Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I shall speak only briefly. First, I thank my noble friends Lady Anelay of St. Johns

1 Feb 1999 : Column 1297

and Lord Astor of Hever for their support on the Front Bench. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who certainly raised some extremely important points. As always, I have enjoyed the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, particularly his legal points, which certainly surpassed any expertise that I will ever have. I thank also the Minister for her great expertise. It may be that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, has spent a lot of time running back and forth to clarify particular points--I hope she is not doing so now--but the reality is that the House has benefited greatly from the Minister's expertise in these areas.

I make only one point on that. The Minister tends to refer rather disparagingly to one's Treasury experience. At the end of the day, however technical the Bill--as has been demonstrated in the debate earlier this afternoon--we are dealing with real people and real problems, and it is the technical expertise which one brings to these matters that helps us to alleviate those problems and to improve the social security system.

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. Certainly the Bill goes to the Commons in a much better state than it was when it arrived here. For that, we must all be grateful.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise also briefly. First, I congratulate the noble Baroness on showing her usual mastery of the complex details of this highly technical Bill. I have been impressed by the way in which she has not merely relied on information that has been fed to her but has thrown into this Bill her own understanding and command of the details involved.

The House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for pressing the issue of compensation for those who have suffered from the defects in the NIRS2 scheme--which was perhaps only rather incidentally involved in the Bill but was nevertheless of great importance. We should all be grateful to him. Indeed, we should all be grateful to the Government for their very rapid and effective response to those problems.

Finally, I am grateful for the suggestion that the Bill is to some extent instigated from points that I raised on the Social Security Bill; but this is something that was raised some time ago by the Tax Law Review Committee. An obviously correct move has been made, and I am glad that the Government have made it. I warmly welcome the fact that the Bill has now reached the end of its passage through your Lordships' House.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, before we move to the Statement on Kosovo, I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.

1 Feb 1999 : Column 1298


3.37 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on Kosovo which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend, the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

    "With permission, I should like to make a Statement about recent developments on Kosovo.

    "The situation on the ground remains tense. On Friday, over 20 Kosovar Albanians were shot in Rugovo. On Saturday, a hand grenade was lobbed into a cafe in Pristina frequented by Serbs, injuring eight, including one Albanian. Yesterday, two Serb policemen were injured when a grenade was fired into their van while they were returning from the funeral of a casualty of earlier conflict. Over 200 people have been killed since the Holbrooke agreement last October provided for a cease-fire.

    "At its meeting in London last Friday, the Contact Group called on both sides to end hostilities now. They insisted on full compliance by Belgrade with its undertakings of last October and real co-operation with both the Verification Mission and the War Crimes Tribunal.

    "The main focus of the meeting was on the urgent need to instil momentum into the political process. Since last October, Ambassadors Hill and Petritsch have developed the Contact Group's framework document for a political settlement. It reflects extensive consultation with both sides.

    "Their detailed document provides for an interim accord for three years. That period would provide the opportunity for the creation of democratic self-government in Kosovo through free and fair elections supervised by the OSCE. The new institutions of Kosovo would enjoy a wide range of self-government, including control of its own police and internal security.

    "The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would retain competence only for foreign policy, external defence, monetary policy, single market, customs and federal taxation. Both Serb and Albanian communities would be fully protected with the right to elected institutions preserving their national culture, language and education.

    "The framework document provides that at the end of three years the future status of Kosovo would be reviewed under international auspices.

    "Despite the extensive consultation and detailed work which has gone into the framework document by representatives of the Contact Group, in three months there has not been one negotiating meeting on it between Belgrade and the Kosovo Albanians.

    "On Friday the Contact Group resolved on a programme of action to break that stalemate. We agreed to summon both sides to negotiations on the basis of the framework document. We set a tight timetable which requires both sides to attend talks by this Saturday and to conclude negotiations within less

1 Feb 1999 : Column 1299

    than two further weeks. France has offered to provide a venue for the talks which will take place under the joint chairmanship of myself and Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister. Later on Friday the United Nations Security Council welcomed the strategy of the Contact Group and demanded that both parties should comply with it.

    "On Saturday the North Atlantic Council also gave its full support to the strategy of the Contact Group and warned that NATO is ready to take whatever measures are necessary to avert the humanitarian catastrophe by compelling compliance with the demands of the international community. In the meantime the North Atlantic Council delegated to its Secretary-General, Javier Solana, authority to order military action in the light of the responses of both parties. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed Kosovo with President Chirac during his visit last Thursday. They agreed that both Britain and France would be willing to consider the deployment, with their Allies, of ground troops in Kosovo to provide a period of stability and peace during which a political settlement could take root.

    "I was instructed by the Contact Group to convey our demands to both parties and on Saturday I visited Belgrade and Skopje. I was accompanied throughout by Bill Walker, chief of the Verification Mission. The visit increased my respect for the valuable work of the Verification Mission. It has provided instant and reliable information on the atrocities which have invariably occurred in places where it is absent, and has undoubtedly deterred further atrocities where it is present. In Belgrade I met jointly with President Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and President Milutinovic of the Republic of Serbia. I stressed to them that I came with the mandate of the united Contact Group and also backed by the authority of the North Atlantic Council. Our requirement of them to take part in negotiations under international chairmanship is the best opportunity Belgrade will get to extricate itself from a conflict that it cannot win. President Milosevic undertook to study the Contact Group proposals and to reply within a few days.

    "In Skopje I met with Dr. Rugova, Mr. Demaqi and Mr. Qosja who between them represent a broad spectrum of Kosovar opinion. I stressed in all my conversations with the Kosovar Albanians that the proposals of the Contact Group offered a democratic, self-governing Kosovo free from the bloodshed of recent months. Dr. Rugova, who was elected overwhelmingly last year as leader of the Kosovar Albanians, welcomed the opportunity for talks and committed his party to participate fully in them. I also spoke by phone to Mr. Surroi, an independent publisher and a leading political figure in Pristina, who gave his full support to the proposals and expressed his willingness to participate. Mr. Demaqi who acts as political spokesman for the Kosovo Liberation Army and Mr. Qosja, leader of the third largest Kosovo Albanian party, both undertook to consult their colleagues and to let me have their response within days.

1 Feb 1999 : Column 1300

    "Madam Speaker, I cannot confirm that the talks which we seek will take place. Nor can I guarantee that if they take place they will succeed. There remain serious issues of difference between the two sides which it will take hard negotiation to resolve, such as the nature of the review to take place in three years' time and the relationship between a self-governing Kosova and Serbia. But I can confirm that the meeting of the Contact Group showed real unity and a common determination to provide for progress towards a political settlement of the conflict. It is now for both parties to show the same commitment to finding a political solution. Neither of them can win the conflict by military means. Both of them would benefit from a political settlement. The offer of these talks, brokered by the Contact Group and backed by the Security Council and NATO, provides the best opportunity they will ever get to achieve a political settlement through dialogue. I urge both of them now to seize that opportunity and give the people of Kosovo hope for their future in place of their fear of the present bloodshed".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.44 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I extend to the House my most sincere and deep apologies that my noble friend Lord Moynihan was informed by a government office that the Statement would not be made until 4.15 p.m. He is therefore not present at the moment. I crave the indulgence of the House in making my noble friend's speech (a copy of which has been faxed to me) on his behalf. My noble friend would have said that he is very grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place and for updating your Lordships' House on the results of the Foreign Secretary's mission to Belgrade and Skopje at the weekend. From these Benches, the Government have our full support as they actively seek a political solution to the ongoing crisis in Kosovo under the auspices of the Contact Group. We welcome the Contact Group's most recent action in summoning both sides to talks in France by the 6th February and the setting of a clear deadline for the conclusion of those talks, action which has been endorsed by both the UN Security Council and by NATO. Given that their participation in these proposed talks is not yet confirmed, when does the Minister anticipate that a response will be received from President Milosevic and the Kosovo Liberation Army respectively with regard to the demands of the Contact Group and the detailed plans which have been submitted to each party as a basis for negotiations to settle the future status of the province?

We also support the decision by NATO to authorise the use of force if deemed necessary, provided that any military action is predicated on clearly defined objectives. Can the Minister confirm that NATO forces are on 48 hours' notice, as has been reported? Is the Minister in a position to give any further details on the British preparations for the possible use of force and the likely time-scale of events should one or both sides fail to comply with the Contact Group's

1 Feb 1999 : Column 1301

ultimatum by the given date? Should military strikes be authorised, what plans exist for the extraction of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission prior to such action? In the light of the possible deployment of ground troops in Kosovo to monitor any peace settlement, which has been referred to by the Foreign Secretary, can the Minister provide any further details as to what this would entail? Given the failure last October to get the NATO partners to agree to such action in principle as part of an overall settlement, has consensus now been reached, and is it the case that all leading NATO nations would now take part in such a deployment? What discussions have been held with the United States on this question, given that the Foreign Secretary himself said on Friday that there is an interesting debate going on within America with regard to the deployment of ground troops?

From these Benches we share the Government's horror at the butchery which has taken place, and continues to take place, in Kosovo and we join the Government in unreservedly condemning such atrocities. Indeed, even as the countries of the Contact Group were finalising their ultimatum on Friday the bodies of 24 ethnic Albanians were found in the village of Rogovo. Most of the victims were reported to have been wearing civilian clothes. Can the Minister tell the House what progress has been made, by British verifiers and others, in investigating the cause of these deaths? Does the Minister agree that there should be a role for international war crimes investigators in this work, just as she did in the case of the massacre at Racak last month?

William Walker, the head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, has confirmed his belief that he has "absolutely no doubt" that the Serbs were behind the outrage at Racak. What discussions did the Foreign Secretary have with President Milosevic regarding access for war crime investigators to the area? Can the Minister comment on reports last week that US surveillance teams uncovered evidence of direct involvement by senior Serb politicians and military representatives, both in the massacre itself and the attempted cover-up which followed? Furthermore, can the Minister give the House any further information on the investigation being carried out by the Finnish forensic team, given that Helena Ranta, who is leading that team, has said that there is a possibility that the bodies had been tampered with during the period they were not under international supervision and that the truth about how they died may never be known?

From these Benches, we support the Government in their belief that the international community cannot simply stand by and watch as the ceasefire agreed in October day by day melts away with the onset of spring, and the brutal murders of innocent civilians become a tragically regular occurrence.

We support the use of a clear ultimatum, backed by a credible alternative course of action, to break the cycle of violence in Kosovo and to bring both sides to the negotiating tables. Nevertheless, the Minister will be well aware that it is now eight months since the Foreign Secretary issued the first of a series of final warnings to

1 Feb 1999 : Column 1302

President Milosevic. As a result of last summer's policy, driven by the puff of rhetoric but devoid of any real action, the response of the international community was even described as "dithering and disunited" by the Prime Minister's own press secretary. Can the Minister give an assurance that those days of dithering are over and that on this occasion, the Government's deeds will prove as resolute as their words?

That concludes the reply of my noble friend Lord Moynihan to the Statement. I again give my apologies to the House for the fact that he is not here in person to deliver it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page