From Caesar's Camp comes a master of ways and means: Patricia Wynn Davies profiles Michael Morris, Deputy Speaker of the Commons and the target of anger this week

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Indy Politics
MR DEPUTY Speaker Michael Wolfgang Morris returned unruffled to the Speaker's chair yesterday after the fury surrounding his Maastricht ratification Bill ruling on Thursday.

The shrewd and pragmatic Mr Morris, sporting as ever the faintly over-the-top bow tie, is unlikely to have lost sleep over the accusations that refusing to allow a vote on Labour's amendment 27 on the Social Chapter opt-out was a 'cheat and a stitch-up'.

He believes the debating time allowed to Euro-sceptical Tories is generous in relation to their number, and his own record as a backbencher is an indication of independence. The Tory MP for Northampton South since 1979, the 56-year-old former advertising executive ranked joint ninth in the list of rebels during the 1989-90 parliamentary session.

One of the few MPs to list budgies as a recreation in his Who's Who entry, his best-known revolt was twice opposing the Moore- Clarke NHS changes which he thought 'shallow'. His wife, Ann, is a GP. They live in Sandy, Bedfordshire, in a house named Caesar's Camp, due to its proximity to a Roman road and an encampment. The latter was British, Mrs Morris explains. Apt in the circumstances - though Mr Morris is believed to be broadly pro-Europe.

As Chairman of Ways and Means since the last election, he now has the wearying honour of managing the committee stages of Bills taken on the floor of the House. His handling of the Maastricht slog may well have guaranteed his knighthood. Tory rebels and Labour MPs fighting for the Social Chapter may now regret the somewhat lavish praise heaped upon Mr Morris during earlier stages of the proceedings. (Nicholas Budgen, Tory Euro-sceptic: 'Even the half-raising of your eyebrow will cause the Government to jitter with fear.' George Robertson, Labour's European affairs spokesman: 'He has now found his moment and is doing superbly well.')

Thirteen years behind the scenes on the cross-party Public Accounts Committee had sharpened his organisational and analytical skills. Before the mammoth debating exercise began, he marshalled all the interested groups to discuss how best to deal with the hundreds of tabled amendments to the sketchy three-clause Bill, then divided them into manageable groups. He is, in general, still viewed as firm, fair-minded and independent.

In February he swiftly consented to a debate after the Government embarrassingly U-turned on its legal advice on clause 27, now judged by the Attorney General not to block ratification of the treaty.

Crunch issues, however, were to come. There was palpable relief on the Government front bench in early March when Mr Morris ruled Labour's amendment 443, also aimed at deleting the social protocol from the Bill, out of order. That ruling was followed by Thursday's decision not to allow clause 27 to be voted on because the Social Chapter debate had already been held.

The frustrations have fed the view that for all John Major's rhetoric about Parliamentary scrutiny, MPs' votes are, finally, irrelevant to the process. Like it or not, it will be this for which Mr Morris, once a backbencher who shunned the limelight, may be best remembered.

(Photograph omitted)

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