After two days of the committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, just one group of eight amendments has been debated - leaving 345 amendments and 47 new clauses. A Liberal Democrat amendment heading the group was defeated by 392 votes to 28. It would have incorporated into law a section of the treaty setting the goals of European union, including economic progress, abandonment of frontiers, a single currency and common foreign and defence policies.
The debate was brought to close after a storm of protests from opponents of the treaty, notably Conservative rebels. Bill Cash, Conservative leader of the anti-federalist Friends of Bruges group, forced a time-consuming division by calling 'I spy strangers' - a device which would have cleared the public and press galleries but was lost by 416 votes to nine.
The closure motion was carried by 296 votes to 164 - Liberal Democrat and Government MPs voting together against Labour and the Tory rebels. Peter Shore, a former Labour Cabinet minister and fierce critic of his party's pro-Maastricht position, said the Liberal Democrat amendment went to the heart of the nature of European union. 'What kind of a creature is this? For certain it is the aim of the new European union to become a new state, embracing the 12 existing EC states. I find it extraordinary that so many in the House fail to recognise that this is indeed the purpose of setting up a European union.'
Intervening, Mr Garel-Jones said: 'Unionists throughout Europe have made it perfectly clear that they regard the Maastricht treaty as a significant setback for them.' He argued later that the amendment was 'more federalist and more centralist than the Maastricht treaty itself'. Mr Shore said that the leaders of Holland, Spain, France and Italy had all declared their federalist ambitions. And the 'client states of Brussels' who received large subsidies were very anxious to make progress with Maastricht. 'We are in a very difficult and isolated position, backed only by those stalwart people, the Danes.' Asserting that the goals of union were those of nation state, Mr Shore said it was the very nature of a state to be able to create 'citizens'.
Edwina Currie, Conservative MP for Derbyshire South, wondered what was wrong with European citizenship. She had a cottage in France and would be able to vote in elections. 'There is so much small mindedness being expressed, bigotry, so much fear, so much ignorance in the speeches that have been made so far and already on this (Conservative) side of the House,' she said later.
Mr Shore said that after citizens' rights would come obligations. 'Although this is a very empty pillow at the moment, it is going to be stuffed with goodies by the Commission before many Christmases are past.'
Andrew Rowe, Conservative MP for Mid Kent, wanted to know what alternative Mr Shore proposed to 'prevent Europe tearing itself apart'. The last 50 years had been spent trying to find a different order to avoid the damage done when nations had competing foreign and defence polices, he said. But Mr Shore said the guarantee of peace in Europe for the last 40 years had been Nato.
Hugh Dykes, Conservative MP for Harrow East and chairman of the European Movement, accused the Government of 'timidity' in its handling of the Bill and its unwillingness to confront 'a small minority of little Englands who want to live in the past'.
An overwhelming defeat for a motion supporting the Maastricht treaty was recorded after a BBC Radio 4 debate last night, when 23,275 listeners (70.3 per cent of respondents) phoned in to vote against the motion, moved by Sir David Steel, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman; 9,266 (28) supported it and 546 (1.6) 'abstained'.
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