Double threat to Maastricht in Commons: Tory and Labour clause additions to treaty Bill described as 'killer amendments'

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The Independent Online
A DOUBLE threat is being posed to ratification of the Maastricht treaty, Conservative and Labour critics of the agreement said yesterday.

John Smith and a group of Labour frontbenchers, and William Cash, a leading Conservative opponent of the treaty, have tabled two new clause additions to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which were confidently being described as 'killer amendments' yesterday.

The search for amendments has continued since the Attorney General advised that Labour Amendment 27 - excluding the Social Chapter opt- out from Section 2 of the legislation - would not derail the treaty.

But George Robertson, Labour's spokesman on Europe, said yesterday that Labour's New Clause 74 was 'a ticking bomb', and Mr Cash claimed similar consequences from his New Clause 71.

While New Clause 71 would build on Amendment 27, ensuring that ratification could not go ahead, the Labour new clause proposed that the Maastricht legislation could not come into force until after the Commons had voted separately for the Social Chapter protocol, or opt-out.

However, a number of hurdles remain. Michael Morris, chairman of the Commons Committee Stage consideration of the Bill, has yet to rule that there will be another debate on the Social Chapter protocol, that the new clauses are in order, and that they may be the subject of separate votes.

But, if the Labour new clause was passed, the Government would need to return to the Commons, probably in October, for a separate vote on the Social Chapter protocol.

Meanwhile, treaty opponents said yesterday that there was little chance of the Government getting the Bill through Parliament by the end of July.

MPs are expected to complete the Bill's Report Stage in the week beginning 10 May, before the Danish referendum on 18 May. The vote on Amendment 27, which the Government is expected to lose, and, possibly, new clauses 71 and 74, is expected in the final two weeks of April.