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It seems to me that the arguments of the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Tomlinson, fall into one of the categories of classic justification for the whole dreadful European saga. However, they have come in at the end of the saga and said, "Well, this was here anyway and bits of it were worse before. The Council of Europe is worse in its procedure than the European Council and therefore it is justified because two wrongs in the advancement of European unity always make a right.".
Perhaps I should remind your Lordships of the process which seems always to happen with new European initiatives which would be unpopular with the people of Europe were they revealed in their full horror at the start of their progress through the tortuous processes of the Treaty of Rome. One could apply that to the policy on social policy, for instance, and one could certainly apply it to corpus juris. Indeed, I have Answers from Ministers in your Lordships' House which confirm that process.
When a gang of academics, with the Commission somewhat secretly in attendance in the case of corpus juris in Spain, meets to discuss the new European legal order which is to be subtly and stealthily forced upon us, the first reaction is always to say, "Oh, no, the initiative does not exist. This is just the febrile imagination of lunatic Eurosceptics. Of course the European Community is not going to invent a social policy or a common legal area, corpus juris", and I could list many others. Therefore, the first thing is to say, "Oh, no, it does not exist". So we all go away and read the papers and scratch our heads and say, "Well, actually, it does exist and this is the proof of it".
When a policy has been developed a little further, we go back and say, "Well, actually, it does." The next response from Her Majesty's Government over many years seems to be along the lines of, "Well, yes, it does exist, but don't worry because Her Majesty's Government do not agree with it. Lots of our partners do not agree with it either. Of course it won't happen. Go away, relax and stop bothering us".
However, that creates a little difficulty because, as we know, all these initiatives are hatched in secret by the various sub-committees of the Council, the Committee of Permanent RepresentativesCOREPERand all the paraphernalia of the stealthy law-making processes of the European Communities. As I have said, we are given to understand that Her Majesty's Government may not agree with this initiative. The same is true for the other members and so we may relax.
However, inevitably the thing moves forward. It is put to a vote in the Council in one form or another, or often we do not put it to a vote because we know that we are going to lose. The line then taken is always the same: "Well, Her Majesty's Government fought valiantly for this one. We have made enormous improvements to it and there is to be a time delay". The Minister concerned is always able to come back with the comment: "This won't come into force for three to five years". The palliative of the time delay is always offered in the cancerous progress of European legislation. Once again, we are supposed to relax.
Finally, the time delay expires and the wretched thing happens. It becomes law and this Parliament is powerless. Then, of course, we Eurosceptics jump up and down and say, "This has happened. It is an outrage". We are told, "Well, it's too late. Of course it has happened. You were warned. It is there and you have nothing more to say about it".
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think that the element of caricature has become a little extreme. The point that I sought to make about the Council of Europe was that it is an intergovernmental organisation which long preceded the European Community. When it was set up it was given certain powers that related to the observation of human rights and democracy. The exercise of those powers has in some cases involved the suspension of a member from participation either in its Council of Ministers or in its parliamentary assemblyand, incidentally, in circumstances in which the member concerned still has to pay its subscription.
I think that those who are moving the amendment are making something of a meal of an element which has been a standing factor of European organisations, even of one whose founding father was no less than
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. If he wants me to exonerate the situation in the European Council to some extent, I am quite happy to do so. After all, we are talking about the European Communities and the Council of Ministers here.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, are we not talking about a European Union, the deprivation of membership of which could in theory result in very serious steps against the country concerned, subjecting that country, for example, to tariff barriers which they had escaped as members. There are no comparative sanctions which could possibly apply as a result of someone having his membership of the Council of Europe taken away from him.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for making the point so much better than I could have done. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, pointed out, paragraph 3 of Article 7 states:
However, what I do not understand about the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord TomlinsonI do apologiseI refer to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. Paragraph 1 of Article 7 of the Treaty of Nice is new. The whole thing is new. There is no doubt that we are moving into the area where the Council, acting with a four-fifths majority, may determine that there is a,
I cannot see how anyone can advance the usual Europhile argument by saying, "Well, it is just as bad somewhere else. It has been here before and it was pretty awful. This really improves it". It does not do so. We are moving into an area where the Council can decide that there is a risk of something before it has happened. Whether it has any effect on the Austrian situation or, more recently, the Italian situation, I very much doubt. But I think that the attempt to give the Council these new powers is very regrettable and clearly anti-democratic.
The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, in moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that the context of our discussion on this matter has moved on considerably since the Committee stage. The European Union is founded on certain principles.
Countries to our east have looked enviously at the rights enjoyed by individuals in the EU. We have rightly come to expect the highest standards of respect for human rights from all the EU member states. Our collective record adds weight to our efforts to see the same high standards observed elsewhere in the world. If the EU is to continue to provide a model of stability, we must ensure that others continue to have faith in our commitment to individual freedoms and, of course, to fundamental rights.
The ability to suspend the voting and other rights of a member state which does not live up to those expectations already exists in the treaties before Nice. After some of the contributions which have just been made to the debate, I rather feel that that point has been somewhat glossed over. It was introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam. Nice does not change the procedures for action against any member state that has persistently breached human rights. What it does do is to introduce an early warning mechanism.
In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that the article allowed the EU to intervene in what he termed a state's "internal affairs" on the grounds of speculation. If that statement really were an accurate reflection of what the Bill is trying to achieve, that would indeed give grounds for the unease which the noble Lord and some of his noble friends have expressed. I thought that that point was strongly reiterated in some of the contributions we have just heard.
Perhaps I may try to explain why I do not believe that that is an accurate position. First, there is no possibility of intervention in a state's internal affairs over and above what exists already. The treaty does not change the procedures agreed in the Amsterdam Treaty for suspending the rights of a member state which has seriously and persistently breached human rights. The noble Lord said that the EU would be intervening in an internal matter of a member state. However, there is no additionality in this treaty over and above what is already in the treaties that we have ratified. However, there is a new early warning system.
Perhaps I may also respectfully point out to the noble Lord that the suggestion that this is done on a speculative basis is also misconceived. After all, a speculation is an opinion which is formed without definite knowledge and without definite evidence, whereas the whole point of this procedure is to garner such knowledge and evidence and to investigate the possibility of a serious infringement of human rights before such breaches are committedthe better of course to prevent that happening again. So there are fundamental misconceptions about this articlesome of which, sadly, we have heard repeated today by some noble Lords.
It has been claimed that the article will be used to suspend the voting rights of those who do not share, for example, the same political vision, the same federal vision or the same left or right politics. Other noble Lords have implied that the article may be used to intervene in British politics and in some of the decisions that your Lordships and others further down the line will have to take in regard to other matters on the European agenda. But, I reiterate, this article relates solely to serious and persistent breaches of fundamental human rights. It cannot be used in the contexts described by some noble Lords. That is stated very clearly in the treatyand the treaty would be the fundamental basis on which nations would proceed.
I repeat, a four-fifths majority must be obtained to establish the risk of a breach of human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, implied that this was to establish a breach. That is not so. It is merely to establish the riskand the risk in itself does not automatically lead to suspension. Not at all. There would still have to be a different decision based on the same unanimity minus one that we have already in the Amsterdam treaty. Of course these are exacting hurdlesso they should bebut it is perhaps a somewhat cavalier attitude to imply that the four-fifths majority would establish the breach.
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