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Lord Williamson of Horton: I love a good debate, but occasionally my eyes float down towards the actual text of the amendment. Perhaps I can deal with the two points. First, as regards the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will be pleased to hear that I share the view that we should not put the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the treaty, now or later. I share his view on the substance of that point.

I believe that the amendment is rather convoluted. Its effect would be that all the declarations that do not have treaty force would be carried into the European Communities Act 1972 under the definition of treaties. Declarations do not have treaty force, so I do not believe that that could be done. That would be the effect, except for this one paragraph. The rest would go into the European Communities Act 1972, although they are not actually treaties.

We would simply have a little part left out, but the rest would remain there, including the conference in 2004. If this amendment were adopted, there would be no guidance at all for that conference. History has shown that intergovernmental conferences do far too much anyway, but this would give them the freest rein possible. It gives no indication at all about the issues that they may be asked to consider.

The consequence of the amendment itself would be to create almighty confusion in the way in which our law operates in relation to treaties and declarations and to avoid giving any substantive guidance to the intergovernmental conference in 2004. For those reasons I do not believe that the amendment makes a great deal of sense. Of course, the point that was raised in debate is a substantive one and one to which we should pay attention, not just now but in 2004.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for tabling this amendment. There may be certain matters wrong with it, but it has enabled us to discuss the issue of the charter of fundamental rights. It is most unfortunate that that should have been brought forward. I cannot believe for one moment that Her Majesty's Government are happy that the matter has been discussed. I sincerely hope that they are not happy about M. Chirac's suggestion that it should be written in treaty form, not in 2004, but before then.

I am sure that the Government will understand that the essence of this charter, the ideas behind it and its drafting are for the purpose of imposing a written constitution on the nations of Europe, including Britain. Such a written constitution runs completely contrary to our flexible constitution that gives people freedom to pursue their own affairs, constrained only by statute and the common law which can be altered to meet changing times and circumstances. That system has already been modified—I understand that—through the various EU treaties and very often, if not always, to the detriment of the British people and their constitution.

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One cannot go into all the provisions of the charter. But there are some that are patently absurd. For example, Article 2 states:

    "Everyone has the right to life".

I thought that that was God's prerogative. Surely the EU will not apply the acquis communautaire to that as well? Then there is Article 48. That states:

    "Presumption of innocence and right of defence. 1. Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law".

The EU has made that impossible because under the sex discrimination laws the burden of proof is on the employer. In other words, he is presumed guilty until he proves himself innocent. So there are a number of absurdities. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, read a few of them out. I just wanted to give those two as an example. But the whole charter is riddled with absurdities. I sincerely hope that that will never be written to in any treaty. Indeed, we do not need a charter at all. We have so many damn charters that I do not think the lawyers can keep up with them in this country or worldwide.

I turn to the discussions that will take place about the future of the European Union. It is all very well to say that there will be two representatives from each national parliament, but how will the people be represented? That is what I want to know. I feel quite sure that the two people who go from the British Parliament will be in favour of the European Union and its further development. There are at least 33 per cent of British people who would come out of the EU tomorrow. How will they be represented? There is a sceptical voice. How will that be put? It is no good people running away from that. It has been put in this House tonight as well as in the House of Commons and up and down the country in discussions, in people's homes, in pubs and in all kinds of places, and in public meetings which some of us are good enough to arrange. There has to be some other point of view put. I should like to know exactly how that will be put and by whom.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: I rise to support my noble friend Lord Howell's amendment. I ask the noble Baroness to clarify the Government's position on the charter. That is usual Euro-guff which appropriates to itself rights which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has said, are given by God or by existing laws of the nation states. It is absolutely nothing to do with the European Union whatever whether people's "Human dignity is inviolable". Is that anything to do with the European Union? Of course it is not.

    "Everyone has the right to life".

That is nothing to do with the EU either.

    "Everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity".

What on earth is the European Union talking about? It goes on and on.

    "No one should be held in slavery or servitude".

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Thank you very much Brussels. Then it rather pathetically states:

    "Everyone has the right of access to a free placement service".

I do not know what that means. But it surely is not a fundamental human right given by the European Union. All these rights are either given by the nation states in their own laws or are rights which are agreed by the United Nations. It is nothing to do with the European Union. But it seems to be gathering them to itself. I think the suggestion by Mr Keith Vaz was to then put them on little plastic cards on his "Your Britain, your Europe tour" with Mr Eddie Izzard. We would all get little cards saying how wonderful the European Union is because it is giving us all these rights.

Of course it is nothing to do with Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, mentioned these conflicts of interest.

Article 21 refers to non-discrimination. It states:

    "Any discrimination based on any ground of sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief . . . shall be prohibited".

Article 23 states that,

    "the principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex".

That seems to me to be giving people the right to discriminate. I look forward to the answer on that.

This is a frightfully sorry mish-mash of a wish list. The European Union is trying to tell the luckless citizens that it represents that they should be grateful to the European Union for giving them those rights. It is a summary of rights that all the other member states in the European Union already have. We might divide on this amendment. We might be able to vote on it; it certainly should not be part of the treaty, but I am not clear about the technical position.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Watson of Richmond: I wonder whether half of the noble Lord's objection to these sentiments, which he may call banal but which are certainly laudable, stems from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, earlier. He said that we hated the European Union and everything that comes out of it. As everything that is coming out of it is obviously laudable, presumably he cannot support it for that reason.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: The point is that these rights are given not by the European Union but by the nation states. The wool is being pulled over our eyes yet again.

I am so grateful for being interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, because I missed a further point, which deals with property rights. Article 17 states:

    "No one may be deprived of his or her lawfully acquired possessions except in the public interest . . . The use of property may be regulated by law insofar as is necessary for the general interest".

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How will that be interpreted and dealt with? Someone may decide that it is in the public interest that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, be deprived of his property. Would that be right? Who will decide what is in the public or general interest? The whole charter is shot through with contradictions and flaws. Frankly, it is total rubbish and we should reject it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Since the noble Lord has been good enough to mention my position in this matter, perhaps I may put a few questions to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, if she is the Minister who will reply. I was not sure whether the noble Lord would pick up this particular hot potato. I am in a muddle as to who will reply. If the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is to reply, I am sure that the Committee will be grateful. I look forward to her reply in due course and the answers to the following questions in particular.

I concur with my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke that it would be interesting to know the Government's attitude to the charter. Why is it necessary? Is it in addition to the European Convention on Human Rights, or will it compete with it in some way? Is it envisaged that there should be some kind of union of the two charters and the jurisdictions of the Strasbourg and Luxembourg Courts? In other words, are the two charters competitive or will they come together?

If the charter is to be enacted will it take precedence over our law? The Minister may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, that it should not become law, but if it does will it take precedence over our law, as has been suggested by people who are rather nervous of it?

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