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Lord Tebbit: If the noble Baroness will forgive me for saying so, I did not suggest that any of the matters which I mentioned could be brought automatically into effect by this provision. I am as capable of reading the treaty as the noble Baroness, if I may say so. It is quite clear to me that nothing will be brought into effect without propositions from member states and legislation flowing from that. My concern, apart from ones of principle, is to know what the Government want to bring forward under this provision.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The noble Lord must forgive my misinterpretation of his remarks about scoutmasters and Hampstead Heath. However, shortly we shall discuss what the Government would like to introduce. As Justice's recent report on the Amsterdam Treaty states:
I hope that those noble Lords--not the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit--who thought that there was some degree of automaticity here are comforted, if not by what I say, at least by what is said by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, as the chair of Justice.
Lord Renton: I wonder whether the noble Baroness the Minister will give her opinion on the following matter; I think that she will have no difficulty in doing so. The European Court of Justice could not rely merely upon the provisions mentioned here. Those provisions would have to be followed up within the European Union, carrying them into some effect within the Union.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The noble Lord is right. It was a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. The provisions do not of themselves give the European Court of Justice any right on any particular issue. Extra action would be required
The word "appropriate" also caters for many of the individual points that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, put towards the end of his speech. Action might support one person's extreme definition of non-discrimination, but that would not be appropriate. I have in mind here such points as those made about Church schools and homosexual marriages. But, of course, the ultimate safeguard is not the word "appropriate", interesting and important as that is. The ultimate safeguard is the point on unanimity. If we felt that the legislation was going too far, that it was not appropriate or that it failed adequately to reflect UK approaches, we would not agree to it.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: On the more positive rather than the negative aspect, would Her Majesty's Government view the article, which expresses a will and a desire on the part of the European Union, as the basis upon which Her Majesty's Government might push an argument for looking again at, for example, recruitment to the official levels of the European Union's employment, where few faces are other than white?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for redirecting our attention to the positive aspects of Article 6a. I regret that of necessity in answering the debate I have unfortunately had to concentrate much of my remarks on the more negative aspects.
Let me take the noble Baroness's point, together with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who asked what action we might want to take. Commissioner Flynn has an initiative under way to look at an action plan on racism, for example. It would be an important contribution to keeping up the momentum in Europe generated by last year's European Year Against Racism. Her Majesty's Government plan to make our own contributions to this through a seminar on racism which we shall host in June this year. We look forward to studying in detail Commissioner Flynn's action plan and to working with the Commission and our European partners to take forward the fight against racism in Europe. I hope that that gives the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, a concrete example, while also giving the noble Baroness the more positive angle on this part of the treaty.
Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: I feel extremely uneasy whenever we start talking about discrimination. When we discussed the Disability Discrimination Bill, I spoke to the effect that Bills against discrimination achieved
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I do not want to be drawn into a semantic argument about the difference between prejudice and discrimination. What we are talking about is unfair discrimination. The noble Lord says that he does not believe that that subject can be legislated about. I wonder whether the thousands of women in this country, and the millions of people in this country who are not white Anglo-Saxons, who have benefited from the legislation of the mid-1970s would agree with the noble Lord. I rather think not. I believe that the anti-discriminatory legislation of the mid-1970s has stood women and people from ethnic minorities in this country in very good stead; and I am proud that it was a Labour government that enacted that legislation.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his acknowledgment of the role that the Government played in relation to the disability aspects of the treaty. It was at the Government's insistence that a declaration was included in the treaty calling on Community institutions to take disabled people's needs into account when framing the single-market legislation. We believe that this will give the Commission a clear signal, when drafting legislation, not to overlook disabled people's interests. I believe that the thousands of disabled people in this country will consider that a not inconsiderable part of the treaty. I believe that they will think it an important and much needed part.
We should not fool ourselves that the situation in this country is perfect regarding the state of our anti-discrimination legislation; but neither do we need to be blind to the advances that we have made. We should like to see these advances against unfair discrimination reflected elsewhere in Europe. We believe that this article is a sensible provision which will help in that respect.
I should like to turn now to Amendment No. 50, about which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, spoke. The amendment made in the Amsterdam Treaty to this article makes EC rules to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of nationality subject to co-decision. This means that the agreement of the European Parliament, as well as that of the Council, is needed for EC legislation in this area. The article has been little used, but it was used, for example, for a 1993 directive on the rights of residence of students.
We support co-decision because we believe that the European Parliament has an important oversight role in the EC legislative process, especially in areas like this which are subject to majority voting in the Council. Extending co-decision is a limited but sensible
We recognise that the co-decision procedures need to be streamlined. That is why we agreed in the IGC to changes to the procedures to simplify them. We must ensure the right balance between the proper legislative oversight role of the European Parliament and the requirement for efficient EU decision-making.
We do not see enhancing the European Parliament's oversight role as an alternative to strengthening the role of national parliaments. On the contrary, we believe that the two are complementary. So we strongly support the new protocol on national parliaments. This creates a new legally binding minimum period for national parliaments to scrutinise the new legislative process.
I said that discrimination on grounds of nationality has always been banned. It is a basic principle, and nothing in Article 12 changes that. The way in which the principle applies to the common fisheries policy, the point exercising the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is through the requirement of non-discrimination in the provision of freedom of movement and freedom of establishment. I hope that that gives the noble Lord some handle on the matter.
The common fisheries policy allows national fishing quotas; however, the quotas cannot under EC laws be applied in a way which discriminates between one nationality and another. That is why the previous government's efforts to introduce provisions through the Merchant Shipping Act were struck down by the ECJ. We shall be able to discuss this area, which I know particularly interests the noble Lord, in rather greater detail when we debate the amendments on quota-hopping.
If my replies to these matters have not been to the satisfaction of noble Lords, then at least I hope that I have covered the points raised in the debate. I hope that the noble Lord will now be willing to withdraw the amendment.
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