Inside Parliament: Senior Tory confesses 'deep shame' over Bosnia: 'We have seen a country destroyed. Collectively, the West has failed' - Dispute over unemployment aid - Speaker rules on strong language

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Indy Politics
A senior Conservative spoke last night of the 'deep shame' he felt for the first time in 23 years as an MP at the lack of resolution shown by the European powers in the face of a catalogue of misery, death and depravity in Bosnia.

With Parliament beginning its summer recess today, Patrick Cormark, MP for South Staffordshire, said that before the Commons met again in October, Sarajevo could have fallen: 'We have seen a country destroyed.' Some 200,000 people had been killed in Bosnia in the last 16 months, 40,000 women raped and 750,000 people wounded.

'I feel ashamed at what has happened in the Balkans,' he said. 'Collectively, the West has failed. Collectively, the institutions that we have created to guarantee the world order have failed . . . there has been a craven refusal in this country and other nations of Europe to measure up to the enormity of this challenge.'

Mr Cormack was speaking during a three-hour debate on Bosnia, one of a series of debates initiated by backbenchers which continued through the night. A consistent advocate of tough action to deter the Serbs and safeguard the integrity of Bosnia, he contrasted the thin attendance with the mass turn-out for the Maastricht debates last Thursday and Friday.

At 10pm there were 19 Labour members present, five Conservatives, including a minister and whip, and a Liberal Democrat. The debate was initiated by Calum MacDonald, Labour MP for the Western Isles, who said it was not too late to prevent the carve-up of Bosnia.

The United Nations must declare Bosnia to be under its protection, with the UN guaranteeing the civil rights of all communities under an impartial interim government, he said. Secondly, the UN should delegate to Nato, and primarily to its European members, the military task of lifting the sieges and disarming the warring forces in Bosnia.

'The lesson we have learnt from the history books is something we should have learnt 50 years ago, and that is that you cannot pacify aggression by appeasement and the only way to stop aggression is to stand up to it.'

John Major's unguarded reference to three of his Cabinet ministers as 'bastards' has enabled MPs to heap fresh abuse on their opponents without stepping beyond the bounds of parliamentary language.

Gerald Kaufman, a former shadow Foreign Secretary, was first to make use of the new possibility as he and a swathe of MPs of all parties complained about the Government's redrawing of the regional aid map.

Echoing the general Labour claim that the southwards shift in aid is the product of 'political expediency', Mr Kaufman wondered why Sutton Coldfield, at 552 in the unemployment league table (6.4 per cent), received help while his own area of Manchester Gorton, 37th in the table with 18.2 per cent unemployed - 25.4 per cent among men - got nothing at all.

Sutton Coldfield, Mr Kaufman underlined, is the constituency of Sir Norman Fowler, chairman of the Conservative Party. He said Gorton had lost other economic aid. 'Is it surprising that my constituents use the word about the Prime Minister that the Prime Minister uses about members of the Cabinet?'

Tim Sainsbury, Minister of State for Industry, is not given to sharp banter on that level and offered instead a straight comparison with unemployment in Manchester in 1984, when the current map was compiled. Then, unemployment was 13.2 per cent, within the worst third in the country, now it is 10.5 per cent, 'not even within the worst half'.

'We have had difficult choices to make. But it is right to ensure that assistance is concentrated on areas with the most problems,' Mr Sainsbury said.

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, said he understood why ministers had had to extend aid to towns in the South, 'where their policies have turned prosperity into mass unemployment', but why had it been taken away from areas still in need? He challenged Mr Sainsbury to name one area, of the 20 that had lost aid, where unemployment had gone down since Mr Major took office. The gauntlet lay undisturbed.

The Cabinet 'bastards' cropped up again in points of order to the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd. David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, asked if MPs would be able to use the term when criticising ministers, while Dennis Skinner, Bolsover, repeated speculation that the three might be Michael Howard (Home Secretary), Peter Lilley (Social Security) and John Redwood (Wales).

Miss Boothroyd cut the game short. She was not interested in language used outside the House, only inside. 'I would ask all members to use moderate language. That is the proper courtesy by which we exchange and debate in this House.'

Most MPs, however, were mentally packing the sun oil and heading for the hills/beach/Tuscany/or any place else where they could escape the proper courtesies of debate.