Growing ministerial impatience both with the Opposition parties and the Tory Euro-rebels was reflected in a speech by the Foreign Secretary warning that Britain's power to influence the EC would be destroyed if the treaty was not ratified.
He told the Tory Western area conference in Weston-super- Mare: 'We need to ratify Maastricht to ensure that we are an influential voice. The run of play is going our way. Now is not the time to pick up the ball and flounce off the pitch.'
The Government failed to secure Labour or Liberal Democrat support last Thursday to continue sitting on the Bill after 10pm in a bid to hasten progress. Ministerial sources suggested yesterday that one of the short Spring recesses - probably the one at the end of May - could be sacrificed. The Government determines when the House should be adjourned.
Mr Hurd distinguished the 'consistent' policy of those who had always opposed EC membership from the 'incomprehensible' position of those who accepted the Single European Act but opposed Maastricht. Although Mr Hurd did not say so, William Cash, MP for Stafford, Lady Thatcher and Lord Tebbit fall into the latter group.
Mr Hurd said that the Maastricht Treaty had for the first time defined the limits of European institutions, checked centralisation and laid down inter-governmental co-operation as the way forward. But he also foreshadowed a growing campaign to destabilise Labour and Liberal Democrat determination to oppose the Government on the social chapter.
He said: 'They say they don't want to wreck the treaty and yet they grub around for amendment after amendment on the Social Chapter, which aims to do just that. The time is coming when in the national interest they should put their votes behind the treaty.'
One leading rebel, Sir Teddy Taylor, MP for Southend East, said: 'If they allowed a referendum, the rebellion stops tonight. Time and again Parliament has been misled over Europe . . . because the EC has exploited (its) powers in an unacceptable way.'
Mr Cash said: 'I repudiate suggestions that we would not be able to influence Europe if we did not ratify the treaty.'
Whitehall sources are sceptical about ministerial claims that the Maastricht debate has created a legislative log-jam delaying discussion of measures such as Sunday trading.
But measures already going through Parliament could be delayed. The Criminal Justice Bill and the Rail Privatisation Bill both need more Commons time. But the Home Office and the Department of Transport are confident of getting them through.
A total of 62 per cent of Conservative constituency chairmen favour ratification of the Maastricht Treaty and 38 per cent do not, according to a survey for Channel 4's A Week in Politics. A total of 130 chairmen were questioned.Reuse content