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Lord Williamson of Horton: I thought that I clearly understood Article 7, but after 42 minutes I am beginning to be a little less clear. Therefore I should like to pose a number of questions to the Minister.
Secondly, it is clear that in the revised text for the first time there is the introduction of reference to a risk of a serious breach. That is an important pointI understand thaton which a number of noble Lords have commented. Thirdly, what happens if the treaty passes and there is determination of a clear risk of a serious breach? As I understand it, it is open to the Council to address appropriate recommendations to the state in question. That is what we are talking about. As I understand itthis is a question to the Minister
Lord Biffen: We are enjoined by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in rather magisterial fashion, to be restrained and relatively narrow in our address to the amendments. I sympathise with that aspiration. However, when we proceed with European law by treaty, one of the difficulties is that we are almost boxed into generalised discussions. The existence of prerogatives in matters which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, deprive us of what would otherwise be the robust Committee stage that normally attends domestic legislation.
However, for what it is worth, my interpretation of the amendments coincides with that of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. I question whether one should put at risk the utility and durability of Community law by having this kind of legislation. I question whether it is a dangerous squandering of Community authority to have it invested into those kind of aspirations, for what are they? Apart from the omission of sliced bread and motherhood, they are pretty well everything that could command general assent everywhere. We talk about the Union being founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rules of law. Those are principles which are common to the member states. Indeed, that is reasonably self-evident and does not need to be written into any law. But once it is there, if only as aspiration, it becomes a hook which will land unpleasant and, in my view, wholly avoidable situations.
Mention has been made of the election of the Freedom Party to be part of the Austrian Government. That was picked up with particular zest by the Belgians. In my judgment that was a reflection of the Belgians' domestic political situation, which is racked with ethnic politics. Therefore, the Belgians were much more conscious of how that might react within their own domestic situation than of any of the noble aspirations enshrined in what is to be Community law. Having seen that example, perhaps I may quote the words of Aneurin Bevan, "Why look in the crystal when you can read the book?" The book is there for that one particular incident. It is the crystal which looks to the future where, I am afraid, the people of Europe and of a larger Europe will not have the nice, cosy, consensual judgments which combine the European Commission and the elite that sustains the Commission. They will be running off, perhaps following green politics, or global militant politics, all of which will be much more forthright challenges to the principles of the European Union than anything essayed by Haider and his modest band of followers in Austria.
At one read, I regard the existence of Article 6.1 in the Treaty of Amsterdam, now invoked in the legislation before us, as being declaratory and not worth too much bother. However, at heart I feel that there is the implication of dangers which arise from definition and from who makes the definitions. That then becomes part of the internal struggles which characterise the institutions of the European Community. That is not the way forward with a sense of idealism for the larger Europe. That is a steadfast determined retreat backwards.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, when he says that treaties should be written in a way people can easily understand. I do not refer to people in this place and along the corridor in the House of Commons. I refer to the people of the country. It is their lives, their countries and their laws which are at stake.
I certainly agree with the noble Lord on that point. I tend to disagree with the noble Lord's comment that we should confine ourselves to the narrow amendments on the Marshalled List. Unfortunately, we cannot do that. The growth of the European Union comes about in steps. One has to "nit pick" every little part put into a treaty before one can understand it. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to range wider than the narrow amendment under discussion.
Amendment No. 1 is an attempt to regularise procedure following the precipitate and wholly undemocratic actionlet there be no mistake; it was wholly undemocraticof the Portuguese presidency following the formation of a coalition government with the Austrian Freedom Party, which had gained 28 per cent of the popular vote. That is why this has come about. Because of that position, the EU made a great fool of itself. It is a great pity when an organisation makes a fool of itself unnecessarily and has to climb down from the position it took.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Noble Lords may laugh, but we must be careful. We are democrats. Jens-Peter Bonde has been elected by the people of Denmark on the basis of his policies and principles and what he has told them. He represents them. Therefore, he is an important figure. The fact that he happens to take a different view from some of my noble friends is irrelevant. He is entitled to put his views.
I shall refer to one or two of his comments. First, he states that the Treaty of Nice creates a legal basis for punishing countries that might be a thorn in the flesh of 80 per cent of the EU members. That is the view of a representative of a small country, which is concerned. We should take account of that view. He goes on to state that what is new is that a majority
Therefore, I believe that Jens-Peter Bonde has a point to which we should listen. But will that apply only to small countries? I believe that it already does. Take the case of Italy where a supposedly right-wing government, under Signor Berlusconi, was elected. I believe that they are governing without a coalition. That is a big country, where a right-wing government has taken over. I believe that that government is more right wing than the Haider party.
I turn to the racist remarks that Signor Berlusconi has made recently. He claimed that Western values are superior to those of Islam. If Mr Haider had said that he would have been out on his ear, but because Signor Berlusconi said it there is a strange, deep silence. No wonder Jens-Peter Bonde is concerned that it is only small nations that will be hit.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Does he agree that that great guru of Danish politics, Jens-Peter Bondealthough certainly elected to the European Parliamentbecause the Danish electoral system is proportional, represents a smaller number than any of the other partiesthe Danish liberals, the Danish conservatives or the Danish social democratswho clearly gained substantially more votes than the former bag-carrier to James Goldsmith, who represents rather eccentric views?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am surprised that my noble friend should take that view. In that case, at least half, and probably many more, of the Members of the House of Commons do not speak for the people they represent. Jens-Peter Bonde is entitled to his opinion. In a situation of free speechI do not know how long that will lasthe is entitled to put his point of view. Anyway, in spite of his disgraceful remark about the West and Islam, Berlusconi is still in office and the fact is that he is a right-wing party leader who leads a right-wing government.
The treaty refers to freedom and democracy, freedom of speech and so on. Under those circumstances, does this country qualify? The Government have published a Bill that will enable them to imprison people for six months without charge or without trial and they plan to amend the Human Rights Act to achieve that. Under these provisions will that be legitimate? Or are we undermining such
Also in prospect is a Bill to restrict free speech in relation to religion, not to mention attempts to restrict the rights of people to be tried by jury. Will we run foul of that provision? Will we have our rights taken away from us? What about trial by jury and our fundamental freedoms? Interfering with them could be a breach of Article 6.1. Then there is the Prime Minister's obsession with this new world order and his wish, seemingly, to impose it on everyone, whether they like it or not. Does that accord with the democratic principles espoused in Article 6.1? I think not.
What about the punishment of an erring state? There could be the suspension of certain rights. I am not sure what rights those are, or what that means. Austria was sent to Coventry, as we have just heard. Incidentally, Austria was sent to Coventry not for a persistent breach of this article, but for one particular breach, if it was a breach at all. It was sent to Coventry and its MPs were ostracised.
Instead of knuckling under, suppose Austria had said, "To hell with you; if you are going to send us to Coventry, if you are going to ostracise us, if you are going to refuse to talk to our foreign secretary and if you are going to refuse to have photographs taken with us, we will not pay you any contributions". What would happen if a country were to take that view? If it were a big country, it could say, "We have had enough of this nonsense, so we are going to leave the European Union altogether".
It is all very well to say that we shall punish people who we believe have broken certain principles and rules, but those people have powers as well. I am unsure that this provision has been thought out properly. I feel sure that those who have negotiated the provision did not understand the consequences and, therefore, the House should reject the provision.
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