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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble and learned Lord on this fascinating point. Will he accept that there are two Houses of Parliament through which a Bill must pass and the second is now
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course, that is the purpose of the Parliament Act. It would be quite wrong of me to try to remember whether or not the noble Earl was a member of the government when the War Crimes Act was similarly "Parliament Act-ed" through without an apparent mandate. I think that he was but, of course, memory does fade.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord's memory fades to such a degree that I feel uncomfortable and I shall put him out of his misery. I was a Member of that government and I thought it was the wrong thing to do.
He overstepped his usual moderate bounds by saying that this matter is something to do with the homosexual lobby. No one has spoken to me about this Bill at all. No one ever seems to write to me. My noble friend Lord Bach suggested that I should start writing to myself because I would have a ready audience. One person alone has spoken to me about anything to do with homosexual law reform. I have known him for many years. He had been living with a partner of 15 years who recently died. They had shared a faithful and happy life for 15 years. He found it deeply and bitterly offensive that that relationship was typified as a pretended family relationship. That is the only conversation that I have had.
I am not part of any homosexual lobby. I hope that I have an open mind. To suggest that the Prime Minister--than whom no more devoted family man and father could be found--is in league with any sort of partisan lobby is to be in Cloud-cuckoo-land.
I was interested--and my noble friend Lord McCarthy beat me to it--as to whether or not any of the organisations with which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had been in correspondence had resiled from the views they had expressed. The answer is that they have not resiled from those views. They remain the views as I expressed them; as my noble friend Lady Gould expanded on them; and to which my noble friend Lord McCarthy also spoke.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to those charities which support him. Those charities were listed on previous occasions as supporters of the Bill. I wrote to those to which I make small annual contributions and asked for the authority on which that support was based. The replies, while mixed, gave no general authority for that support being given to the Bill.
There was a substantial amount of publicity on the last occasion. The noble Lord, Lord Boardman, is right to say that I read out the names of most of those bodies on the last occasion. I anticipated there would be questions and not one has resiled from its position.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course. I have said on several occasions that I was a trustee of the society for many years so I know a certain amount about how it raises money. Any society depends on the members. But I repeat that none of those organisations has resiled from that position. I take up the point of my noble friend Lord McCarthy that no similar organisation is to be found supporting our opponents.
I shall, of course, take fully on board the helpful suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. I shall undertake to bring his remarks about health education in this area to the attention of my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lady Blackstone.
My noble friend Lord Stallard said, as he did in the previous debate, that he comes from a different world and a different background. I am not so sure. Quite a few of us had a similar upbringing but recognise that the world has changed, sometimes for the better, and that one cannot equate religious precept with the true foundation and basis of the criminal law. In an extremely moving speech--if I may say so--my noble friend said that he still abided by and revered the Ten Commandments. I honour his commitment. I simply point out again that adultery is not a crime; coveting one's neighbour's ass is not a crime; various forms of activity of which some organised religions do not approve--in fact, which they violently and vigorously condemn--are not criminal offences. I believe that my noble friend and I live in the same world, although we view it from a slightly different perspective.
The issues remain by and large the same and in the same form as we discussed them on the previous occasion. I said then that the force of rational argument on either side might not necessarily be determinative of people's final views. That point remains the same tonight as it was then. I must say--I am not being disrespectful to the House; indeed, I hope that I am being respectful to the House--that we shall continue with the Bill.
A number of matters were raised. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, said that she had received a disagreeable matter through the post. I am sorry about that; such matters should play no part in our political discourse. I was looking at Hansard and I read
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General completes his reply, will he give the House the benefit of his advice as to the prospect of success in the European Court of Human Rights if the Bill were not to be enacted?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I had in fact intended, when dealing with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to deal with the matter in that context. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, raised the question.
The position is that the case of Sutherland went to the European Court of Human Rights. At that time, it was necessary--as the noble Lord knows full well, I am simply explaining fully--for the Commission to rule it admissible or not. The Commission ruled it admissible. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is quite right; that would not determine the final outcome of the court. The advice that the Government had was that Sutherland would win. Accordingly--it is only right that your Lordships should be reminded of this--the case in Strasbourg was adjourned for the introduction of this Bill or something similar. We are therefore continuing on that path. My own view is that Sutherland is much more likely to succeed than not. I am in the same state of ignorance as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about any material which might satisfactorily persuade me to the contrary. I commend the Bill to the House.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in March this year I and three other Members of this House attended the Euro-Mediterranean Forum of Women Parliamentarians in Naples. All four of us speak tonight as a co-operative effort. I raised the debate for two reasons: first, to give the Government the opportunity to put on the record their response to the Charter of Intent signed by those countries
Secondly, I wanted to ensure that we are accountable to the British people on the matter. They so often read in the newspapers of alleged "jollies" enjoyed by parliamentarians travelling here, there and everywhere around the globe. Of course, they are right in respect of every such parliamentary visit abroad to ask, "What has it got to do with me?" I hope to answer part of that question tonight and to hear from the noble Baronesses who went with me to Naples the other part of the answer.
The questions that I shall address are as follows: who created the forum and why; who attends it and why; why did it meet this year; and what is its future? As for the detail of what actually happened at the forum, I shall leave it to other noble Baronesses who attended to fill in the background. I shall try to paint a picture of the good intentions which underlie what can appear to the interested--or, perhaps more often, the disinterested--observer to be a bureaucratic mountain of declarations and charters flowing from various meetings. My noble colleagues will, I hope, be able to put interesting flesh on my rather dry bones of a speech.
The forum was created by the President of the European Union and the Presidents of the Euro-Mediterranean countries; in other words, it was created by something rather like a speakers' conference. They met in Majorca in March 1999 and approved a declaration of Euro-parliamentary co-operation. That declaration included among its objectives the creation of a forum of women parliamentarians to meet at regular intervals. The first meeting was last month. Those entitled to attend the forum are four women representatives from each of the signatory countries to the Barcelona Declaration. The Barcelona Declaration was the parent to the Majorca meeting. I had great fun trying to work out which came first; it was rather chicken-and-egg.
The Barcelona conference in 1995 brought together the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the European Union countries and their colleagues in the Mediterranean Basin. In addition to the EU, the following countries were represented: Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority. The conference ended with a declaration. The signatory for the United Kingdom was my right honourable friend Malcolm Rifkind. Therefore, the basis for the declaration has the co-operation of both the past and the present Government. The declaration set out the work that should be done by the EU with the other Mediterranean Basin countries, comprising political and security issues; economic and financial matters; and social, cultural and humanitarian sectors. The overall objective is to make the Mediterranean Basin an area that enjoys peaceful stability and shared prosperity as a result of us all talking to each other instead of fighting.
Part of the work needed to achieve that objective is the strengthening of democracy and of the understanding between different cultures. That takes us to the importance of women talking to women about their perceived needs in their respective societies and about the different pace of change we can see and of movement towards equality with men within those diverse societies. The forum met this year with a particular section of work set out for it by the Majorca conference. It was directed to look at three particular issues: first, women's participation in political life--putting emphasis on the development of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership; secondly, the safeguarding of human rights; and, thirdly, the issue of migration.
The participants had also to decide on the future pattern of work of the forum--indeed, whether the forum should continue at all--and to ensure that women parliamentarians work together as a more effective force for change; change which should be of benefit to all who espouse equality between women and men, and the importance of human rights for all.
What is the Charter of Intent agreed at the forum? The charter that emerged from the forum gives a general commitment to good practice on a range of policy issues and a commitment to assess how far we achieve that in good practice. It must not be merely good words; we must be able to measure what we achieve. It was a fascinating experience, to say the least, to work over a couple of days with such a diverse group of women parliamentarians, all of whom were determined, come what may, to come to an agreement on a declaration to which all could put their name. We were diverse in our cultural experience and very diverse in our political allegiances.
As I mentioned earlier, I shall leave other speakers to say what went into the charter. I should merely like to comment on one issue which was excluded at the eleventh hour and which will be top of the agenda for discussion at the forum next year, if indeed there is such a forum.
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