Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 2:07 pm on 25th March 1999.

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Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 2:07 pm, 25th March 1999

I apologise to the Foreign Secretary and to the House for the fact that I was not able to be present at the start of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. No discourtesy was intended.

I join right hon. and hon. Members in recognising the manifest gravity of the situation that we face. I well understand the strong feelings in all parts of the House. I have lived through earlier debates of this kind. Strong feelings have been evident on those occasions too, sometimes evoked by the same right hon. and hon. Members as on this occasion.

Listening to recent broadcasts and hearing the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the noble Lord Healey making common cause on the matter reminded one how, on other issues, unexpected alliances may form, as similar criticisms are expressed.

I paid tribute to the Prime Minister for his statement which, by its clarity, conveyed to the House how grave the situation is and how dangerous the consequences could be. He said that the consequences of the action that he had authorised on behalf of the Government and the country could be extremely serious for our country. He added that the consequences of not acting could be more serious still. That is indeed the case.

I was struck by the comments of other speakers in the debate about the spillover which could flow from those actions. I was interested to read in the newspaper this morning that Secretary-General Solana had offered a security assurance to Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Albania and Macedonia that, if they were attacked as a consequence of the position that they adopted on the matter, NATO would come to their assistance. I am not sure whether that report is accurate, but it is a significant and crystal clear indication of how wide the implications of this action might be and how serious its consequences could be.

It is never easy to act. Comments and speeches similar to those that have been made recently were made before the Gulf war and before the Falklands events, and I could certainly make as powerful a speech as many right hon. and hon. Members on all the dangers and difficulties of the action that the Government have taken. I recognise the difficulty that the Government are experiencing, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, are also exercised over the legal basis of this action.

One of the features of the actions that we were able to take during the liberation of Kuwait was that, for the first time, the UN Security Council was able to act with full authority. The Security Council actually worked, because those events coincided with a period of paralysis during the transition of the Soviet Union into Russia. We did not face the prospect of the paralysis of the UN, which we had faced for the previous 45 years; whenever difficult issues arose in client countries of one bloc or another, the UN was powerless to act.

I say with great sadness that we appear to moving back to a situation in which the UN, in the Security Council, is not able to speak with the clarity that many believe a humanitarian crisis demands. Such a situation did not exist during the Gulf war.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said that the European Union summit meeting communiqué has been withdrawn and that certain countries have dissociated themselves from these actions. I do not want to make a political point, but it is worth noting that those of us who have been concerned about a common foreign and defence policy being initiated under the authority of the European Union can see very clearly from that illustration why it is important to keep authority for defence policy out of the European Union. I listened for the names of those countries carefully; certainly three of them are neutral and they would be faced with problems in this sort of situation.