Labour presses for opt-out vote: Amendment 27 takes spotlight again

MICHAEL MORRIS, the Deputy Speaker, will come under all- party pressure today to allow MPs a decisive vote on whether the Maastricht treaty ratification Bill should include an opt- out from the Social Chapter.

Mr Morris provoked a storm of protest last Thursday when he ruled that MPs would not be allowed to vote on Labour's amendment 27, seeking to delete the opt-out from the Bill.

Today's move by Labour to press him to reconsider his decision will have the support of the Liberal Democrats. Most Conservative Euro-rebels are also expected to support it. It will not, however, take the form of a no- confidence motion against Mr Morris who, as Chairman of Ways and Means, manages the Committee Stage of the Bill on the floor of the House.

Mr Morris's decision provoked anger among MPs who felt they had been cheated and created strong feelings that attempts to engage in any form of parliamentary decision-taking had become pointless.

But some defended Mr Morris yesterday, saying he was given only 15 minutes' official notice that the Government would not oppose another similar amendment, number 75 - which he had selected for a vote instead - because it was defective and could be legally ignored.

James Cran, the MP for Beverley and unofficial 'whip' for the Tory rebels, said the group was 'deeply disappointed' about Thursday's events. He emphasised however: 'We want a vote on the Social Chapter.'

Today's move will give Mr Morris the opportunity to reconsider his decision on amendment 27. Alternatively, MPs might press for a vote on amendment 74, which has not been debated and calls for a vote on the Social Chapter before the Bill can become law.

Last Thursday's furore could have caused more headaches for the Government by causing the timetable to slip by a whole week. Ministers had wanted to complete the Committee Stage by the time of the Danish referendum. That goal may now be difficult to achieve.