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8.11 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On one point, I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). There is much to be said for the old-fashioned single-service debates that we used to have. I must confess that this is the 78th defence debate in which I have taken part. Those single-service debates were productive, and I think that the services welcomed them. In the first in which I took part, the post of Minister for the Armed Forces was occupied by Brigadier John Profumo--and a very good Minister he was to go to. I was brought up in these matters by the predecessor of the present Minister for Defence

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Procurement. I refer to George Wigg, with whom my first quarrel concerned his treatment of John Profumo.

As an 18-year-old, I served as a gunner operator--what the Guards call a "donkey walloper"--in the Scots Greys. Although I am strongly opposed to the action in Kosovo, I am neither a pacifist nor other than deeply concerned about our service men. Indeed, when I had the honour to stay with my former national service regiment for three days last year in Bosnia, I was made an honorary member of the mess. I say that because although some of us--including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon)--have been labelled pacifists and heaven knows what, we are not. What we are against are ill-conceived military adventures with an uncertain outcome and an unclear purpose.

It is in that context that I want to ask a question that was put to the Prime Minister five times this afternoon--first by the Leader of the Opposition, then by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and then, very directly, by me, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax. The question was this: what actually happens if a Russian ship in the Adriatic, coming into, say, the port of Bar, is apprehended, it is found that there is oil on board, and the ship refuses to take the action--unspecified action--that is asked of it?

That question did not suddenly occur to us. On 25 March, I asked the Foreign Secretary:


The Foreign Secretary replied--I will not give all his answer--that he was glad to have the opportunity to reply to my question. He added:


    "I am confident that the Russian Government will not seek to break the United Nations arms embargo on Serbia. I know that voices have been raised in Russia urging that; but as yet we have had no suggestion from the Russian Government that they intend to supply arms to Serbia".

Clearly, there is the possibility of oil being supplied. It is also clear that, whatever may be the negotiations between the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Ivanov, there are others in the background--General Lebed, Mr. Zugianov and, indeed, relative moderates such as Mr. Gadar--who may take a very different view. It is at our peril that we do not understand the anger of the Russians in this context.

I again ask the question that was asked this afternoon. What are the instructions to British ships? I suppose that this comes under the general heading of rules of engagement, but the blunt question is this: what the hell is a crew meant to do if it apprehends a Russian ship with the prospect of setting alight a serious international incident? That question deserves an answer.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the debate is about defence equipment, and I think that he should direct his remarks more specifically to that.

Mr. Dalyell: I shall turn to another matter concerning equipment.

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Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dalyell: Of course.

Mr. Howarth: When I listened to the hon. Gentleman's exchange with the Prime Minister this afternoon, it was clear to me from the Prime Minister's answer that he was more than prepared to use some of the equipment that we have been discussing.

Mr. Dalyell: That means military action against the Russians, if I interpret what the hon. Gentleman has said correctly, and that prompts all sorts of questions. Once we embark on armed conflict with the Russians, we embark on a chain of unpredictability that I suspect was not bargained for when some of my colleagues started out on this adventure.

Let me return to the question of equipment. I also asked the Foreign Secretary:


The answer was:


    "I assure my hon. Friend that contact and co-operation will not come to an end through any wish on our part. I do not believe that there will be any wish for that from the Russian Government."--[Official Report, 25 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 539-40.]

As I understood it, we were supplying equipment.

This week's issue of New Scientist reports:


I ask Ministers what the position regarding Y2K co-operation is now. I understand from constituents in the university of Edinburgh who are involved that these are important matters, and that is it possible that the rusting Soviet Arctic fleet will create difficulties at the millennium.

I say that against the background of having been invited by the Foreign Office to a seminar on precisely this subject in the Locarno room there. One of those addressing the seminar was the governor of Murmansk. Anyone who heard him and the other Russian scientists there must be very clear that--given the end of December 1999--it is a perilous situation.

I come to another technical question, on the bombing of chemical factories. The Serb authorities have warned of an ecological catastrophe if NATO strikes a chemical plant--the Prima Iskra factory--near Belgrade. The Serb authorities have floodlit the factory, so that allied airplanes might see it clearly. The issue is the 180 tonnes of highly toxic hydrofluoride in the factory.

What is the policy of using equipment against chemical installations? As I understand it, real problems of pollution--in relation to chlorine, mercury, phosgene, sulphur dioxide, benzene and ammonia--are caused by the bombing. It will be perfectly satisfactory if the Minister would care to write to me with an answer to that

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question. However, I do hope that there is some policy on the folly of bombing highly technical installations in a modern society, with results that cannot be known.

I ask specifically about the Vinca institute, which is currently a very small nuclear installation. However, in 1984, the reactor--an 80 per cent. fissile highly enriched uranium reactor--was closed down. The core is still in it, as negotiations with the Chinese--who had the expertise to remove that particular core--have not been concluded. The fact is that, if any missile hits that type of reactor, regardless of whether it has been closed down--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Although this is an Adjournment debate, may I remind the hon. Gentleman of my earlier stricture? He should try to direct his remarks more directly to the subject of defence equipment.

Mr. Dalyell: I am asking what defence equipment is used against reactor cores that could be extremely Chernobyl-like dangerous.

I ask also about RAF Harrier GR7s having begun to use old-style bombs in their attacks on Serbian targets in Kosovo. As I understand it, on 10 April, jets were sent out for the first from their base in southern Italy carrying free-fall 1,000-lb bombs. Unlike the Paveway 2 laser- guided bombs used on previous missions against buildings, free-fall bombs rely on tail-fins.

I asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many free-fall bombs have been dropped in Yugoslavia in the past month, and what assessment he has made of the reliability of tail-fin guided direction. Today, he replied:


That is not the story I get from Kenneth Aitcheson of Rescue--the archaeological organisation--which combed the websites for me and made various inquiries.

Those free-fall bombs have created havoc with the Serbian heritage. They have damaged the 14th-century monastery church at Gracanica, near Pristina. The monastery church has been damaged by several consecutive NATO bombings in the vicinity. During the most recent senseless attack, on the morning of 10 April, the village of Gracanica was bombed again. The monastery is one of the highest achievements of late Byzantine architecture, and is the masterpiece of the best painters, from the beginning of the 14th century, in the whole of the Byzantine empire.

Gracanica has existed over centuries, up to today. In 1993, it was inscribed on the tentative "List of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage", using the UNESCO criteria for cultural property. So much for the bombs accuracy.

What do those free-fall bombs do to the 13th-14th century monastery of the patriarchate of Pec, which was badly damaged? Repeated NATO bombing has destroyed the old city centre of Pec, and the log cabin complex at Locane, near Decane. It has destroyed the old trade centre of Djakovica, and Djakovica's Hadum mosque and Tabaks bridge, and the 16th-century church at Drsnik.

NATO bombing has damaged Kragujevac. On the night of 8-9 April, the centre of Kragujevac was severely bombed by NATO, and the 19th-century church was

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damaged. So much for the accuracy of those smart weapons. Other 19th-century buildings--the Amidza Konak and the Prince Mihailo Konak--were also damaged. On the night of 15 April, the centre of Kragujevac was bombed by NATO again, and the old Parliament--where the first meeting of the Serbian Parliament was held, in 1859--was damaged.

Also damaged were the 14th-century fortress at Krusevac; the 12th-century St. Nicholas monastery, at Kursumlija; and the Virgin church, of the 6th and 12th centuries, at Kursumlija. Also damaged was the Markova Crkva archaeological site, dating from the4th-7th centuries. The site was bombed by NATO on the night of 1-2 April, and the early Byzantine church was damaged. Damage was done to St. Procopius church, dating from the 9th-10th century, at Prokuplje; the Kopaonik mausoleum of Josip Pancic; the Vojlovica monastery at Pancevo--


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