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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I, too, welcome what the Government Chief Whip has announced. I am sure he will recognise that my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and I have already expressed some serious concerns about the Weatherill amendment and that we have agreed to this proposal by the Government, notwithstanding our views on the principle of the matter.

I believe that proceeding in the way the Government Chief Whip has suggested will avoid an extremely untidy debate on the 22 amendments at the same time as discussing the Weatherill amendment itself.

First, on recommittal, I am sure the noble Lord will be able to guarantee that all the amendments can then be decided upon one-by-one and that thereafter the Weatherill amendment (possibly amended) will be put to the House and the House will make a decision on the matter. Given the fact that what will take place next Tuesday will in reality be a Second Reading debate on Weatherill, I think that many of us would very much welcome a list of speakers.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, although I cannot speak for all my Cross-Bench colleagues, I personally thank the Chief Whip for his constructive suggestion today. I think we all agree that this will lead to a more ordered debate. I suspect that many, if not most, of my Cross-Bench colleagues will agree that this is a sensible way to proceed.

Lord Peston: My Lords, as one of the Back-Benchers who has an amendment, I first would like to congratulate my noble friend the Captain of the Gentlemen at Arms and the usual channels on improving our procedure on this matter, for which some of us have asked, as he well knows, in the past week or two. I speak as someone who has tabled an amendment which is regarded as rather unhelpful. I seem also to have pulled off the amazing trick of uniting the Government, the Official Opposition and the Cross-Benchers against me!

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Speaking for myself and my noble friend Lord Barnett, in the interests of good procedure in this House we shall certainly withdraw our amendment. I fervently hope that all the others--I did not realise that there are now as many as 24--will withdraw their amendments so that we can have a clean debate on the principles of the Weatherill amendment and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, points out, then look at the detail, which seems to me to be the rational way of doing things.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, having an interest in this amendment, which I am minded to oppose, I accept wholly the spirit in which the proposals have been made, but not that there should be a list of speakers. That was never the suggestion of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, and I formally object to it.

Lord Carter: My Lords, on the first point about the removal of the amendments by 4 p.m. tomorrow, of course they can also be withdrawn on Monday. However, it would be helpful if it could be done by 4 p.m. tomorrow because it would enable us to issue the Marshalled List and the draft grouping on Monday.

When we come to recommittal, the amendments will no doubt be tabled, grouped and debated in the usual way, but as amendments to a clause in a Bill and not amendments to an amendment, which of course will be easier to handle. At the end of the debate, the House will have a chance to confirm the Weatherill clause, as it will then be, either with or without amendment.

I believe that it would be difficult to prepare a list of speakers. We are in Committee and we know the way in which we work in Committee. The whole idea of the recommittal, of course, is to allow the House to operate on a Committee basis. I therefore think it would not be possible to have a list of speakers on Tuesday. If my noble friend Lord Peston wishes to claim credit for this, he is, of course, perfectly entitled to do so.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Peston, I thank the noble Lord. It is so much more logical to work in this way and it is very nice to see sensible people agreeing with sensible proposals. It does not always happen; let us hope it continues. I thank the noble Lord for his contribution.

Lord Carter: My Lords, we now have the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, claiming the credit for this. Are there any more takers?

Road Traffic (Use of Mobile Telephones) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make it an offence to drive while using a hand-held mobile telephone. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.-- (Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

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3.48 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert) rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in Kosovo.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it might help if I were to put the present situation in Kosovo into some form of proportion by reminding your Lordships that what we are dealing with here is a piece of real estate no bigger than the size of Northern Ireland--in fact, not very much bigger than the area inside the M.25.

We have been engaged exclusively in an air campaign now lasting just over six weeks. Your Lordships would expect me to give you some indication of how the campaign is going. What I can tell your Lordships is that over 15,000 missions have been flown by NATO forces; some 5,000 of them have been strike missions, in the new sense of the word; we have lost merely four or five aircraft; and of the two aircraft which went down in Serb territory, both crews were recovered uninjured.

I believe that this is a quite remarkable piece of evidence of, first, the brilliant planning that has gone into this campaign and, secondly, the professionalism of the air crews that have been executing it.

Your Lordships will have noticed that the other day General Naumann said that we did not start off this campaign as he would have liked us to have done. Frankly, I do not believe that many people in the British Ministry of Defence would disagree with General Naumann's remarks. It was very difficult, starting a campaign with 16 countries (becoming 19 with the three new member states) to get political agreement on targets to be attacked and the kind of weapons to be used, and to get total unanimity, which is a NATO requirement. We have succeeded in doing that. I submit to your Lordships that it is a tribute to the very good sense of the political leadership in all the countries within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I remind those of your Lordships who felt uncomfortable when you read what General Naumann said that he has also said that he sees no need whatever to change the present NATO strategy.

As a result of the weather, we have suffered a severe reduction in the number of sortie raids that we would like to have flown. As I may have said to your Lordships before, it has been frustrating at the morning briefings at the Ministry of Defence to read the number of missions that have been flown and then to see in the final column that the number of targets attacked were only a fraction of that number of missions, and were very often nil, because of the weather and because our troops and airmen either could not see the target because of cloud or because the target was obscured by smoke from a previous attack.

However, even the weather does not inhibit the most sophisticated modern precision guided missiles. Your Lordships will, I am sure, be glad to know that NATO has been pressing home its attacks with certain types of air assets, virtually whatever the weather conditions have been.

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We have done serious damage to Serbian lines of communication, to their aircraft numbers, to their telephone communications, their radio relay stations, their radars and we have knocked out many of their surface-to-air missiles. Battle damage assessment is always very risky and in a few moments I shall come on to what I can usefully tell your Lordships about the state of Serb military capability as we know it today.

I have been asked many questions privately in the Lobbies of your Lordships' House and on other occasions about when it will all end. The answer is that nobody knows when it will end. Anybody who gives your Lordships a date is, in my judgment, very unwise.

We are asked whether it will be over by the winter. I certainly hope it will be over by then, but we can never give any firm undertaking that it will be. I am asked whether we are planning for it to be over by the winter. I assure your Lordships that we are planning for the possibility of our troops having to be in either Macedonia or Kosovo right through this winter and possibly several more after that. I am asked whether we shall have to send ground troops. I am always surprised by that question. Of course we intend to send ground troops and have always intended to do so. That is why we have the first battle group already in Macedonia and the second battle group almost completing its deployment there. There has been no change whatever in either NATO policy or in the United Kingdom policy in that respect.

But then I am asked whether we shall send ground troops even if Mr. Milosevic refuses to agree to our terms. The answer to that question is that we do not know what position Mr. Milosevic will be in. It is quite possible that there will be a military coup in Yugoslavia. We do not know whether Mr. Milosevic will be alive in a few weeks' time. We all know that he has a very unfortunate family history in that respect. Will people still be taking Mr. Milosevic's orders in a few weeks' time? We do not know the answer to that question. Will he have forces of which to dispose in a few weeks' time. We do not know the answer to that question either.

But even if we go in in what we hope will be a permissive environment, as the phrase is these days, it will never be a wholly risk-free environment because any peacekeeping force going into Kosovo must face landmines laid, probably, indiscriminately throughout the countryside, booby traps in the villages and the possibility of snipers who will disobey any orders that the Serb authorities might have given to desist from hostile action towards NATO forces.

All those matters are unknown and cannot be known until we finally confront the political decision which will be taken on military advice as to when we should move forces into Kosovo. For that reason, I cannot tell your Lordships how many troops we expect to send in. But I assure your Lordships that those matters are matters of active discussion between us and our leading allies, both bilaterally and within NATO. Just because

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I cannot give your Lordships any figures does not mean that preparations are not being made, as they are at the moment with respect to a whole range of possible contingencies.

The last question which I cannot answer is how much it will all cost, and I cannot answer it for the same reason as I could not answer the other questions to which I have referred in the past few minutes. There is total agreement on the part of Her Majesty's Government that the resources required will be made available for whatever operations are necessary in and around Kosovo.

On the last occasion that I was at this Dispatch Box talking about Kosovo, I gave the House full and comprehensive details of our military dispositions at that time. I do not propose to repeat them today. Your Lordships may wish to know that in addition to what I was able to tell the House on that occasion, the Secretary of State for Defence, in the past day or so, has authorised the additional deployment of four more Harrier GR7s to Gioia del Colle, four more Tornado GR1s and one additional Tristar refuelling aircraft. I believe I am right to say that the GR7s are deploying at this time.

As I said, a second battle group is almost entirely in place. As your Lordships will be aware, we have had some difficulties at the port of Thessalonika and we have had some additional difficulties deploying into Macedonia, but I am glad to say that that task is almost entirely completed. In addition to the extra aircraft which I have just mentioned, since I last spoke in your Lordships' House, we have deployed a second nuclear submarine on a I and W patrol.

It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that to date the Royal Air Force has flown over 500 attack sorties which represent about 10 per cent of all NATO attack sorties, and the Royal Air Force tankers have provided fuel to more than 600 aircraft of 16 different aircraft types from six different nations. I am glad to be able to emphasise that because so often one gains the impression from discussions in this country about what is happening in Kosovo and Serbia that it is almost exclusively a British or Anglo/American operation. We have no fewer than 13 NATO air forces involved regularly in the air campaign. That is a great tribute to the resolution of our allies.

I said that I would say one or two things about Serbia's military capability, as we see it. I want to emphasise again what I said a few moments ago. I am sure that I carry all your Lordships with me who have experience of these matters when I say that battle-damage assessment is extremely imprecise. I do not propose to deal in figures of the number of oil bowsers that we have hit or the number of tanks that we have hit because I should not wish to rely on the figures which I have.

However, we are slowly, inexorably, tightening a stranglehold on Serbia's POL--petrol, oil and lubricants--capability without which no army and no air

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force could move. The shipments up the Danube have come to an end. The Croatian pipeline has been closed and very little is proceeding through the port of Bar.

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