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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, we had a long debate about the subject in Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said, things have moved on somewhat since then. There has been an election in Italy, and we have seen a reaction from certain elements in the European Union that suggests that the only acceptable result of an election is one that the European Union finds acceptable. I am not sure that that is democracy. It is even less democratic when worries are raised about matters that have not even been mentioned.
It happened in exactly the same way in the case of Austria. Austria was warned not to do things that she did not propose to do. That seems to be putting the nation states, which are supposed to be the backbone of the European Union, under threat, if not blackmail. That is why the provisions are a serious undermining of the rights of the nation state and of accepted democratic norms. Therefore, I support the amendment.
As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, said, it is difficult to sort out exactly what one is doing when we discuss Bills relating to the European Union. In the amendments, we cannot set out what we mean to say, and, therefore, any members of the general public who might take the trouble to read our amendment paper will have absolutely no idea of the seriousness of the proposal.
Many people will say that fundamental rights are fundamental, but what is regarded as fundamental depends on who is in power. While a certain political doctrine is in the ascendancy in Europe, the fundamental rights will be acceptable to the group that holds that view throughout the Community, but what happens if that changes? If most European Union member states have Right-wing governments, and they decide that extreme Left-wing governments are not acceptable, what will happen? That is why it is absolutely essential that the basis of the European Union should be the nation states and the constitutions that govern them and, as in the case of many, including this country, have governed them for a long time.
This is a serious amendment. It is serious in more than one respect. There is a punishment for a country that is found to be offending: it will lose all its rights and privileges. That may be all right, but the trouble is that that country must keep on paying the cost. Although it loses its rights and privileges, it must still make a contribution to the running costs of the European Union. That is not fair either.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, referred to the article in today's newspapers saying that the Germans are saying that this country has no future without joining the euro. Of course, they can have an opinion, but, in many respects, that might be considered as gross interference in the affairs of a member state. I am not sure that that should be countenanced, especially as Germany has an interest in seeing that this country does not act independently. The Germans have intervened because they are jealous of the success that this country has enjoyed since 1992, when we left the exchange rate mechanism. Having got rid of their own financial and, probably, economic independence, they are afraidnow that they have had time to thinkof having another country in the European Union that has not lost that independence and will still be able to act independently in respect of monetary policy, without inevitably being forced to accept the fiscal regime that is bound to follow economic and monetary union.
The amendment is important. It raises great issues. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will press it to a vote. I hope that he will, and, if he does, I shall be delighted to support it.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, can I be forgiven for expressing a little bafflement about the arguments used by the supporters of the amendment? My bafflement is caused by the fact that the Council of Europe, which has been in existence for over 50 years, has rather more extensive powers on this matter and has used them frequently. It has suspended a number of countries from the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe and from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. No one is suggesting that the Council of Europe is not an intergovernmental organisation, so I am a little baffled as to why this terrible incursion into the rights of nation states has suddenly been discovered in 2002, when it has existed since 1948 in another organisation.
My second point was made by my noble friend Lord Williamson. It is that part of the Treaty of Nice to which objection is made is a careful effort to ensure that the policy-making on the wing which occurred at the time of the Austrian election is not repeated. It is therefore an effort to systematise and make more objective the procedures which will be followed in any circumstances of that nature in the future. That is an act of wisdom and it would be unwise to try to strike it out.
Finally, as regards a certain amount of criticism flowing around the European Union between one government and another, I always thought that criticism and the ability to take it was one of the essences of democracy.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, recall to my mind my early attendance at a meeting of the Council of Ministers at the Council of Europe when the rights of membership of the Greeks in the parliamentary assembly were withdrawn. That was back in the 1960s when I was a PPS. I remember my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf speaking most eloquently in support of the move for suspension and on that occasion doing so on behalf of the German government.
Be that as it may, I share the view expressed by the two noble Lords who have spoken from the Cross Benches. However, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has raised an issue of some importance to which we will want to return not in the ambit of the Bill but in the negotiations leading up to the constitutional settlements for which we look in 2004.
It may well be that the measure which is encompassed in the replacement to Article 7 does not, strictly speaking, flow from the necessities underlying the desire to facilitate effective enlargement. None the less, the Community has been faced with a present difficulty and in proposing the new Article 7 those who are seeking to reach agreement have soughtand have to some measure accomplished satisfactorilyto
Lord Peston: My Lords, I intervene only briefly. First, as regards the German intervention, my interpretation of the article in today's newspaper is exactly the opposite of that described by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. I swore that I read that the Germans were saying that they needed us in, and welcomed us in, as much as we needed them. It was not a one-sided view; it was very much a point of saying how welcome we were and how much the writer wished we had been a larger part of the process. Indeed, I believe that he expressed a view about there being space on the new currency so that Her Majesty's picture could appear prominently on it. In other words, I took it as a positive rather than an unwarranted interference in our way of life and in our democracy.
I have a logical point to make which has arisen previously and I would like to hear the view of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on it. I had understood the point to be that we have fairly stringent criteria, which we are about to apply to additional nations, as regards the conditions which must be met in order to join the Union. That is taken most seriously. The logical question arisesand it has troubled many of us whether we are pro or antiis what happens if the internal governments and way of life of those countries change to the extent that if they were previously in that state they would not have gained entry. Rightly, member states are saying, "That is an interesting question and one that we ought to think of seriously".
We became involved in the Austrian case ad hoc and everyone has rightly recognised that that was wrong. Therefore, I support noble Lords who have said that this is a more gentle and generous way of enabling one to ask of countries, "What do you think you are up to in going against certain conditions which you met before you joined?". I would like the view of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on how he would approach the matter if he does not like my suggestion.
If other member states are not in a position even to query that with a view to taking action, I would like to hear from other noble Lords who support the amendment what they would do in those circumstances. Would they merely shrug if a particular member state moved in the direction of totalitarianism? I would hope not.
I may be wrong, but surely the difference is that the Council of Europe, in comparison with the European Union and the Council of Ministers, is a talking shop and always was. To use an analogy which would be more familiar to the noble Lord than to me, the General Assembly of the United Nations is a talking shop whereas the Security Council of the United Nations has real powers of international law. I do not understand the point which the noble Lord has made.
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