Inside Parliament: Euro rebels grind on over European 'millstone': MPs pass draft orders to extend EU links - Labour criticises lack of debate on Bosnia action - Election expenses increase approved

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Indy Politics
The Tory Party's Euro bogeymen stepped back briefly into the limelight yesterday to call for the renegotiation of their bete noire, the Maastricht treaty, before it plunges Europe into chaos and civil strife.

Bill Cash, one of the most prominent of the rebels in last year's marathon on the European Union legislation, painted a particularly grim picture. Taking part in a short debate on proposals for closer ties between the EU and eastern Europe, he said that unless Maastricht and other treaties were renegotiated, they would be a 'millstone around the necks of these newly emerging democracies'.

Without a vote, the Commons approved draft orders establishing 'associations' between EU states and Bulgaria, the Czech and Slovak republics and Romania. The agreements will focus on trade liberalisation, economic and political co-operation and common standards.

But Mr Cash said that 'scratch some of these countries and scratch some of the recently fascist countries of western Europe' and you were looking at civil disorder. Add this to instability in the Balkans and 'the old Russias' and the last thing that was needed was monetary union, as proposed under Maastricht, doing an ERM and 'dropping like a stone'.

'If the EMU (economic and monetary union) proposals do collapse, there will be chaos throughout Europe,' Mr Cash warned. If the parliaments of Europe had been 'emasculated', order could only be restored 'by the reintroduction of the totalitarianism which these countries have only just emerged from'.

Mr Cash, MP for Stafford, and half-a-dozen of his colleagues whom he called 'Euro-realists' made up the majority of MPs attending the debate. Criticising the absentees and singling out Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, he said: 'Those of us who are true Europeans, those who actually do want this to work properly, would want to be here.'

Another 'realist', former Tory Cabinet minister John Biffen, wanted a clear statement from 'our political leaders' before the June European elections on renegotiating the Maastricht treaty in 1996.

If the EU was to be successful it had to be based on a 'relaxed relationship between the nation states of Europe', he said. If it moved to monetary union, with a single currency and converging economies, it would make it 'infinitely more difficult' to bring the new democracies into the European partnership.

To the frustration of many MPs, the House did not get an opportunity to question ministers on the shooting down of four Serb attack aircraft over Bosnia. Calling for a statement, Jack Cunningham, the shadow foreign secretary, said the incident, though authorised by UN resolutions, represented a 'serious escalation' of events.

Tony Benn, Labour MP for Chesterfield, said lack of a statement was 'a denial of the right of those who look to the House of Commons to seek explanations from ministers about what they do that may affect their lives and welfare and the future peace of Europe and the world'. Speaker Betty Boothroyd said that if he were to make an application for an emergency debate, she would look at it.

By contrast, in the Upper House, Lord Richard, leader of the Labour peers, asked for a statement on the Nato action and got one. Peers were concerned about the likely reaction of the Russians and repeatedly pressed Viscount Cranborne, the defence minister, on whether the warning from the F16 fighters was actually heard by the Serb pilots.

Lord Cranborne said the Bosnian Serbs and the government in Belgrade were fully aware of the relevant UN resolutions. 'They are well aware that if they break the provisions of the no-fly zone some very unpleasant consequences are likely to happen. And this has indeed happened.'

Baroness Chalker, Minister of State at the Foreign Officer, commended US moves to promote a rapprochement between Muslims and Croats and said Bosnia would be on the agenda of the European foreign ministers next week.

But she cautioned against believing that an end of the Bosnian problem was near. 'However much all of us not involved in the fighting want that fighting to stop, until the parties concerned themselves decide they will cease, that tragedy will not come to an end.'

MPs approved a modest increase in the limit on expenses for elections. Candidates in general elections will be able to spend pounds 4,642 (up from pounds 4,330) plus 5.2p per elector in shire seats and 3.9p in urban seats (up from 4.9p and 3.7p).

The increases are in line with inflation. At by-elections, candidates will be able to spend up to pounds 18,572 plus 20.8p per elector in the shires and 15.8p in urban areas.

For local elections the limit will be pounds 205 plus 4p per elector and at European elections pounds 13,175 plus 5.7p per elector.

Welcoming the proposals from the Government, Graham Allen, a Labour home affairs spokesman, said his own limit at the 1992 general election, totalling pounds 6,900, had drawn 'gasps of astonishment' from people in business and marketing.

(Photograph omitted)