Election '97: Thatcher alters history with 'slip of the tongue'

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The Independent Online
Baroness Thatcher attempted to rewrite a little bit of history when she wrongly told a group of reporters this week that she had voted against the Maastricht treaty Bill in 1993.

On Wednesday, while giving a stern lecture on Europe to the press during an election visit at Aldershot football ground, she was interrupted by The Independent who asked her why she had signed the Single European Act. "That was about creating a Common Market," she said.

But when it was pointed out that her successor had signed the Maastricht treaty, she said: "Ah, but I voted against it," and this was reported in some of today's newspapers.

In fact, Lady Thatcher, who was by then a member of the House of Lords, did not vote against the Bill as it passed through the Lords. The Second Reading of the Bill, after a two day debate in early June, was passed unopposed. However, when it came to the Third Reading, held on 20 July 1993, Lady Thatcher is not recorded as having voted, although some of her Eurosceptic pals such as Lord Tebbit and Lord Rees-Mogg did oppose the Bill. It was passed by a majority of 141-29.

During the debate on the Third Reading, Lady Thatcher did indeed outline her objections. She told the House that over the Single European Act "we got our fingers burnt. Do not go back to that same fire with a much bigger treaty with many more powers and get both your arms and perhaps your head burnt as well".

Her speech was clearly strongly against the Bill and she voted for an amendment which would have created a referendum on the treaty but which was heavily defeated. However, on the final vote, she was not in the chamber and there is no record in Hansard of Lady Thatcher voting on it.

Lady Thatcher is in the middle of a round Britain tour aimed at generating support for the Conservatives which she will continue until five days before the election when she flies to Hong Kong. She launched the tour with a series of events in the South, including visits to a garden centre, a plastics factory and a school and last night she was welcomed by enthusiastic supporters at the endorsement meeting for John Marshall, in Finchley and Golders Green, which has taken in her old seat of Finchley.

A spokeswoman for Lady Thatcher said yesterday, after checking the relevant Hansards, "It was a slip of the tongue. Well spotted. Lady Thatcher did speak robustly on the debate on Maastricht but she did not vote against it." The Lady is, at last, for turning.