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Lord Monson: It would be interesting to know whether the proposal put forward by Mr. David Owen, as he then was, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was as unbalanced and one-sided as this one. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, put the case for his amendment so well that there is little one can add. It is astonishing that the article gives the Council of Ministers, aided by the European Parliament, the sole power to decide upon expulsion without the intervention of any court of law. Is that not, in itself, a breach of the rule of law?
It is claimed by way of safeguard that the vote will be unanimous. Of course it will not be unanimous, because the accused state will not have a vote. Almost the worst aspect is that although the rights of the expelled nation may be withdrawn, the duties under the treaty will remain, and will have to be complied with.
The EU has always been compared by Euro-enthusiasts with a club. That is a spurious argument, as I cannot think of any club to which some members pay gigantic subscriptions, some pay very little, and others pay nothing at all but receive vast sums of money, given by the club, in order to join it.
Amended Article 0 appears to tell us that it allows an application to be rejected or shelved on the grounds of insufficient coherence to those principles. Using the example of a club, if a nation has joined the EU and has agreed to adhere to those principles as a condition of joining, surely it is those who have set those conditions who afterwards will be able to say that if those conditions are consistently violated, then they who set those conditions are those who will decide whether or not that particular state should have sanctions brought against it, including possible expulsion. There is no mention of expulsion here, but there is a general principle that those who impose the conditions are presumably those who will be the judges of whether or not, when those conditions are broken, an ultimate sanction of expulsion should be taken.
Lord Monson: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that expulsion would be a better option for the accused state? Expulsion is surely better than having none of the rights but retaining all the obligations.
The Earl of Clanwilliam: Would it not be better if we were expelled, if we were to jolly well get out and stay out? That would be a simple answer. We have the ridiculous situation where the people of Great Britain will be denied the right, by QMV, to tell the Council and the Commission that we are not interested in their proposals; it removes our right to put the matter to our own Parliament for decision. In the meantime, we are required to remain true to the acquis communautaire.
There is a gracious caveat in respect of natural persons and legal persons. I have heard it said that lawyers are a race apart, but never that they are unnatural. This is just another example of how the European language is unnatural and foreign to us in this country. It is irrelevant to the system of parliamentary government that we treasure.
Furthermore, the suspension appears to be of schoolboy nature and immature. It is allied to the fatuous idea that the Council will be acting as a team--I do not know whether in short pants or schoolboy caps. The reality is that each member is a national member of one of the states. They are each there batting for their side, promoting their national interests. The amendment brings before Parliament any case for suspension, for Parliament to decide how it should react. Any part of the treaty which is more likely to engender bad blood than this Bill is hard to imagine.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Before addressing the specific impact of the amendments before us, I wish to set out clearly the Government's position on the new clause in the treaty--the so-called "sanction clause" to which the amendments refer. The new Article F.1 of the Union Treaty provides that in certain extraordinary circumstances, the Council can decide to impose sanctions on a member state which it believes to be in serious and persistent breach of the fundamental principles set out in the amended Article F, paragraph 1, of the Union Treaty.
The Government believe that the sanctions clause gives an important signal of the Union's determination to ensure full respect for democracy and human rights, whatever its size or membership. We have every hope that these provisions will never be used. They are carefully framed for use in only the most exceptional circumstances, such as a military coup in a member state.
The safeguards are that: the clause can be used only in the event of a "serious and persistent" breach of the principles in Article F, paragraph 1; a proposal to invoke these provisions has to be made by one-third of the member states or the Commission, and needs the assent of the European Parliament by two-thirds of the votes cast and a majority of members; the determination of a "serious and persistent breach" of fundamental principles must be made by the Council acting by unanimity minus the member state concerned.
Several noble Lords implied that they believed that the sanction might be used against the UK. The Government are confident that these provisions would never be used against the UK. As the Foreign Secretary said in another place on 12th November last year:
Against this background, the proposed new clause is both misconceived and redundant. It is misconceived because it is quite clear from the wording of the sanctions clause itself that it will be invoked only in the most extreme circumstances, as I have said, such as a putsch. It cannot, and will not be lightly used. It is inconceivable that it would be invoked simply as a result of a court judgment.
From time to time, member states of the Union are found to have offended against international human rights obligations in certain limited respects. But the Union will not be able, nor will it seek, to impose sanctions on them as a result of minor infringements. As I have made clear, and as the treaty clearly states, the sanctions clause can be applied only in response to a breach of fundamental rights which is both serious and persistent.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked what are these fundamental rights. Fundamental rights for the purposes of the sanctions clause are not defined, nor will they be defined by measures proposed or adopted under Article 6.a which your Lordships debated yesterday. Article F.2 of the Treaty of the European Union, which is not amended by the Amsterdam Treaty, provides that fundamental rights are primarily those guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. They could also include rights in other major human rights treaties or human rights generally accepted by all other member states. The UK has long been a party to the ECHR, which is now being incorporated into UK law.
We have nothing to fear from the sanctions clause, but the noble Lord went on to ask why, if a breach was so fundamental, should not the guilty state be stripped of EU membership. Participation in the European Union gives rise to a wide web of rights and obligations to citizens, companies and governments. To erase all those
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about report-backs. We will be covering the question of parliamentary scrutiny when we deal with the scrutiny amendments at a later hour. Perhaps we may deal with the point then.
The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, expressed a number of fears about the way in which the clause might be used against the UK Government. In another place, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt admirably with that point. He said that he understood the fears which some people have about the article, but he went on to say that such fears did not seem to him to be credible. I echo his words; the fears expressed in your Lordships' House on this point are not credible, given the sanctions which I have explained.
Lord Monson: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may put one or two points to her. She claimed that sanctions would be applied only in extraordinary circumstances. The question is: who decides what constitutes extraordinary circumstances? The Minister went on to say that she was confident that the provisions would never be applied against the UK, certainly while a Labour Government was in power. I am sure that the previous Government was confident that a compulsory four-week annual holiday could never be introduced under the health and safety regulations, but that happened nevertheless. Is it not possible that if, for example, internment had to be reintroduced in Northern Ireland as a result of a massive terrorist campaign, Britain could find itself in the dock?
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