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Lord Tebbit: On many grounds, I have a good deal of sympathy with those who oppose discrimination. Two questions arise in relation to this clause and this amendment. As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the present Government were enthusiastic advocates of the inclusion of this clause into the Treaty of Amsterdam. Therefore, we should hear from the Minister what measures they propose to bring forward under it. Surely, it is not to be left as a piece of decoration. As it stands, it has no effect because there are no measures under it. Exactly what do the Government propose to bring forward?
Inherent in my objection is the fact that here is another example of the common market which we joined showing its ambition to become a state. Surely it is the business of a state, not a market, to legislate in these areas. We have legislated in the state of the United Kingdom in a way which we regarded as appropriate. Others in the European Community have done the same. If one argues that the legislation should be at the level of the European Community one is inherently arguing that it is not an economic community but a state. I believe that that is where it is heading.
Furthermore, there are problems with these grand and sweeping comments. We are all against discrimination based on sex. However, I must confess that some 40-odd years ago I chose a woman to marry and should the occasion ever arise again I shall do the same. I hope that that is not offensive to other members of my sex.
We are all against discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability and all that. Although I am not against discrimination based on sexual orientation, I am of the view that one should be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals if one is looking for scoutmasters. I do not know whether that is a widely held view any more, but if I were looking to recruit a scoutmaster I should not be haunting Hampstead Heath to do so these days, I must confess. It is right that persons of that orientation should be excluded from such activities.
But of course the European Union is becoming involved in those matters, as we know. It is not that long ago that we were compelled, whatever this Parliament thought, to enact legislation to amend the sex discrimination legislation of 1976 in relation to the provisions regarding the Armed Forces. We had no choice in that matter. Therefore, this game is already on in many ways. Let us be in no doubt about that.
It is bound to lead us into many troubles. Apart from anything else, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, observed, in this country we now have a substantial minority of Moslems. Just how do we legislate in that area? After all, if we are to respect the religious beliefs of Moslems, we may find ourselves with some problem as regards some of their views on sexual discrimination. Which of those injunctions are we to obey? Are we not to discriminate on grounds of sex or not to discriminate on grounds of religion? I do not have an easy solution to that, although my preference would be to say of a religion like the Moslem religion that such an established religion, which is held so deeply by so many people throughout so much of the world, must be allowed to take its own view on the position of women.
That may be offensive to some people. But if we are to envisage the day when Turkey is admitted into the European Union, we had better make up our minds whether in this country, our Government wish to become involved in controversies within Turkey which have been fundamental to the social fabric of that country and to its religion for many years. Those are the sort of issues which Kemal Ataturk took on in his day and had apparently resolved but which are now returning to the surface as the Moslem religion in Turkey becomes again more dominant in terms of politics and social life.
I believe that we would be utterly and completely mad to become involved with those issues. But I cannot imagine that the Greeks, for a start, would be able to resist treading in that dirty water if it embarrassed their neighbours in Turkey. We would be better without this on the grounds of impracticability; the fact that this is another extension of the power of the European state over the nation states; and above all, that we have no idea at all where this will lead us. It would be better out of the treaty than in.
Lord Moynihan: I am pleased to say that I find myself in broad agreement with the thrust of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about the important issues which we need to address in relation to discrimination. Indeed, I echo many of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, made on that subject. I was slightly surprised that in earlier debates this afternoon he did not speak on the economy. However, on this occasion at least, we agree with the general thrust of the points and principles espoused by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and other noble Lords.
As ever, we feel that it is our duty to look in detail at exactly what is proposed by the clause. The example of portability was interesting. If, as was rightly pointed out, the basic body of legislation which we have in this country is something worth following in other countries--and we take a lead in this area--it takes only one other country in the European Union to disagree
Lord Moynihan: I would have a great deal of sympathy with the point which the noble Lord made when it comes to other countries in the European Union adopting many of the measures that we have taken in that context. However, there is something far better than QMV; that is, to persuade other countries on a bilateral basis--outside this treaty--as to the merits of the body of law which we have and to encourage them individually to adopt that body of law. It is not necessary for that to be done within the context of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Therefore, while gingerly and cleverly drawn into the subject of whether I agree with QMV in that context, I say that there is a far better route to follow; that is, completely outside this treaty, to persuade other countries of the important steps which we have taken and the principles which have been espoused.
Therefore, it is important for me to look at the detail of this matter. With the permission of the Committee, I shall ask the Government to respond to the points I raised. This is an area which has taken up a great deal of time in Committee in another place and there are many issues to which I simply do not know the answer and I am sure the Government do. It would be helpful for the Committee to clarify the position as it stands. I shall ask specific questions and give specific answers and follow the warning given by the Government earlier this afternoon to avoid hypothetical questions and loose women. Therefore, the questions which I ask will be very specific. Some were looked at in another place and never answered, and some are new points.
I should be happy to be corrected if I am wrong but, as I understand it, the treaty introduces a new clause which the Government see as providing a legal basis for Community measures to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, disability, age or sexual orientation. Indeed, that chimes with the Government's commitment to fight unfair discrimination and promote equality in the domestic context. With the important proviso of unanimity in decision-making, European Union-wide measures will be adopted only, as I understand it, when action at European level would bring an added value to action by member states. The clause is couched as a legal basis for future action rather than as a free-standing and unrestricted principle which might allow direct interference in UK laws in the realm of anti-discrimination. I shall examine that important distinction between a legal basis in that context and a free-standing, unrestricted principle.
It is important for the Committee to be aware that that is accompanied also by a declaration calling on Community institutions to take the needs of the disabled into account when framing single market legislation. In addition, there are strengthened provisions on equality between men and women. Amendments to Articles 2 and 3 make the promotion of equality a specific aim of
Article 6a gives the European Community new powers to act in specified areas. Article 6 (new Article 12) already allows the European Union to act against discrimination on the grounds of nationality. There was already a provision to prevent discrimination on grounds of sex, but that is made more explicit in that article, and other areas are newly introduced. The new article provides a legal basis for Community measures to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion and belief, disability or age.
I turn now to the first important point. The new article entitles the Council, after consulting the European Parliament, to take "appropriate action" against discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion and belief, disability or age. However, the article fails to make clear what it means by "appropriate action". I am sure that the Committee will allow me to question the Government as to what they consider "appropriate action" to mean in that context because it opens up new areas in which the Community can act.
As UK law already provides against discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic origin and disability, this is a very important issue to pursue and consider carefully. The British Government supported the new article at Amsterdam. In addition, they tabled the declaration attached to Article 95, which was adopted, calling on Community institutions to take the needs of the disabled into account when framing internal market legislation.
In doing so, I should say that I know the Government were specifically keen to promote this idea--this important principle--and it is one that should be welcomed. It was an important initiative to take and I was only sorry that it had to be carried unanimously throughout Europe and that that required us to push it. But that, at least, is commendable from the British Government's perspective.
In another place it was interesting to note that particularly, and at significant length, Bill Cash MP and Sir Teddy Taylor MP were robust in exploring what they saw as the flaws in this article. They were concerned about the uncertainty that that may cause to Church schools, as many Anglican and Catholic schools currently insist on being run by a practising member of their Church. It is not clear that this could remain a condition of employment after the introduction of such measures.
On Second Reading in another place, Sir Teddy Taylor quoted a letter to Christian Action, Research and Education dated 7th July 1997 from the Foreign Office, which said that although it would not expect litigation to arise one could not rule it out.
The other place was also concerned about the ambiguous definition of sexual orientation in reference to discrimination on those grounds. For example, does it question the future status of marriage by opening the door for homosexual relationships to be treated in law as if they were heterosexual marriages? The question was asked as to whether sexual acts between homosexuals would have to be equated with marriage and childbearing, and whether the age of consent for marriage would have to be equated with that for homosexual sex. Indeed, could a Church refuse to marry a homosexual couple? Would the case of a same sex couple applying to adopt a child be given the same weight as an application from a married man and woman? Would discrimination by an employer, including the Armed Services, on the grounds that an active homosexual is inappropriate in that particular workplace, be illegal? Those were legitimate questions which led to a very lively debate in Committee in another place. It is important to clarify how the Government see the answers to those questions as they were not available in the other place.
I should say--I do not believe that I need to emphasise it because it is well known in this Chamber--no one should be in any doubt about the attitude of my party to discrimination. Like everyone in this House, we are firmly, resolutely and utterly opposed to it in any shape or form. In government we did not hesitate to take action to fight discrimination and to stamp it out. We are proud of our national record on questions of discrimination and we are also convinced of the adequacy of the legal framework already in place. For example, although our race relations may not be perfect, they are nevertheless recognised as being very important in many countries of the world. Among the legislative measures that we took in government, the Public Order Act 1986 stands out. I give way to my noble friend.
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