Inside Parliament: Fevered MPs welcome sign of relief: Major queried on response to Social Chapter vote - Lamont lays claim to economic upturn - Skinner attacks Tories over foreign donations

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The Independent Online
'Subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House rise for the summer adjournment on Tuesday 27 July until Monday 18 October.' Tony Newton, Leader of the Commons, yesterday delivered the announcement MPs have been craving after being worn ragged by an extraordinary term in the Westminster hothouse.

However, the fevered atmosphere will continue almost to the day when members pack their bags, with a crucial vote to come next Thursday that could stymie the Maastricht treaty and fatally wound John Major. MPs will be asked to 'take note' of the Government's policy on the adoption of the protocol on social policy attached to the treaty.

The protocol contains Mr Major's opt-out from the Social Chapter and, on the face of it, unless he wins the vote he cannot ratify the treaty. But Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Tory opponents of the European union remained suspicious that the Government might try to ignore a defeat in the division lobbies.

John Smith, the Labour leader, asked at Question Time: 'Does the Prime Minister accept that it should be for this House to decide if the Social Chapter should be included in the British version of the Maastricht treaty?' Mr Major replied: 'Well, this House has examined the whole of the treaty. I expect to ratify the treaty I signed at Maastricht.'

But Mr Smith was not satisfied. 'The Prime Minister has carefully not answered the question. Let me put it to him plainly and clearly; whichever way the House votes on the Social Chapter, will the Government accept the decision?'

Mr Major replied: 'I repeat again, I expect the Government's motion to be carried and I expect to ratify the treaty I signed.' Mr Smith said the country would have noticed another failure to answer the question.

'Does the Prime Minister understand that were he to defy the will of the House of Commons, that would be a monstrous violation of the rights of this House and would, at one fell swoop, undermine our parliamentary democracy?' Back came the same set of words for a third time.

Paddy Ashdown said the Government had told its rebels that nothing that would stop it ratifying the treaty, but had told the House that adopting the Social Chapter would jeopardise the treaty. 'Both of these cannot be true. Which is?'

But Mr Major offered the Liberal Democrat leader a quote of his own. Had he forgotten saying he believed the Social Chapter 'may well lead to a form of Euro-sclerosis' or describing it as 'a really worrying attempt by Europe to try and rebuild in Britain the things we've dismantled over the last 12 or 15 years'.

'If that is the view of Mr Ashdown and his party and he is true to his view, I look forward to seeing him in our lobby next Thursday.' Mr Ashdown smiled and shook his head. Later, after Mr Newton announced the terms for next Thursday's debate, Sir Teddy Taylor, Conservative MP for Southend East, suggested the procedures would allow anti-Maastricht Tories like himself to vote first for the Social Chapter and then destroy it along with the Government's motion.

To popular acclaim, at least from Labour, Norman Lamont, the erstwhile Chancellor, rose at Question Time to take his share of the credit for economic recovery. This month, like last, had seen 'a remarkable catalogue of good economic indicators', he said - the fifth monthly fall in unemployment, the largest increase in industrial production for four years and the lowest inflation for 30 years.

'When one puts that into the European context, and sees that Britain has a lower-than-average rate of inflation in the EC, is the only country in which unemployment is falling in the EC and is the only country in which industrial production is rising in the EC, may I congratulate the new Chancellor on the rapid success of his policies?' Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, laughed with the rest of the House. One Labour MP, translating the ex-Chancellor's question, shouted: 'Why was I sacked?' Mr Major appeared to spot the irony. 'I know the Chancellor will be most grateful for Mr Lamont's support for his policies,' he replied. 'It is entirely clear that we are coming out of recession and into recovery.'

The day's non-answers were cited by Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, following a statement on open government by William Waldegrave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Prime Minister had refused to give an answer to a question put to him three times, Mr Skinner said. But there was more.

'If they believe in open government, why can't they tell us where they get their money from for the Tory party from all the sleazebags round the world? And why doesn't the Tory minister now tell us the eight MPs who are in Asil Nadir's pocket? That's open government.'

(Photograph omitted)

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