Maastricht referendum vote expected in the Lords

PEERS are expected to be given the chance to vote on the principle of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty with the Second Reading of the Bill to ratify it in the Lords on 8 July, writes Colin Brown.

Government whips in the Lords yesterday denied claims by Tory rebels that this was part of a bid to defeat the pro-referendum campaign, led by Baroness Thatcher, before it had gained momentum in the Lords.

The whips said they were confident of Royal Assent for the Bill before the end of July, in spite of Tory rebels' plans to block it with a referendum.

The timetable announced yesterday will be tight. The Second Reading debate will be followed by four days on the Committee Stage from about 22 June and two days on the Report Stage, in the week beginning 12 July at the earliest. The Third Reading could take place in the following week, enabling it be given Royal Assent before both Houses rise for the summer recess at the end of July.

Tory opponents of the Bill were told at a plotters' banquet at Westminster that Lord Blake, the Conservative historian, will propose the referendum amendment.