Inside Parliament: Barrage over Bosnia fails to score direct hit on Hurd: Foreign Secretary silent on Rose role - Slogans for the 'classroom struggle' - Peer dismisses 'Coco Pops' Howard

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Indy Politics
Did Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose request air strikes to break the Bosnian Serb hold on Gorazde and get the thumbs down from the United Nations, or did he not? MPs wanted to know yesterday as they questioned Douglas Hurd on the weekend's black farce but the Foreign Secretary did not want to say.

Neither confirming nor denying reports that the general's call had been rebuffed by Yasushi Akashi, the UN special envoy, Mr Hurd said MPs should not heed all the 'anecdotes' in the newspapers. He used the word as if it were synonymous with rumour or speculation, but members remained unconvinced.

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, was first to be advised 'not to rely on every anecdote over who asked for what, when'. The MP maintained that once the decision in principle had been taken to use air power, calling in a strike should be left to the UN commander on the ground (Lt-Gen Rose). The denial of air strikes demonstrated the unsatisfactory nature of what Mr Hurd termed the 'dual key arrangement', under which either the UN or Nato could propose attacks but both had to agree.

Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, was also warned against anecdotes after asking if Lt-Gen Rose had asked for air power in the last 24 hours. Mr Hurd replied: 'In the last 24 hours, according to my understanding, General Rose has not on any occasion asked for air strikes and been denied them.'

But Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey, widened the question. Had General Rose 'at any stage' asked for air strikes and been refused them? 'I am not going into details,' Mr Hurd told her. 'I don't know all the details of the discussions between the UN commanders and Nato.'

Making his statement shortly after discussing the crisis with Russia's envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and before a meeting with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, Mr Hurd said that there would be 'no hesitation' in ordering air strikes if heavy weapons were not withdrawn beyond a 20km radius of Gorazde by midnight tonight.

From Bosnia, the Commons turned inwards for a minor debate entitled 'education and upbringing'. Thinly attended, it enabled 'family values' zealots on the Tory backbenches to rail against 'subversives' in the classroom and the media. Calling for greater emphasis on discipline and support for the integrity of two-parent families, Sir Michael Neubert, Conservative MP for Romford, reworked a slogan that his party leaders prefer to forget, offering the cry - 'forward to fundamentalism'.

A sterner appraisal of a central part of what was once called the 'back to basics' package took place along the corridor, as peers gave a Second Reading to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

Lord Alexander of Weedon, a Conservative and former chairman of the Bar Council, objected strongly to the erosion of the right to silence in police stations and warned of an increased risk of miscarriages of justice. 'It will put at risk the vulnerable, the inarticulate, the confused and particularly those who are having contact with a police station for the first time.'

Lord Hailsham, the former Conservative Lord Chancellor, broadly supported the Bill's provisions to get tough on juvenile offenders, crack down on offending on bail and allow courts to draw inferences from a suspect's decision to stay silent, but emphasised he was no advocate of severity for its own sake. He said: 'There is no evidence that severity as such deters crime. The best deterrent is certainty of detection and certainty of conviction.'

Citing recent reports of a 13-year-old offender guilty of 225 crimes of burglary and theft, Lord Hailsham said there came a time when it did become necessary to protect the public against serious repetition of crime of that kind. But he added: 'It's not a question of locking them up for as long as you can get away with. You must provide training at the same time.'

It was no guarantee against re-offending but in some cases could be effective. Lord Hailsham went on: 'In any case it is only rational, and I think more humane, not to leave the young person in prison by himself, stewing in his own juice without any kind of treatment at all or any attempt at treatment.'

Though Michael Howard can count on Lord Hailsham's vote, it was hardly a ringing echo of his 'prison works' theme. Lord Wigoder QC, for the Liberal Democrats, dismissed Mr Howard as a 'Coco Pops' Home Secretary, who woke up in the morning, read the tabloids and acted 'without reflection, and without any research'.

Lord Orr-Ewing, a former Tory minister, challenged the Commons decision to reduce the age of consent for male homosexuals from 21 to 18 and made clear that he would be pressing for a Lords decision on the age of consent move at a later stage.