Inside Parliament: Thatcher falls short of the old fury: Former Prime Minister says she would never have signed treaty: Howe says that to repudiate it would be gross breach of faith

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Baroness Thatcher's much- heralded denunication of the Maastricht treaty filled the House of Lords and drew an audience of acolytes over from the Commons, but in the event fell short of the sound and fury once expected of her.

A record 130 peers put their names down to speak during the two-day second reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, with the list reading like a Who's Who of Cabinet ministers from past decades. The debate resumes this morning with the House sitting three hours earlier than usual in the hope of voting by midnight.

Lord Howe of Aberavon, who resigned from Lady Thatcher's government in November 1990 in protest at her hostility to Europe, said he was saddened by her 'fundamentalist' position.

'The tragedy is that the Euro- sceptics have moved from practical politics to ideological purism into a position which, alas, is now one approaching a deep hostility to the essence of the Community itself.

'The real question is, does sovereignty depend on our capacity to make rules in this national Parliament or upon our ability to maximise our influence as a nation in the world?

'It is easy for Robinson Crusoe to be monarch of all he surveys, but it is much more difficult for him to persuade anyone to take him seriously.'

Lord Howe said it would be 'a gross breach of faith' to repudiate a treaty signed by the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. 'The case for Maastricht is the case for realism and modernism as opposed to sentimental delusion.'

Another of Lady Thatcher's foreign secretaries, Lord Carrington, took issue with her call to go no further on the train to European union. Though no federalist, he said: 'I do want closer integration and I do want to be on the train. I do not want to be left stranded in perpetuity at Crewe.'

Lady Thatcher made no direct attack on her successor at 10 Downing Street, John Major, but said she could never have signed the Maastricht treaty. 'I hope that that is clear to all who have heard me.

'The Bill will pass considerable further powers irrevocably from Westminster to Brussels and by extending majority voting will undermine our age-old parliamentary and legal institutions, both far older than those in the community.

'We have so much more to lose by this Maastricht treaty than any other state in the EC. It will diminish democracy and increase bureaucracy.'

The former prime minister's attack was watched approvingly by Tory MPs who fought the Bill for 204 hours in the Commons and by one who wished he had - Edward Leigh, the Thatcherite member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, sacked 10 days ago as Under-Secretary for Trade and Industry, despite putting party, or his job, before conscience in the Third Reading vote on the measure. Many of the MPs belonged to the Fresh Start group set up last year to campaign against Maastricht.

Opening the debate, Lord Wakeham, Leader of the House, portrayed Maastricht as a move away from federalism and less far reaching that the Single European Act, guillotined through Parliament by Lady Thatcher in 1986.

Correctly anticipating his former leader's call for a referendum, Lord Wakeham said he did not believe that referenda and the single-issue political debates they involved had a place in Britain's system of parliamentary democracy. While the treaty was important, there were many other equally important issues on which the case for a referendum could be argued - the death penalty, the role of the Church of England, or even the role of the House of Lords.

'Those who find the arguments attractive in this case might, I suggest, inadvertently contribute to undermining the very system of parliamentary democracy which it is their professed aim to protect.'

Lord Richard, Leader of the Labour peers, said it was 18 months too late to change tack and hold a referendum. 'For the Lords, unelected as it is, to defy the considered judgement of the Commons, when that case was rejected by an overwhelming majority, would produce, to put it at its lowest, constitutional friction of considerable significance.'

Labour supported the aims of the treaty but deeply regretted the 'myopic refusal' of the Government to adhere to the Social Chapter, he said. 'We are now the only country whose parliamentary processes towards ratification are still incomplete. The result of this litany of misjudgement has been that Britain's position inside the Community has been further reduced, and heaven knows it wasn't that sound before the process started.'

Lord Jenkins, Leader of the Liberal Democrat peers and a former president of the European Commission, professed himself mystified by Lady Thatcher's attitude to the treaty since it was 'less of a technical invasion of sovereignty' than the 1986 Act. He recalled Lady Thatcher's opposition in 1975 to a referendum on Europe when, he said, she had quoted a 1945 statement by Lord Attlee that a referendum was 'a device alien to all our traditions which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and fascism'.

'That was a rather extreme view with which I would not, I am bound to say, entirely go along.' With the present lack of respect for the Government, electors would be disposed to use a referendum to 'cock a snook at ministers for whom they are so contemptuous', Lord Jenkins said.

Warning that the 'trauma' of a referendum fought between different factions of the same party would be deep and lasting, he went on: 'I believe as a matter of objective judgement that, though unforeseen at the time, the 1975 referendum campaign had a great deal to do with the split in the Labour Party in 1981 and the creation of the SDP.'

But the caution cut no ice with Lady Thatcher or with Viscount Tonypandy, the former Labour MP and Speaker of the Commons, who said the sovereignty of Britain was at stake. 'Power under Maastricht is to be transferred from the elected representatives of the people to Europe where we will be a tiny minority . . . Britain wants a referendum and she deserves it.'

Lady Thatcher said it would be 'disgraceful' to refuse a referendum. 'To hand over the the people's parliamentary rights on the scale of the Maastricht treaty without the consent of the people in a referendum would be to betray the trust they have placed in us as guardians of the parliamentary institutions and the courts.' Britain would never have got the single market without agreement to extend qualified majority voting in the Single European Act. But assurances were given that fiscal matters, free movement of people and the rights of employees would remain subject to unanimous voting.

'We believed that the Commission would honour those assurances. We believed they would honour the unanimity that is in the Act. They didn't. We believed that they would not pile on excessive regulations because of the extra cost to industry . . . They did pile on extra regulation. Our good faith in them was not justified and it is written on my heart.' The 48-hour working week has been put through on a qualified majority against Britain.

She claimed Maastricht went 'much, much wider' than the 1986 Act, extending the powers of the Commission from 11 to 20 areas of government and providing for 111 new occasions for majority voting.

'It surely is, given what happened under the Single European Act when we got our fingers burned, a time to heed Kipling's warning: 'The burned fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire.' Don't let ours be that bandaged finger.'

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