The defeat, at the hands of a combination of 26 Tory rebels, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ulster Unionists, does not radically alter the European Communities (Amendment) Bill but ensures it will have to go through a Report Stage. Sixteen Conservative MPs abstained.
The 15th day of the Bill's Committee Stage began with ministers and whips in a state of what George Robertson, Labour's European affairs spokesman, described as 'dazed confusion' as they struggled to avert the predicted embarrassment.
Labour's amendment 28, carried by 314 votes to 292, requires all of Britain's 24 representatives on an EC Committee of the Regions to be elected local government councillors. The committee will advise on the distribution of billions of pounds of Community funds and on policy-making. In the noisy aftermath of the vote, Mr Robertson said it had been 'a humiliating defeat' for the Government.
Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, declared it a resigning matter. He told the House: 'In view of the fact that the Prime Minister and nearly every leading Cabinet minister staked their position at Harrogate at the weekend, that they could deliver the votes on Maastricht, should not the right and proper thing be for this Government to resign?'
Tory opponents of European union had already vented their contempt for the appeals made at the Conservative Central Council meeting by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and Sir Norman Fowler, party chairman, for them to fall in line behind the Prime Minister.
Sir Trevor Skeet, Conservative MP for North Bedfordshire, said ministers would do themselves greater credit if instead of 'denigrating' backbenchers they argued their case in a referendum. Sir Teddy Taylor, one of the most vociferous of the Tory critics, said it would be better if instead of trying to negotiate 'nasty deals' with minority parties, the Cabinet's 'Euro hit-men' actually listened to the debates on the Bill.
A novel attempt by Tristan Garel-Jones, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, to delay the vote by persuading Michael Morris, Deputy Speaker, to allow a second debate on the amendment was summarily rejected.
Mr Garel-Jones said it was clear that the real issue behind the amendment was not its content but the fact that its approval by the House would trigger a Report Stage, 'thus deliberately delaying ratification'.
In his appeal to Mr Morris on a point of order, Mr Garel-Jones said the Government retained an 'open mind' on the composition of the committee. But he repeated that the amendment was 'a tactical manoeuvre'.
'Given that we seek to reject the amendment in order to prevent artificial delay of the Bill, would it be possible before the division, for a further debate to take place on the matter?'
Mr Morris replied with a flat 'No'.
Roll-call of rebels
TWENTY-SIX Conservatives voted with Labour. They were:
John Biffin (Shropshire North); Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston); Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton South West); William Cash; John Carlisle (Luton North); James Cran (Beverley); Sir George Gardiner (Reigate); Christopher Gill (Ludlow); Teresa Gorman (Billericay); Warren Hawksley (Halesowen & Stourbridge); Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke); Toby Jessel (Twickenham); Roger Knapman (Stroud); Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton); Michael Lord (Suffolk Central); Tony Marlow (Northampton North); Richard Shepherd (Aldridge Brownhills); Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire North); Michael Spicer (Worcestershire South); Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan); Sir Peter Tapsell (Lindsey East); Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend East); Bill Walker (Tayside North); John Wilkinson (Ruislip Northwood); Ann Winterton (Congleton); Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield).
Sixteen Tory MPs abstained. They were:
Rupert Allason (Torbay); Kenneth Baker (Mole Valley); Vivian Bendall (Ilford North); Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster); John Butcher (Coventry South West); Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth); Iain Duncan-Smith (Chingford); Peter Fry (Wellingborough); Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey North West); Bernard Jenkin (Colchester North); Barry Legg (Milton Keynes South West); Sir Roger Moate (Faversham); David Porter (Waveney); John Townend (Bridlington); George Walden (Buckingham); John Whittingdale (Colchester South & Maldon).
Five more Conservatives, including two ministers, did not vote because of illness or absence for other reasons. David Alton (Mossley Hill) was the only Liberal Democrat to vote with the Government.
At the Maastricht paving debate vote on 4 November, 26 Tories voted against the Government's motion while only six abstained or did not vote.
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