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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not see that danger. Every measure brought forward under this provision--which we welcome as a declaration of non-discriminatory principles right across the Union--will clearly have to be subject to some definition and recognition that there may on occasion be conflicts between anti-discrimination in one area and freedom in another. However, since all provisions are subject to unanimity, we believe that we can protect all such freedoms by the use of the United Kingdom vote.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, in regard to the Minister's first response to my noble friend Lady Young, if the article has no immediate or direct effect, why do the Government wholeheartedly support it? Why sign it?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, we believe that the institutions of the Union should have the right to bring forward measures which end discrimination in countries of the European Union. We have long advocated the extension of the gender discrimination provisions under the European Union treaties to areas of race
Baroness Elles: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the article states that the conclusions will have to be unanimously agreed? Presumably therefore any change in any of the provisions set out in Article 6a will need unanimous agreement before any progress can be made.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is there any move to harmonise the definition of religion throughout the European Union? Is the Minister aware that in some countries of Europe, such as France and Germany, religions have to be registered to be allowed to function, whereas in this country they can be formed ad hoc and do not have to ask anybody's permission?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is correct in that there are different legal definitions of "religion". Were a proposed measure to emerge under this area of anti-discrimination on religious grounds, there would be formidable definition problems. However, they would not be insuperable. After all, in Northern Ireland we have the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act based on non-discrimination on grounds of religion. Though some noble Lords may think that there are only two religions in Northern Ireland, I can assure the House that in that Province there are many sects and mainstream religions. It has caused no problem there. I believe therefore that we can take measures under this provision.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that, even though matters under Article 6a may have to be agreed by unanimity, if they were so agreed, this Parliament would have no say in their implementation? Indeed, even if this Parliament were violently opposed to those measures, it could do nothing about them.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, this Parliament has powers to direct its Ministers when they go into the Council of Ministers. That is the role of national parliaments in relation to conclusions on all areas of European legislation. Indeed, the treaty provides for a longer period for this Parliament to give its views on any proposals for legislation. However, at the end of the day it is the Council of Ministers who decide, on the basis of a Commission proposal and subject to the agreement of the European Parliament, whether such legislation will go through.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps I can pursue my noble friend on that matter. My noble friend said that our Ministers and the Council of Ministers would be under direction from this Parliament. If that were so, I should be extremely happy. If the Labour
Lord Whitty: My Lords, if I used the word "direct" it was a slight exaggeration of the position. Nevertheless, the position must be in this as in other areas of legislation that national ministers are responsible to national parliaments and report back to their national parliaments. But at the end of the day, the European Council, on the basis of Commission proposals, proposes European legislation; accountability is to the European Parliament for that legislation and not to the national Parliament.
Lord McCarthy: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that all these measures merely add to the grounds on which one cannot discriminate? One can still decide things on grounds of merit or on grounds of reasonability as long as one does not discriminate. What is wrong with that?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for making the position absolutely clear. That is precisely why we supported the article and why we believe that the European Union, in adopting it, is moving in the right direction.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is beyond me to define "philosophical organisations". The declaration to which the noble Lord refers is, thankfully, not legally binding and therefore is not subject to the same legal definition as any measures under the article would be. As I understand it, it was included because of the concern for humanist organisations in France and Belgium to be treated by the European institutions in the same way as religious organisations. The declaration also includes a reference to "non-confessional organisations", a point which I thought the noble Lord might raise. I wondered whether the Conservative Party was looking for protection under the article as a "non-confessional organisation" on the grounds that it never admits its mistakes.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I have said before, the definition under any measure will require some negotiation. There will be different national practices. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, in some countries religions have to register. In this country religions do not have to register. There are different legal provisions for different types of religion. In certain respects, the Church of Scientology is not respected as a religion in this country in the way the mainstream Churches are. However, the final version would depend on the particular measure and on the discussions regarding different national practices. We are a long way off that point and it would be dancing on a pinhead to decide it now.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, in view of the Government's avowed support of complete transparency in all these matters, can the noble Lord give the House particulars as to the source of this proposal and whether it was given serious consideration after consultation, whether co-ordinated or otherwise, through the party channels in the various member states, which presumably have some connection with the public? Will he give some idea as to the actual impact the article will have on the ordinary people of Europe?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, of itself this article simply allows further measures to be brought forward. The direct and immediate impact is therefore very small. However, the noble Lord will be interested to know that in 1995 the Labour Party in its policy documents agreed that the provisions of the European Community relating to sex discrimination should be extended to race discrimination. That was a major motivation for this article. We also received strong representations from both gay organisations and disabled organisations. That was reflected in other countries, which is why the Dutch Presidency came up with a fairly wide-ranging article. In fact, originally, it was the Irish Presidency which produced the article.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord did not answer my question. Do the Government endorse the previous government's view that scientology is not to be considered a religion in the United Kingdom?
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