Inside Parliament: D-Day onslaught on Major follows 'truce' on Bosnia: Smith plea over Gorazde ceasefire - Recipe for 'Powys Pudding' mocked

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Indy Politics
With deep concerns over the Gorazde setback still high on the international agenda, John Smith forsook the full frontal attack at yesterday's Prime Minister's questions.

A clear statement of future policy objectives should include 'a re-doubling of the efforts to secure a ceasefire at Gorazde, a reaffirmation by this and other countries of their political, military and humanitarian commitment to the area, and a clear decision by the international community to make safe areas safe', Mr Smith said.

This should be done ''in the knowledge that the UN will require sufficient resources to carry out the task, but also in the knowledge that these safe areas may offer the only haven for victims of a brutal civil war'.

Mr Major said any sensible person would want to see those objectives realised, but cautioned: 'What we have to consider, before we give a blanket assurance, is whether the political will, not just in the UK but across other countries, is going to release the resources to enable us to do that.'

Labour derision was reserved for MPs' first opportunity to question Mr Major over what were formerly termed 'celebrations' for the June D-Day anniversary and which, according to Lowe Bell, the Government's PR firm, should include activities such as Spam fritter cooking contests and street parties.

Labour MPs hooted as Mr Major, replying to a complaint of failure to consult from Bill Olner, MP for Nuneaton, said that Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, had met the Normandy Veterans' Association and the Royal British Legion 'this morning'.

Mr Major was, however, able to welcome the first slight drop in crime figures for five years. Sir Ivan Lawrence, the right-wing Tory MP for Burton, leapt at the opportunity to declare that since courts had been imposing longer sentences, that was some evidence that, by taking the worst offenders out of circulation, fellow right-winger and Home Secretary Michael Howard was right in saying prison worked. Mr Major did not pursue the point, saying one year's figures had to be viewed with a 'certain degree of caution.'

There seemed to be caution all round. While declining to comment on topics with which he was unfamiliar, Mr Major attempted to repair the damage of last week's row over NHS rationing of treatment for old people. NHS patients should be treated regardless of age, he insisted in the wake of his accusations that Margaret Beckett, Labour's deputy leader, had 'peddled untruths' over the issue. But Ann Clwyd, the Labour employment spokeswoman - who last week opted for voluntary underground imprisonment to highlight the plight of the Tower Colliery in her Cynon Valley constituency - earlier clashed with the Speaker for using very similar wording as she protested that the miners had been forced to accept closure yesterday afternoon, dashing earlier hopes of a reprieve.

Allegations during employment questions that David Hunt, the Secretary of State, and British Coal had 'been lying through their teeth', 'told blatant untruths' and had been 'peddling untruths' were eventually toned down to 'misled the Commons'.

Later, it was the turn of Harriet Harman, shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to lead Labour allegations, during the Report Stage of the Budget-enacting Finance Bill, that the Government had turned a blind eye to the childcare needs of working mothers - and not just those of pre-school children. 'I hope that when people are worrying . . . about children stuck in front of videos that they are asking themselves what the connection is (with) the debate we are having here.'

A new Labour clause to remove the anomaly of offices and shops being denied the workplace nursery tax concessions afforded to factories or warehouses was destined to fail. But it was the vote of just two Tory rebels that signalled the most significant political event of the day, ensuring Government plans for a vast unitary local authority of Powys, in Mid Wales, lay in tatters, embarrassment for John Redwood, the Secretary of State and - particularly given that one rebel, Warren Hawskley, sits for Halesowen & Stourbridge in England - a potent reminder of what to expect in the planned shake-up of English councils. Critics denounced as unworkable area committees devised to make the proposed 'Powys Pudding' manageable.

Moments before the revolt in the Standing Committee considering the Local Government (Wales) Bill, the second rebel, Jonathan Evans, MP for Brecon & Radnor, resigned from his bag-carrying duties as PPS to John Wheeler, the Northern Ireland minister.