European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 7:15 pm, 19th May 2008

I was chair of the justice and home affairs sub-committee of the Lords EU Committee when the Amsterdam treaty was ratified. We conducted an inquiry on Article 13 of the Amsterdam treaty, which was the clause that introduced into the European Union much stricter rules against racism, xenophobia and a range of other activities. During that inquiry we discovered that the coalition that had got that on to the EU agenda and into the Amsterdam treaty had been substantially led by British non-governmental organisations. We took evidence from a range of bodies. I remember the CBI saying how strongly it supported this addition to the EU treaty on the grounds that British banks and companies, which increasingly employ bright young Asians, had discovered that in some other financial centres in the European Union, these bright young Asian employees were suffering various forms of discrimination.

Once again we have had a debate in which it has been assumed that it is those people over there who are imposing something on us when actually this was substantially a British initiative. Incidentally, we and the Irish—for solid and painful reasons concerned with a rather different history than the one which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, suggests—have some of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the European Union. We have had to develop them because of Protestant discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. It is not true that we have not discriminated at all in this country. The painful implications of the treaty of Amsterdam have been felt in countries such as Austria, Italy and Germany, where the rules against discrimination are much weaker. I just wish to set the record straight on that. This is not an attack by those wicked people in Brussels on pure Englishmen. It is something with which we, as in so many other areas, had a great deal to do.

I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said on taxation. Earlier today we were discussing another dimension of international tax law and the question of tax havens. In answering me the Minister praised the work of the OECD—the OECD, not the EU—on getting at the problem of offshore financial centres and tightening controls against the misuse of offshore financial centre. We are all familiar with the internationalisation of the economy and of companies, with the constant battle between clever accounting companies—the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will be familiar with those—advising companies and banks on how to avoid national taxation and Governments trying to maintain their tax base.