Maastricht: Treaty Bill may be postponed for a year: British ratification

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THE Government is considering abandoning the Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty and reintroducing it in the autumn of next year, Government sources confirmed yesterday.

The decision to introduce a new Bill in November 1993 would dismay pro-Maastricht Tory MPs, who stepped up the pressure yesterday for John Major to proceed quickly with the legislation.

But the whips fear that if the Government is forced to delay until the spring, they may not have enough time to get the Bill through all its Commons stages and the Lords in time for royal assent by the end of the session.

The Tory opponents of the Bill, led by Bill Cash and Michael Spicer, have tabled hundreds of amendments to delay progress. Lord Tebbit and Baroness Thatcher are expected to mount stiff resistance to the Bill in the Lords and may form alliances with the Labour rebels who oppose it.

The Bill has had a second reading and is awaiting its committee stage in the Commons, but the shortage of time next summer could force the Government to withdraw it and seek a full session for its passage in 1993-4.

One source said: 'The whips have not made a decision yet but it is one of the options they are looking at.'

The strategy was disclosed in New York by Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary. Foreign Office sources said: 'He was thinking aloud.'

Ian Taylor, a leading Tory backbench supporter of the treaty and parliamentary aide to William Waldegrave, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, yesterday called on Mr Major to proceed as quickly as possible. 'We must give the Danes time to put forward proposals to resolve their dilemma but we should not allow Denmark to set the timetable for our ratification.'

Edwina Currie, who turned down the offer of a job in Mr Major's government after the election, criticised the Prime Minister for failing to show a stronger lead.

She urged Mr Major to proceed before the Danish referendum next summer.