The Government in Crisis: Hurd speech exposed the extent of latest U-turn

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The Independent Online
THE FULL extent of the latest government U-turn - the decision to take the Maastricht treaty legislation back to the Commons before December's EC summit in Edinburgh - was exposed by Douglas Hurd this week.

During last month's emergency Commons debate on the 'suspension' of sterling from the European exchange rate mechanism, John Major laid down two preconditions for the legislation's return.

He said the Bill would not go back to the Commons until Danish referendum plans had been clarified, but added another hurdle that would have to be surmounted before MPs were required to resume the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill - the Maastricht ratification legislation.

He said consideration of the Bill would not be resumed until the EC had agreed procedures for defining subsidiarity.

On Monday night, the Foreign Secretary said on the Danish question: 'We do not yet know exactly what additions or clarifications the Danish government may propose . . .' Last night's Danish announcement delivered the clarification that had been required.

But Mr Major also told the Commons on 24 September that a clear definition - 'a settled order' - of subsidiarity would also be required before the Commons could return to the Maastricht Bill: 'When we are satisfied that such a system has been put in place . . . we shall bring the Maastricht Bill back to the House of Commons.' Yet Mr Hurd said on Monday night: 'Within the (heads of government) Council, we are close to agreeing new procedures to check legislation against the subsidiarity template. We want to see these finalised in Edinburgh'.

Mr Hurd was, in effect, conceding that neither of Mr Major's preconditions had been met. The Danes delivered one last night - the other has yet to be met.

Unfortunately for Mr Major, it emerged at the EC summit in Birmingham that his fellow EC leaders would only deliver 'a settled order' on subsidiarity in exchange for a firm indication of British determination to ratify Maastricht. He can only do that by resuming proceedings on the Maastricht Bill - forcing him to dump the subsidiarity precondition he pledged to the Commons.