The Vote of Confidence: Major wins gamble on Social Chapter vote

JOHN MAJOR told the Commons yesterday he was not prepared to let the stalemate over European policy continue, as he bound his future as Prime Minister to the opt-out from the Social Chapter he negotiated 19 months ago at Maastricht.

Disputes over the treaty and EC policy could not be allowed to 'poison the political atmosphere' any longer, he said in moving the confidence motion. 'This boil must be lanced and it must be lanced today.'

The motion, carried by 339 votes to 299 as Tory rebels returned to the fold, declared the House had 'confidence in the policy of the Government on the adoption of the Protocol on Social Policy' - the agreement of EC states on the Social Chapter including Britain's opt-out. A Labour amendment that the treaty should not be ratified without a commitment to adopt the Social Chapter was rejected by 339 votes to 301.

Opening the debate, Mr Major said disputes over European policy had 'masked' the Government's achievements on education, asylum and housing and the fact that the economy was moving back into recovery.

He warned Tory Euro-critics that the issue of confidence extended to the Labour amendment. 'No MP should be under any misapprehension about that, even though its terms are intended to entrap the unwary.

'At the conclusion of this debate either the Government will have won the vote of confidence and can proceed with its policies, subject to one outstanding court case, or we will have lost and I will seek the dissolution of Parliament,' he said to Labour cheers.

Mr Major, in a lacklustre speech, interlarded quotes from businessmen and bankers with claims that the Social Chapter would cost jobs and reduce competitiveness. He said John Smith, the Labour leader, had the 'luxury of being able to strike attitudes'. The Government had to deal in realities.

'Mr Smith would not have to pay the price of his attitudes - the price would be paid by millions of men and women working hard to hold down jobs, bring up families and improve their working conditions.'

But Hugh Dykes, pro-European Conservative MP for Harrow East, said that so severe was the recession in other EC countries that no proposals had been put forward under the Social Chapter. Mr Major replied: 'Once we have adhered to the social protocol it is for good, not just for the brief period when our partners in Europe may be wary about bringing matters forward.'

In another intervention, Seamus Mallon, SDLP MP for Newry and Armagh, attacked whatever deal was done - none is admitted - to secure the nine votes of the avowedly anti-Maastricht Ulster Unionists. 'History will show that down through the years, sordid deals on the floor of this House have cost the lives of countless people in the north of Ireland.'

The Prime Minister had a duty to tell MPs what deal he did with the Ulster Unionists, Mr Mallon said, adding: 'The definition of an honest man is one who once he is bought, stays bought.' Mr Major told him: 'Nothing was asked for. Nothing was offered and nothing was given.'

He concluded: 'The matter could not have been left any longer. It has to be decided, and the only way to decide it is to reject the Social Chapter.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future