HL Deb 14 July 1992 vol 539 cc203-16

10.12 p.m.

Baroness Seear rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will be taking during the United Kingdom presidency of the Council of Ministers to ensure that Britain's ethnic minorities seeking employment in the Community will continue to enjoy the level of legal protection against racial discrimination that they currently enjoy in the United Kingdom.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, at this stage in the Session, and at this time of night, I shall endeavour to delay your Lordships' House for as short a time as possible. However, the subject of this Unstarred Question is a matter of considerable anxiety to many of our fellow citizens who are members of ethnic minorities. I refer both to those who hold British passports, and who therefore are EC citizens, and to those legally resident in this country but who are not EC citizens because they do not have British nationality as such.

Together they comprise a considerable number of people. They are greatly worried by the fact that however inadequate at times they believe the protection against discrimination might be in this country there is no doubt that the protection in the other EC countries is a great deal less. It is true that in the Netherlands and in Belgium there is a degree of protection. Other countries will claim that they have anti-discrimination provisions; for example, Germany will point out that its constitution states that there should be no discrimination.

Nevertheless, it takes little imagination to see that, for example, an unskilled worker from the West Indies who is nonetheless a British citizen is given little protection in practice by the fact that discrimination is banned in Germany. Effective protection requires that machinery for enforcement should be easily available to people for whom elaborate legal procedures are not a practical option.

That absence of protection against discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic origin is in sharp contrast to the protection given against discrimination on grounds of gender. As your Lordships are aware, that is extensive under European law and in fact the Community has been a leader rather than a follower in relation to discrimination on grounds of gender. In some regards, the UK has trailed behind and is still trailing behind in that area of discrimination. Therefore, there is a marked contrast between the provision against discrimination on grounds of gender and discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic origin.

I am aware that the Government are extremely unwilling to see any extension of what they regard as social policy coming from the Commission and the Community. However, I hope that they will not allow that to blind them to the very real issue which I raise today and the way in which it is regarded with, in my view, considerable justification by members of the ethnic communities.

When the question is raised, the first point made in discussions is to argue whether in fact there is competence under the treaties to deal with the question of discrimination on grounds of race. Of course, if there is not competence and it can be established that there is no competence, nothing can be done unless changes are made in order to ensure that competence exists.

I argue that there is at least a case to answer as regards claiming that there is competence because it is an undeniable part of the Treaty of Rome that there should be full free movement of labour. That is a central and undisputed article of the treaty about which there is no disagreement. The reality of the position is that, if for a number of people there is no protection whatever against discrimination as regards employment, housing, education or training, then free movement of labour is not a reality for those persons. Therefore, it can be argued that, under the full implementation of free movement of labour embodied in the treaty, there are grounds for saying that action should be taken to improve the position and to give genuine anti-discrimination protection for people throughout the Community.

Members of the all-party parliamentary group on race in the Community went recently to Brussels and discussed that issue with officials in the Commission. While they did not say that they agree that there is competence, they accepted the argument that it may well be possible to establish, under the free movement of labour argument, that such competence exists. However, I do not pretend that that is in any way established.

The Commission for Racial Equality took counsel's opinion on the matter and I have here a copy of that opinion. Counsel pointed out that on 11th June a joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and representatives of member states meeting within the Council and the Commission declared that they:

  1. 1. vigorously condemn all forms of intolerance, hostility and use of force against persons or groups of persons on the grounds of racial, religious, cultural, social or national differences;
  2. 2. affirm their resolve to protect the individuality and dignity of every member of society and to reject any form of segregation of foreigners;
  3. 3. look upon it as indispensable that all necessary steps be taken to guarantee that this joint resolve is carried through;
  4. 4. are determined to pursue the endeavours already made to protect the individuality and dignity of every member of society and to reject any form of segregation of foreigners;
  5. 5. stress the importance of adequate and objective information and of making all citizens aware of the dangers of racism and xenophobia, and the need to ensure that all acts or forms of discrimination are prevented or curbed".
All acts or forms of discrimination" must surely include discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and education. The counsel goes on to point out that, That declaration was formally appended to the Single European Act, which last amended the EEC Treaty". Counsel does not argue that that establishes competence, but points out that it is a step in that direction.

There is therefore a case to be answered and an explanation to be given as to whether the Government believe that action can be taken, recognising that there is an issue of real importance to many people in this country. It is not only the CRE in this country and those of us who are particularly interested in the Question who are concerned with the matter. The Commission for Racial Equality is acting with the Dutch National Bureau Against Racism and the Belgian Royal Commission on Policy towards Immigrants. They agreed a common policy to lobby the European Community institutions. They are arguing for an amendment to the Treaty of Rome. That is based on the assumption that the case I put forward would not be accepted; it is a further stage. The amendment would state clearly the Community's competence to legislate against racial discrimination; it calls for directives to measure against racial discrimination; and it supports freedom of movement within the EC for all permanently settled third country nationals.

That is a reference to a point I made in the beginning—that there are people among the ethnic minorities who are not British nationals and therefore do not automatically have any right of free movement, giving them the same rights with regard to employment, establishment and family unity as EC nationals.

As I said, it is a matter about which many people in this country are anxious. Of course, the situation has always existed. What is new is that, with the coming of the single market and the changes that will take place in 1993, the whole issue has assumed much greater importance and urgency in the eyes of those concerned.

I raise the matter now at this most inconvenient hour and time because of the British presidency. It gives the Government the opportunity to take the matter up. If they do so, it will be greatly appreciated by the people in this country directly concerned. Therefore will the Government consider joining with other countries in the Community to see what legislation can be put forward or at least, as they are committed to a conference on equal opportunities, to make sure that issues of policy with possible legislative results are discussed?

10.23 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has covered most of the issues arising in the Unstarred Question. I am grateful to her for raising this important subject. I shall emphasise only one point that the noble Baroness mentioned; that is, the problem of third country nationals.

It so happens that countries of South Asia—India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—are reluctant to allow dual nationality for their citizens. Those people who are here bearing passports for those countries find it especially difficult to translate the entitlements that they have in this country when they travel into Europe for work or even for holidays. Indeed, their entitlement to national health is difficult to obtain.

I urge the Government to take on board the many useful points raised by the noble Baroness and perhaps take the view that racial discrimination is a matter of great economic and political importance.

Inasmuch as the UK is the head of Europe in that respect, we should take the initiative during the presidency and perhaps chivvy along the other countries to follow our example.

10.25 p.m.

Lord Meston

My Lords, the 1989 CRE annual report pointed out that race issues barely featured on the European agenda. Since then the CRE and others have pushed it onto that agenda and this debate keeps up the pressure. In recent years there has been growing realisation of some of the inconsistencies and anomalies concerning discrimination in the European legal context. Community law gives rights of free movement to EC nationals including specifically the right to take up work, employed or self-employed. The European Court has apparently interpreted those rights broadly.

The first anomaly is that which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, just mentioned. Those rights do not extend to non-EC nationals. That topic is beyond the scope of the Question asked by my noble friend. But if the Community institutions feel able to tackle that problem, then they ought to be all the more ready to consider the problem raised by this Question.

The second anomaly is that those rights of free movement for individual economic activity do not in practice assist EC nationals who belong to ethnic minorities. The reason is the fundamental weakness in Community law which this Question invites the Government to address. The weakness is the absence of any expressed provision in European law prohibiting racial discrimination. That is by contrast to the express provisions of Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome dealing with gender discrimination. For our ethnic minorities, and those from other European countries, it is no use having a theoretical freedom of movement to get work unless they also have legally enforced freedom from racial discrimination in seeking and retaining work.

Our Government's great advantage is that on this topic the United Kingdom can speak to its Community partners with considerable moral authority. The basis for that authority is that the UK has a well-established framework of legislation prohibiting racial discrimination. It is not perfect (that is a topic for another debate) but it means that this country has both that authority and also its expertise to offer. It also means that our Government can point to the further anomaly that, whereas people coming from Europe to this country have the full protection of our discrimination laws, our ethnic minorities cannot at present expect comparable protection if they cross the Channel.

The recent manifestations of racism in Europe are all too apparent. They are illustrated in the latest CRE report by a photograph of a "foreigners out" sticker circulated in Leipzig. It is not enough for us to disapprove of these matters from a distance. We should certainly feel no need to appease any extreme Right-wing elements in other countries.

The Government now have a valuable opportunity to galvanise thinking, to prevent racial exploitation; to prevent competitive disadvantage both for employees and employers; and to ensure true freedom of movement for our ethnic minorities. There is no question of sovereignty being infringed here in an area in which we have in force superior laws and have little to be told about these matters by other European countries.

I therefore hope that the Government will not seek to suggest that the EC does not have competence. My noble friend touched on that. Even in this House, where time stands still, it is too late to debate technical questions of competence. But there is a compelling argument in the section on Europe in the CRE's second review of the Race Relations Act 1976. I also understand that it is possible to build on Article 118 of the Treaty of Rome and on the joint declaration appended to the Single European Act to which my noble friend referred. Whether or not our Government can ensure protection as the Question asks, the Government should surely try an initiative for which future generations will certainly be grateful.

10.29 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I join in supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in her Unstarred Question. I am glad to be speaking immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Meston, because he has put the case very well.

As president of the EC, the Government are in a position to influence what happens in the EC during the next six months and to push it forward after that. The question of whether one allows racial discrimination to dominate in a society is a very serious one. There is plenty of evidence in other countries and in other parts of the world of the consequences of allowing racial discrimination to be rife in society. There is plenty of evidence that although it is not rife, racial discrimination exists on the continent of Europe.

We have one of the largest visible minorities in Europe. The only country with a comparable visible minority is the Netherlands; but we also have the best and strongest legislation for dealing with it, and that puts us in a position of strength. Now that we have the presidency, we can say,"Let's look at the problem and see what can be done about it. Let's see to what extent the type of legislation in Britain is applicable to the EC as a whole and if there is a way of getting it enacted through a directive or other measure—even an inter-governmental agreement—let us try to do it." As I understand the Question, that is what the noble Baroness is asking.

The noble Baroness is asking that Britain's ethnic minorities be protected; but one cannot protect one's nationals when they are in other countries. On the other hand, we are supposed to be part of the EC, and what is more at this moment we are in the Chair. Therefore, we are in a position to influence what happens. We are asking the Government to use their influence in this very important area to try to get some EC activity which will make racial discrimination in Europe something that is not acceptable.

The problem of how people of different races live together in equality and friendship is the biggest problem confronting the world today. Whenever we have a chance to do anything about it, we must grasp that chance. We are inviting the Government to do so.

10.33 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Seear for tabling this Unstarred Question this evening. She referred to the anxiety which is prevalent among many people about the existence of substantial racial discrimination on the continent of Europe, an anxiety that has only increased with the recent symptoms of racism to which my noble friend Lord Meston referred.

My noble friend Lady Seear is also right to point out that those declaratory provisions in the constitutions of some countries on the continent are, in point of fact, practically useless. As we have found with our own legislation, the great problem is to have enforcement procedures which are actually effective. We have tried. We have not done as well as we could—we do better in Northern Ireland, something to which I have objected before in your Lordships' House—but we are still better than most of our continental colleagues within the Community.

Sir Michael Day, chairman of the CRE, wrote to the Prime Minister in September 1991 urging the need for protection against racial discrimination for British ethnic minorities travelling or working in EC countries. To that letter the Prime Minister replied that he was personally committed to the policy that the United Kingdom had long pursued of combating racial discrimination and wished to encourage our EC partners to introduce similar legislation to ours, but that he had doubts whether the policy gain would be worth acceptance of an extension of European Community competence. I find that a rather extraordinary response. It shows an almost paranoid fear of an increase in EC competence even at the expense of UK citizens, even to the extent of failing to protect UK citizens from the humiliation and injustice of unequal treatment. I cannot exaggerate the importance of protecting people from that kind of treatment which extends beyond the inability to get jobs to discrimination, as my noble friend Lady Seear said, to housing, which is of crucial importance, and to the provision of services.

Race relations legislation was introduced in this country in 1965 because of the injustice which discrimination inflicted on individuals but also because of the social consequences of widespread discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or national ethnic origin. Those social consequences are as damaging within the EC as they are within the United Kingdom and as they are within the United States. If the Prime Minister is anxious to encourage his partners to introduce comparable legislation, why does he not take the simple step as proposed by noble friend? Does he regret the protection offered to women against discrimination on the grounds of gender under a series of directives? If he does not regret it, why should not the same protection be offered to members of ethnic minorities as is offered to women? It seems inexplicable and very difficult to justify.

Reports in The Times and in the Independent today indicate that we have opened our presidency with characteristic clumsiness, offending and irritating our 11 colleagues and confirming ourselves in the role of the slowest ship in the convoy which sets the pace for all the others. Would it not be a welcome change if for once we took the lead; if for once instead of blocking things we started something; if we proposed something positive which encouraged others to follow our example? For all our weaknesses we are in this respect ahead of the rest of our colleagues with the possible exception of the Dutch.

I understand that the Department of Employment means to hold a conference on equal opportunities. That conference will be an empty gesture unless it contains some positive proposals for dealing with unequal opportunities. One positive proposal is that which my noble friend Lady Seear has made. I hope that we shall not hear that the competence of the EC is a good reason for failing to press for positive action and that the competence of the EC is more important than checking injustice against individuals which we have regarded as important in this country and which is just as important in the Community of which we are members.

10.40 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for introducing a debate on the subject, even at this late hour. As noble Lords will know, these Benches have consistently supported the European Social Charter—or chapter as is now seems to be called. It seemed to us to offer greater protection and security for workers than our own legislation, much of which, since the advent of this Government, has ceased to comply with ILO standards.

Ever since the Treaty of Rome was introduced, there has been a commitment to sex equality. Subsequent judgments of the European Court have built on that and our own law has been amended, in my view, entirely beneficially. Therefore, it is strange that European Community law has not been developed to protect people on grounds of race. The Single European Act fails to guarantee equal treatment on grounds of race and ethnic origin. While other European countries may have some form of protection against discrimination, in most cases, as a number of noble Lords have said, it falls short of our Race Relations Act 1976.

In the Commission for Racial Equality we have a body whose functions include working towards the elimination of racial discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity and good relations among people of different racial groups and keeping under review the working of the Act. It also assists individuals seeking to enforce their rights under the legislation. It can also make formal investigations into situations if it appears that racially discriminatory practices are being followed. While no one can be entirely happy about the state of race relations in the United Kingdom, there is no doubt that our legislation and the existence of the Commission for Racial Equality have helped enormously to improve matters. It is no longer quite respectable to display racial prejudice—although of course much of it remains covertly.

Legislation is important in helping to change attitudes. Anyone who doubts that fact should read some of the popular literature published in the 1930s—certain ethnic groups were referred to in terms which would be simply impossible nowadays. Public perceptions of what is acceptable have changed. The CRE has already told your Lordships' Select Committee dealing with European directives (of which I am a member) in its written evidence that it is concerned that the creation of a single market by 31st December of this year, as set out in the Single European Act, may have a detrimental effect on ethnic minorities legally resident in Britain. There is worry that black and Asian British citizens without UK nationality will not have the same rights as EC citizens to reside and work in other member states. That is clearly important against the background of the freedom of movement directive which will allow the free movement of capital and people across EC borders.

The CRE has told your Lordships' Select Committee that it has three objectives in that area: first, to secure an amendment to the Treaty of Rome which would state clearly the Community's competence to legislate against racial discrimination; secondly, to secure the issuing of a directive outlining measures against racial discrimination; and, thirdly, the extension to third-country nationals legally resident and permanently settled in the Community of the same rights to freedom of movement and establishment as those enjoyed by nationals of member states.

Community legislation outlawing discrimination and the granting of equal rights to legally resident third-country nationals is essential if the integration of ethnic minorities is to be achieved. As the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has already pointed out, the CRE is very concerned about the rise of xenophobia in a number of countries, including Germany. I fully support what the commission says. I believe that the Government should take fully into account the views expressed by an organisation which has had many years' experience in dealing with such issues.

The CRE welcomes the EC Commission's proposal that certain non-EC nationals settled in a state should have a right to employment in another member state. The proposal that a firm should be able to move staff, whether EC or non-EC nationals, is also welcome. The proposals also include a strong statement about the rights of families which says that, the right to live with one's family is a fundamental right which cannot be denied by the authorities". That surely is right and acceptable.

There is a problem about young people from ethnic minority groups. There is a real risk of marginalisation. We have seen what can happen in urban centres when the young feel themselves excluded. That could well occur in urban centres in a number of EC countries. I understand that our neighbours in the EC have asserted that there is no need for them to have specific legislation on race relations as everyone, irrespective of race, has certain human rights guaranteed by law. As a number of noble Lords have said, that is not sufficient. We have seen that racial conflict occurs in France and Germany, despite rights allegedly guaranteed on an individual basis.

Our legislation, which I believe is in advance of that in the rest of Europe, specifically prohibits discrimination on racial grounds. Of course we know that it happens despite the law. There is clearly a reason why the chalices of employment for young black citizens are recognised to be less good than those for their white contemporaries. Nevertheless, the legal framework exists. The CRE exists to act as a monitoring agency and to assist with enforcement. It is no good having rights on an individual basis if there is no means of enforcing them.

I hope therefore that the UK presidency will see an attempt to ensure that the principle of equal treatment on pay, forbidding discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic origin, is incorporated into a Community-wide directive and also that all countries throughout the EC introduce such legislation.

There is a legal view—this was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear—that the Community already has competence to enact legislation outlawing racial discrimination. The CRE, as your Lordships have already heard, has had advice to that effect. If necessary, however, the Treaty of Rome should be amended to include the requirement that there should be no discrimination. The UK presidency provides an opportunity for opening up this whole matter, and I hope to hear from the Minister that that will be done.

We owe it to our ethnic minorities to demonstrate that we have their interests at heart and will ensure that they have adequate protection and the same rights as others following 31st December this year.

10.47 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the stalwarts who remain for giving us the opportunity to discuss what is an important matter. The noble Baroness explained her position clearly. Your Lordships' interventions have been of a brevity which must be the envy of other debates, but that has not detracted from them.

I agree with what the noble Baroness said in her Question—the noble Lord, Lord Meston, also said this—that the ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom enjoy a high level of legal protection against racial discrimination. They do. The United Kingdom has the most comprehensive race relations legislation of the whole of Europe. I should like at the outset to assure the noble Baroness that the Government remain wholeheartedly committed to combating racial discrimination—a policy which they have long pursued.

Our aim is to bring about the conditions in which people from the ethnic minority communities can develop to the full their contributions to the life of the nation. Our country enjoys great benefits from the outstanding contribution which the ethnic minorities make in business, the professions and other walks of life. The noble Baroness said that there are worries among the ethnic minority communities that they will be unable to enjoy in Europe the safeguards against racial discrimination which United Kingdom laws provide. I realise that that is a genuine fear.

The noble Baroness said that free movement should involve anti-discrimination. Research which has been carried out on behalf of the Department of Employment earlier this year shows that Britain has established a lead in good equal opportunities law and practice within the field of racial discrimination. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, acknowledged that, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. We are, for example, ahead of other European Community countries in dealing with indirect discrimination.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said he wished that we would take an initiative and that we should not be the slowest ship in the convoy. I do not believe that we are. We would like to impart our experience and our knowledge to our European Community partners and to do so more widely. I can understand those noble Lords who would like to see some form of legally binding Community legislation on racism. That is an understandable view, but we take the view that European Community legislation is not the right way to take action in order to enhance racial equality. I believe that to do so might very well have the reverse effect to what we intend, given the attitude in some European countries, with the possibility that attempts might be made to water down our own legislation in order to produce a harmonised European version. In other words, we might indeed be in danger of becoming the slowest ship in the convoy, which at the moment we are not.

The exact legislative arrangements in each member state must be a matter for each individual state, taking into account its own particular circumstances. Each member state has diverse and differing experiences and problems in the field of race relations. Look at France; look at Germany. They have their own particular and distinct problems which they have to resolve in their own particular and distinct way. Each member state must, therefore, be able to frame—and must be free to frame—its own legislation which addresses its own needs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was concerned to see whether we could get Community legislation on racism and xenophobia. In May 1990, the European Community Labour and Social Affairs Council and the representatives of the governments of the member states meeting with the council adopted a resolution on racism and xenophobia. It was agreed there that the responsibility for taking action on racism and xenophobia should rest primarily with member states rather than with the Community and that therefore the resolution should be mixed. The resolution is not legally binding, but it encourages member states to take measures to combat racism and xenophobia. The Government's position on the resolution is that responsibility for taking action against racism and xenophobia should rest primarily with member states rather than with the Community.

The Government feel that it would be an appropriate moment for European Community member states to consider the issue of racism and xenophobia, especially in view of the recent manifestations of racial harassment and racial violence across Europe, which have been due largely to the rise of nationalism. The rise of the far Right in France and the desecration of its Jewish cemeteries, the reappearance of neo-Nazism in Germany and the attacks on refugees in Germany are all nasty reminders that prejudice continues to bubble underneath the surface.

We shall, therefore, during our presidency of the European Council, take any appropriate opportunity to make our partners in Europe aware of the measures—both statutory and non-statutory—which we in the United Kingdom have taken to address the issues of equal opportunities and race. We shall encourage our European Community colleagues to consider taking appropriate action at their own national level to combat racial discrimination in the light of their own policies, their own legislation and their own peculiar needs.

One of the ways in which we intend to achieve that during our presidency will be through the Department of Employment hosting a conference on equal opportunities in employment, which will be attended by representatives of both employers and governments in Europe. The conference will be aimed at the practical steps which employers can take in order to ensure that equality of opportunity is a reality in their organisation. It will be wider than the traditional "Women's Event", which is a normal feature of any term of a presidency. The conference will cover gender, race and age.

It is intended to use the occasion to build upon the success of a number of initiatives including Opportunity 2000, the Prime Minister's initiative on public appointments and the recently issued Ten Point Plan for Employers on Equal Opportunities

The plan was sent to some 36,500 employers in Great Britain who employ 50 or more employees. It gives employers practical advice on how they can offer equality of opportunity within their workforce for people from the ethnic minorities, for women and for people with disabilities.

In the United Kingdom, more and more employers are adopting, and improving upon, their equal opportunities policies and practices. It is intended to invite European Community employers and employers' representatives, as well as representatives of European Community governments, to the conference. We intend to use the occasion as an opportunity for employers across Europe to share good practice in equal opportunities in employment. It is hoped that the conference will result in a handbook of good practice.

Other more specific concerns about Europe have been voiced by members of the ethnic minority communities. For example, there have been expressions of uncertainty, and indeed concern, about the implications of the completion of the single European market at the end of 1992 for members of these communities. Your Lordships have expressed concern about that today. I understand that anxiety, but I think that, to a large extent, those worries may be misplaced. They are based on a misunderstanding of the possible effects of the completion of the single European market.

Ethnic minority British citizens should benefit in the same way as should everyone else from the changes in Europe, and we are keen to ensure that this happens in practice. If people from the British ethnic minority communities experience difficulties when they travel or when they try to obtain work in the European Community, the British Government will be keen to help to try and ensure that those problems are put right.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, asked what redress there was for British citizens from the ethnic minorities whose freedom of movement may have been restricted. I can only tell him that any British citizen who feels that he or she has been prevented from exercising rights under the Treaty of Rome in another European Community member state, whether as a result of racial discrimination, or for any other reason, is entitled to pursue a case against the party through the Community institutions. But there is a real point in the concern that our ethnic minorities, whether or not British citizens, will not enjoy the same form of protection from discrimination in other European countries. It is probably true to say that the United Kingdom, together with the Netherlands, has more effective anti-discrimination legislation than has any other member state.

There will be opportunities for all British citizens, including those from the ethnic minorities, to live and to work anywhere in the European economic area. This is a fact, and it is a legal right which will be available to all British citizens.

When the Treaty on European Union which was signed at Maastricht is implemented, British citizens who are resident in another European Community country will be able to participate in local and European parliamentary elections as voters and as candidates. At the same time the position of non-European Community nationals will not worsen. In fact some developments will make it easier for them to travel within the Community. For example, the draft external frontiers convention will mean that visitors from a third country will be able to visit more than one European Community country on a single visa. It will also mean that non-British citizens who are resident here will be able to travel in the Community without needing to obtain a visa.

The Government are not of the view that the grant of residence or the grant of a work permit by one member state to a national of a third country should carry an automatic entitlement to live and to work in other member states.

The ethnic minority communities have also been anxious about the pressure from the European Community for us to introduce new internal controls. The need for extensive changes of that kind should not arise so long as the United Kingdom is able to maintain its present frontier-based system of immigration control, which the Government intend to do.

It is important that we should all, whenever we can, emphasise to the ethnic minority communities that the completion of the single European market by the end of this year will in fact be a positive advantage to them. It will offer new opportunities to all British citizens, including those from the ethnic minority communities. Those are opportunities which we must try to encourage people to grasp and to enjoy.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I wonder whether he will answer the question that I raised when I opened the debate; namely, that at the equal opportunities conference which is to be held the question of a law should at least be discussed. I take the noble Earl's point that the details of the law may best be settled at the level of each individual country, but that is different from saying that there is no case for having a law at all. Surely it should he possible to discuss the requirement that there should be a law dealing with these matters in the countries of the EC even if one agrees (and I can see that one could make a case for doing so) that the details of that law should be fashioned to suit the particular requirements of each individual state. Is it not possible that that could be raised as an issue at the equal opportunities conference?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Baroness what the agenda for the conference will he. But I shall certainly see that her suggestion is taken into account. I can see that there is no legal reason why it should not be discussed. The point that I tried to make was that it is our view that it is better for each country to frame its own laws to suit its own circumstances—and the circumstances differ—but that those laws should all, with luck and with assistance, be brought up to the level of those which we have in our country.