will have been important. The zone cannot solve the problem alone, but it is making an important contribution.
I shall now deal with the powerful speeches right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have made about the former Yugoslavia. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) and others described the difficulty of reaching a judgment about whether it is right to deploy British forces in that quarter. The hon. Member for South Shields asked me to state the precise purpose of British soldiers' going to Bosnia-Hercegovena. They will escort convoys which may deliver the medical and food supplies that will increasingly be needed as winter approaches and hardship intensifies. They may occasionally escort detainees who have been released from the camps and wish to go elsewhere in the country or abroad.
The hon. Member for South Shields asked whether we would want forces to be used to escort convoys or to impose safe corridors. They will not do the latter. If we were to impose a safe corridor, we would need a much greater deployment than is currently contemplated and it would imply a far more substantial and worrying military commitment than it would be appropriate to make now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and others asked about the command structure that is to be applied and whether it is satisfactory. The hon. Member for South Shields also asked that perfectly reasonable question. The command structure will always be difficult when forces from a large number of countries are involved in an operation of this type. Now that the UN is considering a substantial increase in the amount of military activity in the former Yugoslavia, it is necessary in our judgment and that of others that the command system should represent the new role. It is therefore proposed that under General Nambiar, the overall commander of the military forces, there should be a new two-star headquarters. General Morillon will be commander of that headquarters. He will have a British chief of staff. There will be a number of other British personnel in important positions in that command, which is likely to have responsibility in the Bosnia area.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) asked whether this was to be a NATO headquarters or a NATO contribution. It would not be appropriate to describe it in those terms. It will not be a NATO force or headquarters, but there have been discussions about whether it would be appropriate to use many of the elements of an existing NATO headquarters because of common habits, practice and experience and the valuable assets that will be of great use when these matters are taken forward. That is highly desirable.
Several hon. Members asked about the rules of engagement. That is a crucial aspect of the matter. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said in evidence to the Defence Select Committee, there can be no question but that British forces must have the right to use the means necessary to defend their lives and the lives of those for whom they are responsible. We are determined to ensure that the rules of engagement will reflect that fact. The convoys that will be carrying goods to various parts of the former Yugoslavia will, of course, be armed convoys. It is an armoured battalion that is going. They will have not only personal weapons but Warrior armoured personnel carriers which have their own cannon and their own guns. Mortars will be carried within their vehicles. If the circumstances required it, in order to protect life, it is appropriate that the rules of engagement should allow persons to take such action as is necessary for that purpose.
Clearly, the precise wording of the rules of engagement is currently under discussion. It would not normally be our practice to go into the precise detail of rules of engagement, because one would not want a potential assailant to be aware of the circumstances in which the troops would respond with fire. I hope, therefore, that the House will forgive me if I do not go into precise detail, but to the particular assurances that were sought I can give a positive and unqualified answer. In particular, it is not our belief that it should be necessary to consult headquarters many miles away if, by doing so, there would be any enhanced risk to the life or safety of the individuals concerned. Of course there may be occasions when that will be possible without risk, but if there were risk—and that must be in the judgment of the person on the spot —it would be appropriate that they should take whatever action is necessary.
None of us knows what level of danger is going to be faced, but so far as the British Government are concerned, we have no doubt that it is appropriate for these military convoys to proceed only if they have reason to assume in advance that they will be able to make safe passage. If I can give an example: we have had for some time the Hercules aircraft which have been carrying humanitarian supplies to Sarajevo. They have made a very important contribution towards the relief of suffering in that city. Sadly, a few weeks ago, an Italian aircraft carrying out a similar function was shot down. It is clear beyond any misunderstanding that that aircraft was shot down by hostile fire from irregular forces on the ground, probably using hand-held missiles. As a result of that, these aspects of our humanitarian activities have been suspended. The Hercules have not been flying for several weeks, nor have the aircraft of a number of other countries, but consideration is being given to whether those flights should be resumed. However, both we and others have made it quite clear that only when we are satisfied that the pilots and the crew who are responsible for flying these aircraft will not be exposed to dangers against which they have no defence—only at that stage—would it be appropriate to review the situation.
I am afraid there has been a very poor response by those who gave that pledge. What has happened so far is that a very small number of pieces of artillery have been collected together, but I must add the qualification that those who were in control of those weapons before are still in control of them and are still firing with them. All that the United Nations has been allowed to do is to monitor that particular operation. I cannot believe that that is an honouring of the spirit of the promise that was given by those who felt it appropriate to make that commitment.
Clearly, the time when our forces are deployed will depend, as we were asked to ensure that it would, on when we have sufficient information as to exactly how they will be used, where they will go and what their precise responsibilities will be. Since the United Nations accepted our offer of reinforcements, we have had a reconnaissance party in Bosnia seeking to identify the precise routes that any convoys might go in order to carry out their responsibilities. There are difficulties being experienced in ensuring that there could be reasonable safe passage to Tuzla or Doboj, which are the two towns that have been identified as possible towns for relief to be provided by British-escorted convoys. A reconaissance party is in Bosnia at the present time. Only when it recommends that it is satisfied that we could expect these supplies to get through without unreasonable difficulty—only when that has been established—will it be appropriate for the deployment to take place. We hope that the forces will be available and deployed by early November, but it is a major operation. About 1,800 men, just over 1,000 vehicles and an estimated 600 tonnes of stores will have to be sent to Bosnia. That takes a considerable time and it is appropriate for these matters to be dealt with carefully.
I thank the House and all parties represented in it for their support for the Government. That support is appreciated by the Government and will be enormously welcomed by those brave men and women who will be active in Bosnia. The fact that they know that they have the united support of the House will be a tremendous uplift to their morale and will ensure that they are able to achieve their contribution.