Inside Parliament: Bosnia granted only one sentence in summit report: Labour angry at 'platitudes' from G7 - Major complains of 'summit fatigue'

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Indy Politics
After a weekend of grim reports from Sarajevo, there was some surprise and criticism in the Commons yesterday when John Major's three-page statement on the outcome of the Tokyo summit contained just one sentence on the crisis in Bosnia, reiterating the support of the G7 leaders for a negotiated settlement.

John Smith asked if Mr Major understood the depth of feeling at the 'disastrous turn of events' there. To Tory shouts of 'What would you do?', the Labour leader went on: 'As we speak, the Serbian siege threatens to overwhelm Sarajevo. How does the Prime Minister think that the inhabitants of that city feel about the evasive platitudes of the G7 declaration?'

Mr Major dwelt in his statement on the achievement of the summit as a catalyst for restarting the GATT world trade talks and the need to tackle barriers to growth.

Mr Smith called for Britain to give a lead in promoting growth by cutting interest rates, but his strongest reaction was over Bosnia. Pointing out that it 'merited only one sentence' in Mr Major's statement, he said the summit had 'avoided completely its fundamental responsibilities'. The whole UN effort was stalled because it was inadequately resourced and supported.

'Instead of making vague threats, such as, 'strong measures are not excluded', which the Foreign Secretary got into such a mess trying to explain, ought there not to be a commitment to action such as the use of air strikes to make the aggressors understand that the international community will not tolerate the defiance of international authority and the dismemberment of Bosnia?'

Mr Major dismissed the Labour leader as long on criticisms but a little short on solutions. 'Maybe he has lost touch with some of the events that are occurring on the ground.' Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development, had announced a further pounds 18.5m of humanitarian aid from the UK for Bosnia.

But Sir David Steel, for the Liberal Democrats, said neither the extra aid nor the 'strong words of the G7' would help unless UN troops were 'authorised by and reinforced by their governments with resources that will enable them to break that siege'. Mr Major replied: 'I'm not in a position to offer fresh troops.'

While Baroness Thatcher, as prime minister, started out contemptuous of international summitry but came to thrive on it, Mr Major seems to be undergoing the reverse process. He wants future gatherings to be more informal and less prepared than Tokyo, and spoke yesterday of 'summit fatigue'.

John Biffen, a former Tory Leader of the Commons, congratulated Mr Major on his efforts to make summits less structured and 'hopefully' much less frequent. 'In certain circumstances travel narrows the mind and there is nothing more absurd in current circumstances than a gathering of the world's elite discussing the nobility of their aims at a time when right across North America and Europe there is an all-time record gap between the perceptions of governments and the governed.'

Mr Major conceded: 'It may well be that one of the reasons for that gap between the public and the politicians is an excess of summit fatigue, where people meet together without a realistic expectation of achieving what may have been expected from a summit of that sort.'

The number of MPs acknowledged by Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, to have written or spoken to him or his predecessor over the Asil Nadir case rose from seven to eight yesterday. Four have been publicly identified.

Raising the issue at Question Time, David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, demanded that the money given by Mr Nadir to the Conservative party be returned promptly. Sir Nicholas said political donations were not his responsibility. 'What this case makes abundantly clear is that it does certainly not produce any favours or affection, either way, whatever party may be involved.'

The main business of the day, the report stage the Finance (No2) Bill implementing the Budget, began with a Labour protest that Tory MPs who are 'Names' on the Lloyds insurance market could be doing themselves a favour if they were allowed to vote on provisions for a reserve fund under which Names will be able to set aside profits in good years to cover the lean.

Peter Hain, MP for Neath, said if the Names voted it would be 'tantamount to putting taxpayers' money straight into their pockets'. Speaker Betty Boothroyd said if MPs could could not vote on matters affecting them they 'would never be able to reduce income tax'.

The key vote of the night, however, was on a rebel Tory amendment to scrap the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel bills. With Labour and the Liberal Democrats joining three Tory backbenchers, the Government's majority was reduced to eight - 307 votes to 299. Moving the amendment, William Powell, Tory MP for Corby, predicted that because the Government would not withdraw the VAT proposal it would lose the Christchurch by-election.

(Photograph omitted)