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The noble Lord asked who would determine a serious and persistent breach. I hoped I had explained that such a determination would have to be made by unanimity between the member states, excluding the member state concerned. All the other 14 member states would have to agree what amounted to a serious and persistent--those two words are important--breach.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I was most interested in what my noble friend said. I, too, am pleased to receive the assurance that under a Labour Government there would be no possibility that Britain could be caught under this article. However, I am concerned that the article states that the Union will be responsible for the protection of our freedoms, democracy and so forth. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, pointed out, that seems
My noble friend did not answer the question: what happens if a member state which is in continuous breach of the principles stated here, and which is told that it must forfeit all the benefits, then says "We are going to leave"? In those circumstances, under this article, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, pointed out, it would in fact lose all the supposed benefits but would have to continue to take on the burden of the obligations.
Suppose the member state said it was not prepared to do this and was going to leave the Union, what then happens? How then does the Union, the member states, insist on and enforce what they have done? Will they then impose a whole range of sanctions or send in armies? What will they do? It has to be answered but my noble friend has not answered it, at least to my satisfaction. Could she now develop that point further?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: As to my noble friend's first point, the position is safeguarded by the member states, all of which are democracies, 14 of which would have to be in agreement. It is not the Union acting independently of the member states; the member states have to be part of that decision.
As to my noble friend's second point in respect of a state being in that position, with loss of benefits but still having obligations--which I am sure we all agree is very unlikely--and deciding to suspend its membership, such a state would then have to negotiate its way out of the treaty that it had freely entered into, in the same way as it would any other international treaty. It would have to negotiate a way out or be in serious breach with the other parties to that treaty.
My noble friend has said that member states can negotiate their way out of the Union. There is no provision within the treaties for member states to negotiate their way out. If what my noble friend is now putting on record is confirmed and member states can negotiate their way out, that is very interesting. I am glad it is on record because it will certainly be referred to in the future, particularly in relation to economic and monetary union.
The clauses on economic and monetary union state that EMU and the single currency are irrevocable. In my dictionary "irrevocable" means that it cannot be altered, that it is for good. Is my noble friend now saying that a state which is found guilty under these clauses--or any other circumstances--can negotiate its way out, despite the Maastricht Treaty provisions on EMU and the absence of any mention in the treaties of negotiating a
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am so tempted. Whenever anybody says that I have said something interesting, a cold hand clutches at my heart and I listen with perturbation as to what it was I said.
It is straightforward common sense. I have said no more in relation to this than we have said from the first day of debating all the motions put before the Committee. In the extraordinary, unlikely, hypothetical position we have just rehearsed, a country which declared it was going to move away, suspend, get out of its membership would have to then go ahead and tell the others to whom it was committed through treaties how it proposed to do that. What I have said amounts to no more and no less than that. I do not think it is ever going to happen.
I was a little disappointed with the Government response. I made it clear that we are not debating the Europe of today, the European Union as it currently stands. In Committee we have to search behind the meaning of the words and the articles and to look to the future. When applied to a future circumstance, however remote, the application of the treaty will have certain effects and we need to be clear what those effects may be as outlined by the Government.
These scenarios are, of course, remote, but I am sorry that they were dismissed so lightly by the Minister. There are unprecedented provisions in this treaty and, in recognising these provisions, it is important to understand exactly what they mean.
The first area was the question of rights. I sought a definition of rights from the Minister, and she rightly pointed out that there is no definition in the treaty at the present time. It is important to understand what category of rights the Government believe is covered by this article. I regret that we were not told the Government's view in answer to that question.
The second area, which is probably of greater concern, is the selected quotation of Kenneth Clarke in another place on this subject. I will enlighten the Committee as to what was debated in another place and what Kenneth Clarke had to say on the matter. He was speaking to the heart of this amendment and the important subjects and questions which have been raised by noble Lords, both behind me and on the Cross-Benches, namely the distinction between expulsion and suspension, the merits of having the opportunity to expel a member state in extreme circumstances and the effects of suspension.
In his Second Reading speech he considered Article F.1--and here the Minister was right--to be an acceptable part of the treaty. He saw no cause for alarm that the provisions would be used for anything other than the objectives which they were designed
Moreover, he added that should a military regime seize power and start abusing human rights in Europe he did not envisage that Article F.1 would be the only mechanism for the European Union's response.
That is an extremely important point. I am sorry that the Minister, in a very selective quotation, did not elaborate, as my right honourable friend did in another place, on the fact that if such an occasion took place, as must be envisaged and considered in the light of this amendment, suspension would be a preferable route. That is because ultimately, if it came to expulsion of a member state, there would be such a dramatic ramification and consequences, including the suspension of contracts, so great and so far-reaching, that the sanction in its own right would be a useless deterrent whereas suspension would provide a relatively effective redress.
With courtesy and respect to my right honourable friend in another place, it is important to place on record that his position, as exemplified in the Minister's answer, was not to be taken out of context but must properly come into the context of the question of expulsion versus suspension and why suspension has considerable merits over expulsion.
Many honourable Members in another place took the view that expulsion should be available and, in certain circumstances used. It was a fascinating and important debate. I hope that it is possible to engage in such a debate with the Government because it goes right to the heart of the reason why I tabled the amendment; namely, to elicit from the Government not only how they define "rights" but also what is the true intention of the article and why it was felt necessary to use the concept of expulsion. I wished to argue that case and to look in more detail at judicial involvement.
Having said that, I am grateful to the Minister and to Members of the Committee for participating in the debate. I shall return to the issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.