Inside Parliament: Creche calls salve MPs' consciences: Commons child care in the spotlight - Deputy Speaker stands firm on Euro vote - Hurd defines British interest in Bosnia

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Indy Politics
Before immersing themselves again in the horrors of Bosnia and tactical manoeuvres on the Maastricht legislation, it flickered across the consciences of a handful of MPs that they had once more abandoned their wives and children in favour of a week at Westminster.

The answer, for those who took up the issue at Question Time yesterday, is a creche. The young offspring of MPs and Commons staff would be looked after within the Palace of Westminster while their parents run the country. Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, asked how it could be claimed that there was no room in the building for such facilities when there was room for a shooting gallery and 'several rooms that are used for wining and dining that is not parliamentary in character but is entirely commercial in character, or party political'.

He wondered if children now in nursery schools would be at university before a creche was provided. 'There are special problems for the 2,000 staff in this building and especially for MPs. Because of the peculiar demands of our job, many of our families are brought up for most of the year in what is in effect a single-parent situation.'

Replying on behalf of the House of Commons Commission, the Liberal Democrat MP Alan Beith referred Mr Flynn to the Accommodation Committee. He said a joint-venture project which would have provided just six places at high cost outside the palace had been dropped. He tried to placate parent-MPs with the promise of a 'comprehensive survey'. Mr Beith said he would like to see a creche provided as soon as possible, though he suspected the public authorities would not look very kindly on it being in a basement used as a shooting gallery.

Helen Jackson, Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, said MPs were not asking for a survey, all that was needed was a place with toilets and water. Simon Burns, Conservative MP for Chelmsford, contrasted government encouragement to employers to provide creches with the reluctance of the House to do the same. 'Although it may not be popular amongst a number of my colleagues, one has to bring the House of Commons into the 20th century,' said the youngish father. Such a radical proposition certainly was not popular with Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. The former Conservative Solicitor-General for Scotland protested at the 'appalling extravagance' of spending on new offices for MPs, 'pampering secretaries and providing ridiculous services, more of which have been suggested this afternoon. Why don't we have nannies?'

Nanny could have been no firmer than Deputy Speaker Michael Morris, who opened the 21st day of the Committee Stage of the Maastricht treaty legislation, the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, by again denying opposition parties and Tory rebels the treat they crave - a vote on amendment 27 to delete the Social Chapter opt-out.

In the ensuing barrage of points of order, Jack Cunningham, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, said he remained 'completely unconvinced' by Mr Morris's argument against a vote. Labour would put its 'unanswerable case' to the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, at the Bill's Report Stage, he added.

Tony Benn, Labour MP for Chesterfield, threatened further delay to the Bill through a motion 'regretting' the decision by Mr Morris who, as Chairman of Ways and Means, manages the committee, selecting amendments for debate and votes. It would have to be debated by the House.

Nicholas Budgen, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton SW and an opponent of the treaty, recalled his rebuke last week when he suggested Mr Morris had given the reason for his no-vote decision on BBC Television's Westminster Live though he would not give it to the House. Mr Morris had told him to get a transcript of the interview and Mr Budgen had done so.

'The transcript reveals you did give reasons to the viewers of that televison programme. So it presumably means, Mr Morris, that you have now set a precedent by which the chair, which I assume includes the Speaker, give reasons to the television but do not give reasons to the House.

'That seems to me a most interesting and modern practice of widespread importance. I hope, Mr Morris, you can confirm it is now going to be followed by the chair in all its manifestations, because, of course, it does indicate that our attendance in this place is entirely unnecessary and the main thing we must all do is buy a television set.' Mr Morris insisted he had given no reasons to the viewers. 'I merely positioned the whole debate.'

Mr Budgen specialises in being awkward. Following the statement by Douglas Hurd on turning sanctions against the Serbs into a blockade, he asked the Foreign Secretary to define the British national interest in Bosnia. 'Will he please explain what distinguishes the horrible war in Bosnia from the many other horrible wars which are occuring throughout the world at the present time?'

Mr Hurd replied: 'We have come to the view that it is a British national interest that we should do what we can to help bring peace to Bosnia . . . partly because it is in Europe and the others are not, partly because we can see a way in which we have been able to do that.

'The presence of the Cheshires, the saving of lives by the RAF, by our civilian drivers, by our humanitarian escorts. That is good. That is something which we have accomplished, something we could not have accomplished in, for example, Nagorny Karabakh. So I think that what we have done is entirely justified by Mr Budgen's criteria, which is the British national interest.'

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