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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are some 68 regimental and corps museums throughout the country. In 1998, the executive committee of the Army Board agreed a policy which allows the trustees of museums on the MoD estate to lease their museum accommodation for up to 50 years on sites where the MoD is prepared to agree to such a lease being taken out. That is very different from the

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DCMS position. There is contact between all departments on matters of mutual concern, but in this case the leases are a matter for the MoD. As I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, we are not able to give the absolute assurance he would like. Some 14 museums have currently applied for leases; I believe that two have signed up and the remainder are being considered.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, in Scotland, museums are devolved to the Scots Parliament but defence, of course, is not. Is the noble Baroness able to give any assurance or information regarding the important military museum at Edinburgh Castle?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I shall write to the noble Baroness with any details that I manage to get together about the museum at Edinburgh Castle. However, the MoD estate will remain a matter for the Ministry of Defence. Any museum which is currently on Ministry of Defence land will be affected in the way I have described. There are three categories: a museum may have tenure of occupation under the commitment made in 1956; it may secure a lease under the 1998 Army Board requirements; or it will not be able to do so because it is on Crown property.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, are there any more nuggets of wisdom in the article that was drawn to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, like a good deal of what Mr Max Hastings has written recently, it was very interesting indeed and I can recommend it. It was written on 28th October, and Mr Hastings apologised to the MoD on 25th November for getting the matter wrong.

Criticism of the EU

2.58 p.m.

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the opinion of an Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice on 19th October that harmful criticism of the European Union or its institutions is akin to blasphemy and that in such cases the normal right to freedom of expression does not apply; and, if not, whether they will raise the question at the forthcoming European Council in Nice in December.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the noble Lord's Question is based on a factual inaccuracy. At no point in the opinion to which he refers did the Advocate-General state that criticism of the EU was akin to blasphemy or that the right to freedom of expression did not apply in criticism of the EU. The Advocate-General merely concluded, in the context of an internal Commission

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staff case, that a former official had been in breach of his obligations according to his terms of employment and that his dismissal was therefore justified. The case will now be considered by the European Court of Justice. We shall await its final judgment before passing further comment.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is true that the Advocate-General in question, Senor Damaso Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer, whose 18-page opinion in the French translation I have with me, did not actually say that it was akin to blasphemy. What he said--and this is an opinion commonly held among the continental elite but not, thank goodness, in this country--is that damaging criticism that undermines the prestige, the self-confidence, the dignity, and so on, of institutions like the European Union is as heinous and as unacceptable as blasphemy. He did not say that it was "akin", but it comes to very much the same thing. In the light of that, when the proposal for a European public prosecutor comes to be discussed at Nice in less than a fortnight's time, can we hope that Her Majesty's Government will be extremely cautious?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord raised a number of questions in his response. I should point out that the appointment of a public prosecutor is not something for which the Government find there is any need. Perhaps I may remind the House that the opinion of the Advocate-General is not binding; the European Court of Justice may or may not heed the opinion; and that substantive comment should await the final judgment. Noble Lords will know that advocates are prone to making arguments and suggestions and that judges are prone to disregard them.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, in the light of her previous answers, is my noble friend the Minister able to inform the House as to why in her opinion the European Court of Justice has not so far sought a retraction from the Daily Telegraph?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can assist the House. The press articles written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard are factually inaccurate. The ECJ wrote to the Daily Telegraph twice asking it to print a rectification. Only this Saturday, nearly one month after the appearance of the original story, did the Daily Telegraph finally print a response from the ECJ. In that letter the ECJ wrote:

    "Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is wrong to state that ... the Advocate-General ... claims that criticism of the European Union is, 'akin to blasphemy and could be restricted without violating freedom of speech'. In fact, the Advocate-General in no way makes that assertion".

As with the earlier Question today, they seem to have got it wrong once again.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, even if the Advocate-General was misquoted--one difficulty may be that his views were set out in both Spanish and French and only recently became known in

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English--will the Minister at least reassure the House that there will be nothing unpatriotic or blasphemous about arguing for a development of the European Union in a more flexible and democratic direction than anything that seems to be in prospect at Nice or even in daring to suggest that the, at best, command structure for the defence of Europe might not necessarily lie at the heart of the European Union institutions?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that it is not blasphemous. However, whether or not it is good sense is another matter.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that we now find ourselves in the position where it is no longer prudent to believe everything that we read in newspaper reports?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it would, regrettably, appear to be so.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is it not true that Article 52 of the new Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for limitations on imposed rights and freedoms otherwise recognised by the charter "if they are necessary" and

    "meet the objectives of general interest recognised by the Union"?

Does not that give one cause for concern, especially bearing in mind that, with this unfortunate development of the European Union, we are now in the phase of, "It doesn't exist"? We shall of course in future, as we have with all previous initiatives of this kind in the European Union, go through the phase of, "It doesn't matter", "We'll vote against it", or, "Our partners don't want it either". We then come, do we not,to the final phase, which is, "Oops, sorry; it's too late. You were warned"?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, if I may say so, I do not know what the noble Lord's precise question was--

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps the Minister could answer my point about Article 52 of the new Charter of Fundamental Rights, which proposes precisely the sort of sanction to which the noble Lord's Question applies.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Article 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not permit the wholesale undermining of citizens' rights, as subsequent Articles 53 and 54 make clear. Fundamental rights are guaranteed by the legally binding ECHR, the treaties and the member states' constitutions that the non-binding charter cannot go below.

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Perhaps I may further assist the House. Article 52(1) of the charter does indeed state that limitations may be placed on the rights contained within it,

    "if they are necessary and generally meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union, or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others".

Yet--I should stress that this is important--the following Articles 53 and 54 state that nothing in the charter should be interpreted as restricting or adversely affecting the rights contained within the European Convention on Human Rights, the treaties or member states' constitutions. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord is content and comforted by those words.

Lord Acton: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that it is not altogether akin to blasphemy to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for whom I have the greatest respect, is not always totally sound on the subject of the European Union?

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