§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on Kosovo and the G8 summit in Cologne. Copies of the documents issued at the summit are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Ninety days after our military action began, I can tell the House that all Serb forces have withdrawn from Kosovo. This is a huge achievement, and many observers in this country and in this House were sceptical that it would ever be achieved. However, NATO's unity, the determination to prevail and the professionalism of our forces under General Sir Mike Jackson have proved them wrong. Milosevic's forces are out, our forces are in and soon the refugees will go home. Some are already returning, despite the risks. I met the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the margins of the summit, and the organised return of the refugees will begin on 1 July.
Kosovo was discussed extensively at the G8 summit and two important advances were tied down during the weekend. First, agreement was reached on Russian participation in KFOR. Russia will supply up to 3,600 troops for a force that is planned to reach some 50,000. They will have areas of operation in three different sectors rather than being concentrated in one area. Russia will provide a deputy to the commander in each sector where they are present and Russian troops will be integrated into the unified force with command-and-control arrangements very similar to those for Russian troops in the NATO-led forces in Bosnia.
Secondly, late last night, the Kosovo Liberation Army signed an undertaking with the KFOR Commander General Mike Jackson to hand in its weapons and to demilitarise its organisation. I want to pay tribute to John Reith, the British NATO General in charge of the NATO force in Albania, who conducted these difficult and complex negotiations so well. The KLA have agreed that, within seven days, their forces will gather in assembly areas. Within 30 days, all prohibited weapons—with the exception of automatic small arms—will be handed in. Automatic small arms will be handed in in phases over 90 days, after which time the assembly areas will come under the full control of the KFOR commander and all KLA members have to cease wearing their uniforms and insignia. The KLA will then be de-militarised.
The progress made in the few days since Milosevic finally caved in has been extraordinary: on the withdrawal of Serb forces, on the deployment of ours, on the role of the Russians, and now on the agreement to demilitarise the KLA. This is a remarkable story, and Britain and British forces can be very proud of their role in it.
Another far worse story is unfolding as the true horrors that Kosovo has lived through come to light. I warned the House that we would be shocked by what we found when we finally entered Kosovo, and so it has proved: torture chambers, organised rape, the butchering of children—massacre, after massacre, after massacre. If ever justification were needed for the military campaign, the whole world has seen it now. The war crimes investigators have a massive task before them.
Let no one think that Serbia can regain a place among civilised nations while it is led by an indicted war criminal. I say this to the Serb people: "The world cannot 762 help you rebuild your country while Milosevic is at its head. Nor will the world understand, as the full extent of these atrocities is revealed, if you just turn a blind eye to the truth and pretend that it is nothing to do with you. This is your country, and this evil was carried out by your soldiers and by your leaders."
To the rest of the region, it is clear from the G8 summit that the international community will stand by the promises we made to them. The countries of the region stood with us, without compromise, during this conflict. We owe them a debt. We made a pledge to help rebuild the region and we will stand by that pledge. We want to rebuild the Balkans and to integrate the countries one with another and with the rest of Europe. We cannot afford another conflict like this one: we must invest now for peace in Kosovo, and in the Balkans as a whole. At the G8, we agreed that there should be a Balkans summit in the next few months, at which we and the leaders of the democratic countries of south-east Europe would plan the way ahead for the region and mobilise the necessary support.
I also met President Yeltsin and the new Russian Prime Minister, Mr. Stephashin, at the summit. President Yeltsin and I agreed to put our recent difficulties behind us and, in his words, make our relations stronger together. Russia played a vital part in the successful resolution of this conflict and I am sure that this House will join me in thanking Russia's leaders for the part that they played.
Events in Kosovo inevitably dominated the coverage. However, the summit at Cologne covered a range of other issues that are of huge political and economic significance for all our countries—issues including the environment, non-proliferation, the millennium bug and the killer diseases of AIDS and malaria. However, for me, most important of all was the progress that we were able to announce on third world debt.
Britain has long been in the forefront of the international effort to release the poorest countries of the world from the chains of massive debt. At Birmingham last year, we pledged to support the speedy extension of debt relief to more countries. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development have worked hard with Church leaders, Jubilee 2000, Oxfam, Comic Relief and others to secure the most generous package possible. The measures that leaders adopted in Cologne mark a significant step forward. Those measures will reduce the debt of the world's poorest countries by an extra $70 billion, on top of further traditional debt relief of $30 billion; and will help more countries to qualify for highly indebted poorest countries—HIPC—debt relief, by making the debt sustainability criteria more generous.
We also took steps to ensure that the new HIPC scheme will deliver debt relief more quickly. We will ensure that countries feel the full benefits of debt relief after a maximum of just three years, rather than six as now. We have agreed that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should take steps to ensure that at least three quarters of eligible countries get the benefits of debt relief by the end of next year; and, in principle, we agreed a new partnership—public-private—in the fight against poverty in the developing world by inviting the private sector to contribute voluntarily to the new millennium fund.
763 I would like to see us go further still on debt; it is an issue whose time has come. I will personally do whatever I can to make that happen. However, the impact of the agreement that we reached this weekend should not be underestimated: more than two thirds of the official debt owed by the world's poorest countries will now be completely written off.
At the summit, most countries—particularly Japan—were able to report improved economic prospects for the year ahead. However, the lessons of last year's financial crisis must be properly learned. At the summit, we were able to announce a six-point plan for strengthening the international financial system—including measures to increase the effectiveness of the IMF and the other international financial institutions; proposals to promote transparency and best practice, with the IMF monitoring compliance with new codes and standards; and a new framework for involving the private sector in crisis prevention and management. Many of those proposals reflect ideas that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I have put forward during the past year. Once fully implemented, they will transform the rules of the game in the global financial markets. Taken together, I have no doubt that they will greatly strengthen the efficiency and robustness of the international financial system.
Those reforms will need to be accompanied by a continuing worldwide effort to reduce barriers to trade. The millennium trade round to be launched at this year's World Trade Organization Ministerial in Seattle represents a key opportunity. At Cologne, we agreed that the new round should be broad based and ambitious. It must also deliver substantial benefits for the developing world.
We also committed ourselves to a science-based, rules-based approach in dealing with the impact of biotechnology. As part of a joint initiative including the UK, the G8 agreed to ask Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development experts to study the issues raised by recent developments in biotechnology and other aspects of food safety. We need to look at whether the current regulatory and institutional framework can be strengthened; next year's summit will return to that.
Finally, I was pleased that we were able to spend some time at the summit on the key domestic policy challenge of our time: how to equip all our citizens to survive and prosper in the knowledge-based economy of the future. Education and lifelong learning are the passport to success in today's global economy. They are also the foundations of a prosperous and more just society. So I was delighted that the other G8 leaders agreed to support the idea of a G8 charter on aims and ambitions for lifelong learning to underline our strong personal commitment to raising educational standards, not just in our own countries but across the globe.
The summit in Cologne was attended by eight Heads of Government, but its significance was of much wider international importance. It was a meeting at which we were able to declare at last that the barbaric regime in Kosovo was at an end and that international peacekeepers were in place. It sent a message to the world that the forces of democracy and freedom have the will to face down tyranny. It was a meeting at which important opportunities were taken to reaffirm, in the aftermath of Kosovo, our close relationship with Russia. It was also a meeting at which the richest countries of the world focused their attention on, and offered solutions to, 764 debt problems in the poorest countries of the world. In those crucial respects, it was both a successful and a significant summit.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
There are many things in the communiqué that we welcome: the commitment to enhancing world trade through the World Trade Organisation, the statement on Russia's debt repayment, the emphasis on sustainable development, and the promotion of non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament.
We on the Opposition Benches particularly welcome the statement on international debt, which builds on the work of the Trinidad terms that were agreed under the previous Government. Like the Prime Minister, we want further progress. We pay tribute to the voluntary organisations that have worked so hard to propose solutions. We must all go on working with them.
I join the Prime Minister in praising the work of NATO in Kosovo over the past few days and in congratulating all involved. The House will particularly want to pay tribute to the roles played by General Mike Jackson and General John Reith and their troops.
I have four sets of questions on Kosovo. First, we welcome the Helsinki agreement and the assurance that Russian forces will not be concentrated in one particular sector. Have we been assured also that there will be no repeat of unilateral Russian activity, such as that at Pristina airport?
Secondly, on the KLA and Serb civilians in Kosovo, we witnessed on the television extraordinary scenes over the weekend of looting and burning of Serb homes. To what extent can NATO provide guarantees on the security of Serb residents in Kosovo? We welcome the agreement on the demilitarisation of the KLA. Will NATO ensure that that agreement is enforced uniformly on the ground?
Thirdly, does the Prime Minister agree that, if we are to expect Kosovar Albanians not to take the law into their own hands, we must give them confidence in the international legal system, which means demonstrating that we are doing our utmost to bring to justice those who are responsible for massacres, rapes, torture chambers, concentration camps and other horrific crimes? Will the Prime Minister comment on reports that up to 3,000 political prisoners have been abducted across the Kosovo border?
Fourthly, on aid, what estimate have the Government made of the likely long-term cost of reconstruction? The Prime Minister has rightly ruled out reconstruction aid for Serbia while an indicted war criminal remains in charge there. Will he confirm that that is the view of the G8 as a whole? What implications does that have for Montenegro?
On wider issues discussed by G8 leaders, the summit agreed to set up two studies on genetically modified food—or "recent developments in biotechnology", as the Prime Minister preferred to call it. Why did it take France and Germany to suggest such studies? Why have not our Government been suggesting them? Does the Prime Minister agree with a House of Lords Select Committee that European Union member states must have the right to opt out of growing certain GM crops for domestic or environmental reasons? Is it not imperative that the Government announce an immediate moratorium on the commercial release of GM crops—at least until the 765 research in Britain and elsewhere has been evaluated? The Prime Minister does not need to travel to Cologne to take action on GM crops; he can just adopt the Bill introduced in another place last week by my noble Friend Baroness Miller.
The Prime Minister used a series of interviews at the summit to sow confusion about his own policy on the European single currency. Perhaps he can now clear up the confusion. Both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have on numerous occasions set out their five economic tests for joining the single currency. Yesterday, at the Cologne summit, the Prime Minister appeared to add a sixth—he said that we had tohave the right reform process under way in Europe".Are there five tests, or six tests, or is the ability to hang on to his policy while pretending to retreat from it for him the only test?
The Prime Minister also caused great confusion at Cologne when he said that it would be daft to rush for early entry to the euro. If it is daft—if he now really believes what he said yesterday about that, although admittedly it was a full 24 hours ago—does he agree that it is daft to go on asking taxpayers and businesses to spend millions of pounds on the national handover plan? And if it is daft to rush into a single currency, is it not the daftest thing of all for the Government to be committed to abolishing the pound in principle? So, will he now withdraw that commitment to join in principle? If he does not, all his weasel words simply show that he is still determined to abolish the pound, but does not have the courage to say so.
The Chancellor told the CBI annual dinner that the Government intended tomake a decision early in the next Parliamentif they won the election. Does the Prime Minister agree with his Chancellor on joining early in the next Parliament? Does he believe in that, or something different, or both, or nothing?
If the Prime Minister really wants to join the single currency, is it not time that he had the courage to say why, and that, in European Union affairs, he started to fight for what he actually believes in rather than believing in, and fighting for, nothing?
§ The Prime Minister
I will deal with the G8 points first. In relation to NATO and the British troops, of course I agree that British troops have done tremendous work in Kosovo. It is also right to point out that they face continual dangers on the ground the entire time. They and all the NATO troops are embarked on a very dangerous business.
In respect of unilateral action by Russia, I believe that we are past that time now. I think that it was self-evident at the G8 summit that there was a great desire on both sides for a coming together and a putting of the difficulties of the past few weeks behind us. The warmth of President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Stephashin towards the other G8 members was very eloquent, and told its own story.
Secondly, in relation to Serb homes and what security we can provide, we should of course make it clear, as we have—General Jackson did so again today—that the security that we offer is to people regardless of ethnic 766 grouping. That is essential. It will be difficult. We are dealing with a highly explosive situation, where there will be very deep feelings on all sides. That is natural when thousands of people have been butchered in ethnic cleansing. However, I am pleased that, in the past few days, several leaders, including Church and political leaders, have made calls for Serbs to stay. I do not think that anyone who knows British troops could have any doubt that they will be even handed in their approach. Some evidence of that has already been given, and the KLA has given the undertaking on demilitarisation.
We will pursue the war criminals. We have heard reports of political prisoners being abducted, but I cannot confirm those reports.
In respect of the cost, it is simply too early to say. There is no way that we would agree to aid for reconstruction in Serbia while Milosevic remains. I am not in a position to speak for all members of the international community, but I would be very surprised if any or many disagreed with that position. Montenegro is a different proposition altogether. I pay tribute again to Montenegro and to President Djukanovic for the solid way in which it has stood for the true interests of the region.
I now come to the issues of biotechnology and food safety, on which the right hon. Gentleman was quite wrong, as were parts of the press. The suggestion that studies should be done came from, among other countries, Britain. What France was proposing was that we set up a separate international regulatory body. There may be merit in that, but that was not what the G8 finally agreed.
In respect of GM foods generally, those of us who know the ins and outs of the subject know the sheer and total hypocrisy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] No, I am not saying that the Leader of the Opposition does not know the ins and outs of it; he does, which makes his position all the worse, because those of us, including him, who know the ins and outs of this know that only four GM foods were ever licensed for sale in Britain, and every one by a Tory Government. All we have done with the regulatory system is tighten it, not weaken it. It is this Government who have broadened the base of scientific evidence. However, to end up banning altogether would not be sensible. We should proceed on the basis of science and evidence. That is the sensible thing to do, and it is what the previous Conservative Government did when they had the responsibility of office, as opposed to the irresponsibility of opposition.
With reference to Europe, I was wondering when we would get some passion. The Conservative party is the single-issue party, and Europe is its obsession. I said that two propositions were daft. Daft proposition No. 1 is to join the euro, regardless of the economic conditions. Daft proposition No. 2 is the one that the right hon. Gentleman espouses, which is to rule out joining for ever, or does he now rule it out for 10 years? [Interruption.] We are not quite sure, are we? That is equally daft. We should join, provided the economic conditions are met.
As for the notion that we have for the first time raised the issue of economic reform in Europe, that goes back to the Chancellor's statement in October 1997. The right hon. Gentleman will see that it was raised there, and in my statement in February 1999 on the changeover plan. The difference is that, if we are constructive in Europe and play a part in Europe, we have some chance of getting the reform that we need in Europe.
767 With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal that we should rule out and cancel the changeover plan, that would mean that Britain could never join the euro, even if it wished to do so. That is a policy born of dogma and ideology. He has sold his pass to the Euro-sceptics in his party. They run the show now, and I say to him, "You will rue the day." I gather that the Conservative party is not joining other Conservative parties in the European Parliament. It has decided that it will reject the European People's party, the grouping in the European Parliament. That is right, as I understand it.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman tells me to answer the question, but I cannot answer that question. I can tell him what is in the country's interest. If we want to get anything through the European Parliament, it is in the country's interest that we should work with others. If his party is so extreme that it cannot work even with other Conservative parties in Europe, that is a sign of how extreme his Government would be, in the unlikely event that he ever formed one.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
It is clear that the summit in Cologne was extremely successful, but does the Prime Minister accept that its success will be measured in future by the achievements after the summit, rather than by the sincerity of the commitments made in Cologne? That applies particularly to war crimes and debt relief, to which he rightly attaches such importance.
The statement is silent on the matter of humanitarian assistance to the people of Serbia. Does that mean that humanitarian assistance is not barred, so long as it can be regarded as not aiding the survival of the Milosevic regime? The Prime Minister knows that, in Britain especially, people will be anxious to ensure that humanitarian assistance is provided for the people of Serbia, who, through no fault of their own, have found the infrastructure of their country substantially degraded and destroyed.
I welcome the thaw in relations between Russia and the members of the G7. Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether the extension of further financial assistance is justified economically, or is it being given for political reasons, and as a reward for Russia's reluctant agreement over Kosovo?
Finally, it would be churlish not to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on their commitment and courage over the past few weeks. May I suggest to him that, with a little more of the same, together we will easily win the campaign for the single currency?
§ The Prime Minister
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for those compliments.
With respect to what we do now for Serbia, we have always made it clear that there can be no reconstruction aid for Serbia—humanitarian assistance is governed by different rules, obviously—and the international community should make no commitment to the rebuilding of Serbia while Milosevic remains. It is necessary to send that message out to the Serbian people. They should take account of the fact that the whole world—those in Serbia must also have seen enough—has seen the mass graves uncovered and the appalling racial genocide that was 768 committed in Kosovo. They have some responsibility to make sure that they send a clear message to their own Government and their own regime.
We were working on a programme for assistance to the economic reform process in Russia before the Kosovo conflict ever began, and it is important that those two things are not seen as trade off against one another. It is in our interest that the Russian economic system is stabilised, and the International Monetary Fund programme has to be agreed and accepted before that assistance is given, but relations were immensely warm at the summit and that was one of the positive aspects that came out of it.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Will my right hon. Friend be a little kinder to the leader of the Conservative party, taking into account that I remember sitting on the Opposition Front Bench throughout the 1980s, revelling and rejoicing in European, local and by-election victories and suffering the defeats in the subsequent general elections? See where I have ended up now. Does my right hon. Friend recall that it fell to me, as shadow Foreign Secretary, to introduce debt relief to the policies of a major political party for the first time? I am therefore deeply gratified that a British Labour Government have made such great advances in respect of debt relief.
On Kosovo—taking into account that not only are the G8 and NATO part of the achievements of the past few days, but that Russia, as advocated by certain Members of the House, and the United Nations, as advocated by certain Members of the House, have been brought on board—has my right hon. Friend received any apologies from those whose only policy was that we should pass by on the other side?
§ The Prime Minister
It is my right hon. Friend's birthday today, and we should congratulate him on that.
I am not quite sure where the Leader of the Opposition will end up, provided that he does not end up here. As for the position of the Conservative party on the euro and Europe, it has decided to make itself a single-issue party in respect of its anti-Europeanism, but it is not in the interests of this country to be in such a position. I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work that he has done on debt relief, and an important advance has been made by the incoming Government.
On Kosovo, there are those who have opposed the conflict for perfectly honourable reasons, but I believe that there was a moment of pure choice: we either allowed Milosevic to carry on with ethnic cleansing or we stopped him, and the fact that we stopped him is a great tribute to the international community.
§ Sir Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
The Prime Minister has told the House about the accelerated write-off of debt to the poorest countries. What impact will that have on future flows of aid, both in loan and in grant, to the poorest countries?
§ The Prime Minister
It will not affect the aid that we give; but it will make a great deal of difference to the position of those countries as they struggle with the huge burden of debt that they carry. I think we are coming to a better and more mature position in the international 769 community regarding the developing world. We are trying to forgive as much debt as possible. We are giving aid, but we are making sure that, at the same time, we are demanding certain principles of democracy, efficiency and lack of corruption that will make any aid that is given reach the people for whom it is meant.
We have learned a lot from aid policies in the past 20 or 30 years. We have learned the lesson that aid is necessary, but we have also learned to make sure that it does not come with strings in respect of the self-interest of the countries giving the aid, but is tied to proper rules and principles that can ensure that the aid is properly used.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Given a revanchist Serbia, and given that President Yeltsin will not be in Russia for ever, for how long does the Prime Minister that think our military commitment is likely to continue in substantial numbers: for my lifetime, for his lifetime, or for the lifetime of the youngest among us?
§ The Prime Minister
We shall give the military commitment for as long as it takes. In Bosnia, for example, at one point we had more than 11,000 forces; I believe that those are now down to just over 4,000. We have made a substantial commitment to Kosovo, but I believe that, in time, we can reduce that. I think that the chances of getting not what my hon. Friend calls "a revanchist Serbia" but a democratic Serbia will be improved if we send a clear signal to Serbia. It would help if the friends of Serbia—all those who have taken a different view in this conflict—gave it the same message: that, if it embraces the path of democracy, it will find us generous and willing partners.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
Will the Prime Minister accept that there is much non-partisan appreciation of the moral leadership that he has given within NATO against the evil in Kosovo? Will he also accept that, without the daily impact of war and with the crowding in of other legitimate activities, much more moral leadership will continue to be needed if this matter is to be resolved in terms of the objective that he has set for the House and the country, and that the country will continue to look to him to provide some of that moral leadership?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that, at the conclusion of this matter, we must not forget the aftermath. As it retreats in the new headlines—it will be there for several weeks, possibly even several months, but there will come a point when it recedes—it is important that we carry out the commitments that we have given to those Balkan countries, particularly the front-line states around Serbia. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. If we renege on that commitment, the chances of our having to repeat this exercise will be greatly increased. Contrariwise, if we carry out that commitment, we shall have the prospect of producing peace in the Balkans for the first time in 100 years.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he should not get too worried about the Johnny-come-latelys and boy scouts in the Opposition in 770 respect of the euro and the single currency? We should all be aware that they took us into the common market in 1973; it was another Tory Prime Minister who set up the Single European Act and guillotined it through the House, and they all voted for it; then another Tory Prime Minister signed the Maastricht treaty, and they all voted for it again. They now tell us that they will save the pound—they could not even save their own grandmothers. However, if my right hon. Friend did say that it was daft to join the euro—congratulations!
§ The Prime Minister
I thank my hon. Friend for that supportive comment, but I am afraid that I did not say that. I said that it would be daft to join the single currency regardless of the economic conditions. That is the sensible position. The Tories think that the economic conditions do not matter, which is a foolish position as well. The economic conditions do matter. In order for the single currency to work, the economics must be right. The two daft positions are to go in regardless of the economic conditions and to stay out regardless of the national economic interest. The first is, I think, the position of very few people, but the second of those daft positions is the official position of the Conservative party.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)
The Prime Minister has announced a welcome structuring of the Russian forces into the NATO effort and KFOR, but I am not sure what he meant about the warmth of President Yeltsin's welcome—that may have a mixed blessing. Will he reassure the House that political as well as economic strings are attached to the economic regeneration of, and the debt relief for, Russia? I fear that uncertainty may return to cause us problems.
Secondly, the Prime Minister is right to say that it is daft to join the euro immediately, just as it is daft to set a finite time not to join the euro. The real issue that he raised at Cologne is whether the European economies will reform themselves sufficiently to be able to compete in a world of free trade. The announcement of the millennial round and the WTO talks is crucial to the interests of Britain and the rest of the continent. I fear that British influence has not yet been sufficient to ensure that our continental neighbours reform their economies so as to enable us all to benefit over the next 10 years.
§ The Prime Minister
In respect of Russia, we have made it clear that we tie this help to economic reform. The scale of the transition process in Russia is enormous. As part of our initiative, we have intensified the political as well as the economic dialogue to ensure that that reform process is carried through and moves forward. The end of the Kosovo conflict—on which Russia and the NATO countries have different perspectives—gives us the chance to put our relations with Russia back on a good footing. That is in the interests of the world. I was grateful to President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Stephashin for making clear their desire to have good and warm relations with us.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the euro—what he said is absolutely right. He is also right about the importance of reform. That is why the summit next year will be important, because, for the first time, the European Union has agreed to hold a summit specifically on the issue of economic reform in Europe. I only wish that the rest of his party would realise that it is in Britain's interest 771 for the euro to succeed, because, if it fails, Britain will face a fierce economic backlash as a result. If I were, as the Leader of the Opposition suggests, to try to renegotiate the entire treaty of Rome as my first act as a leader, I would not have the slightest prospect of getting anything done in Europe. In the end, what is important, as we can see by the decision on droit de suite today, is to engage properly with other European countries. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Back-Bench Members should not ask questions from a sedentary position, and Front-Bench Members should not answer them.
§ The Prime Minister
I know, Madam Speaker. The temptation is to answer them, which is wrong. So I shall move on.
The WTO gives an important push not only to world trade, but to economic reform in the European Union. If the European Union does not reform its trading rules, the WTO negotiations will force it on us.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Serbian civilians have as much right to live in Kosovo as ethnic Albanians. I hope that everything will be done to reassure them, as my right hon. Friend has said. What can be done to get the people in Serbia to realise the extent of the crimes and atrocities that have been committed? I spoke to the Serbian demonstrators in Whitehall from time to time during the bombing, and it was obvious that they refused to accept what was happening, just as, after 1945, some Germans refused to accept the extent of the terrible crimes that were committed in their name.
§ The Prime Minister
I am glad to say that there seems also to have been a withdrawal of those forces from outside Downing street, which will help. We must do everything that we can over time to get the message through to the Serb people. The force of the Serb propaganda machine has been reduced subsequent to the conflict. We can get information through via other channels, and we must try to do so as much as possible. One of the reasons for holding the Balkans summit is to try to send that strong message to Serbia. My hon. Friend has, as ever, shown his determination during the conflict to be against racism of any sort. He is absolutely right: it is only when people accept that this has been happening in their name that they will summon up the courage to make sure that they remove the perpetrators of it.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
If there is to be any justification for Kosovo's remaining within Serbia, it can only be on the basis that there is a sizeable Serb minority in Kosovo. What steps are being taken to persuade Serbs who have left to return, and to create political structures in which both Serbs and Albanians can have confidence?
There is obviously merit in the statement that, while Milosevic is in power, there can be no aid for Serbia; but if there is evidence of serious malnutrition or, for example, a shortage of medical supplies, no doubt the Prime Minister will want to reconsider. It would be perverse to treat Serbia differently from, say, Iraq in that respect.
§ The Prime Minister
My response to the latter point is to say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, 772 of course, right. That is why we are making it clear that it is reconstruction aid that cannot be given to Serbia while Milosevic remains.
As for the Serb minority, some thousands of Serbs have been brought back in the past 48 hours. I think that we can accomplish the return only over time, by giving the Serbs confidence that KFOR will be objective in its handling of the situation. I have no doubt that it will be objective: anyone who knows our forces, and indeed the other forces involved, knows that they will be. I think that, once that becomes established, more of the political and Church leaders will say, "You should remain."
In the short term, there will be dangers and difficulties for the forces, and for people in both ethnic groupings. That is an inevitable consequence of what has happened, but we fought the conflict to root out ethnic discrimination of any sort, and it would be perverse of us now not to do all that we can to encourage the Serb minority to stay, and to live peacefully with their neighbours.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Further to his answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), will my right hon. Friend tell us what policy he has to ensure that Kosovo remains a multi-ethnic state in future? What future does he see for Kosovo, either as an independent state or as part of a federation? What is he doing to ensure that the people of Serbia do not become demonised, and that we try to give them some assistance, separating them from the military regime?
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to examine the environmental impact of the bombing campaign on Serbia and surrounding countries—in particular, the admitted use of depleted uranium by NATO forces and the specific bombardment of chemical factories? That has clearly caused an enormous amount of pollution, which will injure people on both sides of the border.
§ The Prime Minister
There will be studies of the environmental impact, although many of the claims of environmental damage have already been disproved.
As for the Serbs staying, I cannot really say more than I have already said; but the essence is that we should provide a good civil administration, that it must be clear to the Serb minority that they are being treated fairly and that it will take time for the wounds to heal. They can heal, however. When Kosovo was an autonomous part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, people lived side by side in peace and security. It was Milosevic, when he abandoned autonomy in 1989 and subsequently began policies of Serb nationalism, who created the conflict.
As for the demonisation of the Serb people, we cannot say often enough that our quarrel was not with them, but with the Milosevic regime. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned the demonstrators in Whitehall. It is important for the Serbs to realise that some people refused to accept that those things were happening. They must accept that they happened. We are not saying that all Serbian people were responsible; they were not. Indeed, I have heard stories of Serbs in Kosovo sheltering Albanians. As ever, the picture is not all one way. Nevertheless, the Serbs must accept that this has been done in their name by their leaders, and the process of agitation for change in the regime must continue.
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
There have been unconfirmed reports of the abduction of political prisoners—up to 3,000, I believe. I understand that, this morning, a Serbian authority admitted that some prisoners were taken back to Serbia. This is an important matter. Will my right hon. Friend contact the Red Cross and ask if it will demand access to those who have been taken back to Serbia? Will he also ask the interim Kosovo Administration to draw up a list of people who they know were being held by the Serbs in Kosovo, and who may have been taken back?
Some hon. Members will be concentrating our efforts on the matter, as those people—the political elite of Kosovo—are very vulnerable. They have been removed from Kosovo, but are of great interest to politicians throughout the whole of the civilised world.
§ The Prime Minister
What my hon. Friend says is right. As for his point on the Red Cross, that is already being done. I believe that his point about the civil administration in Kosovo is also right. Although we simply do not know whether the reports are true, they demand urgent investigation. My hon. Friend should know that the practice of some people, like him, of continually taking up this type of issue has had its own impact in this situation. He should be congratulated on that.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the resolution that he and the Government have shown in the past few difficult weeks. Will he answer a more detailed question on looting—which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked him about? Yesterday, a patrol of Irish Guards had to stand by while there was extensive and wholly unacceptable looting of Serb houses by Kosovars. Will the right hon. Gentleman check with his colleagues and with General Mike Jackson that the rules of engagement for dealing with looting and other outrages against civil law are sufficiently robust for the very difficult situation that the soldiers are having to deal with?
§ The Prime Minister
That is absolutely right. Today, Mike Jackson has made it clear that he regrets that the incident occurred, and that the lessons to be learned from it are being considered; there were certain difficulties in dealing with it. Our forces, like other forces, have been dealing with much of the civil disorder in Kosovo; but I suspect that it will take some time to work itself through.
Currently, just under 20,000 members of NATO forces are in Kosovo, but the full force will be 45,000. It will probably take some very clear incidents involving NATO command to bring it home to people—whether they are Serbs or Albanians—that civil disorder will not be tolerated. Meanwhile, it remains a dangerous area for everyone, including our own forces.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development on achieving progress on third world debt. That action is very welcome, and was recommended by the Select Committee on International Development. The Prime Minister said that he feels that we need to go further. Does he agree with the International Development Committee that where we have to go is to a point at which 774 highly indebted countries—the very poorest countries—use about 20 per cent. of Government revenue to repay debt, thereby allowing them sufficient revenue to be able to help themselves out of the poverty in which they find themselves, and enabling them to invest in crucial spheres such as education and health?
§ The Prime Minister
That is entirely right, and precisely why we wanted the debt relief programme to go forward. I should make two other points. First, we are trying to ensure that the aid we give is targeted on areas, such as education and health, that are very important for building those countries' long-term future.
The second issue—which was raised in the communiqué and which we discussed at the summit—is the need for better post-conflict resolution. One of the reasons why those areas, particularly in Africa, are suffering so badly is that, although servicing debt relief is one problem, servicing conflict is another.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
I too am a member of the International Development Committee. May I say how pleased I am that it is a Labour Government who have pushed the debt relief issue so hard among the G7? I am particularly proud of that because, although the issue has been talked about for a very long time, only now are we beginning to achieve real progress on it.
Will the Prime Minister use his influence among the world's financial institutions to address the issue of the rigidity of their structural adjustment programmes? Very often, the rigidity of those institutions' demands cause poor countries that are trying to service their debts to cut the very health, education and other programmes that we believe in so strongly.
I totally agree with my right hon. Friend about the Tories being negative in Europe. They have always stood out like a sore thumb in Europe. When I was elected in 1979, it was not a question of the Tories choosing a political group—none of the political groups in the European Parliament wanted the Tories, because they were thought to be too extreme and too right wing. I suspect that the same may be true now—nobody really wants them.
§ The Prime Minister
Unfortunately, they are a lot worse now.
On debt relief, we have taken a big step forward. I know from conversations with debt relief campaigners that there are people who say that we have not gone far enough. I suppose that that can be true of virtually any political advance that is ever made. However, there has been a huge increase in debt write-off—people should understand that—although it will take some time.
The other proposal—which was very important—was that by the end of next year, 75 per cent. of countries should have met the criteria. One of the biggest hold-ups has been that we have given debt relief in principle, but we have not followed it through in terms of assessing those countries in practice.
Following the Government's comprehensive spending review—and for the first time in 20 years or more—the proportion of our national income that we are spending on help to the developing world is increasing.
§ Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)
Will the Prime Minister refer to one of the smaller, but massively 775 important, matters concerning the refugees—namely, the tens of thousands of children who have been separated from their parents, often not knowing whether their parents are alive or dead or where any of their relatives are? International Social Service—which specialises in these matters—has a role to play in bringing together families. In the past, this work was much supported by Lady Helen de Freitas, the wife of Sir Geoffrey de Freitas, who gave many years' service to this House. That role is now undertaken by my wife, who is in Tirana at the moment with the French and Italians trying to set up a unit specialising in dealing with children from broken families.
We have given no support to this in the past. It is not a role that the International Red Cross or UNHCR can carry out, and they both want International Social Service to undertake the work. Will the British Government support such activity?
§ The Prime Minister
We will support such activity, and we thank the many people who are working on this problem, including the right hon. Gentleman's wife. In trying to help the children of refugees to be reunited with their families, a database has been set up and a lot of work is going on. The Department for International Development has been active in this, and I pay tribute to the Department and to its permanent secretary for their work during the Kosovo crisis. Everyone out there recognises that the contribution made by the Department has been magnificent. We have much still to do, and it will take a long time before we will be able to reunite those families. However, it is gradually beginning.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
My right hon. Friend referred to the particular difficulties facing Montenegro. Will reconstruction money apply to 776 Montenegro, or will it be banned from receiving such aid? The other terrible legacy left by the Serbian military has been landmines—not merely on main roads, but in people's homes and gardens. Is there a special programme to deal with this dreadful problem, which could lead to many more casualties if it is not dealt with?
§ The Prime Minister
We will look for a way of ensuring that Montenegro receives assistance because of what it has done throughout the conflict. However, we must make sure that money does not find its way back to Milosevic. We should be able to do that, and I pay tribute to Montenegro.
In respect of landmines, there are real dangers to soldiers and to civilians. We are putting in all the expertise that we can. We are making a special grant available to assist in the process, but my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that the dangers persist.
§ Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)
Would the Prime Minister explain in rather more technical detail why it has so suddenly become "daft" for Britain to seek early entry to the single European currency? I do not recall his using such dismissive phrases or conveying that impression in the past. What has changed?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman has indeed moved off Kosovo, and that at least is a step forward.
I have always said that we do not want to join the euro straight away. We said that in our statement in October 1997 and again in February 1999, when I announced the changeover plan. There are two daft positions: to go in regardless and to rule it out regardless. We are not in either daft position, but I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is.