Parliament and Politics: Lords could support referendum on treaty: Healey warns of Maastricht backlash

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Indy Politics
LORD HEALEY, Labour's former deputy leader, warned yesterday that the House of Lords might support a referendum on Maastricht if all-party Commons demands for a vote on Amendment 27 to the treaty legislation were thwarted.

He told the BBC 2 programme Westminster Live: 'A lot of people . . . in the House of Lords will be tempted to vote for a referendum if the Government is denying the House of Commons the right, which it surely has, to decide on a major issue.

'They feel it's their duty, if the House of Commons is not allowed to take the parliamentary decision, to allow the people to take the decision.'

His warning followed a night and day of manoeuvring by the Government that still left no guarantee of a vote on Labour's Amendment 27, which could generate a Commons majority to threaten ratification of the treaty on the disputed issue of the Social Chapter opt-out.

After a night's debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, the Government again avoided possible defeat when it decided shortly after 1am yesterday to accept two Labour New Clause amendments on financial reporting to Parliament and the EC Commission.

Whitehall officials also disclosed that they would be willing to accept, without a vote, New Clause 74; another Labour attempt to force the Government to choose between the Social Chapter opt-out and the treaty.

Michael Morris, the Deputy Speaker who chairs committee proceedings on the Bill, had initially preferred New Clause 75 - Labour's 'ticking time bomb' - to Amendment 27, but switched to New Clause 74 because Labour's frontbench preferred it.

George Robertson, Labour's frontbench spokesman on Europe, said New Clause 74 would stall, and possibly stop, ratification until after the House had voted on a specific resolution on the Social Chapter opt-out - and Labour had received legal advice to that effect. He called it 'the iceberg amendment'.

Meanwhile, Tony Newton, Leader of the House, said the Commons would debate today the Tony Benn motion criticising Mr Morris's refusal to allow a vote on Amendment 27. Although signed by some Conservatives and Ulster Unionists, the motion has no chance of success.