Oral Answers to Questions – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 10th May 1999.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary 3:30 pm, 10th May 1999

With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement on recent developments in Kosovo. Before I do so, however, the House would expect me to say a few words about the tragic death of Derek Fatchett. Along with all the workers at the Foreign Office, I am shocked at his sudden loss. Our thoughts today are first for his wife and family. I spoke this morning to Anita, who told me how proud she had been of what Derek had done. She and her sons had every right to be proud of him. Over the past two years, he had proved himself to be an effective and creative Minister—from the early days, when he helped to broker a ceasefire to provide relief during the famine in Sudan, until last month, when he paid a brave visit to East Timor. His early death cruelly deprives the whole House of a Member who had so much more to give. It robs many of us of a friend whom we will always remember as cheerful, whatever the difficulties.

Last Thursday, I attended a meeting of the G8 Foreign Ministers in Bonn. That meeting reached agreement with Russia on the principles on which any settlement of the Kosovo conflict must be based. They parallel the objectives that NATO requires to be met as a condition of ending the military campaign: the withdrawal of Serb military, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo, an international interim administration for Kosovo, a political process on the basis of the Rambouillet peace accord, and the free return of all refugees under the protection of an international security presence, capable of achieving our common objectives.

From the start of the conflict we have maintained regular dialogue with Russia, and have made sure that the door is kept open to Russia. The agreement on common ground between us exposes as a lie the repeated promises of Milosevic to his people that one day Russia would come to their rescue. Work can now proceed this week between officials of our countries to turn those principles into the draft text of a Security Council resolution.

On Friday night, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was destroyed during a NATO attack on sites in the city. It appears that the missiles hit the building on which they had been targeted, but the building had been wrongly identified in the targeting plans as the federal directorate of supply and procurement for the Yugoslav army. The review continues into how the error could have occurred, and the procedures that gave rise to it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written to Zhu Rongji, the Chinese Premier, expressing our deep regret at the error, and assuring him that there was no deliberate intent on the part of the allies to attack the Chinese embassy.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

That was a very tasteless remark about what is a very grave and serious situation.

Yesterday I spoke to our ambassador in Beijing, who confirmed that the embassy had been blockaded by demonstrators who had hurled stones through the front windows of the embassy building. I am pleased to report that no member of the embassy staff has been injured, and we are not aware of any other British citizen in China having been attacked. We have amended our travel advice in respect of China to recommend against all non-essential visits to China at the present time.

My noble Friend Lady Symons saw the chargé d'affaires of the Chinese embassy this afternoon, and recorded our concern about the safety of our officials and other nationals in China. We welcome the appeal by the Vice-President of China, Hu Jintao, for the demonstrators to behave peacefully, and the apparent increase in the efforts of the Chinese police to protect the embassy.

On Saturday, after the news broke, I spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, who confirmed that Russia was firmly committed to the principles that we had agreed in the G8, and that there would be no let-up in the search for a settlement. We continue vigorously to pursue any opportunity for progress on the diplomatic track. After this statement I shall meet Carl Bildt, who has been appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as his special envoy. Tomorrow Viktor Chernomyrdin, the special representative of President Yeltsin, is meeting Mr. Talbot, the United States Deputy Secretary of State.

Our best hope of success on the diplomatic track is to keep up the military pressure. If Milosevic felt any reduction in our air campaign, or sensed any weakening of our resolve, there would be no prospect of his agreeing to meet our demands.

On the ground in Kosovo over recent days, we have destroyed tanks, heavy artillery, military convoys and command posts. In total, we have eliminated within Kosovo the equivalent of the weapons and equipment of an entire brigade, but we cannot ignore the fact that the Serb forces in Kosovo are controlled and co-ordinated from Belgrade. Striking at their command headquarters in Belgrade is vital to breaking their military capability in Kosovo. On Friday night, we destroyed in central Belgrade the Hotel Yugoslavia, which had been taken over as the war room for Arkan's paramilitaries, who have killed, burned and raped their way across Kosovo. By any test, that war room was a legitimate military target and could not be ignored if we were serious about reversing the ethnic cleansing that was planned from there.

We want a settlement and we would welcome a diplomatic solution, but we will not accept a settlement at any price. It must meet our objectives—in particular, it must provide for the Kosovo refugees to go home under our protection. Anything less would condemn the refugees to a life in exile and refugee camps, and would reward President Milosevic for the butchery and brutality with which he has evicted them.

Fresh evidence continues to pour in of that brutality. In one single day last week, we received reports from refugees of three further atrocities. At Djakovica, 19 people, mainly women and children, were found by the Serb forces hiding in a basement. They were all shot in that basement and the house burned over them. At Kotlina, Serb police threw 20 villagers down a well and then threw hand grenades down after them. At Suva Reka, around 100 residents were herded into the shopping centre and shot. None of those people was killed as a result of tragic error. Every single one of them was murdered at close range, deliberately and callously.

I understand and share the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House at the loss of civilian life when there is a tragic error in our bombing campaign, but I cannot understand those who focus on the tens who have been casualties of NATO's military campaign, to the exclusion of the tens of thousands who have been butchered by Milosevic in Kosovo.

I invite hon. Members to visit the exhibition space at the Foreign Office, where they can see on display drawings by children from the refugee camps. I defy any Member not to be moved to discover that the children have often drawn the guns bigger than the people and the tanks bigger than the many burning houses. It is not just the dead who are the victims of ethnic cleansing; the living also are traumatised by what they have had to see. The least we can do is enable them to return and to rebuild their homes in safety. We will continue and intensify both military and diplomatic campaigns until we succeed in doing so.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

First, may I associate myself with the Foreign Secretary's comments about the tragic and most untimely death of the Minister of State, the news of which will indeed have shocked the whole House. Whatever our political differences, he will be greatly missed, and our thoughts and sympathy are with his family.

As the Foreign Secretary is aware, the Opposition have throughout supported the decision to take action in response to the atrocities of the Milosevic regime. Likewise, we supported and continue to support the original objectives of the action taken by NATO. Nevertheless, he will appreciate that it is our role to scrutinise, to question and, where necessary, to criticise the actions of the Government. Rarely is that role more vital than during times of armed conflict.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was not only a tragic mistake, but an act of gross incompetence? Can he confirm that almost any street map of Belgrade clearly shows the location of the Chinese embassy? Will he tell us whether NATO has a list of targets to be avoided? If there is such a list, why did the Chinese embassy not feature prominently on it?

Will the Foreign Secretary also tell the House what measures are being taken to protect the lives of British citizens and British property in China? What consideration is being given to the wider diplomatic implications of the latest events for our relationship with China, and with Russia?

Are there not a number of other aspects of the planning and implementation of the military action that give rise to grave disquiet?

How can the Foreign Secretary reconcile the original objectives of the action stated at the start of the campaign with last week's fudged G8 Foreign Ministers' communiqué, which—in relation to the peacekeeping force, for example—contained no reference at all to NATO?

How can the Foreign Secretary justify the fact that it was not until five weeks into the air strikes that the NATO Heads of Government asked for advice on whether an oil embargo could legally be imposed? Will he confirm reports this morning that NATO is now backing away from threatening the use of force in its proposed visit-and-search regime, and intends instead to rely on a naming and shaming of countries that do not co-operate with a voluntary embargo?

What response does the Foreign Secretary have to General Naumann, the outgoing chairman of NATO's Military Committee, who has lamented the inability of NATO to use surprise or sufficient force, as a result of which, he said, the campaign has "undoubtedly" been prolonged? Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon that any failures cannot be laid at the feet of the military", but have their root in the political parameters that were set?

Will the Foreign Secretary also clarify the position on the number of refugees that Britain has agreed to accept. Other countries have specified the total number to be admitted; will the British Government provide a similar figure?

Do not all those unanswered questions give the impression that action is being made up as we go along and has not properly been thought through?

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that there has never been any doubt in our minds that it was right for NATO to take action to deal with Milosevic's atrocities. The Opposition supported that decision, and we support it today. The international community must do all that it can to bring the unspeakable suffering in the region to an end. However, does he accept that the strength of our conviction on that matter makes us all the more concerned at the apparent lack of clarity in NATO's objectives and in the means employed to achieve them? Does he agree that clarity and consistency are now required more urgently than ever?

Is it not most regrettably the case that, seven weeks into the military action, we appear to be no nearer to achieving the primary objective set out by the Prime Minister, that of averting a humanitarian disaster? Indeed, is it not unhappily the case that the humanitarian disaster—the responsibility for which, of course, rests firmly and unambiguously with Mr. Milosevic—gets worse with each day that passes?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for associating himself with my comments about Derek Fatchett. It may be of some help to his family to know that respect for Derek was felt on both sides of the House.

I have already said to the House that what happened was a tragic error, and that there must be a review of what happened and of whether procedures have to be changed to ensure that it does not happen again. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to share criticisms that have been expressed about what he described as "the political parameters" of the bombing campaign. The political parameters of the bombing campaign are there precisely to seek to minimise the risk of civilian casualties and of other non-military properties being destroyed.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot, on the one hand, insist that we should be more careful to avoid civilian casualties, and, on the other hand, suggest that we should lift the political parameters that very clearly try to minimise those casualties by focusing on military targets.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for clarity. The NATO objectives could not be clearer. We require some clarity in the Opposition's support for them.

We have repeatedly stressed those objectives: first, a ceasefire; secondly, the withdrawal of Serb forces; thirdly, the return of the refugees; fourthly, a credible international presence to protect those refugees, which will have a NATO core; and finally, a political process based on Rambouillet. Those objectives have been stated clearly, repeatedly and in the same terms for seven weeks. I wish that the Opposition would not keep shifting the basis on which they express their support for them.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to General Naumann. He is behind the times. General Naumann followed the statement that the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted by saying, when he met President Clinton, that he could not think of any change that he would make to NATO's military campaign.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman says that General Naumann was hanging on to his brief. He resigned the next week because it was his retirement date. He was not speaking to hold on to office. The hon. Gentleman should know who he is speaking about, because I understand that he claims to be a defence spokesman. General Naumann retired at the agreed date with his consent and that of the allies. He could speak freely and he said that he would make no change to the military campaign, which was achieving its objectives.

We are fighting an immense and great evil in Kosovo. It would have been helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had endorsed any of the statements that I made about the nature of that evil. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] With the greatest respect, there was not a single reference in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said to the immense burning, looting, killing and raping that we have witnessed throughout Kosovo. We are determined to show the necessary resolve to ensure that those policies are reversed and the refugees return. It is disappointing that it has taken seven weeks, but I can think of nothing more feeble than if our resolve and determination ceased after seven weeks. We are determined to continue until we reverse the ethnic cleansing. I ask all those in the House who share our concern to support us in seeing that through.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Is it not clear that the intelligence community, particularly in the United States, will have to be far more accurate than it was over the bombing of the Chinese embassy? I hope that the allied Governments, including Britain, will make that clear. On the wider issue, while every effort should be made to find a diplomatic solution, and Russia is to be congratulated on its efforts, was there not a simple choice at the beginning of the allied military campaign? Either we accepted the ethnic cleansing, the crimes and the rapes that were taking place in Kosovo, or we took action. If we had not taken action and merely accepted the situation, it would have been a shame and humiliation for this country. As a Labour Back Bencher, I make no apology for supporting what has been done.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his clarity. There is a review of what went wrong and of the procedures. If improvements can be made to the procedures, they must be implemented to minimise any possibility of such a tragic error recurring.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

May I begin by associating myself with the remarks made by the Secretary of State about his colleague Derek Fatchett. In opposition and in government, he had a sure touch on foreign affairs, and his family's loss is our loss.

Does not the incident involving the Chinese embassy reveal certain blunt but unpalatable truths? First, there was a simple but inexcusable error. Secondly, as a result, we have handed to Mr. Milosevic's regime an unparalleled propaganda opportunity. Thirdly, we have offered a public and, to some, persuasive justification for the Chinese Government's opposition to NATO's actions in the Balkans. Finally, regrettable though the incident was and sincerely though we must apologise for it, does not the catalogue of atrocity that the Secretary of State has just read to us confirm that we have no option but to see the matter through? If no settlement can be achieved, if necessary we will have to do so by deploying ground troops in a hostile environment.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I agree absolutely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the need to pursue the matter. All of the mounting evidence from those who have spoken to any of the refugees who have left Kosovo over the past seven weeks confirms the importance of continuing with our campaign. We cannot allow such evil to triumph. We will at every possible opportunity seek to minimise civilian casualties and to make sure that we minimise the opportunity of ordnance going to the wrong target.

However, I must be blunt with the House; one cannot wage a military campaign of this intensity without mistakes. There have been 6,000 bombing sorties over the past seven weeks, and very few have resulted in the wrong target being destroyed. However, it would be dishonest of me to stand at the Dispatch Box today and promise the House that there will never again be any mistakes. If we were to make that a condition of the military campaign, we could not wage a military campaign of the intensity and duration that is necessary to secure Milosevic's agreement to our objectives.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

Is not it the case—as my right hon. Friend has clearly said—that the way to end the war is for Milosevic to meet the conditions that my right hon. Friend has spelled out this afternoon? Was not the way in which the Opposition behaved this afternoon a clear case of their trying to undermine the Government's resolve, in exactly the same way that right-wing opposition in the United States Congress and Senate has tried to clip the wings of the President at a time when he personally—like the British Government—would prefer to commit ground troops? Would it not be the worst of all worlds if the refugees were to return to Kosovo without the situation being properly and finally resolved?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I associate myself with most of my hon. Friend's comments. May I clarify a point in relation to ground troops? We have always been committed to providing ground troops to underline a ceasefire and to make sure that any agreement would stick. That remains our position. The whole of the alliance in Washington—not just one member—agreed to task Javier Solana, the alliance's Secretary-General, with reviewing the circumstances in which it might be appropriate for our forces to enter and to escort the refugees back in security.

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad Conservative, Eddisbury

We on the Back Benches would like to associate ourselves with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said about Derek Fatchett, who was a greatly respected and admired colleague in the House.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, at the moment, the Prime Minister's expression of regret for the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has not been reported in the Chinese media and that, in China, it is universally assumed to have been a deliberate act? The talk there is of an acknowledgement of a breach of international law, and of compensation and apologies to the families, who will be receiving the bodies tomorrow. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that his mind is not entirely closed to a further gesture—perhaps by way of an apology from NATO—to improve what is a dangerously fissile situation in China?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

My mind is certainly not closed to anything that would help us to reassure the Government of China that what happened was not a matter of any deliberate intent. I am aware, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that that is a view widely held within China, although we are not convinced that it is a view necessarily believed by the Government of China. Nevertheless, we will seek to do anything we can to get that point across and to rebuild bridges with China. NATO has already recorded its deep regret, and we would be happy to consider what further statement might be of assistance. However, let us be clear: this was a tragic error, and there was no deliberate intent on our part. It should not deflect us from our intent and objective, which is to secure the return of the refugees to Kosovo.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Labour, Glasgow Kelvin

I will visit the exhibition that the Foreign Secretary has staged of drawings by Kosovar children. I would have liked hon. Members to be able to visit a similar exhibition by Iraqi schoolchildren, except that that exhibition was banned by none other than the Foreign Secretary some months ago.

Can the Foreign Secretary not see that when in a hole, in politics as in life, people should stop digging? Whatever one's view about this war and about whether it should have been started in the first place, is it not clear that we are all now in a very deep pit? All of us—the Yugoslays, the Kosovans, the Chinese and NATO—are in a deep hole. Is it not obvious that a settlement is within sight, based on the G8 agreement? Would it not be sensible to have a pause in the bombing—even if it is only in case any further disasters occur that make the G8 negotiations invalid or unobtainable? Would it not be wise to have a pause in the bombing and a return to the negotiating table at the United Nations, based on the G8 proposals? I feel sure that those who are following this matter closely realise that that is the basis for a settlement. If we continue bombing, we may bomb that possibility to smithereens.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I point out to my hon. Friend that none of us entered this conflict lightly; nor did we enter it without exploring every other possible way of resolving the crisis in Kosovo. We put two months into the Rambouillet-Paris peace talks. The talks were followed up by a special visit to Belgrade by Richard Holbrooke. The reason that we are currently engaged in a military campaign is that every other possible avenue was closed off by Milosevic.

We are trying to turn the G8 proposals into a resolution at the Security Council; that work will continue this week. However, no one would be happier than President Milosevic if we were now to suspend the military campaign. That would enable him to refuel and resupply the troops in Kosovo, and to strengthen, once again, those units in the field that have been weakened by our bombing campaign. That would not assist a solution, but would ensure that it would be longer before we could secure the only solution that will bring justice to Kosovo—the return of the refugees under international protection. Until we can secure that objective, it would be foolish of the House to suggest that we should cease the bombing campaign.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

With our war aims set out, I well understand that it is extremely difficult to talk much about how long the refugees will be in the camps. However, is it not realistic to believe that a substantial number of refugees will be there for a very long time? Will the Foreign Secretary reassure us that the Government are working hard to ensure that the refugees' shelter against the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer is what they actually need? Can he assure the House that the camps will not become recruiting grounds for the Kosovo Liberation Army, as the refugee camps in the Congo became recruiting grounds for the Interahamwe?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are anxious to ensure that those camps do not become armed camps, as the camps in the Congo were. However, it would be foolish for anyone to deny that there will be many young refugees who will be interested in working for the KLA. We have to face the fact—as must Milosevic—that his behaviour and his brutality are the best recruiting sergeant for the KLA. That army has grown in strength during the period in which he has claimed to be wiping it out.

As for the future of the camps, it must be said that they are not prepared for winter. We must not necessarily prepare them for winter, but we must ensure that we provide a tolerable standard of life for the people in the camps until we can take them back to Kosovo. That is why, especially in Albania, we are encouraging refugees to go down to the coast where it will be easier to provide for them than it is in the mountainous border area. I stress to the House that, when we secure our objective of entering Kosovo and taking the refugees back, a large task of reconstruction will remain before they will have homes in which they can live through the winter. Whether inside or outside Kosovo, a major task of reconstruction lies in our hands.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Whatever the reasons—or lack of them—for the bombing of the Chinese embassy, is it not now clear that the Russian embassy to the Yugoslays to seek a solution will be made doubly difficult? Are Her Majesty's Government prepared to put urgent and immediate support behind the widening of that embassy and the involvement of the United Nations in the war, so that action can be taken that will make it clear that we seek an equitable and honest solution?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on that point. The last information I had before leaving is that the Germans expect that the visit to Beijing will go ahead; that in itself is encouraging. I hope that that visit and the many other contacts that we are making with Beijing will help to ensure that we can achieve a common way forward in the diplomatic process.

Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is keeping in mind the war powers resolution of both Houses of the United States Congress, which applies equally to ground, sea and air forces, and which requires that if, after 60 days, Congress has not declared war, authorised the use of armed forces or given a time extension, the President must withdraw the American forces from the war zone? As it appears highly unlikely that the current Congress will pass resolutions in that sense, what will happen when 60 days of NATO bombing is completed on 26 May?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

It is a brave diplomat who tries to tread in the relations between Congress and the White House, but we have had repeated exchanges with President Clinton over the past few days, including the period since that resolution was passed, and we detect no slackening of resolve on the part of our major ally. I believe that many of the Congressmen and Senators on the hill, including those whom I met only two weeks ago when I attended the Washington summit, understand full well what is at stake and would not want America or NATO to abandon the Kosovo refugees.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Labour, Croydon North

I put it to the Foreign Secretary that, now that the going has got rough and tough in the former Yugoslavia, our democracy has to be clear on one fundamental point, which is that there is no comparison to be drawn, either militarily or ethically, between the accidental bombing by NATO, tragic though it was, and the callous, systematic and repugnant policies of the Serb regime, which involve organised rape and mass killings. Ministers do not need this advice, nevertheless, I urge them to keep their nerve and to listen to decent British public opinion, not to those on both sides of the House whose words—however well meaning or sincere—can only give comfort to the planners of mass murder in Belgrade.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend raises an important point, in that we have to weigh carefully what we say, for in an open society, our words are openly and freely reported and are then prone to being abused in Belgrade, where there is not the same open and free access to the media.

As for my hon. Friend's other point, I understand that public opinion will be concerned about what happened to the Chinese embassy, just as the Government and the other Governments of the alliance are concerned. However, public opinion would be even more outraged if the public were to sense that we had betrayed the Kosovo refugees and abandoned them to a life in the camps. The public would be even more outraged if they felt that there was to be no justice in respect of the atrocities and crimes committed in Kosovo. I am quite confident that public opinion would want us to continue until we can secure the return of the refugees and access by the International War Crimes Tribunal to Kosovo.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept my clear view that, although he is entitled to seek the widest possible support in the House for the Government's current position and the action that they have taken, there are genuine public concerns about certain developments in respect of those events and that, in our parliamentary democracy, the Opposition have a duty to raise such concerns? I appreciate the pressure he is under, but does he recognise that it does not help when he tries to disparage the Opposition when they discharge part of their duty?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I entirely agree that there are concerns and that those concerns need to be expressed. However, if the right hon. Gentleman reflects, he will accept that the NATO objectives are clear and that it does not help us to show resolve and determination behind those objectives if it is suggested that there is any lack of clarity in them. They do have clarity. Although the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) referred to the lack of clarity of NATO objectives, I believe that that is a false charge which does not enable us to show the resolve and determination that are necessary for success.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour, East Lothian

I have just been elected to the new Scottish Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that one of the clearest messages that citizens in every part of Scotland sent in that election was their rejection of a party that had criticised the military action taken against the ethnic cleansers of Kosovo? Furthermore, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Kosovan refugees who arrived in my East Lothian constituency last night will be made very welcome? Surely the most important duty of the House and of the Government must be to create the circumstances that will allow those people to return to their own country safely.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to the Scottish Parliament. I think that there are many reasons why the people of Scotland rejected independence as an option last week.

I am confident that the local authorities that we invite to assist us in accommodating the Kosovar Albanians will rise to that challenge. My hon. Friend has a long record and experience of providing help to the people of Bosnia, and I am sure that both he and his constituents will rise to the challenge of helping the people of Kosovo.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

At the end of April, I and other members of the International Development Committee had the good fortune to be briefed by two British NATO generals in Albania and Macedonia. I think I speak for Committee members from both sides of the House when I say that we were very impressed by both the generals and the good humanitarian work carried out by NATO troops in those countries. However, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a growing body of opinion to the effect that, although there is no problem with the armed forces' prosecution of the war, there is a problem with the political direction and a lack of understanding on the part of our political leaders? Is he aware that informed opinion in this country lacks confidence in our political leaders—indeed, there is a growing conviction that the political leadership both in Washington and in this country has no idea what it is doing?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I cannot say that I regard that contribution as immensely helpful in demonstrating to Belgrade our unity, resolve and determination. It is very easy to make that kind of open criticism. If the hon. Gentleman is genuine and serious about trying to find a way forward, and if he has thought of some approach that has escaped the 19 members of the alliance and its military command, we would be grateful if he would express his views rather than simply criticising what is being done.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

Is the Foreign Secretary aware—he must be—that no one in the House is an apologist for President Milosevic or the crimes that he has committed? Is he aware that those who know war know that it is bloody and indiscriminate? When NATO decided to make war, it knew that many innocent people would be killed—and that has happened. Is the Foreign Secretary also aware that the impression is being created that the Government have lost contact with reality? The American Senate—which, unlike the House of Commons, has some power over matters of peace and war—will not support ground troops. The air war will not succeed. Therefore, the best hope for the refugees is to take up the Russian proposal at the Security Council where there is an opportunity to find a solution. Bombing and insult, in equal proportions, are getting us nowhere. The invasion will not be allowed and the danger is that the Government are misleading the refugees into believing that this policy will enable them to return home.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

With respect to my right hon. Friend, I said in my statement that we are now working with Russia in order to take forward a Security Council resolution. I hope that we may be able to produce a draft of that resolution before the end of the week. It is certainly our objective to work on it as fast as we can.

The obstacle to a resolution in the past seven weeks has not been us, but Russia and the threat of a Russian veto. I welcome the fact that we have achieved common ground upon which we can take forward the resolution. However, the House must be clear: we have secured a political agreement with Russia, and that is very different from a settlement with Belgrade. There is no evidence that if we back off and relax the military pressure, Belgrade will suddenly decide to do what it resisted doing throughout the Rambouillet peace talks. I do not, therefore, believe that we are selling the Kosovo refugees an honest prospectus if we say that there is a way forward that does not involve a military campaign.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

It is unfitting and unsuitable for the Foreign Secretary to question the Opposition's resolve and motives because they choose to question and draw attention to the monstrous and unforgivable incompetence of the bombing of the Chinese embassy. One would have hoped that if NATO truly thought that the Chinese embassy was the federal procurement executive, it might have taken action some time beforehand to remove the executive and troubled to find out exactly where the Chinese embassy was.

Much more work needs to be done by NATO and others involved to prepare for the reconstruction of Kosovo. What steps were taken at the G8 meeting to prepare for efforts to rebuild the houses that will be needed to shelter the hundreds of thousands of poor refugees, who will return to scenes of total devastation? I urge the Foreign Secretary, instead of posturing at the Dispatch Box, to give us straightforward answers without irrelevant criticism.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I could not have made clearer to the House my concern about what has happened to the Chinese embassy and the difficulties that the events have caused us all.

On the reconstruction of Kosovo, we committed ourselves at the G8 meeting to an interim administration under an international authority, which we anticipate will be achieved through United Nations endorsement and a resolution. That interim administration will need to call on all the resources of the international community, including the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union and the UN, as well as NATO. Reconstruction will be a major task.

At my meeting, after this statement, with Carl Bildt, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General, I hope to explore how he and his fellow envoy, Eduard Kukan, can work together to prepare plans for what happens after we go into Kosovo. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the preparations for that need to start now. We face the task of rebuilding a whole country.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

I welcome the agreement with Russia, not as an alternative to NATO's military action, but as a complement to it. In planning for the eventual international peacekeeping force under the direction of the UN, are special steps being taken to widen participation as much as possible, particularly to involve the Governments of Muslim countries? Is my right hon. Friend aware, for example, that the United Arab Emirates has made substantial aid available to Albania to provide a field hospital, an airport and several camps, and would be willing to participate in an international peacekeeping force?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I welcome my hon. Friend's question. It is true that several Muslim countries are anxious to help, and some are already doing so. We have always made it plain that although any international military force must have a NATO core to be credible, it need not be exclusively NATO. I would welcome Russia's involvement in such a force, and I hope that Muslim nations will also be involved, to ensure that we demonstrate a full international presence.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

It was not the Royal Air Force that smashed up the Chinese embassy, and as the Foreign Secretary is speaking in the British House of Commons, why does not he say so? That action was taken by the USAF, whose general and habitual standard of inept targeting and gung-ho opportunism must have been responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of civilians. In the last war, the alliance had the habit of issuing communiqués at the end of almost every day, saying what had happened and which units within the alliance had been tasked to take the action. Why cannot we introduce that procedure, and then at least some degree of responsibility for these repetitious outrages would be easier to attribute?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that UK aircraft were not involved in the attack on the Chinese embassy. He is the first Member to ask that specific question, and I am happy to give that specific answer. However, I stress that we are operating as an alliance. It would not help us to continue to prosecute the war together as an alliance if we were to get involved in individual recrimination, and I have no intention of doing so.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that had Labour Front Benchers during the Falklands or Gulf wars made the sort of criticisms that we have heard from Conservative Front Benchers today, there would have been howls of outrage from the then Conservative Government? Does he also agree that when the wrong target has been bombed, as happened with the Chinese embassy, the whole House is concerned, but that to try to pretend that such mistakes will not be made in a military conflict is naive in the extreme and undermines the original intention of the action?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. If there is to be a military campaign of the intensity necessary to make its mark on President Milosevic, it will unavoidably, on occasions, contain errors. That is why it is so important that we rightly express our concern about such errors, seek to learn lessons from them and try to prevent them from recurring. However, that should not divert us from our central resolve to see the campaign through.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Conservative, Altrincham and Sale West

The Foreign Secretary has told the House that a review will take place to consider the procedures that allowed the bombing of the Chinese embassy to take place. I invite him to give the House more details of that review, especially how long it will take and when any new procedures will be implemented. With the bombing proceeding every day, it is a matter of urgency to learn what lessons we can and to put new procedures in place.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am sure that if changes are to be made, they will be introduced as a matter of urgency for precisely the reason the hon. Gentleman gives. It would not be appropriate for me to give a specific time scale to the review, but it will proceed as urgently as possible.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

May I join my right hon. Friend in expressing my condolences on the death of our dear friend, Derek Fatchett, whom we will all miss?

The simple truth is that the wise old men in Peking who run China will know that what happened was an accident. They are not stupid and, in the pragmatic way for which they are internationally renowned, they will not overreact, as have many people in the House of Commons today. Will not those wise old men wish to keep on course the rapprochement with the west that has been their policy for the past 15 or 20 years? They will want to put the whole murky business behind them.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

It is perhaps worth recalling that we have achieved major improvements in our relations with China in the past year. The visit of Zhu Rongji to London was a great success. We are sure that China will not wish to throw away those gains, but will want to build on them. Nevertheless, nobody should understate the magnitude of what happened on Friday or the importance of working hard to ensure that we can put it behind us.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

May I remind the Foreign Secretary that in the course of my earlier questions, I several times condemned the atrocities of the Milosevic regime and ended my questions by saying that the responsibility for the humanitarian disaster in Kosovo rested firmly and unambiguously on Milosevic. Will the Foreign Secretary now withdraw the remarks in which he falsely alleged that I had failed to condemn those atrocities?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

If I have misrepresented the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I withdraw those remarks.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

Well, if I have misrepresented the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I withdraw those remarks and I apologise, because that would be right in those circumstances. However, I invite him, the next time he discusses this matter in the House, to reflect on the balance of what he says. If he examines the balance of what he said on this occasion, he will find that for every criticism of Belgrade, there were five criticisms of NATO and the alliance for what has happened. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) who made the point earlier that during the Gulf war, the Government received great support from the Opposition. I hope that we can look forward to similar support from the Opposition on future occasions.