Inside Parliament: Bosnia critic yearns for 'spirit of Thatcher': Labour MP deplores 'bloody nonsense' - 'Mean and spiteful' ban on Press - Minister avoids 'own-brand' rush

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Indy Politics
The level of concern over the seemingly intractable crisis in Bosnia reached such a pitch that one of Margaret Thatcher's harshest critics, the Workington Labour MP, Dale Campbell-Savours, insisted that she would have sorted out the 'bloody nonsense' 18 months ago.

Most vociferous of all during yesterday's Commons statement, however, were restive Tory backbenchers for whom the events of the past few days meant only one course of action - a pull-out of British troops.

Jacqui Lait, MP for Hastings and Rye, expressed her sympathy to the parents of Timothy Coates, the Royal Marine from her constituency who lost his life in Sarajevo on Sunday.

She urged Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, to 'bear in mind the danger of dragging the UK into another war in a region of historically unresolved conflict. Will you ensure that we do not slip and slide into another European Vietnam, killing young men and women for no discernible gain?'

The former defence minister, Sir Archie Hamilton, MP for Epsom and Ewell, warned: 'There is no force, however large, which can impose the UN's will in Bosnia. We should learn the lessons of the Americans in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan to teach us that.

'I hope we will seriously consider withdrawal before we suffer some ghastly disaster, as the Americans did in Lebanon.'

Mr Rifkind was not prepared to go that far yesterday as he insisted that criticism of senior UN personnel was 'unjustified' - they had achieved 'as much as was humanly possible, given the UN military forces available to them and the mandate under which they operate'.

Likewise, he warned: 'There must be a proper assessment by the UN of its continuing ability to carry out the mandate, of what it can do to strengthen that ability and the peace process in general, and of the degree of co-operation it can expect from the various Bosnian factions.

'It must also assess the level of risk to the safety of Unprofor troops for which we all have an abiding responsibility.'

David Clark, his Labour shadow, backed the Government's decision not to withdraw British troops 'at this moment in time'. But both men appeared to level implicit criticism at the United States, where Congress has blocked the UN request for an additional 8,500 peacekeepers and has only approved 3,700.

With speculation on the other side of the Atlantic that lifting economic sanctions might bring the Serbians to the negotiating table, Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, called for an assurance that the Government would not lift them 'so long as safe areas are at risk and there is no overall peace settlement in place'.

Tony Benn, the left-wing MP for Chesterfield, appeared to be in a minority among Labour MPs prepared to concede that warnings of Nato involvement in a Bosnian civil war were turning out to be frighteningly true.

But Mr Campbell-Savours, one of several Labour MPs who spoke of the West's 'appeasement' of central European facism and ethnic-cleansing, declared: 'At least (Margaret Thatcher) stood up and demanded that facism be stopped in its tracks in the heart of Europe, whereas this government has ducked the issue.'

Mr Rifkind replied: 'Even Baroness Thatcher made it clear that she did not support the use of British or other UN troops in a combat role on the ground in Bosnia.'

Mr Rifkind repeatedly challenged the Labour backbenchers to spell out their solution, telling David Winnick, MP for Walsall North, that unless he was calling for many thousands of British and other combat troops to be sent to the region, his words were those of 'a windbag'.

Mr Rifkind gave a more sympathetic hearing to Labour MPs calling for the arming of the Muslims - a similar call was made in the House of Lords by the Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Williams - but he made clear as well that the price to be paid would be UN withdrawal.

He told Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, that support for arming the Muslims was a 'perfectly respectable point of view but . . . that does imply the ending of the humanitarian operation is Bosnia'. She also had to accept the practical difficulty that it would require the repeal of a UN Security Council resolution, for which there would be no Russian support. 'Any ending of the arms embargo would have to be in defiance of a UN resolution.' Mr Rifkind's statement reflected what Dr Clark called a subtle change of the UN mandate from humanitarian aid delivery to a peace support operation, a view also highlighted in the chamber of the Lords.

The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Field Marshall Lord Carver, an independent, emphasised that, despite recent events, the highest priority was to try, however hard that was, to reach a general political settlement.

But he and other peers reflected MPs' concerns in calling for 'clarification' of the UN mandate: 'There's a lot of very loose talk about peace-keeping, which is not the purpose for which the UN was sent there,' he said.

The Commons later turned to the more prosiac topic of the recent decision to bar the press from the House of Commons riverside terrace except at the express invitation of an MP, which journalists plan to appeal to the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd.

The ban on reporters enjoying one of the Palace of Westminster's most desirable distractions from long hours of work in the summer heat has been imposed by the Commons administration and catering committees following complaints about 'unacceptable conditions' at the height of last year's Maastricht crisis, and of unauthorised publication of private conversations. Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, condemning the 'mean and spiteful decision', urged that it should be replaced by a proposal to double the price of alcohol served at the Palace of Westminster.

'The money received from this could be used to benefit the health of MPs and journalists and improve the wages paid to staff,' he said.

Meanwhile, consumers of non-alcoholic drinks and foodstuffs secured a first-round victory in the battle to stop food manufacturers getting supermarkets banned from selling similar looking, but cheaper, own-brand goods. Patrick McLoughlin, trade and technology minister, made clear during the Second Reading of the Trade Marks Bill he would not be rushed into an early decision to accept an amendment.