Hurd leads efforts to back Major

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Indy Politics
DOUGLAS HURD yesterday led a Cabinet move to underpin John Major's leadership with a pledge that the Prime Minister was 'secure' even if the Tories were heavily defeated in the European elections.

Mr Hurd's firm prediction that Mr Major would not resign as Prime Minister came as he tried to heal the Tory wounds by offering the right wing the prospect of a multi-speed Europe with a pledge that Britain would use a veto to stop a slide towards Euro-federalism.

The Foreign Secretary's speech to the Scottish Conservative Party, which included a commitment to 'variable geometry' in Europe, will be welcomed by leading Euro- sceptics in the Cabinet, including Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, who have been demanding safeguards about the future of Europe well before the intergovernmental conference in 1996.

'We are increasingly seeing the need for what is known as variable geometry: the idea that the functions of the European Union should be carried out in different ways, often involving different groups of states . . . This is a multi-track, multi-speed, even multi-layered approach,' Mr Hurd said.

On Mr Major's future, the Foreign Secretary told a press conference in Inverness: 'I believe he is secure. I should say he will continue as Prime Minister. He will not resign.'

Mr Major's chances of surviving were strengthened by a call by Michael Forsyth, a radical right-wing minister, to the Tory rebels to drop their threat of a leadership challenge. Mr Forsyth attacked 'windy backbenchers' looking at opinion polls, and increased speculation that Mr Forsyth is ambitious to replace Ian Lang as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr Forsyth warned the party not to lose its nerve after suffering its worst local government election defeat. In the face of angry demands by Scottish Tories for the VAT on fuel and increases in taxes to be dropped, Mr Forsyth said there should be no change of policy.

His appointment could split the Scottish Tory party, although he has rehabilitated his standing among ministerial colleagues.

Mr Hurd urged the party to resist the temptation of 'scratching at old wounds'. The Tory party would be seeking in the European campaign to expose the divisions between the parties, rather than within the Conservatives.

'We end up with a clear distinction in this election. The Conservatives are committed to maintaining the British veto on matters of national interest,' Mr Hurd said.

But he appeared to concede the Tories were expecting defeat in the European elections. His prepared text said 'we can win' but he replaced 'win' with 'do well'.

Rapists in Scotland will be denied bail if they are charged with a second offence, the Scottish home affairs minister Lord Fraser told the conference.