The Maastricht Debate: Backbenches set for conflict: The Rebels: Right-wing likely to face backlash in elections to key committees

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Indy Politics
LAST NIGHT'S Tory revolts are likely to provoke internecine warfare on the backbenches in the run-up to elections to key committees in the autumn, writes

Patricia Wynn Davies.

Sir George Gardiner, the MP for Reigate, will face the brunt of the backlash. Currently a member of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee executive, he also chairs the Thatcherite 92 Group.

He has used his influence to ensure that key backbench committees are led by the right-wing. He now faces being deposed from the 1922 Committee at its autumn elections. Right-wing colleagues had warned him that he risked undermining the power of the 92 Group by continuing with his rebellion. A similar warning was made to Sir Ivan Lawrence, the chairman of the cross-party Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs.

Members of the 92 Group fear loyalists will mobilise and reassert control on the main backbench committees such as finance and home affairs.

Other rebels included Nicholas Budgen, Enoch Powell's successor in Wolverhampton South West, Iain Duncan-Smith, Lord Tebbit's successor in Chingford, and Edward Leigh, the former trade and minister sacked by John Major in his May reshuffle.

Mr Leigh lost his job for organising Euro-rebels among ministers. He responded with an article in The Spectator. Tristan Garel-Jones, the former foreign office minister primarily responsible for the Maastricht Bill's passage, responded with a vituperative article in a Sunday newspaper.

In his end of term address to the 1922 Committee last night, Mr Major repeatedly emphasised the need for unity. He said: 'It is the obligation of everyone in the room to ensure that the party gets its act together. Everybody should examine their own consciences on how best to restore that unity.' Most of the hard-core rebels were, however, absent. Mr Major said in conclusion: 'It is important to be seen to be united in the interests of the party and the country. The party does not understand and does not like division. I hope that those in this room will take the opportunity to bring this period to an end.'

In an attempt to give longer-term hope to the massed ranks of loyalists, who later gave him a prolonged standing ovation, he said that the next Parliamentary session would be presented with a substantial criminal justice Bill and a large measure of legislation on deregulation - 'a great battleground'.

He went on, however, to anticipate defeat in next week's Christchurch by-election with a strong attack on the 'breathtaking hypocrisy' of the Liberal Democrats, while adding: 'The Conservative Party has to put aside the days when we were able to leave the Liberals on one side.'

In spite of all that, Mr Major went on to sustain the worst Commons defeat since the Second Reading of the 1986 Shops Bill.

Four rebels who drove Mr Major to near- defeat in last November's paving debate backed him last night: John Biffen (Shropshire N), a former Cabinet minister, John Carlisle (Luton N), Michael Lord (Suffolk Central), and Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield). Mr Winterton said he changed his mind after assurances from Mr Major over foreign affairs, defence and security.

The Tory noes

THE 23 TORIES who voted against the Government's motion were:

*Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton SW)

*John Butcher (Coventry SW)

*William Cash (Stafford)

James Cran (Beverley).

Iain Duncan-Smith (Chingford)

Sir George Gardiner (Reigate)

Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

*Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

*Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Barry Legg (Milton Keynes SW)

*Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

*Tony Marlow (Northampton N)

*Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

*Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire N)

Michael Spicer (Worcestershire S)

*Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

*Sir Peter Tapsell (Lindsey E)

*Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend E)

*Bill Walker (Tayside N)

*John Wilkinson (Ruislip Northwood)

*Ann Winterton (Congleton)

* denotes voted with Labour in the first vote.

Eight Tories abstained on the first vote: Nicholas Budgen; Sir George Gardiner; Christopher Gill; Sir Ivan Lawrence; Barry Legg; Michael Spicer; Rupert Allason; (Torbay); and Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge). One Tory, Rupert Allason, did not vote in the second division.