The Vote of Confidence: Fear of election ends rebellion

THE COLLAPSE of the Tory rebellion that has endured throughout the marathon of the Maastricht legislation was signalled to the House by Bill Cash, MP for Stafford and the unofficial mouthpiece of the dissidents.

If there was to be an election, a Labour administration or Lib-Lab coalition would be '10 times worse' than anything he feared from the treaty, he said during the day-long debate on the confidence motion.

'This is a decision taken by me on my own terms . . . I will not in any way resile from the objections I have to this treaty, but I am damned if I will have Labour running the affairs of this country within the Maastricht arrangements.'

Another former rebel, Richard Shepherd, MP for Aldridge Brownhills, reasserted his belief in the need for a referendum on Maastricht, but said that 'one day' the Government would be 'a fine government' worthy of the Conservative Party and the country.

Appealing to Mr Cash and his colleagues to support the Government, Sir Edward Heath said it was not real democracy if a small group could defy or bring to nothing decisions of the Commons. The rebels had lost the battle. He believed John Major would be immensely strengthened by the vote because people would recognise he had acted speedily and boldly.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, in what he described as 'the last speech in the last debate on the ratification of the Maastricht treaty', went out of his way to be generous to the sceptics. 'I heartily disagreed with them. I often wished they would go away, go to bed, get lost. But I don't doubt that their struggle, their arguments, will find a remembered place in the annals of parliamentary history.'

He said they had to talk more intelligently in the Conservative Party, the House and the country about the future. The Liberal Democrat threat to the Conservatives at Christchurch again made them the target for ministerial scorn. Mr Hurd said Paddy Ashdown had 'the gifts of a master tailor - skilled at measuring and fitting his opinions to his audience'.

The Liberal Democrat leader said Mr Major's party was 'so riven by civil war, so infected by its own internal emnity' that it could no longer provide effective, united government. 'When he forces his colleagues into the division lobbies to vote for his motion and for him, they will not be expressing confidence in him. They will be expressing no confidence in their capacity to hold their seats under his leadership.'