Healey ridicules Tory 'civil war'

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THE GENERALSHIP shown by the Government in dealing with the Maastricht treaty made Fred Karno look like the Duke of Wellington, the former deputy Labour leader, Lord Healey, declared yesterday as he set about ministers and Euro-critics alike.

'Britain's influence in Europe has been gravely impaired in the last two years by a civil war inside the government party over the Maastricht treaty,' Lord Healey said during a House of Lords debate which drew repeated calls for a referendum on European union.

With Baroness Thatcher sitting opposite him and Lord Tebbit also in the chamber, Lord Healey said their 1986 Single European Act had committed Britain to work for European union, including common foreign and defence policies and economic and monetary union. 'That Act was forced through the House of Commons on a guillotine motion by Lady Thatcher who was at the height of her powers, with Lord Tebbit acting as her familiar. It was a real witches' sabbath.'

Neither Lady Thatcher nor Lord Tebbit, both fervent opponents of the treaty and advocates of a referendum spoke.

Lord Ridley, a former Tory Cabinet minister, said that if the Maastricht treaty was ratifed, Britain would have to rejoin the European exchange rate mechanism and this would 'inspire the opposite of confidence among investors and businessmen'.

He warned that doubts about the Government's economic policy were worsening the prospects of recovery. 'Wherever one goes people say they don't know what the economic policy of the Government is. Is it to go back into the ERM. . . eventually, or is it to remain out of the ERM and have our own economic policy?'

Another Tory, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, opening the debate on the effects of ratifying the treaty, condemned it as a 'gigantic step towards a federal Europe'.

Lord Pearson said public opinion against the treaty was mounting daily and that, if ratified, it would 'so start to undermine our parliamentary democracy as to make it eventually worthless'.

Replying, Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, said the Government did not believe a referendum was necessary or right because the treaty introduced 'no constitutional inovation'.

'The essence of our parliamentary democracy is that Parliament is elected to represent the people and take decisions on their behalf.' She wondered why Lady Thatcher had changed her mind on that since leading the Conservative Party through the lobbies in 1975 to oppose the referendum on continued membership of the Common Market.