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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I deliberately did not speak until I had heard what my noble friend had to say. We always hang on her words very closely. I was pleased to hear her confirm that decisions can be taken under this article only by unanimity. That is true; and they can be discussed only on the initiative of the Commission, and not of any single country.
I have to say that I am not quite as reassured as I should like to be. If a decision was made under this article, by unanimity, it could come into operation in this country without the consent of this Parliament, although under other provisions Parliament is given the opportunity of examining the provisions over a period of six weeks. Let us make no mistake about it. Once the decision has been taken, by unanimity or whatever else in the future, that becomes law and does not need the British Parliament, or any other parliament for that matter, to bring it into domestic law. I feel sure that I am right on that point. Therefore, we have to be extremely careful about what we are doing. That was the reason for tabling this amendment. It was not tabled
An examination of Article 13 indicates that there can be absolutely no problem about discrimination on grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, disability or age. I do not think anybody would worry at all about those items. In this country we have built up a great body of law and practice which is good and is admired in many parts of the world. Certainly, nobody would want to go back on that. If other countries wish to adopt our ways, we should be very pleased.
But the matter goes further than that; and this is what worries many people. We are now entering the realms of religion and belief and sexual orientation. Those subjects are fraught with enormous difficulty. In relation to religion there could be enormous problems. There are all sorts of different religions throughout the European Community. It is understandable that church leaders, in this country and other countries, will be worried about this proposition being included in an article of this sort. We must therefore take account of those worries and try to deal with them, not merely set them aside.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I am grateful to him. I did not intend to interrupt his peroration. However, he made some specious claims on behalf of disability legislation in this country and contrasted our legislation and practice very favourably with that in other European Union member states. Perhaps I might bring him up on the point about the provision of hearing equipment for those with significant deafness such as myself and tell him that Germany, which he criticised heavily some two weeks ago, has far more advanced legislation and practice on the treatment and provision of hearing aids and equipment for the deaf than does the United Kingdom, which lags very far behind. Will he please therefore withdraw his comments on disability legislation? It is just one example; I can give him many more.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I do not think that I am prepared to withdraw my remarks. I did not specifically refer to this country being better than every other country in all matters. I have no doubt that there are other countries of the Community that do things better than we do, and that we do things better in this country than many other countries of the Community. I am sure that the noble Baroness is right. If the Germans have better disability legislation than we do, then the sooner we follow them the better. However, I do not believe that we need Article 13 to enable us to do so. We can do that through our own Parliament and our own decisions. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness and that it brings us somewhat together.
There are, as I said, very real difficulties. I do not know how "belief" is defined, and what appropriate action could be taken in relation to somebody's belief. We run into all kinds of difficulties when we try to deal
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, raised the matter of whether we wish to employ homosexuals in the scout movement? As a matter of fact the movement does employ homosexuals. It was recently decided that it is perfectly all right to do so. That is a matter for the scout movement, and of course the parents.
Lord Tebbit: The noble Lord may not be aware that there is a separate scout movement which is gaining many adherents because it undertakes that it will not employ homosexuals as scoutmasters. Clearly, we are in the happy position at present that each of those movements can take the view that it likes and parents can decide to which movement they prefer their children to belong.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I did not know that. We learn something every day. In that case the matter becomes even more worrying. This article might very well mean that the new scout movement which guarantees not to employ people of a homosexual bent may very well be declared illegal. That is one of the problems that may arise when entering into legislation of this sort.
Another matter comes to mind. If people wish to be homosexual, bisexual, trans-sexual, or whatever else, I have no problem with that. It is entirely a matter for their own choice. However, those who employ people of that orientation also have to have a choice. I fear that that choice may be taken away from them. For example, if you have children and want them looked after, you may well wish them to be cared for by a heterosexual. It would be completely wrong if the state came along and said: "You may not make that choice". That is why I believe that to bring such matters of personal choice, personal habit and personal belief into a clause of this kind is wrong. I hope that the Government will think carefully when dealing with the matter in future discussions within the European Community.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I wish to make a couple of points in relation to what the noble Lord said and of which it might be helpful to remind the Committee. First, the provisions are subject to scrutiny. Any legislation would have to be agreed by an elected government of this country on the basis of unanimity in Europe. I believe that there are safeguards--if that is the appropriate word--in trying to deal with some of the perhaps more extreme difficulties that some Members of the Committee have raised this afternoon in relation to the provision.
The noble Lord asked finally about the extension of QMV. I am in no position whatever to give open-ended commitments on the extension of QMV. All I can say is that it is a recently negotiated treaty. The Government negotiated on unanimity because that is what they
Lord Tebbit: The noble Baroness has just said something which we should think about deeply. She said that she could not bind future parliaments. Quite so. It is one of the great traditions of British constitutional law that parliaments cannot bind their successors. Here comes the double-edged sword of unanimity in decisions which might be made under this article. If a parliament accepts that its government, which is formed from its ranks, should agree to a proposal which was put forward under this or any other provision of the treaty and it is enacted by unanimity, exactly how does a subsequent parliament escape from that law? It has in effect been bound.
So we now find that parliaments can and do bind their successors under European law. We would be bound, unless we were able to persuade every other member of the Community to agree with us to repeal the legislation which had been enacted.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The noble Lord is most kind to give way. I was responding to a specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in relation to QMV and future voting on Article 6a, which is currently on the basis of unanimity. I said it was on that basis because that is what the Government felt was appropriate. The noble Lord asked me about the future.
Treaties change, governments change. A future government might take a different view. The noble Lord should read no more than that into it. We have had this discussion with him in relation to every single one of the groupings we have taken so far, and I am sure that we shall continue the discussion in relation to every one of the groupings we still have to deal with. I believe that at one time there was an amendment on the Marshalled List which dealt specifically with the point. It is not clear why it was withdrawn, but if there is something the noble Lord wishes to pursue, perhaps it would have been the most appropriate vehicle.
However, this is no more nor less than what we have said on the point. We stand in grave danger of rehearsing the argument over and over again. I am sure it would not meet the noble Lord's point, but my noble friend Lord Whitty dealt with it successfully when winding up on the previous group of amendments.
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