Inside Parliament: Thatcher: 'Surrender no more': 'The people's turn to speak', says former PM - Referendum call 'tactical ploy', says Jenkins

Conservatives defying the Government with Baroness Thatcher and Lord Tebbit included Lord Beloff, former chancellor of the University of Buckingham; Lord Donaldson of Lymington, former Master of the Rolls; Lord Parkinson, former Tory party chairman; Lord Rees-Mogg, former editor of the Times; Lord Spens, former managing director, Henry Ansbacher; and Lord Hamilton, brother of Archie Hamilton, the former defence minister.

Baroness Thatcher and her cohorts in the anti-Maastricht camp saw their call for a referendum on the treaty overwhelmed by 445 votes to 176 in the House of Lords last night in the biggest turnout of peers in memory.

In a forceful performance, the former prime minister declared that Britain had already surrendered too many powers to the European Community and no more should be surrendered unless the people wished it. 'It is the people's turn to speak. It is their powers of which we are the custodians,' she said.

With all three front benches - Government, Labour and the Liberal Democrats - aligned against it, the referendum amendment moved on the final day of the report stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill had little prospect of success. None the less the turnout and the 269 majority was a surprise. Hereditary peers, life peers and so-called 'working peers' filled the red- leather benches, sat in the aisles and crowded round the throne - exceeding by a big margin the 501 who turned out for a key vote on poll tax banding in 1988.

Lord Blake, the Conservative historian, told the assembly they had a 'a golden chance to show that the peers are in favour of the people'. But Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, Leader of the Liberal Democrat peers, dismissed the referendum call as 'a tactical ploy by those who have tried and failed to defeat this Bill'.

Lord Wakeham, Leader of the House, emphasised that the Commons had rejected a referendum by a majority of 239. He rested his case on the fact that the United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy and MPs are elected to represent the people and to take decisions on their behalf. Those advocating a referendum would have Parliament 'abdicate' that responsibility, he said.

Lord Richard, leader of the Labour peers, warned: 'The spectacle of a large number of peers appearing now for the specific purpose of overturning the will of the elected House in the name of a people's democracy would highlight, in a particularly pointed way, the difficulties this House faces in the constitutional process.'

Lady Thatcher said the majority of people wanted Britain to be in Europe and so did she. 'They want to keep our Parliament too, and they do not want to diminish its powers, or its authority, or its prestige.'

She repeated that she would never have accepted the Maastricht agreement. Looking back through debates and legal advice she had been 'absolutely astonished' at the extent to which things were moving towards the Community and against Parliament and the courts.

'The pattern has been that many, many vague phrases in preambles and in things like declarations have all of a sudden been given authority when we thought they were harmless.'

Defending her 1986 Single European Act - held up again during the debate as surrendering more power than Maastricht - Lady Thatcher said that majority voting had been conceded 'strictly for the purpose of the internal market and nothing else'.

But despite assurances, the EC had used its powers to interfere in social matters which were none of its business. 'And so yes, we got our fingers burnt . . . Don't now go back to that same fire with a much bigger treaty with many more powers and get both your arms and perhaps your head burnt as well.'

A referendum would not be a matter of confidence in the Government, Lady Thatcher maintained. The issue went straight across parties and it would have been a very great help if a referendum had been held much earlier.

Her lieutenant, Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman, hit out at those who had accused him and others of disloyalty. 'We remained loyal to the prime minister who was overthrown by those who accuse us of disloyalty,' he said.

Moving the amendment, Lord Blake said the likelihood of the Government resigning and precipitating a general election if it lost the referendum on Maastricht was so remote as to be inconceivable. 'I don't think this Cabinet is exactly full of what you might call resigning types,' he said. Lord Blake was unusual among referendum supporters in confessing that he would vote in favour of the treaty.

Viscount Tonypandy, a former Speaker, said peers had every right to ask the Commons to think again. With a passion likened by Lord Jenkins to one of 'the great Welsh revivalist preachers of the 19th century', he called in aid the 'giants of the past' - William Pitt, Gladstone, Churchill and Lloyd George. Their statues were reminders of the sacrifices made to 'keep the sovereign rights of the British people'.

In a maiden speech, Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, opposed a referendum. While the architects of the treaty wanted a European superstate, with the opt-out from monetary union, Maastricht was of no greater constitutional importance than the Single European Act, he contended.

'Should there come a time when this Government, or any future British government, is so unwise as to conclude this country should participate in a European monetary union, with all its political consequences, that would be a decision of such momentous constitutional significance as to warrant not merely the separate approval of Parliament - but a prior referendum of the British people,' Lord Lawson said.

His predecessor as Chancellor, Lord Howe, dismissed the referendum call as 'nonsense'. It was, he said, 'surely time for the Lords to recognise that our domestic parliamentary game is over, and that it is time for us to hasten our national team back onto the European field'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin