Rebels to press for treaty referendum

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Indy Politics
DEMANDS for a referendum on the ratification of the Maastricht treaty will be made today by Tory rebels, at the opening of the Committee Stage of the controversial European Communities Amendment Bill in the Commons.

With ministers braced for a long Committee Stage running into the new year, some rebels are planning to raise points of order before it begins. They believe that the Speaker's Office may rule the referendum demands out of order on the grounds that it would cost money, and the Bill does not propose raising the money to foot the Bill for a referendum.

The Speaker's Office is anxious to avoid the debate becoming bogged down in such technical issues. The agenda for the debate will be mapped out at a meeting in Speaker's House this morning.

Michael Morris, the Tory MP for Northampton South, will chair the Committee Stage. He will begin by announcing the order in which the amendments to the Bill will be taken. He is hoping to begin a general debate on the principles of the Bill. But it is expected he will be met with a row, and flurry of points of order.

A total of 370 amendments have been tabled with 40 new clauses. Only about 40 have been tabled by the official Opposition led by John Smith. Most of the others have been tabled by the unofficial Opposition - a combination of Labour anti-Maastricht MPs, Tory Europhobes, and anti-federalists.

Many are technical, and unintelligible to anyone without a copy of the treaty, the Bill and reference books on European law. About 200 have been tabled by Bill Cash, a former parliamentary draughtsman, who is leading the anti-federalists with Michael Spicer, Chris Gill, James Cran, Richard Shepherd and Toby Jessel, Tory rebels who all voted against the Second Reading.

Typical of the amendments, number 200 says: 'Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after '11', insert 'except Article 73g (2) on page 14 of Cm 1934'.

It will be Mr Morris's task to navigate a clear course through this minefield. It is unlikely to go through the night, but the Government is preparing for two more days of debate before adjourning for the Christmas recess. Seventy- six Tory MPs, members of the Positive Europeans, last night signed a statement backing the Bill for the Committee Stage.