|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am overwhelmed and I thank the noble Baroness. However, I must make it plain that I am only one of three Members of this House who were members of the Attlee Government. The others were the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, who does not attend the House very often now, and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. I should not like people to think that I am the only one who is still about the place!
We should be careful about avoiding too self-congratulatory a note on this occasion. I remember attending, in 1948, the conference at The Hague, as a schoolchild in the company of my family. There was a speech that electrified the whole of Europe. It was given by Winston Churchill. It set before that conference a vision of a united Europe that has never been matched in practice from that day to this. It managed to inspire most of the nations of Europe, and it gave Britain an opportunity which I am afraid she totally failed to take further. It has taken us 48 years even to arrive at the point where our own country accepts the right of individual petition in our own courts with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights. That, even by the relatively incremental progress associated with British democracy, is extraordinarily slow progress.
In addition, we have been in a sense, even today, not a totally full-hearted member of the collectivity of countries concerned with human rights. To my great regret, we have still not signed the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights; we have not signed the protocol; we have not signed the protocol to the Convention Against Torture; we have not signed the protocol to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Yet we rightly feel as a country that we should be one of the great champions of no racial discrimination and no acts against human beings that reduce them to little more than animals. So on this occasion I urge the Government to complete the long step forward that they have taken by incorporating the convention into British law and by also signing those conventions, at a time when the lessons of Kosovo and its refugees show how vital it is that we line up on the right side of the international community on these matters.
It is also extremely important to recognise that the great achievement of the European Convention on Human Rights is that it has made Europe one of the only two areas of the world where an individual can bring a
Perhaps I may refer briefly to what was said, in a strong speech, by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I see the point of the noble Lord's remarks about the need to focus the work of the Council of Europe. But it would be a great pity if that meant that we pulled back almost entirely onto its legal and judicial work. The creation of a culture of human rights rests firmly in education. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, referred to the youth parliament, which is one of the remarkable achievements of the Council of Europe. My noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston has been closely associated with trying to train and educate young people in the member states in the concept of democracy. It is also vital to mention that the collective responsibility that members of the Council of Europe accept for creating that culture is of crucial importance.
I also wish to refer to the work done in central and eastern Europe and the former states of the Soviet Union. I have seen something of the work of the Council of Europe at a modest level in helping the Moscow School of Political Studies to establish a series of seminars for parliamentarians in Russia. It does that work in a way that makes it acceptable to those parliamentarians to listen and discuss the slow and gradual building of democracy in their own country. I contrast that with some of the high-handed and patronising attitudes taken by all too many western consultants who visit central and eastern Europe or the former states of the Soviet Union knowing nothing of their history or language and often lacking the humility to show willingness to learn.
The Council of Europe has consistently been a listening, moderate and humble organisation. Tragically, that may well be why it has received so little publicity. In my view the work of the Council of Europe is crucial to the survival and flourishing of democracy, as the noble Lords, Lord Hardy of Wath and Lord Judd, pointed out, if we are to see democracy flourish in that part of Europe which is still not fully within the structures of democracy so far. The Council of Europe is working today on the Russian judiciary to try to help it become independent of the state and able to act according to the highest standards of equity and justice. It is working on the constitution of Albania, to take another crucial example.
Perhaps I may turn briefly to the magisterial words of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The noble Lord raised two issues that we cannot neglect. The first is how far some of the new members wholly understand and incorporate a strong sense of what it is to have a
The danger remains if a fortress Europe, prosperous, democratic and strong, left outside it what might be described as the bigger nations of Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and others referred to the danger of a Balkans which is simply outwith what might be called the circle of comfortable, civilised and relatively easy living. It is crucial that the judges who come from those new states are trained and persuaded to accept the highest standards of judicial independence, or the whole court might itself be diluted. Its tradition has been of vital importance in establishing the Council of Europe.
I conclude by pointing to the new statute on the role of minorities that was passed in 1998. My noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston spoke of his future responsibilities. There are few more serious or difficult than upholding the attempt to create a tolerant culture towards minorities. As is all too evident from Kosovo onwards, it is a goal that we have to go a very long way to achieve.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to wind up this debate from the Opposition Benches and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for initiating the debate. From a position of substantially less experience and insight than him and many other noble Lords this evening, and with apparently rather less emphasis on my appearance in comparison with his Front Bench and the noble Lord the Minister, I am in the pleasant position of agreeing with a great deal of what the noble Lord said this evening and the comments just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. My only regret is that I am suffering from gastro-enteritis. For the much hoped-for temporary respite I thank the parliamentary nurse. But the emphasis from the noble Lord's Benches on asparagus, in or out of season, menus, foods and, even from my own Benches, expanding girths, has not aided my recovery. But I wish the noble Lord and all other noble Lords who are to attend the reception tonight at St. James's Palace a wonderful and memorable evening.
Today's contributions have rendered me deeply sensible of the expertise, first-hand knowledge and experience brought to the debate today, which in itself is a tribute to the contribution that Members of your Lordships' House have made to the work of the Council
Today's debate builds upon the useful discussion that took place when the House last considered the Council of Europe just under a year ago. That debate focused both upon the ways in which the important and unique work of the Council could be brought to a wider audience--a point made by a number of noble Lords this evening--and the means by which this country could and should continue to play a central role in furthering the Council's key aims; namely, to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law and to develop a continent-wide common response to social, cultural and legal challenges.
On that note, I come to my only question this evening. Since the matter was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, last year, can the Minister inform the House what progress has been made on the suggestion that those Members of your Lordships' House who are also members of the European Council, could and should submit a report, perhaps to the Library of the House, and then table a Motion to debate that report in the House?
The debate has been particularly interesting. It is right that it has not been simply a mood of celebration. There has been sombre and wise reflection rather than celebration, inevitably overshadowed by the crisis in Kosovo and the horrific scenes of ethnic cleansing and atrocities in that region. These are scenes which the architects of the post-Second World War Europe hoped that their construction of interlocking European institutions would ensure this continent would never again witness. I shall return to that point which is critical to today's debate.
It is important to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Council of Europe over the past five decades and to offer a warm welcome to its most recent new member. Georgia became the Council of Europe's 41st member at an official ceremony held at the Palais de l'Europe eight days ago. Precisely what organisation has Georgia joined? The 41st member now belongs to a unique pan-European institution which plays an unparalleled and indispensable political role in Europe, with one aim above all: to unite the whole of Europe into one family of democratic nations. The Council has sought to protect and strengthen pluralist and parliamentary democracy as part of its goal towards an integrated Europe, underpinned by democratic security. The Council has been one of the strongest champions of the indivisibility and universality of human rights, in
Here I agree with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. It has been important for the Council to be among the foremost to seek common solutions to the evils that continue to bedevil our society--the abuse of minorities, xenophobia, exploitation, racism and intolerance, corruption and terrorism and AIDS and drugs--and to make important contributions in the field of environmental protection, bioethics and sustainable development.
Why are these issues important both in their own right and taken together? I believe that the answers can be found in the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. The Council aims to promote awareness of a genuine European cultural identity and to encourage the development of a culture of peace and dialogue among its member nations. These are vitally important steps on the road to wider education. In more recent years the Council has worked to develop a political partnership with Europe's new democracies and to assist central and eastern European countries with their political, legislative and constitutional reforms. As the Council strives towards its goal of the creation of
But in any debate on Europe and its institutions at the present time it is right that a number of your Lordships have given consideration to the crisis in Kosovo which demands our urgent and critical attention. The intransigence of Serbia, the defiance of President Milosevic and the subsequent NATO operation taking place on Europe's very back doorstep--unprecedented in the past 50 years--are a blow to the peace and democratic vision of a Europe truly whole and free that was so dear to the founding fathers of the Council of Europe. Today, we witness the very scenes of destruction and despair which those founding fathers strove to ensure could never tear this continent apart again.
Across Europe there was a hope that today, as the Council marks its 50th birthday, almost every European country would share in its democratic vision that has an impact on the lives of all its citizens of a free, more tolerant and just society based on the common values of freedom of expression and information, cultural diversity and the equal dignity of all human beings. Today's leadership of Europe must rise to the challenges that the Council of Europe faces today, challenges to the cohesion, stability and security of Europe, in order to continue the legacy of its founding fathers and to fulfil their vision of a hope-filled future. In this way the Council will be equipped to meet the challenges that it will face in the 21st century as it continues to act as the driving force in bringing the western, central and eastern reaches of our continent together beneath the single roof of a united, democratic and stable Europe.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for introducing this debate today. Your Lordships' contributions underscored the importance that we all attach to the work of the Council of Europe. I thank my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for his very hard work in chairing the committee responsible for the 50th anniversary celebrations. Many thanks are due to him.
As your Lordships have rightly highlighted, today is a day of commemoration and celebration. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, it is right that we are commemorating today the fact that it is 50 years since the signing of the statute of the Council of Europe in London. Today we celebrate the achievements of one of the oldest European organisations. Today we pay tribute to an organisation which has not simply survived for 50 years, but which has flourished and grown. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, in the past 10 years the Council of Europe has undergone an astonishing transformation, expanding from 23 to 41 member states and representing nearly 800 million people.
Today my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has invited Foreign Ministers and representatives of the 41 member states to London to take part in a series of commemorative events to mark this anniversary. One of the events, to which a number
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, reminded us, today we have also not forgotten the significance of an institution such as the Council of Europe in a continent which is confronted by the crisis in Kosovo. Fifty years on from the birth of the Council of Europe one country has shown by its actions that it holds in contempt the values and standards which are accepted in a civilised world, a point made very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan.
President Milosevic has shown through his actions that he regards law as merely a tool for repression, and freedom as something which he is entitled to remove at will. He has shown his contempt for human rights, and how little value he puts on the truth or on the independent media.
But most of all, he has shown, through the ethnic cleansing on Kosovo, that he regards ethnic diversity as a threat and ethnic hatred as an asset to be stoked up and used. The images we have seen in recent weeks are horribly familiar: the mass deportations by train; the shallow graves; the pathetic masses of refugees, their homes burnt and their papers destroyed for no other reason than their ethnic identity. They are scenes which, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, we hoped never to see again in Europe.
What President Milosevic is doing in Kosovo is the expression of values that we cannot accept in our continent. It is a rejection of everything that the Council of Europe stands for, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, emphasised. It is a direct challenge to our determination to build a Europe founded on democratic values, respect for human rights, and the rule of law, as the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, reminded us.
As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, the Council of Europe was established to protect and preserve values and standards which its founding members saw as defining part of their identity. The Council of Europe has now instituted over 170 conventions. These have codified in binding international law the ideals common to democratic societies.
The Council's first major convention, agreed in 1950, was the European Convention on Human Rights. Its importance lay not only in the breadth of the rights included but also in the protection machinery set up in Strasbourg to investigate alleged violations. Britain played a central role in the adoption of that convention and worked hard last year to shape the arrangements for a new full-time Court of Human Rights which came into operation in November. The new court will have to deal with a much expanded caseload of individual complaints from new member states such as Russia and the Ukraine.
As my noble friend Lord Kirkhill reminded us, the Council of Europe has proved time and again its relevance to the changing face of our continent. Many noble Lords remarked on the collapse of communism,
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, reminded us that the Council of Europe has helped to reduce tensions among communities, which, if unchecked, might lead to human rights violations. We supported the adoption of the Framework Convention on National Minorities, which gives important support for minority rights in Europe. It provides a flexible framework for countries to co-operate with one another to deal with national minority problems which often have very deep historical roots.
As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, the Council of Europe, for so long frustrated by the Iron Curtain, can now operate as it was always meant to in setting standards across Europe. The Council of Europe has provided a yardstick for former communist countries as they develop modern, pluralistic, free and open societies as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, described to us. But at the same time it continues to work to keep the older established members up to the mark.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, I believe that the older member countries must not be complacent. We must constantly examine our own record to ensure that we are behaving as we ought. That is why this Government, in one of their first major policy initiatives in 1997, enacted legislation to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminded us. This will mean profound and fundamental changes for our legal system and it will affect all areas of government work. These changes are so extensive that we cannot bring the Act into force immediately. But we are committed to this fundamental reform.
As my noble friend Lord Kirkhill said the Council of Europe's monitoring mechanisms help to ensure that all its member states, long-established and more recent, abide by the standards to which they pledged themselves when they first joined the Council. I give as one example the work of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. That committee, composed of independent experts, may at any time visit any place of detention in states which are party to the Council of Europe torture convention. The committee has provided valuable reports on the situation in Turkey and on many other Council of Europe states.
I also congratulate very warmly the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, as the newly elected president of the Parliamentary Assembly. In many ways I suppose it is an organisation which is the conscience of the Council of Europe. I am sure that we all look forward to that conscience flourishing under his presidency. The members of that assembly scrutinise the compliance of existing member states with Council of Europe standards and report on whether prospective members are yet ready to be admitted to the Council of Europe.
But monitoring on its own is not enough. A major challenge to the international community as a whole is how to stop the violation of human rights and bring offenders to book. That is where the Council of Europe offers the citizens of its member states an institutional basis for the protection of their rights. It is an institution which is unique and unparalleled, as was so clearly stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. For when countries become members of the Council of Europe they all sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights and they all accept the mandatory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
The court is in many respects the jewel in the Council of Europe's crown. Its jurisprudence, with over 700 judgments, is immense and covers a vast field of human activity. It provides a guarantee for individual citizens that their governments will not get away with human rights violations. The fact that the caseload of registered applications to the court has increased sixfold in the past 10 years bears testimony to the importance of its work, but also to the respect in which it is held.
As my noble friend Lord Longford said, the international co-operation which has developed under Council of Europe auspices has touched many areas of public policy in this country and in all countries which are member states. I have spoken about the Council's fundamental role in the protection of human rights and the promotion of democracy and the rule of law. But the Council has also been a pioneer in many other fields.
The European Social Charter, setting out rights including the right to strike and the right to social protection, came into force in 1965. Today, the Council of Europe brings its members together to discuss policy in a whole host of areas--such as working out strategies for combating drug abuse, codifying medical ethics, protecting the rights of minorities, promoting Europe's cultural heritage, preventing corruption, and in the fields of education and local democracy. But the Council's work in drawing up conventions, and in encouraging its member states to incorporate those conventions into their domestic law is very great indeed.
I wish to touch on some of the issues raised by noble Lords in their contributions today. I refer to the points made forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about the Council's extension of its work and its organisation. The Council of Europe's Second Summit identified structural reform of the organisation as an area of concern. The noble Lord is right in some of what he said. A Committee of Wise Persons was set up to make recommendations about how that reorganisation could be dealt with. The Committee of Ministers' Deputies in Strasbourg, chaired by the British ambassador, has taken forward this work and is submitting its report to Ministers for endorsement in Budapest on Friday of this week.
The Government strongly support that process. We shall be working to ensure that the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers' Deputies are taken forward swiftly. We also believe that the Council of Europe must operate within existing resources, adhering to an annual budget ceiling of zero real growth.
That brings me to some of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Kirkhill. The budget settlement for 1999 included an element for the new Court of Human Rights but it remained within the zero real growth target. We believe that zero real growth is a useful management tool to encourage prioritisation and to refocus on some of the core objectives of the Council of Europe. However, I stress to my noble friend that we recognise that the court is an essential and important institution, and one which must function properly.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also warned us to a certain extent about horse trading in the Council of Europe. I believe that those were his words. He made reference to the impending election of the Secretary-General. The Government have nominated Mr. Terry Davis, MP, not because of any form of horse trading but because we are convinced that Mr. Terry Davis is the best candidate for the job, that he has the qualities and, in particular, the management experience which will be so important to anyone holding down that position.
Questions of financing were also raised by my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath, and in a different way by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. We are already a grand payeur. We pay 12.64 per cent of the budget. In 1999 that amounts to about £15 million. While we and the other five grands payeurs pay the majority of the budget, other countries, for example the Scandinavians, also make significant voluntary contributions.
My noble friend also asked what we could do to give the Council of Europe a greater profile within the United Kingdom. I believe that today is an example of what we have sought to do. The 50th anniversary commemorations have had a high profile. The Government have supported the work of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and his UK national committee. We have put forward, we believe, a good, sound and credible candidate, Mr. Terry Davis, as Secretary-General. And noble Lords who read the Guardian have had today an interesting article from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about the Council of Europe. So I believe that the Government have sought to raise the profile of the Council of Europe.
My noble friend Lord Judd asked specific questions about the social development fund. They were echoed by other noble Lords. The United Kingdom does not belong to the Council of Europe Social Development Fund. I must tell your Lordships that we do not have any plans to do so. The Government already are heavily committed financially to a European development programme in central and eastern Europe. We are committed multilaterally and bilaterally. We calculate that UK membership of the SDF would cost us about £27 million. The bilateral aid which we give to central and eastern Europe is already very considerably in excess of that figure.
My noble friend also asked about the list of conventions which we have not yet signed. Such a list was given in March this year by my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd in answer to a Parliamentary Question by Mr. Tom Cox. I do not have the date but I shall let my noble friend know where he can find the list.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, indicated that she did not think that we had ratified the protocol on torture. I believe that we have ratified that protocol. I was slightly puzzled about her reference to a protocol on racial discrimination. We have ratified the Framework Convention for National Minorities which covers racial discrimination issues. I do not know whether that was the protocol to which the noble Baroness referred.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page