Labour criticises refusal to recall MPs as arrogant

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The Independent Online
JOHN SMITH, the Labour leader, last night attacked the Government's 'arrogance' after the Prime Minister rejected an official Opposition request for a recall of Parliament to debate the continuing economic recession and the situation in Iraq, Somalia and the former Yugoslav states.

But it remained possible that if the French reject the Maastricht treaty in their 20 September referendum, the Government would have no alternative but to endorse a recall in the week immediately preceding the Labour Party conference in Blackpool.

The Labour request for a parliamentary recall was issued after a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet. Liberal Democrats who had been making similar requests for three weeks wondered why it had taken Labour so long to get around to the idea.

Tony Newton, Leader of the Commons, told BBC radio: 'What's actually happened as far as I can judge is that the Opposition have returned from the seaside, found some quite considerable criticism of their lack of activity and impact during the past month, and this is their response to try and counter that criticism.'

Mr Smith dismissed that as absurd and spoke of his anger and astonishment at the Government response. 'We're in a situation in which, in Yugoslavia, we're seeing a country that's come apart. We're seeing in Iraq a complicated and difficult situation involving the deployment of British airplanes, and in Somalia, we've a situation where something like a quarter of the children have died.

'These reasons alone would justify the recall of Parliament, but in addition to that we have the worrying economic situation in Britain; the continuing and relentless rise of unemployment, the deep concern . . . about the Government's inaction.'

Mr Smith said that built up a formidable case for recall, and the Government's counter-attack was threadbare. 'What has been exposed is a certain arrogance in this Government that they can govern without much reference to Parliament.'

Several Conservative MPs share that concern, and would undoubtedly use a recall to heighten Government embarrassment over the continuing recession. A French rejection of Maastricht would add to Conservative pressure for parliamentary debate.

John Major reminded Mr Smith that he had briefed him last month on Yugoslavia and Iraq, following the decision to offer British troops in support of United Nations operations. 'You agreed then that a recall of Parliament was not appropriate, and I fail to see what has happened since then to change that view.'

That was promptly disputed by the Labour leader, who said: 'Mr Major phoned me in France and we discussed the reasons for the Government's decision to make troops available to Bosnia, and also the air exclusion zone of Iraq. My recollection is that we did not discuss the recall of Parliament at all.'

Nevertheless, Labour MPs - both front and backbench - who did urge a parliamentary recall at that time were given no support by the leadership, and reports that Mr Smith did not wish a recall were not repudiated.

There can be no doubt that the new Labour leadership has been stung by criticism of its inactivity over the summer recess - a criticism that has also been put in private by some senior party figures.