|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I do not wish to pursue the complex arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, on the subject of Article 12, but I should like to congratulate the Government most warmly on having been among the supporters of Article 6a. Had the previous government still been in office it is unlikely that Article 6a would ever be part of the Treaty of Amsterdam. I want to say just one or two words about why I believe it to be an important article, and one which may have been insufficiently discussed and deliberated upon.
I say first--it is in response partly to something that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, said--that that is in part because of the UK's example in areas such as equal opportunities legislation, the Race Relations
Secondly, when we are looking forward to the enlargement of the EU to take in a group of countries whose history with respect to discrimination is at best patchy, and which needs to be greatly strengthened by the requirements of the acquis communautaire, to oppose the idea that Article 6a should be a part of the treaties governing the EU would be to misunderstand the extreme importance of shoring up civil liberties and human rights.
We are aware that Slovakia has been put in the second wave, just because of the degree of discrimination against Romanies and people of Hungarian and other descent. One of the reasons why many people are concerned about the possibility of Romanian and Turkish membership relates to human rights issues. Surely, regardless of politics, we must welcome an attempt to deal with those issues and to enshrine at the very basis of the EU the concept that racial and religious tolerance are a required principle of that Union.
We are not the only country that has a substantial religious minority (the Moslems) or substantial racial minorities. The same is true of France, Germany, and many other member states. This was a necessary article. I see no objection to it. It is based upon unanimity. It is something in which British practice is well in advance of that of many other countries in the EU and what the Committee is asking for--that our best example should be followed--is indeed being followed in this very article of the treaty.
At the heart of Amsterdam--it is an important new aspect--is a concern for human rights that did not exist before. Article F and Article O are all about human rights being at the heart of what the EU should be all about. Anyone who looks back at the finest moments of British history will recognise that that is indeed part of the British tradition, and one which I am delighted to see the EU is now embodying. Far from being critical of this article, we should be applauding it, and the amendment should be withdrawn with the full support of all Members of the Committee.
Lord Desai: I am somewhat surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, introduced the amendment. Surely he is not for discrimination. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out, in these matters UK law has been in advance of European law. Let us consider the single market, of which we are all in favour, and a
How would the noble Lord feel if a French person came here and enjoyed better rights of non- discrimination than a British person working in France? He would be the first to protest that that was outrageous. Once we have a single market we cannot have the idea that laws are relevant only in the territory in which one lives, that there is no commerce and that no one will travel, work abroad, or earn money abroad, and that local laws are all right for local citizens. With the single market comes the free movement of capital as well as labour. Once one has the free movement of labour people must have a basic set of rights. Surely, the noble Lord will agree that the good rights enjoyed by British citizens should be portable across Europe. The purpose of the provision that he wishes to remove is precisely to make the rights portable--
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I do not wish to detain the noble Lord, but, for me, the price of that portability is too high. The noble Lord is right in saying that I am not in the least in favour of discrimination. In fact, I asked the Committee what is wrong with the Race Relations Act in this country. One knows what the anti-discrimination laws are in the countries where one goes to work or to live--so when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
The noble Lord's answer is not good enough. Many people are posted abroad. They should not have to say, "I cannot be posted to such a country because being a woman, black, or homosexual I shall be discriminated against". In that case, one would be less qualified to take up a job in Britain because one's mobility would be restricted. Do Members of the Committee really want British citizens to be restricted in taking jobs abroad because other countries do not enjoy the same good rights as ours? Surely not, but if the Committee adopts this strategy it will be disadvantaging British citizens from taking jobs abroad.
I am not a great expert on the Maastricht or Amsterdam treaties, but I know that as regards fisheries there is a conflict between the single market and national quotas. As the noble Lord knows, one of the problems with Spanish fishermen is that some of the quotas held by British citizens became saleable. That was part of the single market. Therefore, it is probable that Spanish fishermen are holding British quotas because British fishermen sold them. We are all in favour of a single market--I am very much in favour of a single market--but in a single market national logic will not work if it is declared that British fishermen will not be able to sell quotas while the fishermen at every other country can do so. Surely that is absurd. As
Lord Desai: That is not the case. The interstate commerce clause in the constitution ensures that discrimination is not allowed. As the noble Lord is aware, the entire civil rights legislation of the early 1960s was carried through on the interstate commerce clause. Once one has mobility of labour one cannot have different discriminatory laws in different parts of the country. That is not allowed. Similarly, one should not have different laws in different parts of the European Union.
I support the amendment moved so well by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. One could take the view, as he appears to do, that the proposed Article 13 is an airy-fairy, motherhood and apple pie declaration unlikely to have any practical effect since it requires unanimity. The Mediterranean countries alone are not noted for their enthusiasm for Californian style political correctness. That lack of enthusiasm does not stop at the Mediterranean. At the heart of the Community, the European Commission practises blatant age discrimination, telling candidates for certain jobs that no one over the age of 35 need apply.
The article would outlaw religious discrimination, for example, re-opening many of the problems that we have and are still experiencing in respect of the Human Rights Bill. Religious bodies for good reason wish to employ their co-religionists, but may be forced to employ those whose beliefs may not only be different from but positively hostile to their own. It would also be illegal to take people's beliefs into consideration, even the most fanatical or outlandish political or religious beliefs. Therefore, a Jewish employer, for example, would be forced to employ someone who sincerely believes in the authenticity of the protocols of the elders of Zion.
The noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Pearson, referred to the disgraceful directive on so-called gender discrimination in the work place which is wholly counter to our Anglo-Saxon tradition of someone being innocent until proved guilty. That is leading to positive discrimination by the backdoor and no doubt to more disgraceful examples of injustice; for instance, that suffered by the prospective--not the actual--employer who had to pay an enormous sum of money, which practically bankrupted him, for declining to engage a heavily pregnant woman to carry out a physically demanding job.
What about the idea that discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation should be outlawed? Surely, that would open a can of worms. Schools, juvenile prisons and other institutions dealing with young people would be forced to employ paedophiles; presumably undertakers would have to employ necrophiliacs; and so on and so forth. We shall be told, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, told us, that this is simply a question of rights. The trouble is that one group of people gain rights at the expense of the rights of others. I commend to the Committee an excellent article on this topic written by Barbara Amiel in the Daily Telegraph on 23rd April. It is absorbing and well worth reading.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page